Osama bin Laden’s Death (Part 2): Jesus loved Osama bin Laden

Sunday night we heard the breaking news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Not only had he been killed, but it was at the order of President Obama and carried out by an elite team of Navy SEALs. In response Americans began to celebrate at Ground Zero in NYC, in front of the White House, Shanksville, PA where Flight 93 crashed, and during the 9th inning of a Phillies-Mets game. American flags returned as the images and emotions of 9/11 flooded the communal memory of most Americans. In a wave of – depending on your view – relief or vengeful delight or fearful dismay or sorrow the events of the day had culminated with this news.

Now before I carry on I want to say that what follows doesn’t mean that I abhor America, our troops, the government or anything like that. I went to Ground Zero shortly after the attacks; I walked through the corridor in the Pentagon where the plane crashed soon after reconstruction began; I mourned at the grave site of Todd Beamer (one of the many who died in Flight 93) one year after 9/11. I have dear friends and family members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What I offer below are mere thoughts and reflections on how I, as I attempt to follow Jesus, view the events surrounding Osama bin Laden’s death.

I was rather amazed at the reactions that sprang forth on the news. The celebratory delight that came as a result seemed to be founded upon the death of a man. I can understand this (as much as one can understand death and war) from the perspective of national or governmental relations. According to the narrative that the West lives out of, we were attacked and the natural outcome of this is to return violence with violence. The aim of our government is to obviously protect its citizens and its interests. Since we killed the enemy of the state before he was able to inflict more pain and death upon us we win. We win because he lost. He is dead and therefore we are alive. This is the Western narrative in which celebratory actions embody its ideals. So, as an American, I found some relief in his death. But is life really that easy? Is it really that violent? Is life actually that flat?

As a Christian, I cannot accept this because Jesus could not accept this. The narrative that Christians should be living out of has a Jesus at the center of it who tells us odd, countercultural, non-instinctual things. He tells us that when we are hit to turn the other cheek. He tells us that when someone takes away our shirt, we should offer them our jacket as well. Jesus takes things even further when he tells us that we are to love and pray for our enemies. Sure, says Jesus, most people will do this for their friends and family, but, if you are going to follow me, you will go the extra mile and will do this for your enemies.

And why should we do this? Because this is what Jesus did. He turned his other cheek when he was hit. He offered his jacket when his shirt was torn from him. He loved his enemies to the point of actually dying. And in the midst of taking upon himself the violence of the religious, political, social, and supernatural of the world, he humbly forgave the ones doing this to him.

Therefore, I can’t take pleasure in the death of an enemy. And, to be quite honest, as a Christian first and foremost, was he an enemy of Jesus and the Church? Or was he an enemy of the country I just happen to find myself in? A huge problem I see this event pointing out is the true allegiance of people. For quite some time I saw myself as an American Christian, emphasizing the nationality aspect of my identity. The truth is my allegiance is to Christ and the kingdom he brings, which includes loving my enemy. This is the challenge I try to make small steps towards every day.

As Stanley Hauerwas has said,

“I have argued that Christians’ first political responsibility is to be the church, and by being the church they should understand that their first political loyalty is to God, and the God we worship as Christians, in a manner that understands that we are not first and foremost about making democracy work, but about the truthful worship of the true God.This is a deep misunderstanding about how Christianity works. Of course we believe that God is God and we are not and that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit but that this is not a set of propositions — but is rather embedded in a community of practices that make those beliefs themselves work and give us a community by which we are shaped. Religious belief is not just some kind of primitive metaphysics, but in fact it is a performance just like you’d perform Lear. What people think Christianity is, is that it’s like the text of Lear, rather than the actual production of Lear. It has to be performed for you to understand what Lear is — a drama. You can read it, but unfortunately Christians so often want to make Christianity a text rather than a performance.”

Perhaps part of the problem in our world is that we have mistakenly separated out the beliefs of Christianity with the embodied life and practices of Christianity. We all seek peace, regardless of ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, but how can a world believe in a Jesus whose church doesn’t embody its ideals?

Perhaps speaking about loving an enemy, like an Osama bin Laden, seems rather outlandish. And perhaps it is since, in all likelihood, he wouldn’t have had a great influence on our day to day lives. So, for me, I have to wonder how this is actually lived out in my day to day life. It makes me wonder about the reality that there is a convicted felon in my neighborhood. He moved in, fixed up a house, and seems to be contributing to our small neighborhood. Then everyone found out that he is a convicted pedophile who committed an atrocious crime. In many ways, he could possibly be my enemy. Yet, when the rest of the neighborhood has been attempting to evict him from our community, how am I to apply Jesus’ command to love my enemy?

