Monday, May 30, 2011

My Cousin Lewis

Here's a Memorial Day post: from Frederick M. Hanes, "Fayette County [Illinois] in the World War," 1922, pages 58 and 60.

"Lewis Calvin Crawford, son of Calvin and Rosetta Crawford, was born October 24, 1905 [i.e., 1895] near Brownstown where he lived until he entered the service of his country May 8, 1917. He enlisted at Mattoon and was sent to Jefferson Barracks. Later he was transferred to a camp in Texas and thence to Jersey City, N. J., from where he crossed as a first class private of CO. K., 16th Infantry.

"His father having died several years previous [in 1916], many a young man in his position would have pleaded that he must remain with his lonely mother. But whenever he spoke of going he would remark, 'Mother, if I did not go and help win our freedom I would feel that I had no right to live here. I could not face the boys as they came home who had fought for me.'

"Lewis was a Bible reader and before going expressed the desire to go across and if possible see the country where the Saviour lived on earth. On the way across however, he contracted measles. Pneumonia followed. He was taken to Base Hospital No. 1, St. Naziarre, France where he died July 15, 1917, the first of the sons of Fayette county to give his life on French soil. His comrades buried him in a French cemetery but later removed the body to an American cemetery. At the request of his relatives the body was again disinterred and set back to his homeland where it was laid to rest in Pilcher cemetery in the family lot.

"When the American Legion was organized in Fayette County the Vandalia Post was named The Crawford-Hale Post in honor of Private Crawford and Sergt. Edward B. Hale, Fayette County's first two sons to give their lives overseas for American ideals.

"Private Crawford was a member of the M. W. A. [a Methodist organization]. His mother recalls his favorite hymn which has taken on a new and grander meaning:

"I will follow Thee my Saviour,
Whereso'er my lot shall be:
Where Thou goest I will follow,
Yes, my Lord, I'll follow Thee."

Lewis was my great-grandfather John Crawford's first cousin. In fact, Lewis and his parents are buried very close to my grandparents and great-grandparents. Coincidentally, the Crawford-Hale post began on the same day my mother was born: August 2, 1919.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Being Judgmental

A while back, a friend asked me why I thought some Christians are so judgmental. I promised to think about it!

Maybe it's better to say "some judgmental people are also Christians." None of us can separate our psychological makeup from our faith. People who are naturally introverted, or controlling, or easily hurt, often express their personalities in similar ways in church settings, too; similarly, people who are quick to pigeon-hole and judge others, and people who want to others to change. (The character Angela in the NBC show The Office is a good pop-culture example of someone who, you assume, would be strict and stiff even if she wasn't religious. You shutter to picture the character Dwight Schrute as a Christian, without an accompanying personality overhaul!)

Having the Word of God at hand can be a powerful source for "judgmentalness": God said it, you don't measure up, that settles it. Some of us read scripture that way. Conservative and evangelical people tend to be accused of judgmental attitudes, but I think liberal and progressive people can also be quick to generalize, stigmatize and condemn. It's a tricky balance to be passionate about an issue or topic, and yet not dismiss or characterize those who disagree.

Of course, "being judgmental" doesn't have to be the same as having strong opinions and convictions. One might be perceived as being judgmental when s/he communicates personal convictions (again, whether they're stereotypical conservative or liberal issues); but she might be labeled as judgmental by someone who disagrees.

I wonder, too, whether judgmentalness (I know that's not a word: don't be judgmental toward me, LOL) is connected to certain stages of one's spiritual growth. This isn't always the case, but it can be. When I was a new Christian I was quick to pass judgment on certain things, but in retrospect, my attitude stemmed from my insecurities in faith and life, and my uncertainties how to be a Christian. I certainly lacked the inner peace that helps a person be strong, consistently kind and sensitive toward others.

Sometimes people are judgmental because they can't quite process the fact that other people's lives and experiences are not their own. They meet a single woman and make assumptions why she's not married. They meet a childless couple and wonder why they don't have children. Years ago, a few fellow pastors learned that I was interested in both parish work and getting a PhD, and they judged that I must be snooty and "ivory tower." Much worse, you can see how this kind of assumption-making isn't too far from racist, homophobic, and sexist attitudes. Any of these attitudes are painful when they're directed at you from fellow Christians; you hope they'd be more loving and considerate.

