Can a Nation That Practices Terrorism Be Born Again?

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I.

Here is a list of those who did the right thing in the midst of and in response to the Boston Marathon terroristic attacks.

 

1)   The Good Samaritans. I’m talking about runners who escaped explosives, spectators, medical professionals, police officers. I’m talking about people who immediately came to the rescue of their injured fellow human beings without knowing exactly what had happened and not knowing if they might be next.  I’m talking about people who in most cases had no idea necessarily who any of the people they were helping were.  It simply didn’t matter.  The last total count of deaths and injuries I saw reported, which was last night, indicated that three people have died from the explosions and that 176 others were injured.  The death count definitely would be higher if not for the Good Samaritans. They were amazing.  Remember the guy in the cowboy hat?  He inspired one reporter to write this:  “Most people run away from chaos, especially after a bomb goes off.  But in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Carlos Arredondo, 52, ran to the aid of a man lying on a sidewalk and helped stem the flow of blood from his severely damaged legs.”

 

2)   Law enforcement personnel from local police to the Massachusetts State Police to FBI to CIA to the Justice Department. It was to the public eye an amazing process of cooperation that led to the prompt apprehension of two vicious murderers.  Not only did the investigations move at a thoughtful though rapid pace, but also law enforcement personnel saw to it that others were not initially injured—though the explosives-laden young men could easily have hurt who knows how many others.

 

3)   News sources. Real journalists. I saw no one grand standing—maybe because Geraldo Rivera didn’t get the scoop–or taking advantage of the tragedy in order to boost their networks or their personal careers. I saw fellow human beings reaching out to real human beings, trying to give us information so that if there were ways we could have put the pieces together or tried to make some sense of the senselessness, which by the way was not possible, we could have begun.  They were there for us, much of the time at risk.

 

4)   Those spokespersons for local government and police departments and such who briefed appropriate groups regularly about the status of the injured as well as the status of the search for suspects. It was more bearable to be on the hand-wringing end knowing real facts as they became available.

 

Here is a list of people who did the wrong thing. 

 

1)   The two brothers who planned and carried out this heinous murderous terroristic plan—perhaps with help–and implemented it with cold calculated intensity.

 

2)   Those who immediately interpreted the situation as an ethnically and/or a religiously based crime. Religion may indeed come into the picture, but, even if it does, a wholesale condemnation of a religion as favoring terrorism is inappropriate.  Still, I saw—after the first of the two brothers was killed–news clips of people applauding and screaming things like, “Yea, America. Go, USA.”  The younger brother, as you have heard and read, was a naturalized US citizen.

 

I have read in a few places about a suspicion that some informed sources have expressed about the actions of these two young men being connected to Iran’s current hatred of our country, though the brothers were not/are not Iranian.  But it’s much deeper than just that. 

I had no idea there was an apocalyptic element to some branches of Islamic thought.  A YouTube video thought by some to have been posted by the now deceased bomber details a belief in the coming of the Shiites’s Twelfth Imam, Mahdi, and with that messianic figure’s appearance on earth, there will be, in this theological framework, the rise of a huge Islamic army with black flags centered in Khorasan, a province in Iran.  This sounds to me like the Christian version of a similar event chronicled in the book of Revelation, which has nothing in it other than symbols.  As long as one knows everything is a symbol, it’s an amazing piece of literature, but if taken literally it plants dangerous notions in the minds of its most ardent literal interpreters.

Some highly influential mullahs in modern Iran have promoted the notion of this apocalypticism.  Similarly, the present supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the one who will create the circumstance for the coming of the last Islamic messiah, Mahdi. Khamenei was born in Khorasan.  Iran’s interest in using nuclear weapons, some say, is in part to force the coming of Mahdi.

There are those who believe the Boston bombers from Chechen were recruited, trained, and funded so that there could be no apparent line drawn back to Iran. This is scary stuff.

        

 

II.

Nicodemus was as steeped in traditional Jewish religion as anybody could possibly have been, and the day came and never left when he had this uneasy and expanding sense that he was lost. When I use the word “lost,” I do not use it and would never use it in the sense that someone is separated from God and needs to be united or reunited to escape hell.  It is impossible to be separated from God, and no one is ever lost from God or to God. So when I say “lost” I mean he felt he was in a wilderness. He was wandering around; what he had taken to be his bearings no longer steadied him or secured him. He did not know any more what he could depend on.  He continued to go through the motions of how religion HAD worked for him and to do what it asked of him in terms of keeping rules and celebrating certain events, but something was unmistakably, sadly missing. The good news is that he realized this, and he was willing to take some concrete steps to see if he could figure out how to fix it.  For him, Nicodemus, the most radical possible response would turn out to be the only one that would work for him.  He couldn’t fix his faith, as he had known it for a lifetime.  He would have to leave it behind altogether, a way of saying, “I’m adopting a whole new way of living, a whole new way of understanding and relating to God.”

