God’s love extends even into the place we think is, by definition, the absence of God.
Over the last two weeks, the responses to the news that Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden have been legion. As have been the tone of those responses. In all that I have read, this post by Eugene Cho and this one by Jim Wallis most closely echo my thoughts. I recommend both to you. (Yes, I know. Wallis is getting hammered this week and rightly so. More about that soon. In the meantime, what he wrote about a Christ-centered reaction to bin Laden’s death is still excellent.)
For me, the first real opportunity I had to react to the news with a group was on May 4 when we gathered with our teenagers for our weekly youth group time. What follows is how we dealt with the bin Laden news together. I don’t know that this is any kind of model for, well, for anything. I just know that it seemed like what would work for our group, given the structures we have in place.
We started as we do each week, with a meal together. Then, because it was a beautiful day, the kids played a game outside for a bit.
As a way to symbolize that this week was different, we gathered in our sanctuary. We do that each week for worship but not usually for discussion. We – junior high & high school youth and adults – were gathered on the floor. We began with a brainstorm about everything we know (or thought we knew) about hell.
After bantering that around a bit, we watched a short video from the re:form Confirmation collection we’re using this year, entitled “Why did Jesus go to Hell?”
We processed that for a while. The main takeaway seemed to be: to show that nowhere is apart from God. That God’s love extends even into the place we think is, by definition, the absence of God. (Not saying we understood all that entails, just that that was our main response.)
Then we transitioned into stuff on Osama bin Laden. Where is he now? Why? What sorts of responses/news/chatter did you hear about his killing this week? Next, we divided into groups and I gave each of group a bible verse to look up. I told them each verse was one I’d seen offered on social media that week in response to the ObL news:
Then we just…talked.
Talked about why someone would respond with these particular verses.
Talked about how we use Wesley Quadrilateral to help us understand scripture.
Talked about the community of faith as a place and a way to help us understand living faithfully in the world.
Talked about our own feelings about bin Laden, about his death and about the way people have responded to the news of his death.
And we talked some about Sept. 11, 2001 (our kids were between 2-7 at the time! They don’t remember much first hand.) Several of us adults, including me, shared our personal reactions to the news and our reactions to other reactions. This was my initial thought.
And, perhaps best of all, one of our leaders talked about how his anger over the attacks on September 11, 2001 welled up a desire to join the military (but was too old to enlist). Eventually, he shared, he found a way to include bin Laden in his prayers.
I think – I hope – we didn’t tell our kids what to think about all this, rather helped them consider how to think about it all. I hope we modeled what it means to be the church, to live the life of faith, following God in the way of Jesus in the world. It’s messy. It’s uncertain. It’s hard. But it’s our calling and we’re not alone as travel this road.
Now my friends, (to borrow a phrase) how do you read?