Psalm 23, Mercy, Bombs & Greed
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. – Psalm 23
How many of you have family members? Spouses? Children? Can you relate to the gut-wrenching grief expressed by the man in the video above? It has been documented that he and his wife were humble olive and wheat farmers, living in a small town with their children and surrounded by their families, trying their best to be true to their faith and to live a life of simplicity and joy. That life was forever altered in an instant. How many of you live or wish to live this same simple life – working hard and surrounded by your family and friends, in peace and prosperity?
With these questions in mind, I must write some hard things. I am truly sorry if I cause you grief or offend you with anything that I say. It is not my intent to hurt or scandalize anyone. I love all to the best of my ability, and I too fail in that love. Please forgive me. I also believe the time for silence is over and not to speak is a greater sin than to stay quiet. And so…
Today is Holy Thursday for Christians around the world. Today is the day we remember the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples, where, after showing incredible power by restoring sight to the blind and raising the dead, he then served his own body and blood to a traitor and stooped to wash the dirty feet of his brothers and friends who were squabbling over who among them would be greatest. This he did in an example of humility and servant leadership, and as one more lesson in how we are to treat one another. “The greatest among you must be the least and the servant of all.”
Jesus did all of this just before he was betrayed by a close friend who sold him out for money, was arrested by the religious military, tortured by the Imperial military, and ultimately executed (read – “received capital punishment”) at the command of the religious and Empirical leaders. The moral? The truth will set you free…but it may also get you killed. However, all of this Jesus did in complete humility and in refusal to react with violence against those who spat on him, told lies about him, and finally killed him. I am not this strong…but I want to be so. All of this causes me to reflect on my own motivations when I am slandered, and on the motivations of the country that I live in and call my home.
I’ve posted the video and picture above as a way to remember and reflect on the real life results of war and the often innocent victims of Empirical violence, in a time when such things seem to be on the rise and even at times glorified by my fellow countrymen. Just today it was confirmed that the U.S. accidentally killed Syrian soldiers allied with us in an airstrike…not the first time this has happened either. Lives gone in an instant…brothers, fathers, sons, friends…all just a statistic on paper and brief run on a newsreel. On Palm Sunday this past week, we learned that two Coptic Christian churches were bombed in Egypt by a member of the extremist Islamic State group, and dozens of innocent people were killed. The incredible response of those terrorized was to recite the Creed in public and not return evil for evil. One week before that, someone, (perhaps the Syrian and Russian governments, and perhaps not…things are not always as they seem), bombed a village in northern Syria with Sarin gas, and dozens of innocent people were killed. (Including the family of the man above.) Finally, in “retaliation” for the chemical gas attack, the President of the United States ordered a grand show of force, and authorized the release of 59 Tomahawk missiles that struck an airfield “suspected” of being the origin of the chemical bombs and planes that carried them, but ultimately did nothing more than the equivalent of a machismo display of crotch grabbing and muscle flexing, increase the wealth of those in power, and provoke further violence and unrest and strengthen the resolve of those who already see the U.S. as the greatest threat to freedom in the world. This is not who we were once perceived as being.
Our country is complicit in inciting violence in so many places, sometimes in the name of God and “freedom”, but truthfully even more so in the name of greed; to expand the Empire. This goes back decades and is fact that can be easily cited. I have deep respect for all that serve in our armed forces – truly I do. Do not misunderstand me. I have friends that are veterans of nearly every major war, but whom also would never wish their experiences on anyone. I also have friends who have been injured in our wars, and some who’ve chosen suicide because they could no longer live with the pain of the dichotomy of what they knew to be true and what they experienced overseas. I miss them. And, I would be remiss if I did not state, for the record, that service in our military does not an instant hero make, nor is our military a “global force for good”…despite what the commercials portray. Preying upon the poorest among us in order to constantly fuel a war machine is not beneficent…it is evil. Everything comes with a cost, and our greatest national exports…violence and greed…are coming back around to bite us. They always do. This twisted Nationalistic love of our military power and might being equated to being a true patriot, and being a true American, and being equated sometimes even with being a good American Christian; it is a farce and a lie and contrary to the teachings of Jesus the Christ. Furthermore, to treat others who disagree with these fallacies as traitors or label them “snowflakes” or weak people is yet another reminder of the danger of this way of thinking. “My Kingdom is not of this world.” WE are not of this world.
