Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unresolved conflict… 

      Like many of us, I was surprised to learn this morning that Osama bin Laden was dead.  By the time you read this, surely we’ll have heard more details than we have now.  We’ll likely have become saturated, even overwhelmed by nonstop commentary.  Whatever the case, it’s been hard to think of little else today.  And I’ve been most struck by one detail that hopefully doesn’t spark one of those- seemingly endless these days- rounds of conflict in the American body politic. I refer to the fact that early this morning, some chaplain or sailor aboard an American aircraft carrier laid Osama bin Laden to rest in a watery grave, after washing his body and wrapping it in a ‘traditional’ white shroud.  Or at least that’s what news reports I’ve read suggest.

We may learn soon that something different happened.  Assuming not, though, I find this idea remarkable.  Imagine being the chaplain on board that evening, and receiving a call you’ve never imagined possible.  “Chaps, you’re trained for burials at sea, yes?” “Yes.” “Christian?  Islamic?”  “All of the above.” “Well, brush up on your Islamic burial rituals.  Osama bin Laden’s dead, and you’re doing the honors.” “What?!”

      How would you respond? Rick Warren, author of A Purpose Driven Life and mega-church pastor extraordinaire, sent a tweet of Proverbs 21:15 upon hearing the news, a kind of Biblical gloating it seems, "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Wow.  Visceral, even understandable reaction, but not exactly inspiring to the better angels of our nature.  A colleague and friend posted the following on Facebook, “Kyle wishes we wouldn’t rejoice in death. So tonight I pray that one day we’ll all know and experience a peace that passes all understanding.” That’s also Biblical, quoting Philippians 4:7, and perhaps more apropos to my allegiance to the Prince of Peace. Nevertheless, with apologies to Kyle, I was filled this morning by, not rejoicing, but still real happiness. Because justice had finally caught up with a murdering man who attacked my country and sought to hold us all- children and adults- hostage to hate and fear.  I’d preferred if bin Laden came quietly, alive.  But since that wasn’t realistically going to happen, I’m glad he’s dead.  Jesus forgive me.

      Yet for all the terror, sadness and insecurity he caused the US (and world), some military chaplain/sailor disposed of Osama bin Laden’s body with a kind of respect.  Maybe it was a political act, avoiding backlash amongst some Muslim communities.  Perhaps it wasn’t even as respectful as imagined by whomever gave the order.  But I’ve been learning recently about Roman history.  When they defeated an enemy, the body was brutally mistreated and grotesquely displayed.  Whatever happened here, that didn’t happen, and I’m hopeful it was for good reasons.
 Remember Jesus saying, “Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you?” Thus, a person like Osama bin Laden, for American Christians, provides a major test.  I can’t, honestly, admit to loving him much.  I’m disgusted by his ideology, angered by his disregard for human dignity.  His death surprisingly completes something in my heart I didn’t realize remained unresolved still.  And while that feels normal, given who he was, I’m also a bit ashamed.  Can’t I have forgiven by now, even though he refused to repent?  That’s how God treats me, after all.  Couldn’t I have proved better by not gloating in revenge, but overcoming through love?  That’s who I want to be, though part of me also wishes I’d celebrated at Ground Zero.

      But mostly, I’m proud of whomever washed public enemy #1’s body, prepared it for burial “according to Islamic practice,” and prayed on the ship’s deck while it slipped into the deep blue.  As his followers crashed airplanes into buildings, bin Laden surely didn’t do that.  But to Christians, and many Muslims, overcoming enemies isn’t primarily about defeating them with superior strength.  It’s about proving yourself more able to love, even when it’s hard.  So to that nameless sailor/chaplain who prayed at bin Laden’s ‘funeral,’ assuming there is one, well done, good and faithful servant.  Thanks for doing what many couldn’t.

Grace and Peace,

No comments:

Post a Comment