— Martin Luther King Jr.
By now, the killing of Osama bin Laden is two-day-old news. By next week the news cycle will have moved on. I feel compelled to write something today because I must.
Ten years ago this September 11, I was living in Sacramento, California. I had been on the staff of Trinity Cathedral one year and eleven days. My alarm clock went off at 6 am, and I heard the NPR commentator talking about an airplane hitting a building at the World Trade Center in New York. Startled, I got up, turned on the television and watched as a second airplane, live on television, hit the next building.
Within minutes, Don Brown, the Dean of the Cathedral, called me. He told me to get down to the Cathedral – I lived closer – and to open the doors. He said people would want to come to pray.
He was so right.
Over the next few hours, thousands of Sacramentans came. We held a prayer service that evening, and every night that week. Life had been knocked out of kilter, and somehow everyone seemed to know it would not be the same again.
As the day wore on, I found myself emailing with a high school friend who worked in Lower Manhattan and could not get out of his building. He wouldn’t get out for another 24 hours. The strangeness of that conversation by email still lives vividly in my memory.
So much has changed in the last ten years. We are now engaged in three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya). We’ve been fighting terrorism globally and spent a trillion dollars on the effort. We’ve seen great sacrifice and determination, especially by our young people in uniform, and we’ve seen tremendous loss. Every Sunday in our parish, we read the list of the soldiers, sailors and Marines who have died in the last week. This Sunday there were 25 names on the list.
As a nation, we’ve become more partisan, more sharply divided. Our politics is more course, accusatory; less about public policy and more about personality attack. Polls show we are more fearful and less confident about our future. We have become, in some quarters, more hateful toward the world and more hateful toward each other. All of those trends were brewing before September 11, 2001, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that the violence of that day unleashed something terrible and ugly and out of control, and not just in our enemies, but in ourselves.
On Sunday night came the news that an elite unit of Navy Seals had found and killed Osama bin Laden. I must admit to a feeling of relief and even triumph that bin Laden had, at last, been found and eliminated. I prayed that the families who lost loved-ones on September 11, 2001 would find some measure that justice had been served. President Obama said that the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden in it, and that is doubtlessly true. I am proud of our president, proud of military and intelligence services who carried out this operation with skill and courage. I am proud of the Navy, and I come from a Navy family.
Yet I am deeply uneasy with the gloating and the cheering outside the White House, and elsewhere, as if this was a Super Bowl victory. I am deeply skeptical of the idea that somehow the elimination of Osama bin Laden will change all that has plagued us these last ten years. I doubt this will bring anything like closure. Whether the world is a safer place, or a less hateful place, remains to be seen. We do well -- very well – to pray for those who would do us harm, pray for enemies, and pray for our own souls.
“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.”
– Proverbs 24:17-18
“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways…”
– Ezekiel 33:11
“O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
– Book of Common Prayer, page 816