It has been a busy few weeks, the news has been buzzing about what they call "an alleged chemical attack" outside of Damascus. Gruesome videos of people, many of them children are swirling about the internet and social media, prefaced by news anchors as "disturbing." during their prime time appearance.
For most of news cycle since the attacks occurred, I have been listening to the media and governments meticulously analyze whether or not these pictures are real. Chemical weapons experts come on the news to lend their opinions. What else could it be actually? But what is more disturbing than the atrocity, is the reluctance to call it what it is, a deep human tragedy, an utter failure of human morality and decency. Each side in the conflict blames the other, governments and analysts around the world are debating the words that should be used to call this event what it should be called, even more discussion has been focused on what the response should be. Lines have been crossed, responses should be given, warships gather, alerts broadcast, passionate debates in parliament and on evening news programs go on endlessly. But still the children die, mothers mourn the loss of their babies, doctors fight to save lives, not only in Syria but across the globe. One comment I saw on a news source said, "when will it end?"
Our Lady of the Good Death
, France 12c
I have so many questions. Why does the world rally so quickly around promoting destruction? I saw a BBC news article showing a colored info graphic showing where all the world's weapons were produced and exported http://www.chromeexperiments.com/detail/arms-globe/ This "good idea" as it was labeled showed streaming beams of color coming out of the different nations that export arms. Leading the pack was the United States, but it seemed almost all nations are busy making agents of death and destruction as the basis of their economies. Here in California, entire economies have collapsed when military bases close. State and local governments rally to beg Congress not to shut down more, where will the jobs come from if the bases close? What kind of job is that? To depend on creating death and destruction as the base of your economy, is no economy.
What is the response to evil? More evil? Is one side's evil better than another? Does violence ever stop violence? The ultimate perpetrators of evil, the nation that unleashed nuclear weapons and used them on Civilian Christians of another nation because the military target was covered with clouds at the time, justified the action by saying "it saved lives." At what cost? Another justification for vaporizing 100,000 civilians, and giving cancer and fertility diseases to generations afterwards, was, well they would have developed these weapons at some point and would have used them on us. So, we beat them to the finish line in being "the bringer of death?" And we are the ones who will mete out justice on those who dared to use chemical weapons we designed on their own citizens?
Several years ago, a crazed gunman entered a school of Amish children, and selectively shot 10 girls before killing himself. The children were aged 6 - 13 years old, and five of them died as a result of their wounds. The response of the community was swift and decisive. They immediately forgave the man, and gave the money that poured into the community to help the girls who survived the shooting, to the family of the shooter. He left behind a wife and several small children. They invited the family to come and live with them. When asked why and how they could have done this, the response was simple, this is our responsibility, it is our faith, we are required to forgive.
Naive? Hardly. As a person who could be called a victim of many crimes and injustices by conventional wisdom, I can tell you, no matter how grave the harm, the only freedom really comes from forgiveness. When you experience the injustice, by not forgiving, you allow the perpetrator a permanent part of your soul, you bleed energy daily, you relive the pain over and over again. In essence you never heal, and the perpetrator wins.
I remember hearing a story of a man from Cambodia whose family had been slaughtered by the Pol Pot evil. After witnessing his family die from a firing squad, as a child he had been forced into slavery in the rice paddies, chained to other children as they harvested rice. Each child had a razor wire around their necks and were required at various times to strangle and decapitate one of the children in their group by collectively pulling on the chain that connected them all, mainly at the whim of their foreman. This was done to "teach" the children a lesson. The man later became a refugee and emigrated to America, where he vowed revenge for his family and those children he witnessed being killed. His revenge? To live a good life and not let those who had harmed him have any power over him. He said that to be angry and bitter would have let them win, and by making a success of himself, by living a good and moral life, he would overcome those who tried to break him.