And so, as I wept and grieved over the useless loss of innocent life, I also found myself frustrated at the response I heard from so many about these events. I heard cries for vengeance from all sides. I heard Christians ask for prayers for their fellow Christians injured and killed in the church bombings in Egypt, and from some, the call for retaliation by “putting an end to this violence.” (Interesting how putting an end to violence involves being violent. This makes no logical sense.) I also was saddened that I did not hear the same people ask for prayers the week prior, when dozens of innocent Muslims were killed by chemical gas attacks, even though we are called to pray for and remember ALL people everywhere. Were those lives any less valuable in the sight of the Divine?
In a beautiful moment however, I also saw video of an incredible display of solidarity from Muslims overseas who gathered in great numbers in protest against the radical Islamic State, and corporately condemned the attack on Christian worshippers on Palm Sunday. I saw video of Muslims holding hands surrounding a Coptic church to ensure the Christians inside could worship w/o fear, and the opposite being done by Christians for their Muslim friends in prayer at a mosque. This was not widely reported or even aired here in the U.S. Why? Why would this not make top news, that Muslims are praying for and standing up for Christians in the Middle East, and Christians are doing the same? The answer is quite simple – because it does not feed the false narrative we are pushed to believe – that violence is redemptive, and is a necessary part of life, and ultimately, the very dark and secret truth that war and the Military Industrial Complex is an incredibly powerful money-making machine. Let me be blunt – this is NOT the “Christian” response and can never be so. Even Bonhoeffer repented of his part in the plot to assassinate Hitler, as, when it failed, Hitler took it as a sign that God was protecting him, and pushed his campaign forward, slaughtering more people. Violence begets violence. As the Christ said to the zealot Barabbas, “All those who take up the sword, will perish by the sword.” This cannot continue brothers and sisters. We are called to be people of peace, love, and mercy…not pawns of the Empire who have been snared into believing that there is justice in retribution and death. We are called to be salt and light; not poison and darkness.
I found myself fighting back tears as I read Psalm 23 out loud this morning during our Holy Thursday liturgy. The reason however, was not only the comfort that it brings in such times, and the longing I feel for green pastures and a place of rest while walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but rather, because I found myself for the first time ever hearing the final phrase in a completely different light. I have always selfishly heard the words, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” in the context of wanting that goodness and mercy for MYSELF, and surely if I do the “right thing” I’ll get God’s goodness and mercy. Today it struck me…that perhaps it is also a hidden truth…that if I am trying to live like the Rebel Jesus, then I should be manifesting goodness and mercy to all those around me, and thus, by practicing resurrection, a trail of goodness and mercy will follow me wherever I go in this sick and darkened world. And if I can do this, I will find myself, as the verse ends, in the house of the Lord…in paradise…everywhere that I am.
I first saw the photo of the grieving father holding his baby girls last week, and I wept, and then I saw the video interview with him this week, and I wept…deeply…because I know a part of that grief, even if not to that level, and somehow, despite distance and difference of religion, creed, nationality, and status, I experienced his story as that of a brother in this life together, and I grieve with him, for we belong to one another. ALL OF US BELONG TO ONE ANOTHER. There is no “other”…we are all children of the Divine. (Gal. 3:28) As St. Frank said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
Finally…and here is the crux…there are many who have lost their way…and it’s not just those “others” outside the Churches and Temples and Mosques…it is those inside as well. I have been one of them. So many have fallen for the sweet siren song of superiority and military strength, and the lie of redemptive violence, believing ourselves to be blessed by OUR God to persecute all who get in the way of our religion, prosperity and sovereignty. We all bear responsibility and have lost our way. It is time to remember our Creator and the Way before us. As we enter into the last days of Holy Week and Easter for Christians, Passover for Jews, and the remembrance of Isra and Mi’raj for Muslims, it would do us all well to remember that we belong to one another, and we are all strangers in a foreign land. We are all brothers and sisters and children of our Creator. Our beliefs and faith and ways of life differ, but it is common to all of us that we are commanded to be loving and merciful to our neighbor. And, in so doing, surely goodness and mercy will follow us, all the days of our life. Let us work for peace, no matter how small, and as St. Teresa said, “Do little things with great love.” This love can change the world. In fact, it already has.
Resist + Restore
Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me
-Rich Mullins; Land of My Sojourn