Your House is Desolate

A piece written for Macadonia’s 9-11 service yesterday. A difficult piece to write, with a good journal-full of rough drafts before this edition was finalized at midnight, hours prior to its reading.

September 10, 2011

On September 11, 2001, I was an eleven-year-old tomboy more concerned with outrunning my male counterparts than with the happenings of mainstream America. The significance of buildings such as the Pentagon or the World Trade Center was faint; instead, I busily schemed the release of stink bombs at my parent’s upcoming Harvest Party and mourned the lack of broken bones in my unfortunately girlish body. Mine were the interests of a want-to-be rough and tumble back-woods girl who loved horses, dreamed of owning a farm, scorned the idea of boyfriends, wrapped bandanas around her head, and worshiped Neil Young.

Additionally, unlike the rest of you, on September 11th, 2001 I didn’t hear about the attacks on the Twin Towers. My father worked by himself in an apple orchard, my mother homeschooled us three girls, and my family didn’t have TV. World-changing news always took its sweet time navigating to the secluded, homeschool life of Raven Glen. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that my sister-in-law Astrid called. “Heather!” she shouted to my mother. “Are you guys okay? … Did you hear what happened? … Ugh! I knew you wouldn’t have! Turn on the radio, woman!” Slowly, the devastation became clear. For a young girl watching, the slaughter was intense, and the resulting onslaught of American patriotism and compassion was inspirational. Nonetheless, the event seemed far away. As an eleven-year-old, I felt no obvious connection to the attacks. I didn’t lose anyone at Ground Zero, I didn’t know anyone who rushed to help, and I didn’t have my eyes glued on the boob tube. Compared to my little life in Vermont, the trauma of 9-11 seemed sad but distant.

On the tenth anniversary of 9-11, I sheepishly admit that I often still feel a vague connection to one of modern America’s most visceral losses. I’ve never even been to New York City or the capital for that matter. Now as a voting citizen, my thoughts on this September 11th travel across the map to the middle east. I would like to share with all of you a few thoughts on a death we wouldn’t often think to remember but was a direct result of September 11th, 2001.

This May, American Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden, the twisted genius behind a worldwide terrorist network, Al Qaida. The tone of American newscasters reporting on the successful mission echoed the giddy patriotism of ten years previous. Briefly, for a day or two, a divided America seemed united in pride and relief. Listening, to the radio the morning after the raid, I heard listeners of NPR and VPR call into “On Point” and “Vermont Edition” and share rapturous statements of pride, contentment, safety, a feeling of justice being had. A few listeners, however, voiced discomfort. Many, believing that all life, regardless of the treachery resulting, deserved respect and honor, expressed a horror at seeing Americans celebrate death. Some considered the Navy Seals mission not justice, but vicious retaliation.

Consider Osama Bin Laden. We’ve seen grainy pictures of his face in newspapers. He often appears disheveled and ill-kept, and we view him as a renegade trouble-maker with a few good tricks up his sleeve. In contrast, a thoughtful look at his life reveals an astonishing genius. Bin Laden was obviously talented: a successful business man, a powerful politician, the inspiration of a segment of Islamic faith, and, most amazingly, the motivation behind a world-wide movement of organized terror that received the fearful respect of nearly, if not every, nation in the world. Few men have so dynamically impacted the globe and defined history. Osama Bin Laden’s life strikes me as tragic and I mourn his loss. I have no qualms about implementing justice. In fact, I’m beginning to see that indifference towards someone’s evil, especially when it brutalizes the lives of others as in the case of Bin Laden, is the greatest injustice. Nonetheless, I agree with the disquieted voice of many who saw Bin Laden’s death as something less celebratory as it was sober.

Bin Laden was the recipient of God-given gifts of intelligence and leadership, and the tragedy of his life lies in the perversion of God’s generosity. I mourn his life not because I especially valued his life but because I mourn the perversion of God’s creation. Perhaps it sounds a little far out, but even Jesus reflecting on the evil of Jerusalem cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”The savior who offers redemption to all, mourns the presence of evil and the hardening of the human heart while not withholding justice.

Osama Bin Laden is a vivid and sobering example of a man imprinted with God’s design who neglected to acknowledge and worship his creator. He hardened his heart and the results of God’s generosity were used for unspeakable acts of treachery and wickedness. In the end, the evil of his life points to our need for Christ. I am not terrorized by the terrorizor but by his example of the polluting presence of sin, taking what is gifted from God and making it a weapon for cruelty, that is known to each human heart.

Just as the loss of lives at Ground Zero and the heroism that resulted, sent Americans to churches to pray, the loss Osama Bin Laden, the loss of his life while he was yet living should cause us to ponder our own sinfulness and rejoice in the great redemption of a just and merciful God.

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10 thoughts on “Your House is Desolate

  1. I agree with you for the most part, however, I am far too imperfect to mourn the loss of such a dispicable and evil man. I did not celebrate it, as many did, but it was met with a quiet sense of relief.

    The man I love best fought in Afghanistan and was wounded in Iraq, so maybe my perspective is different because of that as well.

    • Lisa,
      I don’t so much mourn the loss of Bin Laden — he was a treacherous, evil man! — as I mourn the perversion of what God gave him. And in turn, I mourn the hardening of the human heart to the generosity of the Creator.
      In saying that, I don’t at all belittle the deaths at the world trade center or the brave men who fight in the middle east. The loss of some one we love is soul-robbing agony, and I am sincerely sorry for anyone who experiences grief. My apologies if I offended you.

      • Goodness, no, you did not offend me at all! I appreciated the different perspective and the emphasis on the fact that we are all sinners and that we are able to use our God-given gifts and talents for good or for evil (or not at all!) I always enjoy listening to you and reading your thoughts on things. You are so deep and insightful and you have an amazing ability to express yourself in a profound, articulate and beautiful manner. Several times I have been challenged to look at things from different angles and perspectives because of what you have said or written and that is certainly a good thing! Much love to you both at Pie in the Sky!

  2. Thanks for posting, Grace. I just finished a nice long comment and then promptly pressed the wrong button and lost i! No time to rewrite now. Keep writing!

  3. Well-said. I especially like your emphasis on the fact that what was tragic for bin Laden is not something only “evil people” have, but something that we all deal with — sin. It’s one of the reasons I love Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, too, and one of the things that has sometimes been problematic when talking with some of my friends who are abuse survivors.

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