I usually cry when I think of the Amish victims of violence, of what this Cambodian man endured, because forgiveness does not come easy to me. I fall so short of their example, and am shamed by my willful desire to exact an eye for an eye. As a person who has had everything stolen from me, very unjustly, I struggle with wanting vengeance first, then I can forgive. But I have also experienced the exhilaration of forgiveness, to be free from the debilitating anger, to be rid of the horrible event that clouds my memories, the memories that restrict my freedom. As a victim of violence, I have learned that the only freedom comes from forgiveness, the only way to truly "kill" the perpetrator is to forgive and release him to the hell that awaits him. When we cross the threshold, All of us will experience the pain that we caused others in our life and not have the lie of cool rationalization to numb ourselves from our actions. We will go through this life review of pain in the direct presence of the Christ. When I imagine the pain that those who have harmed me and those who perpetrate great evil on this planet will experience when they cross the threshold of life, it actually allows me to have compassion for them. For the pain they cause, may take an eternity to process, of agony with no substance or distraction to relieve. For me, I try to temper my thoughts and actions so I will not have to process more than is necessary in the presence of the pure love of the Christ.
So what are we to do as a species when some of us perpetrate great harm and evil on others to do? Sit silently by and let them continue? Can we ever punish rulers who order genocide on their own people? Who suffers the price from military actions designed to punish a regime? Do such actions really stop the slaughter?
A simple google search in the Bible produces many verses on vengeance. From Old and New Testament:
Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Romans 12: 14, 18-20. Bless them that persecute you....If possible, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine..... but if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink. (Paul wrote this in prison, which you can still visit in Rome, it is literally a hole in the ground that still smells of urine, that he could write such beautiful sentiments from a dank hole speaks volumes of what is possible when one fills their lives, their souls and minds with the life affirming Christ consciousness)
Matthew 5:39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him, and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt let him have your coat also.
We often hear that Christ brings freedom, true and deep freedom. Often this is associated with the afterlife, which is true but I think the dictum and example of Christ brings freedom on the Earth as well. Forgiveness does not come easy, nor is it excusing the wrongs. Worrying and plotting revenge when the perpetrator's ultimate punishment of experiencing the pain caused others awaits them, the ultimate retribution is not for us to "help God out" in exacting. It will come in ways we can never create, and is actually more effective in the long run.
What if the news pundits, the UN councils, the Arab League and governing bodies of the world reacted in a truly Christian way to this atrocity? In stead of sending in experts to see if chemical weapons had indeed be used and who did it, arguing over what to call the atrocity, what if the world rushed in to heal the sick, feed the hungry, bind the wounds, and forgive those who did such heinous crimes? What if we all rushed in to facilitate reconciliation, demanding that kindness and love be applied immediately to remedy the situation? We only rush into see whom we can bomb. And then what?
Naive? Am I really? Why would the creator of the Universe suggest forgiveness? Maybe he knows what he is talking about. Forgiveness is practical actually, but it can also be one of the most incredible experiences on this planet. Forgiveness is something that God does every second of every day, something that was one of the last seven statements of Christ when he was on the Cross. We could actually be like God!
As the US Congress meets to debate on whether or not to slaughter the Assad regime, one thing is for sure. To do the same thing over and over again and expect different results does not work. We must use the immense creativity that we humans are capable of instituting. Violence never stopped violence, Matthew 25 :52 was said by Christ Jesus as he was being arrested in Gethsemane to a disciple who drew a sword to fight with the authorities. Remember, this was happening because he was betrayed by a close friend, and would lead to his unfair execution so a known murderer would be set free. Jesus Christ said, knowing the consequences of all that led up to this moment and all that lay ahead: "Put back your sword, for all those who take up the sword with perish by the sword." Why is it that humans think they can know better than the creator of the universe who has lived, worked and created beyond our time and comprehension, why is it that humans think they have a better idea than God or his Son?
We know what does not work in deep, evil conflicts. More evil, more violence and death does not work. We have suggestions, and examples, from God and Humans alike when something different is attempted. For the Love of God, lets try something different. Forgiveness is not weakness, it is the ultimate power, the ultimate courage, and the ultimate deep and true answer to bring about the Kingdom of God, of Love upon the earth.
Let's avenge evil by living a good and moral life, let us make those who have died at the hands of these terrible weapons a good death, by challenging the war that is the basis of our global economy, by forgiving and combining our hearts, minds and souls for the betterment of us all. Let us debate what the loving response is to evil, lets try something different and see what happens.