Unfortunately, generalizing harshly about other people is an easy habit for all of us, in part because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Scripture does teach the potential need to warn others about their behavior or circumstances. Ezekiel 3:17-21 is a well-known example. This would be an easy scripture to use wrongly: throw tact to the wind, point out a person’s sin, and say to yourself, “Whew, I did what God wanted!” Nevertheless, according to this scripture, one might have the responsibility to warn someone about his or her actions. Similarly Paul voiced concern about immoral behavior tolerated by a congregation (1 Cor. 5:1-5) and also showed concern about another congregation (2 Thess. 3:6, 3:14-15; also Titus 3:10-11).

Jesus pointed out people’s sins. He was very harsh to the teachers who considered themselves superior to others (Matthew 23:25-28), and he told the woman caught in adultery to sin no more (John 8:1-11) although he was kind to her and, indeed, saved her life. But Jesus also loved people and involved himself with people whose lives were wrong, broken, judged harshly, and confused. To them, he shared himself.

Scripture teaches a responsible kind of judgment-making, but it is also very clear about the kindness and encouragement that go along with judgments! One should mind one's own affairs (1 Thess 4:11), one should be gentle and self-aware in one's judgments (Heb. 5:2, Gal. 5:1, 2 Tim. 2:24-25), one should be encouraging, helpful, and patient (1 Thess. 5:14), one should be concerned for peace rather than "wrangling" (1 Tim. 6:4-5, 2 Tim. 2:24-25). Why don't see these kinds of verses and focus on the ones about rebuking and fault-finding?

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus famously tells people not to worry about the speck in someone else’s eye until you take the log out of your own eye. It’s actually a very humorous passage, which definitely gets the lesson across: I'm walking around with a big ol' tree stuck to my face and yet I point out that your face doesn't look right and you need to fix it!

Just because you see something that you consider condemnable in another person, you need to ask, What is condemnable in myself, if "the whole truth" were known about me? When Jesus’ opponents said, “He eats and drinks with sinners,” the irony is that they who disapproved of the sin of others, were themselves sinners! But they (in their own eyes) seemed more righteous because their sins were more subtle and prideful.

Jesus also said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Here is another biblical warrant to be cautious how you judge someone: the person may seem to be doing something of which you don’t approve, but do you really know what’s going on with the person? Have you "walked a mile in his or her shoes"? Have you inquired into the person’s circumstance? (Remember that “judgment” in the legal sense means a decision based on all the known facts about a case.) “Being judgmental” implies an haughty assessment according to appearances, or to a one-sided appeal to scripture, without a person knowing the content of that person’s heart and experience (or your own).

And… how would you know what’s going on with the person, if you didn’t have some kind of friendship with him other? Those scriptures I cited earlier (four paragraphs up) place judgments within the context of fellowship, friendship, love, and empathy. It's easy to show scripture to someone to condemn or criticize them, but in a way that's distancing yourself from them, putting yourself above them. That’s why “being judgmental” is so easy to be and simultaneously is so disagreeable when we see it in others.

To cite the often-quoted 1 Corinthians 13: you can be right about everything, including your moral and theological judgments, but if you don't have love, you're just noisy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Decoration Day

A post from two years ago.... Memorial Day weekend is coming up. My daughter has graduated from high school and thus is no longer in the band, but I've fond memories of her participation in the Copley, OH Memorial Day parades each year. The parades ended at the Copley Cemetery and its impressive veterans' monument. The cemetery is bright with flowers and American flags.

When I was a kid, in Fayette County, IL, the holiday was always “Decoration Day.” We picked up Grandma at her old farmhouse near Brownstown, IL then backtracked on Route 185 to the turn off to the Pilcher Cemetery. I was told that one ancestor, Winslow Pilcher, had owned the land first but that another ancestor, Josiah Williams, formally deeded the property as a cemetery. The graveyard was located in a bright meadow surrounded by thick timber. A single massive oak stood in the clearing. We saw no houses and heard nothing except sounds of nature, our own voices, and the slam of the trunk as the grown-ups removed the “decorations” and then placed the flowers on the grave of my grandmother and other relatives.

