The news of Osama bin Laden’s death came garlanded in words and images of people celebrating and waving U.S. flags.
I don’t share that jubilation; the news does not make me want to wave a flag. I feel at odds with the country I live in, once again.
My immediate reaction to our flag-waving was to remember how people in the U.S. felt, seeing images of people in the Middle East celebrating after the World Trade Center bombing on 9/11. Those images added weight to the argument for retaliation … which may have been why we saw them. News reports since then indicate many of them were trumped up. By whom? Nonetheless, they stick in our minds. And now we wave our flags.
I don’t think any of these deaths are occasions to celebrate.
Death never creates peace, and “closure” — if that’s the best this event represents — doesn’t, either. Nor does closure create life, or its possibilities. As a person who has experienced violence and violation, I have learned closure is not my goal: opening is. Opening to possibility.
That gets me laughed at, I know. Labeled naive. “How’d you like to wear a hijab? Be killed in a jihad?”
The answer is, of course, that I don’t want to be killed for my religious beliefs, and I don’t want to have another religion foisted upon me. But neither do I want others killed for their religious beliefs, or to foist my religion upon them.
But that’s not really what this is about. At root, these struggles are about resources, and how to use them, and who gets to make those decisions. I am complicit in that struggle, on a scale that feels impossible to fully grasp, much less grapple with.
The story Greg Mortensen told in Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools has been tarnished by news of his financial and organizational mismanagement. I’m sad for that, because there was one thing I appreciated from his work: that he learned it was important to work with local leadership of the Afghan communities he was trying to help. Many faults can be found in his work; some of the same faults run through what little I manage to do. My thinking can be equally and perhaps more flawed.
But listening … and trying to learn about another’s customs and ways and priorities … that’s never a flaw.
Between September 11 and October 7, 2001, the U.S. had a chance to listen, and learn, and be a different kind of leader in the world. I remember October 7, because it was the first time I lifted a loaf of bread and a cup of wine as a pastor, blessing and sharing the meal of peace for a group of people — and it turned out to be the day our bombs began to fall on Afghanistan, the day our response to 9/11 took tangible shape.
Our response continues. Yesterday we killed more people. One of them was infamous, and his death a potent symbol that will mean different things to different people.
The scale of international violence as an approach to dealing with conflict is so universal and ubiquitous that it is numbing; and this is the point at which I have to continue to resist. Whatever numbs my soul is slowly killing me. I have to pursue feeling compassion, in the face of that numbness: compassion for all the flag-wavers, compassion for all those who feel they are prevented from living into their full humanity, compassion for all those killed in and because of these conflicts, compassion for those grieving the direct impact of these deaths. Compassion enough to keep feeling and listening, moving away from conflict and verbal violence, and living into the small acts of peace I am capable of in my little corner of the world.
The One I try to follow said, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” To wound another is to wound oneself … which reminds me. I have a sword to put down.