I’ve been listening with dismay to the radio and internet coverage of Osama bin Laden’s death and of the response in this country. It’s brought me up sharply against the harder side of a conviction that I normally find comforting.
“Conviction’ may not be a strong enough word. As strongly as I can know anything, I know that we are members one of another; that we are not separate or separable from one another; that we are one in God. That knowledge comforts me when I feel lonely or ineffectual, or when I grieve for people I have lost. It pushes me to reexamine ways of living that appear on the surface to make life easier for me while making it harder for other people (overconsuming; relying on other people to do work I don’t want to do or think about; telling face-saving lies...) This can be uncomfortable, but I know what to do about it. But there’s another and harder implication of our membership in one another. I have known it before, but I tend to avoid thinking about it.
A friend of mine sent on a passage from a writer who criticized certain Christians for responding to bin Laden’s death with regret and with comments about our all being sinners. That writer agreed that we all do harm, but argued that to say only that in cases where someone has done great evil is to equalize all wrongdoing and so minimize the importance of evil. No, I thought, that’s not so; evil matters, but weighing the evil I do against that done by someone else is basically meaningless, because we are not separate. Just as our courage, love, integrity are not ours alone, are from God, flow between us in ways seen and unseen, so also our cowardice, our hate, our falsehood come from one root and pass between us openly and hiddenly. And it seems to me that to deny this connection is to consent to a lie, to make an opening for hate, to strengthen evil.
For some reason it’s relatively easy for me to acknowledge this about people whom my people have declared public enemies. It’s harder for me to acknowledge this about my people when they seem to be arrogant or hateful.
And if this is true, if the light and the darkness pass between us, not only on the surface where we can trace them but somewhere in our depths, then I am responsible to the whole for my apparently small and private choices between truth and falsehood, fearfulness and courage, hate and love. I think perhaps if I truly remembered this I would come much closer to prayer without ceasing.
I know that I need to remember and to pray. I resist this. I need to work on it.