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.