My grandfather’s red granite stone read, CRAWFORD Josiah 1886-1954 Grace 1890- . To each side of the stone are the graves of my great-grandparents, John and Susan Crawford and Albert and Abbie Pilcher. Grandma and my parents decorated these graves. I was usually more interested in the older section of the cemetery. A new stone, so plain and solid, seemed less interesting to me than an old, leaning marker which carefully tallied the person’s exact age at time of death and contained odd names like Comfort, Alonzo, Mortimer, Elvina, Reuben, Ulysses, Tabitha, Jahiel, and Eudoxy. A few of the old stones had fatalistic inscriptions, like the epitaph of Moses Cluxton, Sr.:

Remember, friends, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare for death, and follow me

Others had more explicit promise of Heaven:

The rose may fade, the body die,
But flowers unmarked bloom on high
Beyond the land of sinful powers
Our son is safe in Eden’s bowers.

The stones had extremes of brevity and wordiness, from the most basic inscription (“J A T 1835”) to a hymn carved upon my great-great-great-uncle David Washburn’s stone:

When Jesus comes to reward his servants
Whether it be noon or night
Faithful to him will he find us watching
With our lamps all trimmed and bright
O can we say we are ready Brother
Ready for the soul’s bright home
Say will he find you and me still watching
Waiting waiting when the Lord shall come.
The cemetery was a place of lonely peacefulness. Each year, the adults interrupted that pace with remarks about the peacefulness, about how long that tree must have been growing there, about how badly Cousin So and so misses his wife (who’s buried over there) when we last saw him at the grocery, about why Cousin Such and such hasn’t been out with flowers because she’s usually decorated by now, about how old Grandpa would’ve been (“196- minus 1886 is ___ so he’d be ___”). Sometimes we’d arrive in time for a trustee’s meeting beneath the oak and the grownups would talk about how much mowing costs had been last year, what kid was going to be around this summer who could be counted on to do trimming and … on and on. Mourning doves made their haunting call.

We weren’t the only “decorators” of course. Someone usually placed flags on the graves of veterans. Two were Civil War veterans (one a casualty at Vicksburg according to his stone). Josiah Williams was a Mexican War veteran. On the east side of the meadow, a small flag decorated a plain rock. “So and so knew who that soldier was,” a cousin told us wistfully—“so and so” being another cousin who had long since passed away.

My mother is very elderly and in a nursing home. She wonders who is decorating at the cemetery. Albert and Abby Pilcher had only one child, and so they’ve not many descendants in the area. With such mundane things as a bouquet of artificial flowers or a $1 American flag, we could show departed loved ones that we still cared and remembered. Decorating was no casual thing.

Here are my relatives buried in Fayette County, IL who were war veterans. Off the top of my head:

My dad, buried in the South Hill Cemetery in Vandalia, in World War II.
My great-uncle Ed Strobel, buried in the Ramsey Cemetery, in World War I.
My great-great-grandfather George Washburn, buried in the Bolt Cemetery near Ramsey, in the Civil War.
My great-grandfather John Strobel, buried in the Ramsey Cemetery, in the Civil War.
My great-great-grandfather Josiah Williams, buried in the Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, in the Mexican War.
My great-great-great-grandfather Winslow Pilcher, buried in the Winslow Pilcher Family Cemetery near Brownstown, in the War of 1812.
My great-great-great-great-grandfather James S. Carson, buried in an unknown location in Fayette County, in the Revolutionary War. His name appears on the bicentennial monument, honoring him and other Revolutionary veterans, at the Fayette County Courthouse.

I'm leaving out other uncles and cousins on both sides. John A. Wakefield, an early Fayette County pioneer who married my great-great-great-great-grandfather Henry Brown's niece, led troops in the unnecessary Black Hawk War of 1832 and wrote an 1834 history of that conflict. He was the first white settler of the Otego Township area (where the Pilcher Cemetery is located), but he is buried in Kansas.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Don Giovanni's Inner Life

My wife Beth and I attended opening night of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which was "Don Giovanni." I've loved this opera ever since purchasing the Karl Böhm live recording (with Sherrill Milnes in the title role, along with Walter Berry, Peter Schreier, Edith Mathis, and others) way back in the spring of 1982 at the old Chapel Square Mall in New Haven, CT. In spite of reviews like, I still enjoy this recording.

