we have blood on our hands

a meditation for 09/11/2018

scripture

Old Testament Reading: Lamentations 3:22-51

Reading from the Psalms: Psalm 51: 1-6, 10-12, 15-19

New Testament Reading: Romans 12:9-21

prayer

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

on that day

I had just finished teaching my first class of the day — eighth grade math — and wandered next door to say good morning to Laurie, my colleague and the history and 7th grade homeroom teacher at the tiny Catholic school where we worked. She was on the phone, which was unusual for that time of day, and suddenly clambered around desks and over a table to turn the television on. A skyscraper was on fire. Before either of us could process what was going on, an airplane crashed into an adjacent building. You’ve all probably seen the footage by now: smoke, flames, mangled steel; and perhaps the muscle memory in your abdomen can summon the clench and the nausea and the horrified disbelief that clawed on our spirits when the towers collapsed on themselves, burying thousands of victims.

It wasn’t just New York, of course, there was a plane that crashed through a wall of the Pentagon, and another headed that way which was diverted by its brave passengers, and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. My brother had been scheduled to work in the Pentagon that day, but like so many others, something prevented him from arriving at his destination in a timely fashion. It was a very long day waiting to hear the news that, no, he wasn’t there, and yes, he was safe.

Our Romans scripture says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.”

What happened on September 11, 2001, was tragic, but let us create space for the thought that the events that led up to the terrorist response and and things that happened as a result of September 11 are equally as tragic and painful to God.

****

One of the questions that was voiced frequently in the time following the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was, “Why would anyone do this to us?” I admit that back in 2001, I didn’t know the answer to that question. It was about five years ago that I began to learn about the way United States foreign policy, and overt actions from our government impacted the Middle East and surrounding areas, and realized that the bed we have made for ourselves as a nation is a dangerous one with blood-stained sheets.

And it’s not just the United States that has been violent and othering. Christianity itself adopted the sword as its venerated symbol when Constantine had his miraculous vision the night before the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Slash and burn doesn’t sound much like “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”

Pastor Brian McClaren was quoted in a book we read for Kairos class. He said,

“Instead of a gold-plated, bejeweled spear-cross with the words “Threaten and kill by this,” imagine that Constantine had seen a vision of a basin and a towel with the words, “Serve by this,” or a vision of a simple table of bread and wine with “Reconcile by this,” or a vision of Christ’s outstretched arms with “Embrace by this,” or a vision of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field with “Trust like this,” or a vision of a mother hen gathering her chicks with “Love like this,” or a vision of a dove descending from heaven with the words, “Be as kind as this.” But it was not so.”

It was not so.

blood on our hands

In this country, it has always been more important to own land than it has been to give to the least of these. It was more important to be capitalist than it was to free the enslaved.   It was more important for white women to get the vote than it was to get the Civil Rights Act passed. It is more important to be a patriot than it is to closely read history and think critically about how the United States has engaged the world.

It was more important to hang our flag on the oil rigs out in the Iraqi desert than it was to take the time to learn that the country the West named Iraq was really composed of three distinct people groups who did not all reside within the border we drew due to their nomadic culture.

In this country it was more important to one-up the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by enlisting the help of a Saudi businessman than it was to embrace or reconcile. It was more important to cast aside the Afghani people, Afghanistan, the mujahideen, and the businessman and pursue better opportunities than it was to make a legitimate effort to stabilize the area. It was more important to fuel the war machines than it was to cultivate peace.

Allan Aubrey Boesak tagged a thought to McClaren’s:

Indeed, I would add just one thing. Imagine that Constantine, having seen all of the above, had a vision of Jesus on the cross, overcoming the power of violence and domination and death with the power and of love and servanthood and sacrifice, with the words, ‘Resist by this.’

