Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crying With Those Who Cry

When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah. They agreed to come so they could console and comfort him. When they looked up from a distance and didn’t recognize him, they wept loudly. Each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky. They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.  Job 2:11-13 CEB

Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. - Romans 12:15 CEB

The parable of Job is an interesting one. It deals with the complex situation of suffering and grief. The age old existential question, "Why does a good God allow suffering?" comes to play here.

I could give an answer to that, but it won't solve anything. God doesn't give an answer to Job, either.

So, I don't want to talk about the suffering question. I want to talk about his friends. Job had 3 friends who came to be with him after they heard about his misfortune. Scholars, theologians, and lay people have always come down hard on these 3 friends. However, I would like to praise them for one thing they did:  They came to be with him and share in his suffering.

Sometimes that's all that a grieving person needs:  the presence and comfort of a friend. They don't need any platitudes, any trite sayings. They want to know that they are not alone.

In 2003, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage of our child. It was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever gone through. My wife blamed herself (even though it wasn't her fault). She would grieve every additional month she wasn't pregnant. She would be furious at every pregnant woman she saw walking the street who was smoking. I suffered in silence. I tried calling my friends in the United States, but got no support. (I lived in Germany at the time.)

People would ask me how my wife was doing. They would never ask me how I was doing, as if the miscarriage didn't happen to me, too. The people at our corps (congregation) did not know what to do. So they resorted to the familiar platitudes, "You'll have another baby some day." "You're still young!"

Probably the worst thing that happened was when we received a condolence card from a retired Salvation Army officer. Interestingly enough, he quoted from Job, too. He wrote, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Unfortunately it seems he has been taking a lot from you lately." When my wife read that, it just sank her into a deeper depression. I was furious. How could someone be so callous as to say that to my wife?

The three friends of Job helped him out the best when they said nothing at all. Everything else was ruined when they opened their mouths and tried to explain the suffering away.

We do not need the suffering to be explained. In fact, this is the lesson I learn from Job. What we need is God at our side and the companionship of our friends and family. We can apply this advice from Paul:  "Cry with those who are crying."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Where Were You?

This past week was the 13th anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. So many of my friends talked about it, posted about it, shared memes with each other.

It's an open wound for many to this day.

Even though it didn't affect me personally, I am reluctant to talk about it. Why? My conclusions about the whole episode are not mainstream.

On that day on the 11th of September, I was in Germany. There is a 6 hour difference between New York and Germany. So it was in the middle of the afternoon for me at the time. We had just finished Home League, which is a women's group of The Salvation Army. One of the ladies just got off of her mobile phone and told me her daughter said that something had happened in New York. So I went upstairs to my apartment and turned on the television. The Pentagon had just been struck. So I assumed it was a common misunderstanding.

However, then the view switched to New York City and the unforgettable Towers on fire, smoking up to the heavens. I was transfixed. I could not look away. A surreal incident happened. I called my father, who was stationed with The Salvation Army at our Territorial Headquarters in Chicago. He had no television in his office. He knew about the attacks, but wasn't watching anything at the time. While talking with him, the South Tower of the World Trade Centers collapsed. So while I was in Germany, I told my father about what was happening in New York.

The German version of MTV and the other music video station, VIVA, turned off their regular broadcasts and issued a message that stated, "Out of respect for those who died in the attack in New York and Washington, we have cancelled our broadcast for the rest of the day."

At one point, my mind had had enough. I was over-saturated with information and images. I had to turn off the television and go to sleep. The next morning, I went to the main train station to pick up the local newspaper. I didn't have a subscription. So I wanted to at least have this copy of what happened the day before, knowing that this was an event to remember. As I left the train station, a radio reporter stopped me and asked about what my opinion was on the whole matter, not realizing that I was an American. When he found out, he was very interested in knowing my thoughts. I told him that the world would see what kind of nation the United States is after this event happened.

Those words have come to haunt me.

What kind of nation are we?

