24 hours later…

Even a terrorist experiences it. The inescapable word: death.

Death to a terrorist but not death to an ideologue. Death to a leader but not to the followers. Even in the subdued but gleeful comments I read on Facebook and in our paper, there was the griping reality that human lives all end some day, at least on this planet. But for me, the inescapable reality is that Evil lives on, even if one life ends.

Death is hard to write about without one’s own life experiences getting in the way. As a chaplain, I’ve attended countless deaths of strangers, standing beside a grieving family. Sometimes I don’t know the patient’s life story; sometimes I do. But in every case, even the gruffest, angriest family member has moments of vulnerability and tenderness and pain.

The reality hits. Death comes to all of us. One day.

As a Christian, I can see the end of Evil. Its days are numbered (not by me… I really don’t buy into the 5/21/2011 stuff!) My faith affirms that death’s final defeat is wrapped in the Easter victory. The liturgical season of Easter (the 50 days following Easter until Pentecost) holds a sense of completion, yet longing. Of victory over death that is ultimately delayed. Of “the now and not yet” filling one’s mind and hopes, much like the sense of anticipation in Advent. Some of my contemporaries reject the church liturgical calendar, saying it is not “relevant” to people’s needs and wants, and that the Church should move to cyclical preaching about human needs. (I’ve even heard a lead pastor say in defense of jettisoning the liturgical calendar that there are “only” five topics people want to hear about: sex, money, relationships, suffering, and hope. Ironically, the liturgical seasons cover all of these… but I digress!)

The Star Wars mythology created the Death Star as the ultimate, indomitable super-weapon. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for a few decades, you know that The Evil Empire loses, and in the end “Good” wins. It isn’t who has the biggest weapons or power structure that’s always on the winning team. That should be a sobering thought.

For those who suffered the devastation following 9/11, I suppose there is a sense of relief. But their family circles are not restored with the missing relatives, and their loss and grief is no less palpable. I don’t hear anyone saying, “Well, now that bin Laden is dead, we can get on with our lives.”

It’s as though a whole society has taken a deep breath and said, “OK. Let’s go clean up a tornado. Or a tsunami.”

My heart is heavy for all those who have served and died because of terrorism. But my heart is also grieving for those who are blinded by the need for power and domination instead of choosing the path of peace and peace-making. Balancing the reality of grief and relief is that curious work of chaplaincy — living in the tension of reality and hope. And I submit that it’s the work of anyone who wants to live out the teachings of Christ.

I’ll pitch my tent there.

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