A Letter to My Children on the Occasion of May 1, 2011

Dear Zora and Abram,

Last night, the US military killed Osama bin Laden. I imagine that some day you will read about this in a school history class. Maybe it will be a big day that gets its own paragraph. But maybe it will simply be a footnote to September 11, 2001.

This morning, though, it is big news. I found out last night when I was up nursing Abram, reading through friends’ responses on social media. The reactions ranged from contemplative to hateful, cathartic to celebratory, victorious to ambiguous. Those reactions are representative of what we saw on the news as well. People trying to reason through what this means at the same time that some were filling parks and landmarks in New York and Washington, DC and cheering.

I watched this all from bed where I held Abram, nursed him back to sleep, and kissed the top of his head. We were tired after our family’s celebration on May 1: the day Abram was baptized.

And I realized, as I processed the news, that May 1, 2011, was the most important day in Abram’s life: the day of his baptism into the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the rest of the world was noting it as a day of importance for another reason altogether.

I wish that these two days were not the same day, because it makes each event that much more difficult.

At 10 weeks, Abram, and at 4 1/2 years, Zora, I don’t expect that you understand any of what I’m writing here now. But someday, I think we might talk about this. And the day when you understand these things will come quickly…you both grow so fast!

As a mother, I want you both to be safe. I wish for you a world where people aren’t scared; where politics is not incredibly polarized; where there are not whole countries that suffer under endless cycles of war; where you do not have to wonder constantly about the right-ness or wrong-ness of what your country does in the name of security. I am frightened to my core of the possibility that either of your beautiful baby-bodies could one day grow up to be harmed, injured, or killed in any act of violence. But I’m not sure this one man’s death will get us to this place of safety and wholeness. There will always be evil in the world until God’s work of re-creation is complete.

As a Christian, I cannot find space to celebrate death, the death of anyone. I don’t support the death penalty. At the same time, I understand why the soldiers who killed bin Laden did what they did, and I think they chose the lesser of evils.

Some people have said that bin Laden was an evil man. But I believe that every last one of us humans is fallen; created good, but tainted by evil. That evil can be more rampant in the actions of some people, and Osama bin Laden did terrible, evil things: not because he was Muslim; not because he was Arab; not because he hated America. He did terrible things because, like the rest of us, he was fallen, and prone to do evil. Even God, as far as I can figure, does not delight when someone dies. After all, we are each created and loved by God, in spite of our best efforts to be unloveable.

I cannot even, as a Christian, find it in me celebrate that someone may have gone to hell. I’m not, at this point in my life, a universalist. I think there is judgment, and I think there is some sort of hell. And I hope with every fiber of my being that God is just, but also more generous with grace than we humans are able to be…so I hope that the surprise is that heaven is bursting at the seams with people we never thought had a chance to be redeemed.

As for forgiveness, I was relatively personally unaffected by September 11, 2001. It’s not my place to forgive or to prescribe forgiveness for the people who lost dear ones that day (or any of the other days, in any of the other countries, when bin Laden had a hand in death and destruction). The only thing I know for sure is that Christians are called to work toward forgiveness, even if the best we can do is simply to leave forgiveness in the hands of God and pray for wholeness. I can’t imagine how to forgive someone for horrible things like 9/11.

On the day when Abram was baptized, I’ll also remember a day when it was hard to know how to be a Christian.

This morning, Melinda preached on forgiveness. The Spirit must have guided that choice, because we were all going to need that sermon later that evening.

I don’t know that this man’s death will make any grand difference in the movement of our world toward God’s healing and peace. I don’t know how it will look when you both are old enough to look back on history.

I do know that you are both loved and cherished by God, and in baptism you are both called to work toward the reconciliation of God’s creation, and hope for the shalom, the wholeness, of this world.

While it is the greatest joy of my life that the two of you are God’s own covenant children, this morning I am waking up to the solemn reality of your responsibilities as followers of Jesus, and my own baptismal pledge to teach you how to follow him.

May God give all of us wisdom, grace, and strength to know the way.

14 Responses to “A Letter to My Children on the Occasion of May 1, 2011”

  1. Mamie Says:

    mmmmm, thanks.

  2. susan Says:

    thank you.

  3. Katherine Says:

    Oh, Erica. Wow. Thank you. And amen.

  4. Lizzy Brouwer Says:

    I am glad I was able to read that- thank you for sharing your reflections.

  5. Lynn Ogden Says:

    You have reflected my thoughts exactly. How can we cheer the death of any man? May we someday find a world lightened from evil and in our final ending–new life. Who are we to judge?

  6. Erik Vorhes Says:

    “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy” (MLK, Jr).

  7. Jane Erck Phillips Says:

    Thank you and amen.

  8. Heidi Says:

    Yes. Verily. Truly. Amen. Yes.

  9. Jayme Says:

    Oh, Erika, I have had the same kinds of thoughts all day as I watched Americans celebrating. I may feel relief that he is gone, but I can’t feel joy about a murder and the possibility of further retaliation.

  10. Erik Vorhes Says:

    It looks like that King quote I posted is probably fake. I still appreciate the sentiment, though.

  11. terry lutrick Says:

    It just feels wrong, that my gut feeling. I’m a lot older than all of you but sometime we as a society just do bad things that come back to haunt us and my gut says this is one of them.

  12. Jennifer Says:

    Thank you. This is beautifully written and so helpful.

  13. John Vest Says:

    What a profound and powerful way to approach this. Thank you.

  14. Cody Maynus Says:

    Thank you. Blessings to Abram as he begins his journey into the heart of God.