How am I to love a pedophile? Or what about the known drug house down the street? Or the kid who speeds past my house when my daughter and I are outside playing? These are questions I must wrestle with in light of Jesus’ high call to love them.

Can we imagine this? Can the church really be a people that loves that those who are different than us? Are we Americans first and then Christians or Christians first and then Americans? What would it look like if we had actually loved Osama bin Laden? When was the last time you prayed for Osama bin Laden?

How do we come to grips with the reality that Jesus loved Osama bin Laden?


Osama bin Laden’s Death: Reflections and Questions (Part 1)

Sunday night was an interesting night. My wife, mother-in-law, and newborn daughter were about to go bed when the news of something big was about to be announced by President Obama. The suspense was heightened by the fact that they couldn’t tell us what was going to be announced. The combination of this huge news coming so late in the evening with its secrecy was enough to keep us up. Then without warning, the channel we were watching decided to leak the info that it was in regards to Osama bin Laden and his death at the hand of our government.

My initial thoughts were rather mixed. I was pretty surprised by the matter. Surprised that they actually found him. Surprised that we were actually still looking for him. And even more surprised that now we seemed to have an “ending” to the search that apparently has continued since 9/11. I thought of the people and places that were greatly affected that fateful day. I remember, like most people of my generation, where I was and what I was doing. I remember the fighter jets flying over Philadelphia, where I lived during college, and wondering what was going on. Just like JFK’s assassination was a turning point for my parents’ generation, 9/11 would be a day marked for the rest of my generation’s life.

So I began to wonder if this would bring any resolve to the turmoil across the world. Would this now bring any peace to our country? To the Middle East? To the people suffering under bin Laden’s regime? Is the level of evil really lower now?

Soon thereafter celebration began to erupt across the country. Americans affected by the events of 9/11 seemingly had the justice they were after. Facebook, Twitter, and every news outlet were flooded with the news. Interestingly, it seemed as if there was a satisfaction in his death, even it was fleeting.

Personally, I felt satisfaction, curiosity, and, to be honest, worry and sorrow. For those I know who were personally affected by 9/11 I wondered if this would end a chapter in their lives. Would this be the end they were seeking? Is this end we all are seeking? Justice (who’s justice, is another question) seemed to carried out and bin Laden had now received what we all, myself included, had hoped for since 9/11.

But then I began to worry and feel sorrow in the fact that I should probably not feel and accept the satisfaction that came with his death. Is life really about vengeance? Is life really about getting back? Does death bring an end to evil? I also wondered about the call Jesus sent forth and to which I have answered. Regardless of anyone’s religious affiliation, we all must wrestle with and think through Jesus’ words of how to deal with evil and retaliation. Do they have any bearing on our world? Are they just words or do they produce anything worthwhile? Is the point just to “believe” in these words or do they produce something? Could their be a community in which peace brings reconciliation between enemies?

These are just some of my initial thoughts. Honestly, I have more questions than answers, but I really do believe that this event has the potential to be another watershed moment. How we react to Osama bin Laden’s death could be the event that pulls back the veil a bit, that points to our stances on the deeper realities of justice, violence, love, and reality.

So, how did you initially react? Did, or do, you find that how you did react conflicts with how you should react?

Holy Week in Art: Good Friday


“Crucifixion” by Jacobello Alberegno (circa 1360-1390)

“Golgotha” by Sybil Andrews (1931)


“Trinity” by Domenico Beccafumi (1513)

Jean-Leon Gerome (Jean Leon Gerome)

“Jerusalem: It is Finished” by Jean-Leon Gerome (1867)

“I Tell You the Truth, Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise” by Macha Chmakoff

Pablo Picasso. Crucifixion.

“Crucifixion” by Pablo Picasso

Norman Adams, ‘Christ's Cross and Adam's Tree’ 1989

“Christ’s Cross and Adam’s Tree” by Norman Adams (1989)


“Crucifixion” by Salvador Dali (1954)

Holy Week in Art: Maundy Thursday


“The Washing of the Feet” by Flaminio Allegrini


“Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet” by Dirck van Baburen (circa 1616)

“The Foot Washer #1” by Daniel Bonnell

Stained Glass Photography - Tiffany

“Jesus Washing the Feet of the Disciples” by Tiffany Studios (Stained glass)

“The Washing of the Feet” by Corinne Vonaesch

Why I’m taking a (indefinite) sabbatical from Facebook

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I recently decided to forgo my socially networked identity and deactivated my Facebook account. I know, I know; social suicide, right? At least, perhaps, internet-related social suicide. And just writing that sentence makes me wonder about the seemingly obvious paradox found within it. Is there really a society, a community, a true list of friends found on Facebook? Is social connectedness found solely within a list of hundreds of people, some whom are actual friends, others not so much, posting snarky snippets in “status updates”? Or are pictures of people enjoying life chosen to represent the best side of life, faces and figures, reality? (Remember the days when nobody really knew what the internet itself was and we lived in a much smaller world? If not, check out this video from the Today Show in 1994.)