The Opera Theatre production featured a wonderful cast and, interestingly, a variety of costume styles. The principles were in modern dress (and the Don killed the Commandatore with a handgun), while the chorus wore shabby period clothes. That shabbiness worked effectively when some of the chorus returned to pitch the Don into Hell, which appeared then retreated through a crack in the rear wall.

One of the local newspapers provided a good preview article: I've not read much Kierkegaard (much Karl Barth, who was early influenced by him). But knowing of Kierkegaard's passion for the opera, I found two interesting quotes, one from Maria G. Amilburu's essay "Kierkegaard's Aesthetic Realm of Existence," in Understanding Human Nature: Examples from Philosophy and the Arts (

"Kierkegaard maintains that Don Giovanni has all the exuberance and primitive impulse of man before self-awareness has dawned: he lives for the immediate satisfaction of his senses, and is the embodiment of the kind of person who can only see him/herself in terms of the senses. Living for the moment entails a negation of the ability to reflect, which is characteristic of the spirit. This means that Don Giovanni lacks inner life: he simply enjoys himself, flits from one pleasure to another, one conquest to another, as Leporello tells us in his Aria. His life is a flow, but without a flowing subject. It is like the bubbles in the wine which gives its name to another of the best-known pieces of the Opera. The aesthetic existence is thus an inconsistent kind of phenomenon which wafts here and there in an evanescent world. This is why Kierkegaard says that the best way of expressing the levity of the aesthetic existence is through music: pure experience which only exists in the present."

And then, here is a quote from the essay "Kierkegaard, Don Giovanni, and the Messiah" by Martin Winer (

"Both Kierkegaard and Don Giovanni had a fundamental lack of faith: Not a lack of faith in God, but a lack of faith in humanity. We'll soon see that the two are related however. What is the fundamental value of faith to begin with? Faith allows the human mind to make decisions in the absence of perfect information and absolute certainty. Faith in its purest form is essential to daily living. How could we board a plane, drive to work or go about our daily business without a certain faith that the odds are in our favour that everything is going to be alright? I'm certain that were Don Giovanni alive today, he'd happily board a plane to fly to his love of the week. He would have faith in the plane ride, which could theoretically cost him his life, but he wouldn't have the faith in the woman to truly love her, even when there is no mortal danger. This irony speaks wondrously of the innate human ability to recognize that the soul is the most precious thing of all. Don Giovanni was a duelist who commonly took risks with his life but never risked to expose his soul."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The PCUSA's Vote to Ordain Gay Persons

In July 2010, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted "Amendment 10-A" which would change ordination standards to include openly gay people. But the measure had to be approved by over 50% of the PCUSA's presbyteries (regional bodies). This past Tuesday (May 10, 2011) the Presbytery of the Twin Cities voted 205-56 to support 10-A, providing the necessary majority (87 of the denomination's 173 presbyteries). The change in ordination standards go into effect next July 10, giving presbyteries the ability (if they choose) to ordain gay persons. (See the article at, which reports the process and also provides numerous responses and articles on the subject. This would be a helpful source for anyone studying different sides of this contemporary issue.)

The PCUSA action has been exciting news to those of us who hope to see progress on this issue among our denominations. The religionlink article notes that "The PCUSA now joins the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ as major denominations that allow the ordination of homosexuals in committed relationships, and the development reflects a growing acceptance of homosexuals among the wider public."

