One of my favorite places to worship and reflect is Tillman Chapel in the Church Center Building across the street from the United Nations. I like so many things about it from the stained glass, to the religious symbols, and the beautiful words inscribed from the Gospel of Luke chapter 19:42, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” It’s appropriate across the street from the United Nations and it’s appropriate as we take students on UM seminars to learn about people other themselves from places other than their homes facing circumstances that they may never face. It’s also appropriate for us as we go about the tug and pull of the life of Christ in light of recent events.
While I was in ethics class in seminary, my brother Josh was living with us at the time and offered me great food for thought as we went back and forth over issue after issue. We’re both pretty stubborn and because I love and respect him, I could hear things that challenged me and that I didn’t entirely agree with, that I would chew on for awhile. Josh fits in well with the belief that The United Methodist Church is a peace church. He does and we need people like him. Even as he walked in a few minutes ago and I’m telling him about so many people posting on this, he has no hesitation in saying not just that we shouldn’t rejoice, but that we shouldn’t kill. Violence does not solve violence. I’m the one when watching the horror movie or drama on tv or when someone I love is hurt violently or tragically, that jumps to the let’s take action – go get ’em! – shoot the person already, etc. When watching it in the movies of course you want the person being stalked by the killer to get away and the killer to be brought to justice, and we cry for justice just as much in “real life” as well. It’s such a fine line between justice and wanting people to answer for what they have done and for the pain they have caused, and letting yourself be swept away by the hate that knows no bounds and just seems to be spraying everywhere.
I was a senior in college when 9-11 happened. I got engaged the night before the attack and it was a beautiful September morning as I left for class. In my first class of the day, English with Dr. Jones, we talked a little bit about someone having heard on the radio that a plane had accidentally flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We continued on with class thinking that it was just an accident. By the time I went to my 9:30 class, History with Dr. Silverman, he had turned on the television in the classroom and as we watched, we saw the towers fall. I remember girls in my class holding up my hand to look at my engagement ring as we watched all of this from the classroom. That class was then cancelled and I made my way over to The Wesley Foundation where my then fiancee Mike and my campus minister Jerry were sitting in the living room watching everything on the television. I remember our silence and our disbelief, our fear and our sadness, our uncertainty and our anger. I remember having class that afternoon in Plowden Auditorium and our education professors led by Dr. Dockery and Dr. Vawter saying that we were not going to let terrorists disturb our day to day lives. We were not going to give them the satisfaction and we were going to have class anyway. I remember talking to the junior high youth group that I led and trying to answer their questions in youth and Sunday school about what had happened and where was God in the midst.
Over the years, as the anniversaries have come up, I’ve talked more and more to students and heard their stories from that day. Many of them were between 8 and13 or so. Hearing their perspectives and how this event has shaped their lives has been illuminating and fascinating to see how such a big event has shaped so much. I try to think back to what I would have remembered at that age and I think about the Oliver North trials or for me, pivotal was the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was the first bit of big news I actually remember. When I think about our 9 year olds today and how they perceived the news Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I wonder what their stories will be. Was their family elated, throwing a spur of the moment party, as many of our students on campuses were doing? Did their family solemnly watch the news, thankful that it was over and that justice had been done? What did they think about the reactions of the press, of facebook, of their classmates or teachers? What did their friends say?
Over the past days watching facebook light up the first night with so much passion and excitement about someone’s death and then over the last few days with scripture and sayings in response to that fervor, it’s been a study to watch the polarity. I admit my own feelings are pretty mixed. As Mike and I were watching the Celebrity Apprentice Sunday night (yay Lil John won $40,000 more of the United Methodist Children’s Home in GA) we saw the interruption bulletin and we thought it was about Kadafi. When they then said that it was about bin Laden we were floored. We, the United States, finally got him. All of the families who lost loved ones in 9-11 finally get at least that much closure. Yep, I was happy that that part of the story was over. I watched families talk about their loss of loved ones and the pain that they still feel on the morning news. I saw all of the commentators and military personnel talk about this as a shot in the arm for our military. I’m not speaking at all against any of that. We do need to support our military – the actual people – the ones that are suffering and fighting for us – whether we agree with the military action or not. We do need to support these families and all of those affected by 9-11. We as pastors do need to journey with our congregations and the mix of emotions they feel. We do need to be mindful and intentional and praying for wisdom and discernment as we offer words in the days and weeks ahead.
