8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.”[a] And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:8-10)*
By now you know about the terrorist attacks that struck terror in the heart of France Friday night – I hope you have also heard about smaller but equally vicious attacks carried out also by the same group ISIS – in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday, and in Baghdad, Iraq on Friday – all leading into this past weekend.
There were 2 bombings in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday night, Nov. 12 by ISIS in a crowded market, leaving 41 dead and 200 injured. On Friday, Nov. 13, a suicide bomber went off at a funeral in Baghdad for a Shiite militiaman who died fighting ISIS killing 21 and wounding more than 45, and a roadside bomb went off killing at least 5 Shiites and wounding 15 more at a Shiite Shrine in Sadr City.
Friday night in Paris, Nov. 13 we know that attacks went off in multiple sites simultaneously: le Stade de France, the National Stadium, while a soccer game was going on; hostages were taken and many killed execution-style in a Concert Hall called the Bataclan, during a Heavy Metal concert; gunmen opened fire at four cafes and restaurants. It is so far reported that at least 6 sites were hit at roughly the same time. There are at least 99 people in serious condition in Paris hospitals, nearly 400 wounded, at least 129 people killed.
The crash of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31st is now believed to have been also due to a bomb explosion executed and claimed by ISIS. All 224 people aboard that flight were killed.
For many, hearing of an orchestrated attack on four countries on multiple targets will bring up all kinds of feelings. We may immediately remember the loss of people close to us or a traumatic event we have lived through; but if there is any doubt that these events have caused sorrow around the world, one need only scan the photos amassed in the last 48 hours of candlelight vigils or light displays or flower memorials left at French embassies all over the world: India, England, Australia, South Korea, Bethlehem and Ramallah in Palestinian territories; Hungary, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Germany Serbia, Ecuador, Switzerland, Iran, Sweden, Denmark and on and on!!!
For Paris and Beirut on Facebook Nov 14, 2015:
Later that night I held an atlas in my lap;
Ran my finders across the whole world and whispered:
Where does it hurt?
It answered: everywhere, everywhere, every where
(Posted by Sogand Zakerhaghighi)
When I read in the news that the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar”, “God is the Greatest”, before opening fire on Parisians I hung my head, feeling the sorrow of my Muslim friends and colleagues knowing that yet again, an extremist had used the precious name of God before committing an act of terror. Knowing that people around the world will be more convinced now than ever that Islam is a religion that breeds hate.
I flashed to the Vigil I was at for Fan Cheung-Li Thursday night (Nov 12, 2015) in Indian Orchard, Springfield, MA - a young man gunned down while delivering food for his family restaurant leaving behind three small children and his wife, many extended family and neighbors. Our tears mingled with the rain as people came together, said prayers in English and Chinese, reclaiming the street he died on from violence to healing.
I flashed to the Springfield Transgender Day of Remembrance I went to later Thursday night (Nov 12, 2015), hearing the names read of 23 Transgender people who were murdered in hate crimes this year alone in the U.S.
What can bring the human heart to do such horrific deeds to another? No matter what you may “believe” – how can you justify inside yourself that killing the person could ever be right? There are so many lost and injured lives to mourn this weekend – but I can’t get over the ability of so many people to kill and maim while claiming it is in the name of God.
I want to take a moment to say something about this – killing in the name of God. Remember the words of the opening scripture above (Gen. 4). This is the first time, according to the bible, that one human being has killed another. God says to Cain, “What have you done? Listen: your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” It was not God’s doing, and Cain was in no way acting on God’s behalf. It was all him. God had just been described at length as creating all life and blessing it to be fruitful and multiply – and within the first created human family, murder is born. When we kill each other, it’s not on God, it’s on us.
I would go further to say that we can’t blame our religions for inciting this violence in us either. We can find texts in most holy scriptures about war and conquest but when you come down to core teachings of the world’s major religions, love is at the center. For me there are no more basic tenets of the Christian faith, for example, than the Two Great Commandments Jesus gave us:
“He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)*
Then Jesus spent quite a bit of time being clear about who our neighbor was with the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s not your rabbi/pastor, it’s not the businessman from your town or your church, its the person you don’t normally speak to, the one who may speak a different language, may look differently and act differently and frankly, the one you are uncomfortable with. That’s who Jesus tells us to go and love as we would want to be loved.
But this powerful directive exists in all the noble religions in our world today: Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American Spirituality, Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, and more. See for yourself: http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc2.htm
Yes, anyone can lift language out of any holy scripture to justify their actions but as people of faith, we MUST witness what we know to be true about the worlds’ noble faiths when terrible events happen. After this weekend, we must tell everyone we can that these acts are not Islam, and these perpetrators do not represent Islam for other Muslims. To say more about this, I want to share with you some language from a Resolution passed by the Massachusetts Conference UCC this past year: (Taken from the preamble of “A Resolution of Witness Condemning Violence Committed in the Name of Religion” voted in at the Annual Meeting in June 2015, written by the MACUCC Task Force on Ecumenism & Interfaith Relationships:)
“We acknowledge that the roots of religious violence cannot be fully understood in isolation from political, economic, and military forces that impact the world. Yet, as people of faith, we reject all attempts to justify violence as being divinely inspired or mandated. Such is a denial of the God-given value of each human life, and an act of sin that stands in direct opposition to faithful discipleship. We humbly acknowledge that Christians themselves have judged and persecuted people of other Christian traditions, of other faiths and of no faith to the point of extreme violence in the name of our beliefs and we have used our sacred texts to justify it. We repent of these misuses of our religious tradition.
Yet we also affirm that throughout history, Christians have engaged with each other and people of other faiths for real reconciliation and healing. We honor that the world’s noble faiths share core values of compassion, justice and peacemaking, and we recommit to right relationships among people of all religious traditions, calling each other to the best of our sacred teachings.” (for the full text, see http://www.macucc.org/newsdetail/1087531)
It is part of our faithfulness as disciples of Christ to bear this light in time of tragedy. First, we stand with those who suffer – maybe in silence, maybe with flowers or a lit candle. Not trying to fix it with easy words but just to witness to their suffering. And next, we are called to condemn violence done in the name of religion, and defend our neighbors across faith lines who are a powerful source of good in the world.
But finally, we have to look directly at the people who commit these terrible atrocities. Let us not distance ourselves so far from them – because they are someone’s brother or sister, daughter or son, father or mother. Who can say what planted the seeds of despair that grew into this terrible hate? But we must pursue it – what abuse or violence in their lives drove them there? What loss of dignity, or self-respect? So often people rise to violence because they feel so deeply oppressed or powerless or despaired of what is good! Let us recommit ourselves to building a world in which these losses cannot rob someone of their heart – a world in which everyone has enough: enough needs met, enough freedom, enough dignity, enough love so that this kind of hate cannot take root. Hear these powerful words from Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (http://www.drmartinlutherkingjr.com/mlkquotes.htm)
When terrible things happen, let us help each other keep our hearts open, across faith lines that we may, together, shine as beacons of hope to a world that can quickly descend into the revenge abyss.
44 Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.”* (John 12:44-46, NRSV)
*New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Rev. Ms. Marisa Brown-Ludwig is Chair of the MACUCC Task Force on Ecumenism & Interfaith Relations and Interim Associate Pastor of First Church of Christ in Longmeadow.