Awhile ago I read this post by one of my favorite authors/thinkers James K.A. Smith. In it he describes his reasons for leaving his Facebook reality and identity behind. He talks about it in regards to his formation and the effects FB was having on him. What he says really does resonate with me and my faults. I, too, have a very addictive personality and have found myself spending WAY too much time on FB. The ease of the accessibility into the lives of people added to the massive wave of information that we all find ourselves swimming in everyday makes it difficult to keep afloat. Sometimes life passes us by without our noticing it.

This is a factor that pervades nearly ever facet of our culture and thereby our lives as well. Step back and think of all the free-floating information that comes across our paths everyday. Television, magazines, Facebook, blogs, phone apps, and a plethora of other media drown us with pummeling waves. The moment we wake up we are engulfed by these things, but only if we let them. There’s a saying, “We make our tools and then our tools make us.” How true is this? Part of my fear is the connection between media oversaturation, which leads to an insatiable appetite for more, and then in turn leads to an apathy towards it all.

Can this happen in regards to people? Could Facebook lead to an unconscious determination to search out and find out things about people and yet miss the people themselves? Are we turning people into mere information containers through our never-ending voyeurism into their lives via images, status updates, and other digital means? I don’t know. All I know is that Facebook definitely has an agenda, whether it recognizes it or not, and if I’m not careful, I could allow it to continually put me on a trajectory that I may wake up too late to.

Facebook isn’t inherently evil. It is not of the devil. It is a tool to be employed for connection and networking, by which it does do a great deal of good. I will certainly miss the ease of writing a few things, sending a few things, or looking up a few things in an attempt to set up a meeting or further a conversation. So much so, that I’m not saying I won’t ever be back. Actually, by the time I decide to or not I may be too late. Check out this article discussing the possible downward trend in FB.

Basically, I don’t want to miss out on my real life because of my FB life. I don’t want to miss out on real connections with people in lieu of the surreal connections FB offers. Most of all, I want to be aware of the person FB, along with every other factor in my life, is turning me into. All of our habits are formational. The question is to what end are they forming us?

These are just some thoughts of mine and the actions I have taken because of them. If these resonate with you, let me know. If not, why not? Do I have a blind spot? Let me know.

UPDATE: Since posting this I came across this article on the Pope’s letter concerning social media, communication, and Christians. Check it out.

Brueggeman on Imperialism and the Church

Below is a portion of The Prophetic Imagination in which Walter Brueggemann compares our cultural context with that of Pharaoh and Solomon. Why Solomon?, you may think. He asserts that Solomon mimicked Pharaoh in his kingdom building and thus erased the counter-community Moses sought to build over against the Egyptians. As a result, Brueggemann sees the following imperial characteristics. Read with an eye for our own (church) situation:

“Passion as the capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die, and to feel is the enemy of imperial reality. Imperial economics is designed to keep people satiated so that  they do  not notice. Its politics is intended to block out the cries of the denied ones. Its religion is to be an opiate so that no one discerns misery alive in the heart of God. Pharaoh, the passive king in the block universe, in the land without revolution or change or history or promise or hope, is the model king for a world that never changes from generation to generation. That same fixed, closed universe is what every king yearns for – even Solomon in all his splendor.

This model of royal consciousness does not require too much interpretation to be seen as a characterization of our own cultural situation…It takes little imagination to see ourselves in this same royal tradition.

Ourselves in an economics of affluence in which we are so well off that pain is not noticed and we can eat our way around it.

Ourselves in a politics of oppression in which the cries of the marginal are not heard or dismissed as the noises of kooks and traitors.

Ourselves in a religion of immanence and accessibility, in which God is so present to us that his abrasiveness, his absence, his banishment are not noticed, and the problem is reduced to psychology.

Perhaps you are like me, so enmeshed in this reality that another way is nearly unthinkable.”

– Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 35-36.

Sound familiar?