By Johnny Zokovitch, Director of National Field Operations
“The challenge, as we move forward to develop a national response to these horrible events, is to remain true to the best of who we are as people of faith and as Americans. Fear is understandable. What we do with our fears will truly test our faith and character.” ~ From Pax Christi USA’s statement in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001
Like many of you, I woke this morning to the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden. My first week on staff at Pax Christi USA coincided with the acts of violence which occurred on September 11, 2001. I remember how we gathered as a staff to ask what these events meant to our work, and most importantly, what our response as an organization would be, rightly assuming that our nation’s grief could easily be manipulated into a call for vengeance that would perpetuate the cycle of violence and lead us into war.
This morning, I reread the statements we released in the immediate aftermath of September 11, and I find, sadly, that our concerns over where we as a nation would go were prescient. Even more, I am saddened that the serious and sober work of reflection and understanding which we called for has yet to penetrate the consciousness of most of those who wield power in our nation’s capitol, as well as among many of our fellow citizens. We have much work still ahead of us.
2 thoughts on “REFLECTION: On the death of Osama bin Laden”
Tears, Not Triumphalism
Praise God for the handful of students who sought me out today to discuss their concern about the celebratory spirit that reduced the grim events of yesterday to a raucous spectacle, a perverse kind of athletic competition characterized by chest beating and bragging rights. Their hearts were troubled by the fact that Christians were dancing in the streets at the death of a man. Any man. Grief, grief, grief at all the violence in our world.
I started class with a reading from Thich Nhat Hanh and shared with them the words from an old bumper sticker, Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong and the story of Barbara Lee who in the wake of 9-11 said Let us not become the evil that we deplore.
I thought a lot today about those who died on 9-11 and in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine and Israel and New Orleans and Japan and on the streets of Detroit until I ran out of ands and wanted only to go somewhere and weep for our blind and battered human family. God have mercy on us all as we once again pick up our national drug of choice – raw vengeance cut with unabashed triumphalism – in response to the violence of others. All day today, I experienced that sick feeling that I get when we turn away from grief and allow ourselves to relapse into retaliation.
Was he a man of unspeakable violence? Yes. A man of our time? Yes. A child of God imbued with human dignity despite his horrific acquiescence to everything that militates against life? Yes. A man who needed to be held accountable? No doubt. But must we succumb to a spirit of blood lust and self righteousness?
In the midst of the war whoops and high fives and raised glasses someone gently tugs at our sleeve and speaks those hard, sober words that call us back to our better selves: Love your enemies . . . Do good to those who hate you . . . .Father, forgive them for they know not what they do . . . Put down the sword.
It seems we are quick to accept the idea of loving our enemies in the abstract, but that’s about as far as we get. We resolve to love some vague, unnamed, ethereal enemy in the future, but never this enemy. The one who confronts us today.
Instead of dancing in the streets, my prayer is that we will take the time to reflect deeply on the cycle of violence which has us all in its grip and recommit our lives to the kind of healing work that brings about real peace.
Thank you for the sensitivity and good taste expressed in the official response. The revelry that greeted the news of the demise of Osama bin Laden has no place in the response of those who follow the non-violent Jesus. To quote the peace voices of the “60s, “When will they ever learn?”