Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who forgives?

If you follow my blog then I assume that you are at least somewhat aware that last week a soldier went off base and murdered multiple villagers, mostly women and children.  I don’t know what that story has done to your heart.  From the news coverage from the soldier’s country I gather that there is a sense of sadness for this soldier and his family.  Perhaps everyone finds it hard to believe that this man committed these awful acts, after all, he was raised in a country with higher standards, part of a fighting force with strict orders about the treatment of civilians.  To that end, it might have been encouraging to read the articles in the past 2 days, after the soldier’s name was revealed.  Along with his name, several stories were told about this man’s past traumas, and his current family.  By the time I finished reading those articles, I saw him as a man, not just a murderer.  Perhaps the same has happened for you, and perhaps we would agree that this information and perspective change helps us not lose hope in the war, in our soldiers, etc.  Pause for a minute, however, and consider the remaining family members of the murder victims.  They have just buried their wives, daughters, and children, including a child the same age as my boy that you all love so much.  There wasn’t a makeup artist that could hide the bullet hole in that child’s head; that is the last thing that the remaining family members saw when they put that child in the ground.  Pause.  What does that family feel?  Does that family care about the story behind that soldier? 

If only, right?  If only we could explain to this family that the soldier had suffered head injuries, and been on too many tours, and was wading through some family troubles back home.  If only we could help them see the man, as his loved ones knew him, before he became known to the world as a murderer.  Wouldn’t that somehow provide some solace for their broken hearts?  Maybe not.  Maybe their wounds are too raw. Maybe for a while the only thing that makes sense to the families of those victims is violent revenge.  That’s unfortunate isn’t it?

If only.  If only we in the west would inquire and learn more about the lives of the people that are labeled terrorists.  If only we would sort out the differing motives of the different organizations, to see that few are a global threat, and the rest have only domestic agendas.  If only we would ask questions about the situations into which these organizations were birthed, and understand the amount of turmoil and traumas those people have been through.  If only we would see them as people: husbands, fathers, brothers of people that would probably break our hearts if we met them face-to-face and heard their stories.  Wouldn’t that somehow make us more concerned about the amount of civilian causalities our troops cause there?  Maybe not.  Maybe 9/11 wounded us too much to see other perspectives.  Maybe for a while the only thing that makes sense is violent revenge.  That’s unfortunate, isn’t it?

Forgiveness sucks.  I mean it’s hard.  Much easier to believe our rightness and our victimization justifies our unforgiveness.  If the other side can’t see us as human, why would we bother to see them as human, right? 

Then one day a man came along and told people, “love your enemy.”  Some of his listeners blew wine out of their noses when they heard him make that joke.  Wait, he wasn’t joking.  In fact, he lived love for his enemies.  Take these examples:

He empathized with the sinner.  He knew why people did what they did, and addressed their hearts rather than punishing their sins.

He walked with the people that did the very sins that He commanded them not to.  He gave them a chance; He got to know them.

He forgave everything that they backwardly, purposely, spitefully, ignorantly did to Him, even though it literally killed him.

Who then is more equipped to forgive an enemy?  Followers of this man, or those that don’t yet believe or follow Him? 

Yes we would all love our enemies to come groveling to us, and we can try to force that with all the wealth and might of the world, but how can we say we follow the Savior if we don’t obey his commands?  How can we say we obey his commands if we don’t love our enemy?  How can we love our enemy if we don’t try to understand them, empathize with their traumas, and forgive them for their offenses to us?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reflections on protesting

It seems we have made it through the protests and unrest here.  The last blog I posted was definitely the most dramatic day of that week for us.  The next day there was also a protest in front of the main UN office, but no one got hurt.  The day after that we were all back at work.  Now that some time has passed I want to share some of my reflections on the past week, and this whole aspect of life here:

-Going through the day I described in my last blog post, I did not feel any fear.  The next day when I read some new articles I quickly thought, “wow this sounds pretty scary.”  Does that indicate that we’re na├»ve here on the ground?  I don’t think so, I think it indicates that the news is becoming increasingly sensational.  At the same time, I think we continue to adapt more to this place, and that helps us keep level heads about what is going on, and how to not only stay safe, but well.  I won’t say much on this or you’ll think we’re frogs in the boiling pot.

-I was not, and still am not, alarmed by children chanting, “death to America.”  It surprised me, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I knew those kids, and they knew me.  The next day my wife and son walked the street, chatted with kids as they went along, and had a nice time out.  It has really hit me how impressionable kids are.  If kids that know us and enjoy interacting with us on a regular basis suddenly absorb hate messages against us, that tells me they’re impressionable.  This has made me think about how important it is for us to be here offering counter-influence.  By counter-influence I mean that we live in front of them, and speak with them, disproving the messages they hear that make our people group seem like an enemy.

-I was also in the bazaar 2 days after I wrote last, and had a nice conversation with a couple teenagers.  Usually teenagers here are awfully rude, but these two wanted to find out how the protests had been for me.  I made it clear that I’m not with the army camp, rather I live in a local house and work only with locals in an office that serves poor communities.  Then I could see that they were not going to argue with me, on the contrary they seemed interested in my opinion in how to stop the conflict.  They remarked about how foolish it was for their neighbors to join the protests and lights cars on fire.  “What’s the point of that?” they asked.  I’m always encouraged to talk with moderate, sensible young men, but even more so in the wake of the heated protests.

-When I learned the reason for the Qur’an burning, it raised a serious question and concern.  I decided my staff’s answer was going to be an important gauge of my willingness to keep working in this country.  I do this sometimes.  I pick an issue or an incident that I have a strong opinion about, and gather opinions from my local staff, and use this as an indicator of our common ground (or grounds for me to consider cycling the staff out and getting a new team!).  This time the issue was: can they differentiate between the pastor who burned a Qur’an as a statement last year, and the army men who burned the Qur’ans that were found with notes between prisoners this year?  I was pleased with the results from my informal inquiry.  All of the staff I talked to acknowledged the difference in motives.  The sharper ones also said that it was good that the Marines confiscated the Qur’ans that had been inscribed, because it is also not allowed to write in a Qur’an at all.  Then they suggested that the better outcome would have been if the foreign soldiers had turned over the books to the government.  If this would have happened, the government could have made a very strong religious-political move against the insurgency, saying that they are not really Muslims because they desecrate the Qur’an by writing in it.  Unfortunately this did not happen, who would have cheered for the foreigner troops had they turned the books over to the government, are upset with the troops for taking the matter into their own hands and improperly disposing of them by burning them. 

-My last reflection is that I am astounded by the readers’ comments on the American news articles covering the Qur’an burning protests.  Public fatigue for a decade long military intervention is understandable, but now the comments are growing stronger and more hateful.  That’s unfortunate, because that’s not going to help anyone.  If you’re tempted to jump on the hatewagon and wish that this country would implode and obliterate all it’s people so that it is no longer a bother to the west, please talk to me when I get home, I want to have discussions with folks like this.