There are so many lessons, so many areas for potential application from this story about the famous encounter of a Jewish bigwig coming to Jesus by night and asking this radical, according to his colleagues and peers, Jesus from Nazareth, to explain his take on God and how to relate to God.  Jesus was not a mainstream person in the minds of Jewish leadership in his day, and yet here one of the primary Jewish leaders comes to Jesus asking for guidance, maybe some help.  He really doesn’t know what he wants to discover or hear or do. But he has heard consistently enough about patterns of rethinking based on Jesus’ teachings that had turned around people’s lives for the better so Nicodemus thought maybe, just maybe there was some answer for him in hearing Jesus.

It was a peculiar question that Nicodemus asked, Jesus.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  In all probability, Nicodemus was a part of a religio-political party, the Sadducees, that officially did not accept an afterlife, did not believe in an afterlife. But for him to have asked the question about how he could gain or claim or be assured of eternal life is quite unusual. It reveals his uncertainty about the theological places where he had long stood. And it reveals Nicodemus’ dissatisfaction with where he found himself.

Another part of what makes his question peculiar is that there were religio-political parties who clearly did believe in an afterlife, and he knew exactly what the pat answer was to the question. He did not need to come and have Jesus tell him the answer that the Pharisees among other groups (in all probably) made very well known.  Maybe Nicodemus believed his circumstance was so unusual that he needed some very personalized coaching.

The pat answer to the question from those who did believe in an afterlife would have been:  Keep all the laws.  Obey all the laws, and everything about your connection to God here and in the hereafter will be perfect.  Nicodemus said to himself in the frightening wee hours when he couldn’t help confront his true feelings that obviously keeping all the laws didn’t do it for everyone, himself included.

If you have ever tried to maintain a relationship ONLY by keeping rules, you know that it can be done, but you also know after a while your heart likely won’t be in it. If I only follow moral principles because I have to–otherwise I would be punished, then I’ll keep them. But if I have an opportunity not to have to keep them in some context I might just let them go.  They’re just rules to me.

If I’m keeping moral principles because I’m convinced and convicted deep down that these principles reflect the right way to live then chances are wherever I go and in whatever context I find myself I’m going to keep following the standards because they’re much more than just rules to me.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, bottom line if you want to be connected fully to God you can obey a lotta rules, all the rules, and still find that you are self-separated from God, from love that is God.  You can’t revise and rethink, Nicodemus.  You have to start all over again.  Seriously, literally.  You have to start all over like a baby who has just been born. Helpless, uninformed, dependent on the goodwill those closest to you to see to it that make it through. You cannot bring a thing to this process from your past.  You will not have a head start.  You will be not a step ahead of anyone else!  You must become an infant at the absolute beginning of things.  If you’re wondering where the subversive Jesus comes in to play today, here it is. 

He was independent and competent and accomplished, that Nicodemus.  He hated Jesus’ answer to his question—though surely he anticipated something unsettling.  The Apostle Paul would later describe the same process as giving up your old self to take on your new self.  Jesus encouraged Nicodemus to accept the reality that even what he had regarded as positive in his religious past had to go because it couldn’t help but cause him to be biased against what had to happen.  By the way, this story conveys a paradigm not just for individuals, but also for groups.

 

 

 

III.

Can a nation who has practiced and funded and sometimes applauded terrorism be born again?  Clearly, the response Jesus gave Nicodemus was for an individual to put into practice, but the principal can be applied to a community or nation. Can a nation who has dirtied its hands with terrorism step back and say, “Oh, that’s horrible; that’s not for me.  Anybody who disagrees should be blown to bits.” 

We have lived by certain admirable principles, but have said that when and where it seems to be expedient to practice terrorism, we will.  If Jesus’ message says anything at all to us as a community, our response will be, “Yes, we can be born again IF we are willing to start all over again, if we are willing to leave the past behind.” 

Trying to use terrorism on a limited basis and then attempt to negotiate with terroristic nations with whom we have tension isn’t working.  Things are worsening.  How is table talk and would-be diplomacy among heavily armed nations coming along?  When we will not pass laws to stop the mini-wars in our own land by limiting free access to weapons—sold locally all over the place and on the internet, how serious can we be about seeing terrorism end?

So, if Jesus’ words to Nicodemus can help us, they push us, initially, to confront reality:  what we’re doing isn’t working.  We must try something else, and that something else is going to have to be something completely new to us.  Therefore, we have to start all over again, literally.  But who of us in this nation, elector or electee, is willing to leave the past behind in order to do things a new way?

Let’s remember this.  Violence and apocalyptic destruction are not the only outcomes in visions of the future.   “The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

         Amen.

 

 

 

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