Waking Up to the Same Nightmare
Terrorism is nothing new. It has been around my whole life. In my childhood, headlines reported acts by the IRA, FALN and the Weathermen. Europe had the Bade-Meinhoff gang and Red Army Faction. Israel has suffered terrorist attacks its entire existence as a modern state. In the 90's Timothy McVeigh attacked Oklahoma City, a cult poured sarin gas into the Tokyo Subway. Then we lived through the rise of Al Qaeda with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, 9-11 and the London and Madrid attacks. Now we have ISIS. While much press is always given how we can prevent future attacks, surprisingly little is given to how do prepare to respond when attacks occur. Given the reality of human history this point should not be overlooked.
So I would like for us to think about how we can prepare spiritually for when attacks come. Terrorists like ISIS not only attack physical and human targets they intentionally target the spirit of the community in their cross hairs. By examining what Jesus teaches us, we will have the tools to strengthen and protect our own spirits and the the spirit of the community we serve.
The Terrorist's' True Target: Goodwill
The primary goal of a terrorist attack is to disrupt the target society by instilling fear. Part of achieving this plan is to disrupt those who work for a civil society, destroy goodwill, so people will feel they have nowhere to turn and are cowed into submission. For example, ISIS wants the flow of refugees to stop, just like the Communists did when they built the Iron Curtain ISIS needs people to kick around, children to conscript into its army, people with skills to keep the water running, the lights on, and most of all to sell crude oil. When people leave the conflict zones, ISIS loses human capital to continue its struggle for domination in the Middle East. Our goodwill starves ISIS of resources. Their goal: instil fear to stop generosity. Our fight: stand up for our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ and remain gracious.
The Jesus Way
People forget, but the scholarship is clear; Jesus lived in a time when terrorism was rife. On Epiphany we will read how Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled the state sponsored terror of Herod. Two of Jesus' own disciples may have been identified with groups that may have engaged in acts of terror, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. Jesus was killed using a Roman method to intentionally inspire terror. So when you read the words of Jesus below, remember that he was no pie in the sky dreamer, but a person who lived and served in a very violent society.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48 NRSV)
Refuse to Submit
For ordinary folks like us, the Way of Jesus Christ may seem hard, but I will ask you to pray and think deeply, and hopefully see the grace in it. When we succumb to fear and take revenge for ourselves in contradiction to biblical teaching, we play by the terrorists' rules. The core of radical fundamentalist Islamic teaching is that Allah needs the terrorists to take revenge on the infidel (btw doesn't that really say their god is weak?). When we seek out revenge, we will only give them new motivation for further acts of their revenge. We will also be submitting to the scenario they wanted all along.
Countless Christian Martyrs and the the great peace leaders of the 20th century such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. realized the gift of Jesus' teaching. They understood it for what it precisely is, a courageous, comprehensive, and effective strategy to stop evil. They would not submit to an unjust system. When we stand with them, we are refusing to submit, and standing up to evil. As Paul wrote when we are gracious, it is as if we are pouring hot coals over their heads. This is because by being gracious and generous we are disrupting their agenda of violence.
This struggle we have is not just with groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, the KKK, Neo Nazi's or Anarchists. It is is spiritual struggle against powers at work within our very communities and homes. These powers are calling us to become hard hearted and fearful. If we submit to them we lose, not just to them, but indeed we lose our very selves.
When humanity killed God's only Son, God did not take revenge. He refused to submit and raised Jesus to new life. God refused to submit to death and stood for life. Countless Christians will continue to to do the same, by serving and helping those who the world says should be their enemies. When we aid the Syrian refugee, we are fighting evil, When we clothe and feed the homeless, we are fighting evil. When we greet and welcome the neighbor from the county we can't find on the map, we are fighting evil. When we affirm human dignity of every person, we refuse to submit to the world's agenda. If the headlines have shocked you lately, maybe it is just the time to stand with Jesus and be generous.