Friday, May 6, 2011

Dive for our keyboards or fall to our knees?

Sometimes this week, I've felt like the only person who hasn't issued an missive or tweeted or posted a Facebook opinion about the death of Osama bin Laden.

It's certainly not for lack of opportunity or invitation or even time.

Like a lot of people, I first found out about it on Facebook when a whole bunch of status updates started announcing it. So I climbed into bed and turned on CNN and watched it all unfold.

And then it began. The tidal wave of reaction ... and reaction to the reaction ... and so on and so on. There were the people celebrating his death ... and there were the people chastising the celebrating ... and people chastising the chastisers ... and theologians or all stripes weighing in with incredible certainty in their tones ... and people saying exactly what this meant to the ridiculously named "war on terror" and what it meant for Obama's presidency ... and so on and so on and so on.  Twitter reported that "more than 4,000 tweets per second were being sent at the beginning and end of Obama's speech."

The next morning, the Gen X clergy listerv I'm on had lots of reaction along this line. The one I was waiting for and that particularly stuck with me was my friend Vicki's ... because not only is Vicki a fairly conservative Republican (different from me!) but, more to the point, her fiancee was on the Pan Am jet that was brought down by terrorists over Lockerbie. What I got from her message made a lot of sense to me -- "don't tell people what they *should* be feeling or how they *should* be reacting."

I began to read the missives that started being issued by my fellow cathedral deans. And I began to feel like,  as the new Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, I should write something myself. But I couldn't. Well, that's not right. I could have. But it just didn't feel right. And part of it was not only that I didn't have a pat and easily tweetable response, but every time I thought of trying to write something I would wonder "how is this not just adding to the noise?" And the certainty of everyone's statements was making me feel really uncomfortable and yet I felt this pressure to weigh in ... a pressure that I pretty much have resisted.

So five days later, I'm just beginning to pray and sort through where I am on bin Laden's death. And it's not full of certainty. And it's not simple and easy to tweet.

I am sad.

I am sad at any death. I am sad when violence is seen as an appropriate solution. I am sad at the brokenness and sin that leads to people like bin Laden doing the things they do and that lead us to using violence against him. I am sad that the people who are his victims in some ways have wounds reopened by this. I am sad that this is leading to a new round of American exceptionalism. I am sad at the resurgence of blood-lust that events like this send into the streets, calling us not up to the better angels of our human nature but to our baser, animal instincts. I am sad that flashpoint events like this draw us like moth to flame to expressions of easy, cheap patriotism that not only avoid but incriminate any who try to take an honest look at the real reasons why others in the world might look at us with fear and loathing. I am sad wondering what my friend Mohammed in Iraq is thinking of us right now and if his own loathing of America is being stoked even further.

I am empathetic.

I am empathetic for the people who have suffered much at bin Laden's hands and the joy and relief they feel. I feel for the people who have been hit hard by any number of other things -- the economy, racial discrimination, etc. -- who are using this as an opportunity to have some kind of celebration about something, to "feel good again." I have empathy and intellectual respect for the pragmatists who state with certainty that just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right to work for Hitler's death, there is justice and even greater good in murder sometimes. I see what they are saying and understand why they might feel as they do ... even if I don't believe or feel the same way myself.

I am relieved and hopeful.

I am relieved that what seemed like an interminable manhunt for him can finally end. I am hopeful that the President will take this opportunity to draw down our military presence in Afghanistan. I am hopeful that we can use this to move past the 9/11 mentality that has turned all Muslims into suspects and enemies in the eyes of many. I am hopeful that Jon Stewart is right that this, combined with the relatively peaceful revolutions in places like Egypt, will signal that groups like Al Qaeda are done and that the new voice of change in the Arab world is the voices of the young people in the streets calling for democracy.

I am resigned and cynical.

I am hearing the words of Gandhi that "an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind" and that this will just be one more chapter in the seemingly endless cycle of violence. I am readying myself for disappointment that the President's real instinct for peace will be shouted out by the tremendous monetary interests invested in war that he believes he needs to please to get re-elected. I am doubtful of our own ability to learn from history and not continually repeat it.

And no, I'm not trying to be politic and give everyone something to agree with me on. I am genuinely all these things and probably many more. Even though it is not good messaging or marketing or what some people would view as "strong leadership," I am genuinely filled with conflicting emotions and it seems best just to be honest about that. If it matters to you at all where I am with all this, well, this is where I am right now. I don't know where I will be tomorrow or next week or next month. But in the eyes of the world, I don't think that matters ... because we will have moved on to the next shiny thing. And people will be reacting to it ... and reacting to the reactions ... and so on ... and so on.

So more than anything, I am wondering what has become of reflection instead of reaction. As someone who wants to proclaim the Gospel, do I have to conform to the speed-of-light pace of Facebook, Twitter and CNN? Do I have to come up with a 140-character or less opinion that I can broadcast immediately while we still have people's attention? Is that just part of being a dean ... or a priest ... or a Christian ... today?

Maybe it is. But I don't think so. Maybe the witness we have every time a major event happens isn't diving to our keyboards but falling to our knees. Maybe it isn't just being the faith-based version of the reactive cable news pundits but inviting people to join us in a place where we can "be still and know that God is God." Where we remember that "God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts our thoughts." Where with Elijah, we realize we don't find God in the whirlwind and the fire and the noise but in the "sound of sheer silence."

I think about our life together at Christ Church Cathedral. We are a diverse group of diverse opinions and backgrounds and experiences. I get challenged by different views pretty much daily and I'm pretty much at my worst when I react immediately to them. But I find when I turn them over in my heart and mind. When I take them to God in prayer. When I probe deeper in conversation. When I reach for a wisdom that is greater than our own and look for God in that "sound of sheer silence" ... I begin to change. I begin to let God change me through you. I begin to become something different. And I think that something different is more like the Body of Christ.

There are some things -- many things -- I have no problem giving an instant reaction to, for good or for ill. I don't need to stop and think about whether women being used in prostitution is bad or whether a lunatic planning to burn a Koran is something that should be condemned. But often .. even most of the time ... the world is more complex and interesting and nuanced than that. And that's where the world really needs to stop and turn away from the whirlwind, flame and noise and listen for the still, small voice of the divine. And that's where I pray we can take the time to fall to our knees, listen deeply, love deeply, and reach for the wisdom to channel it.

in Christ's love,


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Mike. We need to take that time to write in the dust before responding.