A Long Way From Eden

A month ago, we drove down to Charleston, West Virginia to visit Henry’s Grandpa, Edwin, for his 101st birthday. We spent less than 24 hours in Charleston, had two nasty encounters with hotel guests, and on our way down encountered something so moving that I’ve thought about it often since then.

I can’t turn on the radio right now because I don’t want to hear any more endless talk about Osama Bin Laden’s death. I heard half an hour yesterday morning and that was enough. I can’t lie and say that I didn’t immediately feel a sense of rightness, the way you can’t help but do when the movie villain gets his just desserts. Later, I felt ashamed that was all I had felt and now, sickened by all the talk, I feel truly grossed-out by this country’s media coverage. “Grossed-out” is not strong enough a word for so many wrong events in which so many nations have been involved leading up to this man’s death. I can’t tell you how much it grieved me to hear that some of his family members were killed with him. I know this won’t reach many people, but I wish our “enemies” – if that’s what they are – could know that not ALL Americans are dancing and celebrating at Bin Laden’s death. I’m not saying Bin Laden didn’t need to be captured and I realize there was almost no chance he was going to “come quietly,” but I wish this country could go about it with grim faces instead of glee. And I feel that the less talk about it, the better it would be for our own souls and our appearance to other nations.

I’m not going to do a “where were you?” thing about 9/11. It doesn’t really matter. I felt like I couldn’t take it all in; couldn’t feel sad enough for what the situation warranted. In a way, the events that have followed 9/11 have forced on us all a kind of mourning even if we couldn’t feel it at the time. I feel really thankful for documentaries like “Restrepo” – of which I have to admit I haven’t seen all – which are doing real reporting about what our soldiers are experiencing during this “war on terror.” We are being impacted, whether we know it or not. I just wonder sometimes about this country. We have an awful lot of freedoms we take for granted. And abuse…

I was driving the stretch to Dayton. We’d just merged onto I-70 going East when I saw several fire trucks and emergency vehicles parked behind a solid wall of people lining a bridge over the highway and facing East. I made a comment about how strange it was and how a horrible accident must have happened in the West-bound lanes. But then the same thing repeated itself two bridges farther East and then every bridge after that. Soon we began passing clumps of people lining the highway in fields and people’s back yards – all looking East. We turned on the AM channels, hoping to hear word of what was coming, the anticipation of what we would see building. We started to speculate: was it troops returning home? Some sort of rally? In all our excitement, we missed the actual reason for it all. Two news helicopters flanked a battalion of police motorcycles followed closely by a semi truck towing a huge I-beam on a flatbed covered by an American flag. Then, for almost the entire ride to Dayton, we passed thousands and thousands of people on motorcycles. Several of them had M.I.A P.O.W flags on the back. A few were towing coffins. We were stumped. It wasn’t until Henry called his stepdad to have him Google it that we realized the I-beam was from the World Trade Center and was being escorted by an honor guard of almost 10,000 riders from Ground Zero to a new monument in Indianapolis.

When I heard what Harold was saying on the other end of the line, I started to cry. I’m still trying to figure out why I was so moved by that honor guard, or by seeing a piece of rubble from the 9/11 attacks. I know I felt a lot more on that drive on I-70 than I ever had in the days and weeks following September 11th, 2001. It certainly seemed like a much more appropriate expression than celebrating the death of a man. Seen through the lens of my child’s life, the future makes me quake. What will happen in his lifetime if these last 10 years have been so full of war and hatred and natural disaster and poverty? What will the next 10 be like; the next 30? How about when I’m no longer there to protect him?

All I know is that I have a renewed conviction not to imbibe America’s zeitgeist as if it were the Gospel. What are we if our belief in a Lord who literally forgave and had pity on his enemies as He was being tortured and put to death for them does not lead us to live counter-cultural lives; to pray for the men who would drive airplanes into our cities and hope for their salvation? Because as I’ve been editing this I’ve realized I don’t want to shame anyone, I should say that it’s only because Christ forgave us as He was dying that we have been given the power to forgive our enemies. We don’t have to manufacture it. Christ Himself is our well. Thank God.

