Memories, Hate, Forgiveness and 9/11

So many thoughts run through my head as I think about the 10th anniversary of the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. A few nights ago, I watched the Smithsonian documentary about the attacks, and it was painful and nearly unbearable to watch the images flash across the screen. It took me back to being a scared 21 year old college student who immediately began to reach out for anything steady and sure in a time in which the whole world seemed to turn upside down. Looking back, many decisions I made in the couple of years following were directly caused by the feelings of unsteadiness and doubt that began that day.

I didn’t know much about the Middle East, and I knew even less about the Islamic faith, and ignorance breeds fear and hate. I listened to television preachers talk about God using “the heathen” to judge America for our sin. I heard racist jokes about “towel heads” and watched people suddenly become wary of every dark skinned person they met. I remember my brother was particularly tan from working an outside job that summer and was pulled from boarding line at an airport to be searched simply because of his dark appearance. Apparently his blue eyes weren’t as convincing as his dark skin.

I couldn’t really blame those who responded in ignorant fear; I didn’t have any knowledge to counter their fears.

But one thing that I worked hard to never allow within myself was a close-minded, racist hate of those of Middle Eastern descent. If there is one thing I hate about the stereotype of Southerners is that we ignorantly stereotype others. Arab Muslims didn’t attack America; but a group of people who were Arab Muslims did. Just like many Caucasian Christians have done through the years as well.

In the years since, God has given me a soft heart for those of the Islamic faith. Instead of closing my heart to them, he sent me to Afghanistan to minister to the women of that country. He gave me a passion for learning about them and their culture, and he allowed me to come back to America and begin shedding light on fear and ignorance by teaching those who are willing to learn about those who follow the man Muhammad.

I am praying this weekend that Christians will memorialize those who were lost in a tragic display of hate and deception without further stigmatizing and reflecting the same hate toward all Muslims.

To hate and fear a group of people is to deny the Word, which states, 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6

Hating and attacking humanity that perform acts of terrorism (large or small scale, political or personal) is to hate and attack those who are held captive by a spiritual enemy. Would an army ever attack POWs? No, they attack the enemy holding the POWs captive. It’s time to quit attacking the POWs and start fighting the real enemy.

To hate all Muslims for the terrorist acts of a few gives permission to people of other faiths to identify all Christians with those who bomb abortion clinics or protest at soldiers’ funerals or stand on street corners and scream racist and homophobic “sermons” of fire and brimstone. I don’t want to be associated with Westboro Baptist or the Branch Davidian cult, so I choose to not associate all Muslims with extremist terrorists. I do choose, however, to see them as sinners who need a Savior as much as I do.

But being a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple of a radical extremist, per his own words:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5

So this 9/11, I will mourn those who were lost in an unprecedented attack on innocent lives, on our country and the ideals in which we believe. I will mourn the loss of my own idealism. But I will also mourn for those deceived into believing they were completing a righteous act of God. I mourn for those souls lost for eternity, and I will make it my goal to be more intentional in following the teaching of Jude, the brother of Jesus who encouraged us to “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”

And I will celebrate the spirit of renewal and restoration that has been shown in the lives of those impacted by 9/11 in the last decade. We have risen from the ashes of destruction, and the human spirit of survival and forgiveness has shown in ways rarely seen before.

Hate the deceiver, love the deceived. It is, afterall, the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Romans 2:4

The Thin Line

It’s an age old problem. Those we love the most, have known the longest, trusted with the most of ourselves, are the ones that have the potential to hurt us the most. This is exactly why so many people walk around with a wall around their hearts, keeping people at arm’s length to prevent potential heart break. The benefits of love are simply not worth the risk of hurt and rejection.

Prevention of pain explains a lot in ministry and life in general. Ministry leaders don’t stay places long because it hurts less when those you serve reject you or betray you if you haven’t known them long and you don’t have much invested in them. Marriages are short term agreements instead of lifetime covenants because it’s easier to find someone else than to work through the hurt caused by someone who knows you deeply. We are connected in more social networking ways than ever before in the history of humanity, but we “connect” through the barrier of technology. There is a very thin line between love and hate because great hate is usually only generated by a betrayal of great love. Some people learn this and decide it’s not worth the risk.

I was reminded of this today when my feelings were bruised in a ministry situation by someone I have known for a long time. My first thought was, “That wouldn’t have bothered me so bad if I weren’t at my home church and it hadn’t been someone who knows me.” Knowing and being known opens us up to hurt. And no one wants to be hurt. As humans, our favorite idol is our own pleasure and happiness, and we will often decrease our own happiness to decrease our risk for pain.

But then I thought about Jesus, the One who Scripture claims knows all of our pain and temptation yet never sinned. I thought about how painful it must have been for Him to be betrayed by Judas, one of his disciples, someone He had poured Himself into for three years. Three years is a long term relationship in our time, and they had been together almost constantly in those three years. They shared life together. They knew one another and were known by one another. Three years worth of betrayal were felt in that kiss in the garden.

But even more than that, how much did it hurt for Him to have been rejected by His chosen people? Jesus had known and had been known by His people since the time of Abraham. For eternity, before the foundation of the world, Jesus knew His creation, He knit them together one at a time in their mother’s wombs. He revealed himself in creation; day after day for thousands of years, He put himself out there, opened himself up to the risk of rejection.

Then He came to earth and was rejected. Rejected by His chosen people. Rejected by the very creation into which He had poured His own Image. Rejected by His physical family, who declared Him to be crazy and warned towns to steer clear of Him. Rejected by His spiritual family in the Temple, by those who knew the most about Him but really didn’t know Him at all. He was literally rejected to death.

Jesus knew the thin line between love and hate, but He determined that his hate of sin and separation from His creation outweighed his love for himself and his own happiness. His love for His Bride and His Father outweighed His hate for His own pain and suffering.

So when we face the tough times in relationships, those times when we are hurt, rejected, betrayed, how do we handle it? Do we run away, protecting ourselves and our hearts, or do we remember that Jesus stuck with it for the long haul? When our hearts are breaking, do we remember that Jesus poured Himself into relationships for centuries and was rejected, yet still stuck with it?

When we have times that we feel like no one understands the pain we feel, remember that Jesus invested more time in relationships than any of us, ALL of time, and experienced an equal amount of heartbreak.

He knows what heartbreak feels like and He wants to heal yours.