This morning I found myself posting a response to the Bin Laden death in a closed online group of a few clergy. While it’s not quite as eloquent or as focused as I’d like, it’s about the best I am able to do under current circumstances, so I’ll post it here:
I’ve been processing my own feelings about Bin Laden’s death; it has stirred up and opened up quite the mixed bag of them.
My first reaction was amazement; I never thought they’d get him.
I saw the news clips of celebrations around the country, and initially found them repulsive. Then came all the comments from the politicians, which I found mostly self-serving and par for the course.
I also found myself drawn back to 9-11 and its immediate aftermath in my life out on the Great Plains. I’d gone out there to begin my first call, and had found a fairly high and pre-existent level of anxiety. 9-11 just jacked the anxiety level over the top, though I wasn’t yet aware that it had, only that I had suddenly found myself on an invisible roller coaster ride and that I’d best find the handrail and hang on.
The unfolding “War on Terror” (it was really only part of the overall War on Tolerance, which is still being waged throughout the world) forced me to take unpopular stands that I’d not have had to take otherwise; I found myself more and more isolated in an already isolated situation in this small, rural community about 2 hours away from the nearest city. Most everyone else was on the Bush War bandwagon, including the local clergy.
Like most other clergy, I’d put together a special last-minute 9-11 community worship service for that Tuesday evening. Afterward, I had one older parishioner, decked out in his red-white-and-blue suspenders and ball cap, sidle up to me and tell me with some degree of anger that he thought it a disgrace that the U.S. flag wasn’t displayed prominently in the sanctuary. Next thing I knew had I found that folks hadn’t so much turned or returned to the Christian faith as much as they had turned to the American Civil Religion.
Bin Laden’s death, and all the resultant flag-waving, has re-opened this particular memory and the very difficult struggle to represent Christ and his teachings in a (surprisingly) very non-Christian context.
Yet, I also find myself feeling a bit of relief. This was one of the most formidable enemies the U.S. has ever faced. He inflicted untold misery and was the mastermind behind the deaths of thousands of people. He took down the old Soviet empire, and he has dealt our empire some massive blows. He knew how to manipulate us into doing a lot of self-inflicted damage.
I’m hoping this means we’re near the end of this War on Terror, so that the military can be drawn down and maybe things like the Patriot Act can be tossed in the trash. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t live in such a fear-based, reactive society. Hard to believe the killing of one guy could do this, but he’s become a powerful symbol over the past 20 + years. And based on my experience, he was a more powerful and influential symbol in people’s lives than Jesus Christ. Hopefully, bin Laden’s death will end his power and influence and we can get on with the business of forging a better 21st century.