No Tengo Palabras
My musings today reflect some serious thinking on how followers of Jesus are going to navigate the obvious hostilities that are coming our way in this nation and around the world. I have entitled my thoughts "No Tengo Palabras," which is a Spanish phrase that relays the idea that I simply don't have adequate words to express myself about this subject. In that contemplative space resides some convictions that I will stand on regardless of the consequences, but a realization that those "hills to die on" may be fewer than I previously claimed. That space is also inhabited by moments where I realize I have a lot of work to do in understanding those people and positions that I differ with and increasingly those who want to do harm to the cause of Jesus Christ.
I must admit to being frustrated by the fact we live in a world that relies on sound bites, video clips, and insider language for communication, known more for the novelty of the form than the substance of the message. There are times at which the violent events and vicious rhetoric create a feeling that we are being swept away in a tsunami of unrelenting change. I increasingly look to actual stories of people whose faithful witness to Christ has provided light in the middle of darkness. One such story is told in a French language movie entitled Of Gods and Men. It is the true story of Trappist monks who were martyred by Islamic extremists in Algeria in 1996. As I watched this film, I was humbled by the real struggles that these monks faced as their faithful witness for Christ brought upon them their inevitable martyrdom. They wrestled long and hard with their desire to get to personal safety, countered by their deep love for the Muslim community that surrounded them. They struggled with the fact that they were the only barrier to the extremists taking over the entire area. If they left the community they loved, it would be overrun and if they stayed they would most likely die.
Dom Christian de Cherge was the abbot at that Trappist monastery. Realizing the increased inevitability of his death if he stayed in Algeria, he sent a letter to his family in France. There were actually two letters; one that told of the danger he was experiencing and the second was to be opened if the inevitable occurred. After Dom Christian's death, his family opened the second letter. That letter read, in part,
"If it should happen one day, and it could be today, that I become a victim of terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down."
The letter from Dom Christian and the film account of this tragic episode left me a bit humbled, realizing that I am a long, long way from the big-heartedness, nobility of character, and genuine Christian witness of a man like Dom Christian. A fellow seminary president, Ronald Rolheiser, has observed that the swirling polarities that grip our nation (and the world) are present across the entire ideological spectrum. He observes that it seems there exists an abundance of hypersensitivity between people of differing opinions. What this growing polarity often reveals is a basic lack of respect and charity and this works as a canker to divide the sincere from the sincere and the committed from the committed. The net effect of this polarization and bitterness, with our families and communities, is that well-intended people seem increasingly incapable of working together or even talking to each other.
In addition, we live in a world where there are folks who have a clear and unapologetic desire to violently destroy their opponents. Whether the conflicts are merely rhetorical or include lethal violent action, growing segments of people around the world simply believe that their "narration of the world" is to be accepted and any refusal should bring swift retribution. That is why the Dom Christian story is so sobering: it is an account of present realities and critical choices we will increasingly be faced with.
The Apostle James offers some timeless observations in James 1:19-27 that serve as twenty-first century biblical directives critical for contemporary (re)consideration:
- Be quick to listen;
- Be slow to speak;
- Be slow to become angry.
James also reminds us that those who consider themselves religious and do not keep a tight rein on their speech deceive themselves and their religion is worthless. These clear guidelines offer wisdom that is all too often lacking and is worth taking very seriously. James observes that these guidelines are connected to a life that fairly represents the character of God, which he calls true religion. I cannot think of anything more important in this challenging era than a clear picture of "true religion."
Byron D. Klaus, President