My own denomination, The United Methodist Church, still excludes gays from ordination. Any change has to be accomplished by the denomination's law making body, the quadrennial General Conference. So far GC delegates have kept the restriction in place, but earlier this year, 33 retired UM bishops issued a statement urging a lift of the ban, as reported at the UMC site (¬oc=1, as well as and other sites). The bishop's statement, although lacking legal force, has been applauded and in some quarters regretted; similar reactions greeted the first openly gay candidate to seek election to the United Methodist episcopacy three years ago (

Needless to say, homosexuality is a hotly-debated topic in many denominations, not only ordination but also marriage. And needless to say, biblical prohibitions (especially the texts Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:13, Rom. 1:27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10) lie at the heart of the debate. For many people, the church should be faithful to these texts and not ordain gay persons---and the church is being untrue to God's word when it circumvents these texts and argues differently from them. However, I've appreciated this article by Walter Wink that puts these verses in a larger context:

The sad irony is: while church leaders and church members continue to debate these texts, God is already and richly blessing LGBT persons in callings to ministry and thus in gifts of preaching, counseling, teaching, administration, and other areas of service! Of course, the church has been ordaining gay persons for many years but only recently have gay persons felt a greater freedom to accept and open up about their orientation and identity. Many of us straight people have formed theological positions on this issue without having spent time with LGBT persons. But among the retired bishops I mentioned above, Sharon Z. Rader and Donald A. Ott "both stressed that the statement is based on their experience as church leaders. For more than five years after her retirement, Rader was the bishop in residence at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. In that capacity, she said, she met with many seminary students who had the gifts and calling for ministry but were gay or lesbian." (¬oc=1)

If you open your heart and mind to the fact that God is already calling and blessing gay persons (and has been for many years), and if you need additional guidance from the scriptures, I find Acts 15:12-18 relevant:

The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,
"After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
from its ruins I will rebuild it,
and I will set it up,
so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.
In this passage, God is doing amazing things among Gentiles, but the question has been raised, Should they be circumcised (or, to say it another way, should they be excluded as Christian witnesses because they are not Jews)? You can see a parallel in this situation. The fact that God is working among these people causes the Jerusalem council members to seek the scriptures for assurance that God can indeed do amazing works in unexpected ways. As one of my seminary professors put it, scripture conforms to experience! If you argue that the biblical prohibitions forbid ordination of gay person, perhaps this can help you see a different but also scriptural way of looking at the issue---God provides gifts and graces to gay and straight people alike, just as God called and blessed both Jews and Gentiles alike in biblical times.

[Addendum: several months after I wrote this post, I realized that another, much longer and detailed discussion had used the Jerusalem council as an example and argument: Jeffrey S. Siker, ed., Homosexuality and the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994).]

Here is another helpful text of an analogous situation. Galatians 3:2 reads: "The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?" The predominantly Gentile church of Galatia had received God's Spirit apart from fulfilling any traditional religious requirements. In our own time, have gay persons received calls and gifts to ministry by ceasing to be gay, in compliance with those above-cited biblical strictures, or by believing in the Lord?

Because many of us straight people think about this issue around the biblical texts, I've tried to show a few ways we can argue positively for ordination of gay persons. I'm conscious of the fact that this whole subject is hurtful and frustrating to gay persons, who wish that we straight people would catch up to what they already know.

The Bible is God's Word, but we should not interpret it (or assert that we should never interpret it, only obey it) as if there is no new understandings of human nature, no historical developments, no science, and so on.

For instance, questions of biblical authority are often raised in the context of conflicts concerning the theories and discoveries of modern science. We can recognize the historical development and time-bound character of the Bible writers, so that when we encounter in the Bible ancient and “outdated” views of the cosmos, we need not think that we’re selling-out the Bible to science when we recognize the former’s cultural origins, nor do we have to declare the Bible any less God's word if modern scientific theories and discoveries do not comfort to biblical details.

Similarly, we can affirm contemporary understandings of homosexuality as an identity, a possibility of a commitment relationship with another person, and as a gift from God---while acknowledging that the Bible defines homosexuality differently (e.g., as a male behavioral sin or an exploitive relationship), both within the Levitical holiness code (which otherwise does not, generally speaking, apply to modern Christian practice) and Paul's lists of sins (and some of us may be guilty of a few of the others on those lists).

Still another issue related to biblical interpretation is Christian anti-Semitism. Although written primarily by Jews who still considered themselves Jews, the New Testament is filled with negative references to Jews (e.g., Matt. 27:25, 1 Thess. 2:3-16, Rev. 2:9, and the Gospel of John’s consistent use of “the Jews” in a pejorative sense). Does this give us permission to dislike Jews?