That day and in the weeks to come I had friends and acquaintances call me up to express their condolences to me. That felt awkward. I wasn't personally affected by the whole incident. None of my loved ones were among the victims. However, I was the token American that they knew and I realized that they were coming to grips in dealing with that situation, too.

What kind of nation are we?

At first, things seemed to be going smoothly. We were united. We rallied behind the first responders. We volunteered. We sent money in support of those who were helping others.

Then things began to get strange.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Copies of the pseudo documentary, "Loose Change," circulated the Internet.

We locked up "non-military combatants" in Guantanamo Bay because we found a legal loophole where we could hold people indefinitely without trial and at the same time circumvent the Geneva Convention because we didn't call them soldiers with whom we were at war.

Iraq was invaded. Some vague thread of logic seemed to combine the two incidents of the attacks on the 11th of September with Iraq. People believed that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved, too.

Abu Ghraib happened. We humiliated Iraqis for no good reason. I even recall retired General John Gowans commenting at our Congress in Hanover, Germany in 2004 how horrible that situation was where American soldiers humiliated Iraqis and posed with them in degrading pictures.

We have been trying to solve violence with violence. What has that gotten us?

Good men and women return home with missing limbs, scars, or in a pine box. The scars are both physical and mental. We leave death and destruction across 2 continents, killing more people than we ourselves lost. More Americans died in Afghanistan and in Iraq than we lost on the 11th of September.

In Afghanistan, 3469 Coalition Troops (including Americans) died in Afghanistan. However, at least 21,000 Afghans have lost their lives during this time.

In Iraq, 4489 Americans have lost their lives, compared with the approximately 1.4 Million Iraqis who have died due to the fighting.

War has done something terrible to the American psyche. I see no justification for this war. I am at fault, too, because I spoke up after it was all over. Too many people are dead.

The attacks on the 11th of September did something terrible to us. It brought out the good in us. We saw this manifested in the small and large acts of heroism of the first responders and those who assisted them. The attacks also brought out the evil in us. We meted the revenge on those who did not deserve it.

Jesus gave us a hard task to fulfill. He said, "You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-45a CEB) What would have happened if the United States, instead of killing our enemies and all those civilians, went into those countries and helped them out where they were? Whether or not they would have accepted our aid is another question, but simply offering love to them when they offered us hate would have had a more meaningful and lasting impact.

Have we as Christians forgotten how to love?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Peace or Vengeance?

Today I read an article by David French, a blogger on Patheos Evangelical, on his blog, "French Revolution." The blog was entitled, "How Should Christians Expect Our Nation to Respond to ISIS? With Wrath and Vengeance." Go ahead. Read it. Ponder the hatred that imbibes this blog.

I was going to post a comment in this article, but comments are no longer allowed. I can understand why. This is a very tough topic to deal with.

As a pacifist, I am horrified that a Christian would advocate "wrath and vengeance" as a legitimate means for dealing with ISIS. I can understand the author wishing to make a distinction between individual and governmental responsibility; however, I also note that in the Bible, governments are often singled out and criticized stringently for showing no mercy to the weak and the poor. (See Amos 6:12, Micah 3:1-3, and Zechariah 7:9-14.)

I would like to suggest that even Jesus' Sermon on the Mount could be applied on a governmental level. Imagine: What would happen if on a governmental level, we treated other countries like we wanted to be treated? What would happen if we served others instead of forcing others to bow to our demands?

I know that the United States (to quote President John Adams from his Treaty of Tripoli) "is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," but most countries in the Levant (Middle East)  assume that we are a Christian nation (a common misunderstanding, to be sure). So, if our nation acts out in revenge and wrath towards ISIS, how will that bring about peace? How will that make us peacemakers?

What if we, as a nation, would "turn the other cheek?" Yes, someone has hurt us. Yes, someone has killed our citizens. Why don't we break the cycle of violence and show love and mercy instead of "wrath and vengeance?"

Some would say that I am naive in this presumption. They may be right. However, I believe that advocating for peace instead of revenge is preferable and more Christ-like.

Leave vengeance to God. God says it best:  "Revenge is my domain, so is punishment-in-kind." (Deuteronomy 32:35)