The United States of America has blood on its hands. We most certainly have the blood of our own people on our own hands. This blood is the blood of Native people, of the enslaved. It is the blood of the British, the French, the Germans, the Dutch, the Russians, the Lebanese, the Saudis, the Iraqis, the citizens of Iran, the Armenians, the Kurds, the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Yemeni, the Yazidis. And that is not a complete list. According to the Googles, there are 195 countries in the world today, and I think we would be hard pressed to name one that we haven’t soiled, directly or indirectly.

 Resist by this.Image result for picture of a person standing with arms extended out to the side

wounded christ

In his book Exclusion and Embrace, scholar Miroslav Volf talks about the way Paul died to his own self, and centered his life on Christ. Volf says, “the self is never without a center; it is always engaged in the production of its own center.” Volf suggests that the self becomes de-centered and re-centered by becoming nailed to the cross in an act of becoming united with Christ. The pain of the nail drives out the attentions, desires, and relationships of the flesh while simultaneously tethering us to Christ. When our lives are constantly being re-centered on Christ, we are making a conscious decision to step back from the world and into unity with Christ.

There is a remarkable essay by Frederick Bauerschmidt called “The Wounds of Christ.” Bauerschmidt says that there is a wound at the very center of creation. The wound of God was created when God renounced being everything in order to create light and dark and land and sea and space out of Godself. Creation is defined by presence, and the wound is the place from which life flows out. He calls this wound “the free place of possibility” because nothing is present in the wound, but anything and everything can happen because of it. The presence of creation tries hard to bandage the wound, to heal it, but applying presence to absence is not a strategy that works. We are creation, and because we flow out of the wound of possibility, we are indeed co-creators in this present world. In our presentness and with our presence, we create other wounds.

Crucifixion was the worst possible death for the worst possible criminal. It was so degrading and horror-filled, that some did not dare to speak of it. But it is critically important to remember that the suffering of the powerless and the enslaved in the moment of that violent death is “a sacrament which bears witness to that form and makes it present.”

Bauerschmidt asks, “What, then, was this wound of Jesus?” How do we understand and respond if the particular wounds of Jesus are so violent, so unthinkable, and so unspeakable?  Mother Julian answers:

With a kindly countenance our good Lord looked into his side, and he gazed with joy, and with his sweet regard he drew his creature’s understanding into his side by the same wound; and there he revealed a fair and delectable place, large enough for all humankind that will be saved and will rest in peace and love. And with that he brought to mind the dear and precious blood and water which he suffered to be shed for love. And in this sweet sight he showed his blessed heart split in two, and as he rejoiced he showed my understanding a part of his blessed divinity, as much as was his will at that time, strengthening my poor soul to understand what can be said, that is the endless love which was without beginning and is and always shall be.

The wound is the blessed, sacred heart of Jesus, split in two, out of which endless love flows. And it is by this wound, and with this sacred, cleansing blood that we are able to once and for all remove these damn spots from our hands and our souls.

It is only by re-centering ourselves by being nailed to the Cross like Jesus that we will be able to begin to transform the world in which justice and injustice, goodness and evil, innocence and guilt, purity and corruption, truth and deception crisscross and intersect. It is only by re-centering ourselves that we can begin to be guided by the recognition that the economy of underserved grace has primacy of the economy of moral deserts. 

When we resist like this *ARMS OUT*, the work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, or even demonic, no one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace, because at the deepest level, the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it.

When we become crucified with Christ and re-centered, and when we place our hands in the wounds of Christ, and truly begin to live to God and with God and by God and through God, we create space to lament what has come before, and to plot a new course in history where we actively live the Gospel of Christ: loving our neighbors, standing with the oppressed, and becoming the living embodiment of God’s justice and mercy.


Amen.

the church loves refugees now

My heart is broken for Syria. I have been closely following the civil war since before it was a war, back in 2011 when peaceful protesters gathered to declare their desires for a better, less-oppressive Syria.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to Lebanon and spend time photographing refugee life in some of the informal tented settlements.

home

no one leaves home
unless home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well*

The next two generations of Syrian leaders are homeless. Two years ago, it was estimated that more than half the population of Syria was internally displaced. More than 11 million people are homeless inside the borders of Syria.

