Head vs. Heart
I had plans to write about other things this week, but since war has brought this topic to our lips and minds, I’ll join in with the cacophony of voices and say something about Osama bin Laden’s death.
I think about September 11th all the time. I have to, actually: it was the topic of my Masters thesis in grad school (which I just finished this winter.) When I started my research, I wanted to focus on the shifts in American theology during the twentieth century, but somehow I took a detour (why does that always happen in research?) and ended up writing about the cultural narratives created around the event of 9/11. For months, I read, thought, and wrote about American national identity, heroes and enemies, and the interaction between the Muslim and Western worlds. I read books by liberal pundits and conservative pundits. I read books by church leaders and theologians. I read books by politicians and scholars.
It was exhausting — depressing, even — reading about war and terrorism and violence and trying to say something theologically and sociologically valuable about all of it.
I could write a lot about how the reactions to bin Laden’s death fit into my research. I could pick the public conversation apart with my critical sociological analysis. But what I’d rather write about is how these wars, this death, so much hate-filled speech fits into my heart.
Choosing a language to speak
Because my own words are inadequate to express what this cycle of violence brings up in me, I’m going to offer this beautiful passage from Writing in the Dust, a reflection by Archbishop Rowan Williams:
It requires courage and imagination: … the decision not to be passive, not to be a victim, but equally not to avoid passivity by simply reproducing what’s been done to you. It is always something of a miracle.
For the Christian, it is the miracle made possible by the way in which God speaks. The story of Jesus understood as the ‘speaking’ of God to the world repeatedly brings this into focus. God speaks one language, and human beings respond in another. God speaks to say, ‘Don’t be afraid, nothing will stop me welcoming you’; or to say, ‘Be afraid only of your deep longing to control me.’ Human beings respond by fearing God and struggling to please him (‘The hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God,’ says Jesus in John 16:2); and by failing to fear their hunger within them to capture and manipulate God. The speech of God is silenced by death; but God is unable, it seems, to learn any other language, and speaks again in Jesus’ resurrection.
So what are we going to say in what we do?
We could be saying, ‘I must struggle to learn your language. I must hold ont o what I’ve felt of your despair and strike back in the only language you understand. So I must train myself to look past the particular deaths of innocent people to make sure that my anger has adequate expression. I must work to keep up this pitch of energy until you have been silenced, and then perhaps I can start trying to re-learn the language I used to speak.’
Or not, of course. (25-27)
I love that question he poses: What are we going to say in what we do? Friends, remember that how we speak and how we live will mark the world. How we respond can change the course of the conversation. As someone trying to navigate the murky waters of loving my country and my God at the same time, I hope I can find some clarity in this.
The words of others
Here are some posts about bin Laden’s death that I really appreciated:
Nish, “On Enemies” @ A Deeper Story
Paul Raushenbush “Celebrating a Death” @ Huffington Post