Monday, May 2, 2011

cheering bin Laden's fall?

I was a minute from falling asleep when Lisa said “Osama bin Laden is dead.” My mind raced to process this. Was he found dead in some remote place? We switched on the news, and the details began to reveal a stunning story. Some swirl of emotions were touched off in me. Finally!

But I (perhaps alone…) was a little bit puzzled, and then mortified, to see my fellow citizens swiftly taking to the streets, shouting, waving flags, pumping fists… and I wanted to text each one of them to say “No, no, stay home, be quiet.” I think, like everyone else, I am disturbed, and frankly a bit fearful, when I see news video from other countries, and a rabid throng is shouting approval for some terrorist act, for the downfall of some American citizen/soldier. Somehow I want us to be different, not to match evil cheer for cheer, but to be humble in the face of death.

Yet I do not yet know what to think. Maybe the wise take a few days to let the news settle in, to reflect, and only then to respond. Yes, evil must be kept in check if at all possible; brave Navy SEALS apprehended a criminal - which had to be done. After 9/11, I agreed with those who said it isn’t so much a war on some vague “terror” out there; rather we are faced with criminal activity which must be dealt with. And we have also seen the face of sin, revolt against God, who is not pleased with terrorism.

I noticed a quick Facebook post just minutes after the news broke. Lots of people were typing in various Bible verses about victory over evil – but this post quoted Proverbs 24:17: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.” Is that right? I think of the old rabbi who was asked if the angels in heaven celebrated the drowning of Pharaoh and his chariots in the sea when Israel escaped, and he said No, they wept.

Christians, and frankly all sane people, have no cause to be sympathetic with Osama bin Laden. But the wave of glee seems a bit out of kilter for followers of Jesus, just not the right mood somehow. Good: justice was done – but I’m feeling quiet, humbled, grieving if anything over the past decades of so much anger and loss of life across this planet associated with bin Laden. I guess I’m realizing the craziness of the world, the tense rage that afflicts this planet that gave rise to Osama bin Laden, is still out there.

So I wish we could just be still, and pray, and wait for wisdom. Heroic soldiers did their duty; but it’s not a sporting event, it’s a moment of the specter of death in a chilling history of human sorrow. I can’t see cheering, but maybe that’s just my weirdness, and after a few days of tossing these events around, I’ll wave a flag and holler for a while.

24 comments:

  1. So nicely stated. Glad to know that the fact I didn't feel like jumping up and down in celebration at the news doesn't make me un-American.

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  2. Thank you for this post. I have been feeling the same way. Death for death is a devastating downward spiral. My prayers are for peace and healing.

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  3. I think the reaction scared me. I couldn't tell the difference between when I saw those in foreign lands cheering in the streets while burning an american flag, and our people cheering in the streets at the death of Bin Laden. Who are we? I'm confused. I like the memory of the entire world praying together after 9/11 in unison better than what I saw on cnn last night. We should do that again. All of us go to church on the same day at the same time and pray for peace - just like before. That is who I want us to be.

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  4. Thank you, Rev. Howell. I, too, am struggling with my response, and what leadership before my congregation will look like. Just before reading your post I was thinking of changing my facebook status to: looking for the faith to pray for my enemy(ies). Your openness invites me to find courage and hope, even if not an easy path.

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  5. I take about as much pleasure in this as I would in having to shoot a rabid dog (no, I am not comparing him to a dog). It had to be done, but I don't have to like it. If I knew that innocent people were being murdered and I could stop it, wouldn't I be compelled to do so? So much of life is a paradox. I think maybe this is the lesser of the two evils. However, I am nearly nauseated at the revelry, partying and celebration. The image it portrays of America and Christianity is the very image we abhor when we see it displayed by others. I saw an American flag flown from a crane here in my own town today and below it was a likeness of Bin Laden hanging by the neck. Display was right on Interstate 40 for the world to see. I'm sure it made some people happy. I think it may say as much about us as it does about "them".

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  6. Dr. Howell - when you say "heroic soldiers did what had to be done" I agree with you...and it is for that reason that i'm conflicted. i'm conflicted because the Bible clearly states, among several places, in Romans 12: 17-21:

    17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
    21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    Why do we feel like "it had to be done"? I will pray for that thought ingrained in my mind, which is so contradictory to the Bible's teachings.

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  7. I, too want us to be different, to not cheer the death of an unredeemed soul - even one that has caused so much suffering. Surely Christ does not cheer the death of one who almost certainly died outside of grace, and neither should we.

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  8. The Scriptures teach us that God does not rejoice over the death of the wicked, and it also teaches that God said, 'Let justice roll down like waters.' Therefore, Christians can be saddened that someone is now in hell, yet rejoice that justice has been served. This really isn't all that difficult.