Of course not, but the anti-Jewish “atmosphere” of the New Testament has caused untold sorrow for Jews. I’ve known Christians who, while discussing the scriptures, refer disparagingly to “the Jews” in a clear echo of New Testament texts—the same Christians who would never make a generalizing, disparaging comment about an ethnic group in other contexts. I've also sensed that certain Christians assume that, because the New Testament portrays Judaism in a certain way, then contemporary Judaism must be the same; they've never taken the time to know a Jew or learn about modern Judaism. Important work has been done in recent years to show how the anti-Jewish material in the New Testament has contributed over the centuries to Christian disdain for Jews, the persecution of Jews, and the anti-Semitism that led historically to the Holocaust. Greater sensitivity to the sins of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism require us to read the Bible in a different way than the literal sense.

Again, here is an example of a historically-conditioned quality to the Bible and the necessity to interpret it in light of new insights. In this case, we must acknowledge that the New Testament expresses an apparently hostile and generalizing attitude toward Jews, but history has shown that we (Gentiles) must not derive prejudice and racism from a thoughtless, literal reading of the New Testament text.

This example of Christian anti-Semitism is also pertinent to the discussion of homosexuality and LGBT person's service to the church, because active persecution of homosexuals is of course quite real and some of it does make use of biblical texts. Rev. Mel White's article, "What the Bible Says - And Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality" by Rev. Mel White, provides several examples of gay bullying and killings. ( We straight Christians must be aware that we might be upholding Bible passages that are, by other people, used to excuse and justify hatred and murder.

I do not know if Bible texts are used against gays in Uganda, but to cite an example of persecution against gays, this week the parliament in Uganda was "set to pass a number of laws against gays and lesbians so draconian that the entire population of that country will feel the effects," according to a news source. "The so-called 'Kill the Gays' bill, proposed by legislator David Bahati," includes death sentences to persons "who are 'repeat offenders' of having sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex" and "anyone with HIV who engages in sexual activity with a member of the same sex. Those who harbor or assist gays and lesbians will be subject to imprisonment. Even those who know someone to be gay or lesbian who don't report them to the authorities will face a prison sentence." (Here is the source: Fortunately, in news which broke as I was writing a draft of this post, the Ugandan parliament tabled the measure in the wake of international outcries.

I've obviously moved from the subject of ordination of American gays to the ministry! But knowing about situations like this are necessary as we straight people learn the joys and sorrows of LGBT persons. With greater understanding, we can learn to appreciate one another's struggles, to enjoy God's peace together amid our differences, and to affirm our respective callings, gifts, and graces.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Responses to bin Laden's Death

The reactions to Osama bin Laden's death have ranged from joy and jubilation to relief, to an interesting and appropriate soul-searching about whether celebrating the death of a human being, even a vicious and hateful one, is proper. A large celebration happened at University of Missouri, for instance, where students waved flags, drank champagne, tossed toilet paper, and lit sparklers. Another celebration at Webster University, though much quieter, featured 3000 American flags arranged around campus. ( The Webster U. president (my wife) issued a statement affirming the diversity of the university and its values as "a welcoming institution that values differences."
A good United Methodist news story expresses some of the emotional and theological responses to the death: And still another story highlights theological challenges for pastors, imams, and rabbis:

At the Christian Century website, Yale theologian Miroslav Volf quoted a friend who had cited Proverbs 24:17, Ezekiel 33:11, and Matthew 5:44. The friend said, "After 9/11 I found it very hard to bring myself to pray for Usama [sic] bin Laden. but by God's grace I did because Jesus said I must. And though I am tempted to rejoice today, I will not because Jesus said I must not." Another friend had written Volf, who worried about whether "God's justice" is achieved when foreign troops carry out a mission in another country. "All my instincts were, and are, to sigh with relief, even, in a measure, to celebrate. But my mind warns that this is a dangerous precedent in principle and an extremely dangerous action in terms of possible unintended consequences." (Quoted from:

It's true that the Bible says love your enemies---the living Christ helps us to do so, many times painstakingly and over the long haul---but the death of an enemy elicits a normal emotional process, including relief and joy. 9/11 was a national tragedy of horror and grief, and some of the emotions of the past days (though certainly not destructive feelings like hostility toward Muslims) are part of a healing process, if not "closure."

