Tuesday, May 3, 2011

thoughts on Osama bin Laden (who is dead)

On December 17, 1996, fourteen members of the MRTA took hostage hundreds of officials who were attending a party at the Japanese embassy in Peru, South America. I was seventeen years old and living in Peru at the time, so I bit my nails and watched along with the rest of the country and the world as the hostage situation dragged on for months. That's right, months.

Then in April, right before I graduated from high school, Peruvian military commandos went in and killed every one of the terrorists. Two commandos and one hostage died in the raid. It was reported on the news that the Peruvian military commander in charge of the operation then entered the compound and, with a pistol, put a symbolic bullet through the head of each dead terrorist. And the people rejoiced. Including, I was bewildered to note, many of the Christian missionaries who comprised the adult population of my world.

A week later, at evening prayer meeting, one of the Bible Translators stood up and asked for prayer for the family of one of the terrorists who'd been killed in the attack, a young woman who had been forced to enter the MRTA as a teenager, having been warned that failure to do so would result in the death of every member of her family. And the jubilant missionaries looked at the rafters. And the discomforted missionaries looked out the screen windows as the cicadas filled the night air with their wails.

Ever since, I have been confused. As much as I don't want to become embroiled in a pissing match with people who see the recent death of Osama bin Laden as an occasion for jubilation, I nonetheless have a soul-level feeling that there is something seriously discordant about all of this - this idea that a group of people who would purport to be pro-Life would see in the violent death of another human being an occasion for joy.

Allow me to modify that statement, though. While I consider myself a "qualified pacifist," I nonetheless leave room for the strong possibility that there are times when good people must take up arms and do bad things in order to stop worse things from happening. This is, in many ways, an effed-up world, and I would be lying if I were to say that I would not want a man holding a gun to my son's head to be shot down by a very, very gifted police sniper. I would rejoice, then, that my son was alive.

But I hope that I would grieve, as well, that no other way could be found to preserve my son's life. I would grieve the loss of a fellow human being, a person so profoundly troubled, mixed-up, screwed-up and just plain wrong that he would be willing to take my son's life to get a point across. I would not allow myself to see this person as evil incarnate, though - at least, no more so than I, myself, am evil. Jesus (whom I personally think is the shizz) said that getting angry at someone is pretty much the same thing as murdering them. I believe he meant what he said. I believe as well that by this he meant to say that I, too, am pretty screwed up.

Because here's the thing: I, too, have gotten angry at my beautiful son - often for things that are not even his fault. All too often my laziness, pride and fear have led me to snap out at him, and when I see the look this produces in his young eyes, I begin to understand what Jesus meant. That this, too, is a tragedy.

Now, I know there are real-life differences between snapping at your son in anger and putting a gun to his head, and I don't mean to say they're exactly the same thing. But I think that the very point Jesus came to live out with his life was that we are, all of us, pretty much shitheads. I hate to write it out so strongly, but I have a feeling that Jesus himself wouldn't have minced words on this one. I'm pretty sure, though, that he would have gone on to say, "But wait! There's more!" and would have added that we are all pretty much wonderful as well, and that it was worth it to sacrifice himself to show us this truth: that he loves us, all of us, even terrorists.

I think Jesus would want us to know that the love he can make with us is worth all the garbage we put him through.

If you can't tell, I am very upset about all this. I am upset because I feel in my bones that any time anyone points to another human being and says that they are pure, unadulterated evil, they are pointing at the same time at me. Because there are times when I kill with my heart. There are times when I hate in my soul. There are times when grace, forgiveness and loving the people who hurt me are the last things on my mind, and seem to me to be the epitome of stupidity. It makes sense to me, as well, to rejoice in the death or suffering of my enemies.

But being a follower of a nut-job like Jesus is not about making sense of the world, it is about having the faith to do nonsensical things, things like loving your enemy and doing good to those who persecute you. Again, I am not willing to say I know that bringing Osama Bin Laden to a violent end was not the just or the right thing to do, but I do know that things are always more complicated than they seem.

Back in Peru, it was later reported that some of the MRTA terrorists in the embassy had tried to surrender, but were summarily executed. Perhaps that tribal girl was one of them. Perhaps she had been forced to go in there, and was trying in her own way to choose the right thing - to protect her family. I do not envy those who must take it upon themselves to make these sorts of life and death decisions. When do you turn the other cheek? When do you lay down your desire for an untroubled conscience and take arms against evil? Although I tend to feel it is an arrogance to pretend to the knowledge that would be required to justly end another person's life, I do not know.

Regardless, I follow Jesus and join in mourning with those who mourn - even the families of terrorists.

As Martin Luther King said, "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

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