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  9. You weren't alone in your reaction. The cheering was a bit embarrassing, and looked too much like some streets in the mideast on the day the towers fell. It would be nice to think Americans were more thoughtful about their reactions, but that type of American was not seen in the news reports. Also, I noticed most of people in last night's crowds were very young; perhaps the oldsters were too tired to join them at that hour, but the video game mentality toward violence may have been on display. It seems that attitude is generational, and alarming. Yes, it had to be done, but the cycle continues, nonetheless, and precious few were thinking as we are that it wasn't all fun and games.

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  10. Rev. Howell,

    Jimmy pointed me to your blog. Thank you for voicing what I didn't have the courage to say out loud. While I am glad that OBL will no longer be able to mastermind any more catastrophic events, I cannot, in good conscience, rejoice over the death of another human being - especially since things may not be too terribly happy for him on the other side. And yes, shouldn't Americans - Christians! - be different than those in terrorist countries who shout in the streets and burn us in effigy? Thank you for your thoughts.

    Wendi Washington-Hunt
    (Yes, I sang that one Sunday in church.)

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  11. Thank you for your posting your thoughts.

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  12. I edited this a little now - to avoid the impression that killing/execution had to be done; I think it's the apprehension of a criminal that had to be done...

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  13. I was personally glad to hear the news, but said at the state of humanity that we are where we are still in history. It needed to be done. Had to be done to protect innocents and help with the interfaith dialogue as this man distorted Islam. Our local mosque said as much this evening on our local news. I think people are just happy this killer is no longer a threat, much as it was with the news of Adolf, and not so much celebrating the fact we had to kill him. ~npp

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  14. "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. 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." ~Martin Luther King Jr.
    a

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  15. Symbolism is unfortunately our coutry's mantra. I hope ---- HOPE ---- we can find the right path.

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  16. Rev. Howell: Of course you're not alone.
    Re Jeana's post: in general most people that get out in the streets and celebrate ARE (and have historically been) young people. I don't think that's something new.

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  17. I'm thrilled to see evil being abolished. I am proud to be a Nazarene Pastor and I will be at the Flagpole Thursday thanking God for His blessing and praying our Country yield to Him.

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  18. I fully agree. I cannot understand the feeling of jubilation after anyone's death. Remember, we should love our enemies, pray for them, and not sink to their hateful irreverent level.
    The pastors at my church are always reminding us about the importance of love. Love does not gloat after the killing of an enemy. Come on, America, show some class.

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  19. we are so individualistic: to think that getting rid of a single person will solve anything... but a whole complex of moods and historical quirks and societal trends have led to the conditions under which bin Laden could get a following; this is where we need our attention trained, not just on getting rid of a sole person

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  20. Thanks, James. You put into words my sentiments and feelings in such a thought-provoking way.

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  21. As a Christian and an ordained minister, I have struggled somewhat with my feelings of satisfaction and peace (I think “joy” is a bit strong for me personally) over the death of Osama Bin Laden. Does loving my enemies mean that I should mourn his death? Does turning the other cheek mean that I should not support our military’s efforts to eradicate terrorists? I actually think “No,” on both accounts. We as Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and that he died on a cross to redeem the world. We believe that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that none of us are good enough to stand before God based on our own merit. And because of that, we believe, I believe, that I am no more deserving of God’s love and compassion based on my own merit than is Osama Bin Laden. God loves all people, just as we love our own children – not based on their merit. And God wants us to live at peace with one another and to love and support one another. On the other hand, the God we worship is a God of justice and a God who gave us laws to live by and these are non-negotiable. One of these laws is “Thou shall do no murder,” and murder is defined as taking the life of a person without just cause. The authors of the books of both the Old and New Testaments would view the actions of Osama Bin Laden on numerous occasions as murderous. When one commits murder, as it says in Genesis 4: 10, even the blood of the slain cries out for justice. And we cry out for justice. We have been crying out for justice for the past ten years, and now those cries have been answered. Should we feel ashamed for feeling a sense of profound satisfaction that this murderer has finally been brought to justice and that he can no longer murder anyone else? I don’t think so, and I don’t think that Jesus would think so either. As Paul writes in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the Romans, the government does not bear the sword in vain “for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” That wrath came down on Osama Bin Laden and I think we can all thank God for the brave men and women of our armed forces who risked their lives to see that justice was done.

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  22. It is hard to put conflicting emotions into words... good job.

    Here is a related post by a fellow UM from our discussion group blogsite: http://pqexchange.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/reflections-on-the-killing-of-an-enemy/

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  23. So nicely stated.You put into words my sentiments and feelings. Thank you.

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  24. Perfect. I'm a survivor of the trade center attacks on 9/11 and a DC resident..I was appalled at the reaction--but not surprised, unfortunately. If God created man in His own image..how can we rejoice at destruction of any? Thank you for your words.

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