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sing with me

well, i may regret writing this post, but i've been keeping my finger on the pulse of this conversation since i heard the news yesterday, and i am - to use a word many have already used in this situation - unsettled.  when i first heard the news yesterday morning, my first reaction was one of relief, like a great 10-year weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  but that was immediately quenched by doubt as the news mentioned that bin laden's body was apparently buried at sea.  in a world where we won't believe our own president's american birth until we see a piece of paper proving it, how will we believe that they actually killed the real bin laden without a body to prove it?  but this internal struggle was quickly replaced by another one as i saw footage of americans dancing and rejoicing, singing and chanting in washington d.c., at a baseball game in philadelphia, and at ground zero in new york city.  then my heart broke.

i know that the following paragraphs probably aren't going to win me any popularity points, but i feel i must write them.  i reserve the right not to really comment about the killing of a man.  i understand it.  we believe our government and media when they tell us that he was indeed the mastermind behind the attacks on our country on september 11, 2001.  i understand that for a country who lost so much that day, we wanted closure and vengeance and justice and all that.  i get that.  but to rejoice in this death?  no. 

you see, i believe in life.  and not just life, but abundant life.  death, then, is never to be taken lightly.  i'm not convinced that humans ever have the right to end someone's life, but even if you argue that he was a madman who had to be stopped before he killed more people, that still doesn't give us the right to rejoice in his death.  if anything, it ought to cause us to reflect on the whole sad story with deep regret and pensive reflection.  what causes a man to believe so radically that he is right and others are wrong, that he is willing to put his chips in with a distorted brand of his religion that causes him to violently hate and destroy?  bin laden's death should cause us to wonder if what was in him might also be in us, at least to a degree.  what do we feel when we disagree with people?  don't we want our side to win?  don't we have a bit of that in us, too?  i wonder how much more intensely we would feel that if we had been the ones born in afghanistan rather than america?  i wonder how that would change our story, our perspective, our understanding.  bin laden's death should cause us to consider the deep brokenness of a world that seeks to end killing with more killing, as if we don't already know that it will lead to still more killing. 

maybe you are convinced that bin laden was a terribly evil man.  maybe you are even convinced that he absolutely had to die.  but i beg you to consider what it is in us that causes us to rejoice in his death.  what is it in us that causes us to want him to rot in hell?  have we so quickly forgotten our own sin?  are we so quick to forget that we are each the chief of sinners...that we each desperately need to throw ourselves at the feet of God to beg for mercy....that each of us is dead in our sins?  are we that short-sighted?  do we want hard justice for some but amazing grace for us?  who gets to decide who gets justice and who gets mercy?  you?  me?  the navy seals?  only God, my friends.  only God.  and God says, in ezekiel, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (18:23).  God is not pleased when death comes to the wicked.  neither should we be.  the death of someone we believe to be wicked is not an invitation to dance on their grave for damnation.  when Jesus came across those who were quick to condemn, he invited that the ones without sin should be the first to get a chance to condemn.  who was left to condemn, then?  no one.  not one.  because we are each covered in shame and sunk and stuck in sin.  we are destined for death.  and yet we claim life, because of love and mercy.  will we, who so completely claim this mercy, so bluntly deny it to another? 

i, for one, will not.  i refuse to.  regardless of how i feel about bin laden, or about those who disagree with me, i will not accept the judge's gavel for their souls.  i will not sing songs of joy at this man's death.  instead, i will use it as another opportunity to consider how prone we are to fear difference instead of embracing others; to hate those who disagree with us instead of seeing life through their eyes, and to value being right (righteous?) over being full of love.  i pray that you will reflect with me, that together we might sing songs of peace, rather than songs of damnation.  sing with me, not for death, but for life.  sing with me.


Bill Uebbing said…
Well said. I think you aleady know I agree. I just remembered the way I felt on 9/11 when the news was showing people in the "generic" middle east rejoicing in the felling of those buildings and the death of those people. I didn't think I could ever feel worse or more alone-and then I saw that.
Turning the other cheek is hard. In fact it may be well nigh impossible. If we had to kill him, (and I agree we probably did) we didn't have to like it.
Eric said…
Preach it!

Thanks for helping us to keep the other perspective. By celebrating death, don´t we let evil and hate win?
Hey Greg. Long time no see.

I hope you post here for other comments and perspectives, so here goes.

I think the timing here might be confusing the issues. I tend to believe the vast majority of those you see demonstrating at ball games, rallying at the White House, etc were not celebrating death. They were happy about an end coming to a great evil in the world. It just happened that this one ended in death, but that isn't the general focus of the celebrations.

I beg you to consider the changes if we had captured him alive. Would the reaction have been the same? Considering the vast majority of the emotional fuel was "team USA" chanting and obvious relief over a milestone in our war on terror, I'd say yes.

Contrast this with Saddam Hussein. When he was captured alive, the same celebrations occurred (although to a somewhat lesser degree). When he was executed, were there chants at baseball games? Were there rallies at the White House? No.

Granted, there are always some that will say "burn in hell" or get judgmental real quick. But that occurs with any death be it OBL or Elizabeth Taylor or Dick Cheney (I know he isn't dead yet, but will invoke harsh words when he does pass). I think the vast majority of people were expressing happiness that we had scored a victory in preventing a future 9/11. This is way different than the rallies that occurred in the M.E. after 9/11 and frankly it is insulting to compare the two.