2 thoughts on “A Long Way From Eden

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  1. Reports I have heard today from Pakistanis is that Al Qaida has brutally murdered 30,000 Pakistanis alone in the past six years. Tens of thousands more who have been murdered all over the Middle East have been INNOCENT Muslims killed by Muslim terrorist groups who revered Osama bin Laden. It is becoming more and more clear every day that our actions during the past 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan and emboldened Muslims all over the region to stand up and fight for their God-given human rights and liberty that we so take for granted. Our own military men and women CHOOSE to sacrifice their very lives to bring human rights and liberty to the people of the Middle East…….a region where one is imprisoned for just HAVING a bible, where someone may be murdered for talking about Jesus with a Muslim. Many of us are overwhelmed with pride for these sacrifices and pray that this is the dawn of a new season for our Muslim brothers and sisters to live with dignity and freedom that so many Americans seem to care less about what kinds of horrors others endure. Americans/America has been blessed in amazing ways that many of us see as God’s doing, and believe these blessings are not only for us, but for all people of Earth, and we are proud to pay whatever price is required to share them with others. Certainly we have made many mistakes along the way, but never, ever has a country in all of history, been such a blessing for the world. THOSE are the things we are celebrating today believing that mankind will benefit tremendously from recent events.

    1. Gayle, please know before I respond that whenever I post anything of my opinion, I think for a long time and I try to edit carefully. Also, whenever someone comments, I am honored and I do appreciate knowing that people are reading! I read your response last night and have been restless all night about how to respond back. I always worry that the words I type will create a rift between me and someone else because it’s so easy NOT to edit when one’s audience isn’t visible. So here goes: I TOTALLY AGREE with most of what you said. In my post, I made it clear that I thought Bin Laden needed and deserved to be brought to justice. Henry and I got into a philosophical discussion about if I thought it was better to let him go if we couldn’t capture him alive. I wasn’t trying to comment on that issue at all. It has been done and I realize it probably wasn’t ever going to be done differently. Also, I don’t think anyone thinks Al Qaeda is doing good things for the world. On a purely political level, I agree that a terrorist organization bent on persecuting ANYONE needs to be stopped and in my post I wrote about how richly our country has been blessed with freedoms. And I do mean blessed. Kevin made a great point in his sermon this Sunday: there is a reason people want to live in countries where the predominant religion has been Christianity. Christians have made so many important humanitarian differences all over the world. I also have so much respect for the men and women choosing to serve in the military. I tried to convey much of this in my description of the honor guard to Indianapolis and in my mention of the documentary “Restrepo.” However, I wasn’t trying to make any kind of political statement. I neither know enough nor care to get involved enough in the political movings of this country to make a comment of that kind. I was speaking mostly to Christians (myself included) about the holiness of celebrating the death of one’s enemy and I do disagree with what I take to be your main point – which was that those celebrating were celebrating the American nation and everything they understand it to stand for and the defeat of Al Qaeda rather than the death of Osama Bin Laden. From the media coverage I’ve seen, many were pretty straightforwardly gleeful about Bin Laden’s death, but the most importantly: Al Qaeda isn’t gone. I understand your more fundamental point – about the U.S.’s ongoing “shot heard ’round the world.” – and I don’t want to get into a discussion about it. I think we don’t really have the perspective to make the claim that that is what is happening in much of the Middle East. You may disagree and I am fine with that. Al Qaeda’s continued presence means that we DO have the closest thing to an enemy which the modern world gives us – although it has such limited resources and power to do us personal harm that I question the use of the word “enemy.” However, this organization is an idealogical enemy and you are exactly right: our duty as Christians is to love and serve those affected by it, which most of us do not, and I would add; to pray for Al Qaeda’s surviving members. My biggest point was that we ought not to be in the streets celebrating what appears to me was the ONLY event celebrated. Nothing else positive happened on May 1st that we, as Christians, ought to celebrate. A war was not ended; a terrorist organization was not brought down; captives were not freed. I think Jesus’ example is pretty clearly against wishing or hoping that ANYONE is in hell, no matter how evil his deeds were on earth.

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