And that is only a guess.

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This sweet babe was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon. He is not entitled to a Lebanese birth certificate, and his mama can’t afford to return to Syria to get a birth certificate because they live in abject poverty. It is likely that he will live his entire life as a refugee: lacking food, adequate shelter, and suffering chronic health ailments related to a lack of clean water.

The Syrian Crisis did not materialize one day last week. Aylan, the precious baby found face-down on a Turkish beach, was not the first Syrian baby to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of Syrians have drowned escaping the war, but Aylan was the first one that people chose to see. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the war –many of them children– but none of those images or stories grabbed the Church’s heartstrings.

The Western Church is, at long last, appropriately horrified by the situation facing the Syrian people. Christians on social media are hashtagging their indignation: #BeTheChurch and #WeWelcomeRefugees are everywhere. There are petitions asking governments to resettle refugees. Much-needed money and supplies are pouring in, and that is truly a benefit that will make people’s lives better.

Why now? Why did the Church decide to “Be The Church” on a random day in August? What made that day more significant than any of the other previous 1,640-ish days since the Syrian Crisis began? Cute babies die daily in Syria. I’m not trying to be crass or to downplay the significance of those deaths; it breaks my heart that people can cause such damage to one another.

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But where have you been, Church? Where have you been for the Palestinians? Where are you for the Afghans? For Iraqis, Somalis, Congolese, Myanmarese, Colombians, or Sudanese? Because from where I stand, it looks like you aren’t here for any of these, or as Jesus called them “the least of these.”

The least of these are mostly confined to their own countries, mostly out of sight, and definitely not affecting the West or Western culture in any way. But those Syrians… they have come to Europe. There are white people carrying the bodies of their dead away in front of white media, and white people are shocked. White people are sweeping in to take care of the poor people of color, white people making decisions, white people saving.

Is the Church really interested in being the Church, in being a servant to the hurting people of the world, in housing the homeless and feeding the hungry? This newfound passion has taken the Church by storm. It looks like a fad, like Christians have discovered the next cool thing to be on fire for, that will soon be forgotten. When was the last time you heard a Christian mention any of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria? Did you know that Boko Haram is still kidnapping and murdering people? Remember when all of the truly devout Christians in America changed their social media avatars to the Arabic letter that is the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, to honor all the Christians in Mosul, Iraq who were being massacred? It was so important!

This movement to provide for the Syrian refugees is not an organically-grown movement. It is a public relations campaign that catapulted itself into existence off the body of a dead baby. It is a campaign of shock and awe– shock at the realization of the masses that babies are dying horrible deaths, and awe at the incredible spending power of Western Christianity. I do not see the “We Welcome Refugees” people coming alongside the servants who have been working to assist the Syrian refugees for the past four and a half years. I don’t see this new force even granting the benefit of a mention to the countless NGOs who started the movement to support Syrian refugees. The Church is once again using its financial power to control the lives of the less fortunate, and is steamrolling those who actually have been “being the Church.”

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“Be The Church” is giving Christians a quick and easy means to feeling good about themselves, but it lacks the relational component that is necessary to keep the short attention span of the West focused on people who don’t look or dress like them. The Western Church will show us what it means to be the church: it will burn hot and fiery for a short period of time, and then it will find something else with which to entertain itself.

The Syrian Crisis is going to continue to be a crisis in October. It is going to be a crisis in 2016. It will still be a crisis in 2026, and for decades after. This isn’t a problem the Church can fix. It is one of the most complex social issues facing the world today, and it is one that will outlive my children, and possibly my grandchildren. If the Western Church is going to have any lasting effect on the lives of refugees, it needs to ditch its Saviour complex and learn from the people who have been battling this crisis since the beginning.

*excerpt from the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire,
you can find the entire poem here.