This is the part that you might not like and please don't take it personal but if you are going to ask me to examine myself, you should be open to the same. I kinda expect more from a preacher. You should be looking at the good in others, right? Why default to the assumption that those at a Mets/Phillies game or college students on Pennsylvania Avenue or church going Texans outside W's house are celebrating death when there are other reasons? Shouldn't you heed you own advice and reflect on why you assumed the worst in your fellow Americans and fellow Christians that you felt a need to, and I say this as a friend, condescend in this way?

If we are all trying to be like Jesus, judging the motives of the celebration crowd seems like something He would be against.
Emoly said…
This is very difficult to process. All the opinions and how it happened. Do I wish he had lived and had a life full of suffering and pain, sort of. Am I sad that our military killed him? In the line of fire, no.

I do agree with life. But under the circumstances, don't think it was meant to be. Should we dance? Privately in our own homes, sure.

Now to keep it light: burying his body at sea to me is similar to my trying to kill the spider in the sink this morning. I dumped a full glass of water on it. The spider shriveled up. Once the water drained was the spider dead? No. He climbed up the water spout (literally) and the spider lives on. The water did not kill him. And thanks to Hollywood, I'm seeing images of him returning a la Terminator style...
greg. said…
thanks to all for reading and for thoughtfully adding your voice to the conversation.

@chris: i certainly do welcome and hope for different opinions to find their way to this page, that we may challenge one another (which is all i was trying to do in my original post - not judge!) as iron sharpens iron. so i appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

i must disagree with you, however, that there is a distinction between celebrating an "end to a great evil" and celebrating death. whatever you think this man's death symbolizes or accomplishes, it is still a death. it's not like the people were celebrating without realizing that he had been killed. the newspaper headline that i pictured seems to have captured well the general spirit of the celebrations. what i am trying to say in my post is that Jesus told us that there are two great rules in christianity: first to love God completely, and secondly to love our neighbors as ourselves. he even rephrased the second one at one point saying that we ought to love our enemies and bless those that persecute us. no matter what you think ended when bin laden was killed, or what you think it represented in the hearts of americans, it was still the death of a man, which, to me, is a very serious thing.

furthermore, i disagree that this moment represents an end to a tremendous evil. on the contrary, part of the reason i am mourning these events is the exact opposite: it is another step down a destructive decline into more killing, more death, more fear, more ignorance, and more hate. martin luther king jr. said it so well when he wrote, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting... the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate." i don't think our nations' rejoicing is an end to an evil, but a step towards much more of it. did we prevent another 9/11 by killing one man? really? i'm afraid we've only increased the chances of more cowardly acts in the future.

as far as looking for the good in others, i'm carefully weighing your words and thinking deeply about them. i believe part of my role as a pastor is to be a prophet, which is to say that i must look at the world around me and call us to right living, which i interpret to mean love. i see the evil in me, and i see it wiped all over the human condition, and feel compelled to call us to be more like Christ, more like love. if you felt like i was judging you, i apologize, as that was not my intention. i was simply wanting each of us to reflect somberly on our own feelings about this man's death, about our own need for mercy, and about our call to love our enemies. sorry if it seemed like more than that.

@emoly: sorry, but i cannot find it in me to dance privately over this man's death. this death - like all death - breaks my human heart to the core. to me, these are not days of celebration, but days of reflecting on the brokenness of humanity, and on how i might be part of building a Kingdom based on love and life, not fear and death.
Emoly said…
I meant it in that if you in the general sense of the public (our ignorant language cannot handle that plural, you alls, y'all, anyone who cares to) wants to dance, then do it privately. I agree with you in that this death does not end the dying that will take place. And so instead of dancing in front of the tv cameras, go home and dance in the privacy of your own home. I am not dancing. I am in fear of the retaliation. But cannot let fear win, because then hate will have won. Hence the wishing he were still alive so he could perhaps suffer through disease, not at the hands of another human, but perhaps through God Himself if He had so chosen disease for Bin Laden. It's all moot since he was killed in the line of fire. I was in a rush (and clearly upset about that spider) when I read and commented earlier. I hope what I said now makes more sense. If not, then know this: I agree with you!
Emoly said…
(sorry, now I'm just taking over your comment section... are these unlimited??)

the comments of Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi, on the death of Osama bin Laden. "Osama bin Laden," he said, "was gravely responsible for promoting division and hatred between peoples, causing the end of countless innocent lives, and of exploiting religions to this end." But Lombardi also said, "Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace." As much as bin Laden´s death provides us with a sense of relief, the violent death of any person is never something to celebrate. (this was in our Pastor's message in our weekly online newsletter and I thought you might appreciate it)
greg. said…
yes, emily. i very much appreciate those words. it pretty much encapsulates what i've been trying to say. this type of death is not for is for reflecting.
Greg C. said…
OK, I'm coming late to this party so you may or may not see this comment but what came to my mind as I was reading your post was Henri J.M. Nouwen. 'Nuf said.
greg. said…
i see your comment, greg c., and i agree that, as usual, nouwen's wisdom is very instructive for us in this case.

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