But even as my most patriotic go get em’ self, I pause at all of the fervor surrounding this. As Mike and I sat on the bed and watched this unfold, he looked at me and said, if you ever wanted to know what a lynch mob looks like, look at facebook. There’s something about band wagons that make me pause whether it be jubilation expressed or scripture expressed or even the sayings of MLK that end up not being entirely true. Some say we shouldn’t post anything at all to facebook because it’s not a real place of dialogue, you don’t know what people really mean, or can’t hear the emotion in their voice, etc. But I feel like it is a place for us to engage and can be meaningful and insightful if we let it be. It’s definitely interesting to see the wide diversity of some of our thoughts and opinions especially within the Christian faith.
Several of my students posted scripture yesterday and sayings and I was glad that they were in the mix. The lovely Ashlee Warren posted the quote, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” They were participating in the discussion. They weren’t just sitting back, but were speaking up. I was sitting back. I didn’t even want to check facebook to see what was being bantered about. But then I began to see that there were other people struggling to figure out how to feel or how to articulate a Christ who turns the other cheek and shows us the way of the cross. This is a Christ who challenges us in Matthew 5 verse 43 (also echoed in Luke 6), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It’s hard to argue with that. It’s hard to reconcile that to some of our feelings. You can’t make that statement easy. As much as I’m relieved that bin Laden is gone and that his reign of terror is over, I know that there are more stepping up to the plate. I hope that his death will affect this “war” on terror in profound ways in turning terrorists away from their intentions and that they are discouraged and are brought to new life and peace in real, just and deep ways. I also hope it helps us in thinking about “what makes for peace” as Jesus cries in Luke.
What makes for peace? Does demonizing someone (a country, faith, race, person, gender, sexuality, region, political party, education, or skill) make for peace? Does killing innocent people as was done in 9-11 make for peace? Does making blanket statements and assumptions about people without actually trying to engage in real dialogue and not just bullying people into buying in, make for peace? Does hanging out with like minded people that always agree with us and being comfortable in our recliners with either our beer or our hot tea or our fair-trade coffee, make for peace? Does throwing out scripture or quotes or opinions without being ready to stand up for them, apologize for them, or at least engage with others on them, make for peace? If we continue down this road, it’s hard to know what we do that makes for peace in this world, where are we culpable and where we accept responsibility.
And yet, I find Christians wrestling with these things and struggling to find integrity in the midst of this event, as something that gives me hope. I have been proud of my fellow United Methodist and other clergy as they have posted on both sides of this issue, as they have challenged each other and their parishioners, as they have stood up as sometimes a still small voice articulating and being a voice in the midst. To me, us being in dialogue and engaging in the world showing that as Christians we sometimes disagree, we sometimes struggle with how to respond, we sometimes are counter cultural and other times struggle with a voice – this, this engagement has been breathtaking to see. It has gotten our blood flowing and our brains firing and our hearts hopefully turned to what it means to have peace and justice and hope and grief and remembering and rejoicing and what it will be in a time and a place where war will be no more.
I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 13 and the love described there. I hope that in the days and weeks ahead that we as clergy offer not fuel for hate, but fuel for love. I don’t mean a love in a sunshine, flowers and rainbows, pansy type of love. I mean a full, robust, no holes barred, Jesus is all in and extending grace to each of us, kind of love. I hope that the scriptures that challenge us or our own feelings that make us a little uncomfortable will spur us on for more study and for more discovery and journey. My prayer is that we will continue to search and act and live the ways that make for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our church, in our country, and in our world.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.