Like many people, I struggle with a sense of Jesus' vision in combination of (as Reinhold Niebuhr put it, "what kind of world we are living in" (quoted in Patriotism, religious values, and emotions mix in my mind and heart.

When writers worry about the use of violence to combat violence, and the problems of American exceptionalism, I wonder what specific alternatives they would offer, when someone like bin Laden is a continuing threat....

True, Jesus teaches us to love enemies, but what about enemies who are mass murders who caused untold grief and misery? Jesus showed (and shows) care and compassion on the suffering and grieving, after all, and disapproved those who imposed burdens of suffering upon others ...

And I feel grateful for soldiers who sacrifice so much. Just a couple years ago I chatted with a man (at the mall) who was wearing a Korean War Veteran cap, and I thanked him for his service. His eyes grew misty....

And yet.... I agree that the use of violence against violence is a hellish, endless treadmill of destruction....

Somehow, something approximating world peace must be achieved, and the Lord shows us the way....

And yet I wonder how is God's justice carried out in the world, given Romans 13:1-7 (which I haven't seen quoted in these discussions, although I haven't done any kind of thorough web search)....

And then... I think how complicated are historical trends, resisting easy solutions. For instance, some of the Middle Eastern situations of today have historical roots in international relations, and decisions both good and bad, going back over a century (e.g., the United States' traditional support of the State of Israel has helped Jews have a homeland and yet perpetuates an Arab sense of humiliation and hostility in the Middle East)....

And I agree with my wife's statement that our diversity of voices and opinions must be honored and preserved. Getting along and honoring one another's viewpoints begins at home....

And....I wonder what are real, workable alternatives to international relationships, more helpful for the long term than American (or anyone's) military confrontation. For instance, for a curriculum chapter on global security that I wrote last year (1), I read portions of John Steinbruner, Principles of Global Security, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute Press, 2000. Steinbruner notes that an “[a]ctive confrontation is an ingrained American inclination,” and having a “designated enemy” has been an “organizing focus” for our own security policy.(2) But, again, the present possibility of “diffuse violence” is too widespread for the U.S. and its allies to address solely through confrontation and intimidation.(3) Altogether, he argues, “One of the most fundamental implications of globalization is the shift in the balance of reliance in security policy from deterrence to reassurance, from active confrontation to cooperative engagement.”(4)

.... And all these things are ways my head and heart go back and forth. "Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say," says Edgar in King Lear. But that's not quite right. We need to speak both: how we feel, and what must be said, our real emotions (including the shameful ones) and more excellent ways to which God guides us. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).

I do very much appreciate these words from the same source by Miroslav Volf: "We are right to feel a sense of relief that a major source of evil has been removed. But we should reflect also on the flip side of that relief: the nature of our fears. As the King hearings and state-level anti-Sharia bills indicate, many people in our nation find themselves under a spell of a 'green scare' analogous to the red scare of the 1950s. But fear is a foolish counselor...."

Brian McLaren, who quotes this paragraph of Volf's, also notes (alluding to the work of Rene Girard), that "We can unite our party, if not our nation, around common aggression against shared fear---even if we can't unite them around a common vision around shared values. This trade in the currency of fear sets us up for a boom-bust cycle not unlike our economic cycle, ad not unlike the vicious cycles of agony and ecstasy known by addicts."

He goes on: "At what point do we Americans temper the celebration of our victories with concern about what we are becoming? At what point do we notice that for us the word 'justice' is harder and harder to distinguish from 'revenge'?" He expresses respect for those who took risks "to end bin Laden's reign of terror" but warns again about the subtle and long-range destructiveness of fear ( ). I think I'll reread portions of Steinbruner's book (published in 2000) and think about some of his suggestions in light of our current struggle against terror and the difficulties of our national debt.


1. The curriculum "Faithful Citizen" will be published later this year: see

2.Steinbruner, Principles of Global Security, 225.

3.Ibid., 229.

4.Ibid, 18.