Sunday, October 28, 2007

"How would YOU Feel if. . . .?"

In a NY Times article today (October 28, 2007), the story is told of a church that has stood against the death penalty but now struggles with what to do in the wake of murders of three of its members, three of the Petit family. Click here to read it.

The question posed by this incident is worthy of consideration. But it is NOT worthy of being reduced to either a political issue or an ethical "case study." Not, at least, now.

I'm posting it here because the question is sometimes put to me in the classroom when I tell students I'm against the death penalty: "But how would YOU feel if . . . .?" followed by some scenario more or less parallel to the story in the article.

I sometimes characterize myself as a pacifist with violent tendencies. It's true. And if my family were killed the way Dr. Petit's family was, I'm sure I would want horrible things to happen to the killers. That's what I would feel.

But it's not what I WANT to feel, nor is it how I want to act. I would want my friends and family to help me hold to my convictions against revenge and against violence. Here I'm taking a page from Stanley Hauerwas, who says he frequently tells people he's non-violent so they'll hold him to it. That's what I need. Convictions like this can't stand in solitude. "It takes a village," someone once said. I prefer "it takes a church." I need a church to hold me up and hold me to my convictions.

But I'd also need compassion . . . true COM-passion, or people around me who would weep with me and feel my pain. That's what Dr. Petit needs from his church right now. I pray he's getting it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Comments and prayer in OC chapel, Oct. 2, 2007

We are in a time of national strife. We are a nation sorely divided on significant issues surrounding the morality of the war in Iraq. It is all too easy to be on one side of that argument and to vilify the other side: to call those who protest the war cowards or accuse them of not being patriotic; or conversely to label as “war mongers” those who support it.

I am not here to tell you which side of that issue you should take. But I do want us to take a moment to reflect on the enormous destruction that is taking place in Iraq.

Every day there are wives who hold the dead bodies of their husbands – bodies with the life dripping out of them onto the street, onto the hands and into the clothing of the one who holds them. Every day there are abductions, and the families of the victims will never hear from them again. Every day there are children who are killed by car bombs, and their mothers, if they have survived, weep over their corpses. Every day there are children who witness the murder of their mother or their father. Every day there are people maimed by the violence around them – people who are innocent bystanders. Every day there are people driven from their homes, leaving everything behind they hold dear.

We, as Americans, have had our own share of weeping and loss. And we frequently pray for the safety of our troops. But nowhere in Scripture are we told to pray for our troops. We are, however, told to pray for our enemies, and I have rarely heard such a prayer. May we offer it now.

Holy, loving Father: may we be instruments of peace, not of hate or violence. May we remember that we are your children, but that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are also your children, and that you love them just as much as you love Americans. May we know how much you grieve over the injustices done to them or that they do to themselves; that you weep with those who weep. May we know that you are in and with those we find it most difficult to love, but that you love them and that we are also called to love them as you do. Lord, give us hearts to see them as you see them, to also weep with those mothers who weep over their dead children, with those wives, mothers, fathers, children, who weep over their dead loved ones, and who this very day are burying them.

Lord, we pray for those who still live with war and murder around them every day. We pray for their safety. We pray for their quality of life – that they will have food, water, shelter, and most of all that peace will come to them. We pray for the nation of Iraq and the nation of Afghanistan. May their leaders be people of peace.

Lord, we pray for our enemies, for those who hate us and would persecute or kill us. Help us not to stoop to their level – to the level of hate. Help us to heed the command of Jesus to not only not kill, but also to not hate them. Help us even to LOVE our enemies, just as you loved us when we were your enemies. We pray that our enemies will come to see and know your love for them, and to see and know that they should also love rather than hate. Lord, that is a tall order, but we ask it in hope and with faith in your ultimate power.

Lord, forgive our pride, even and especially the pride we Americans sometimes feel because we are Americans. We pray for peace. We pray these things in the name of Jesus who died to bring peace. Amen.