Closing the Circle

As the events of my consecration weekend culminated on Sunday May 1, President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. That this occurred that night had deep significance to me personally because the journey that led to my ordination to the priesthood, and ultimately to my consecration as a bishop, began for me personally on 9-11.

Subsequently I wrote a book with Mary Donovan, the wife of Bishop Herbert Donovan, retired Bishop of Arkansas, on spiritual responses to 9-11. It is titled Will the Dust Praise You? (Church Publishing Inc., 2003). The book is a collection of people’s memories of September 11, 2001.

In light of the controversial scenes of rejoicing in our country over the death of Bin Laden, I want to share with you a passage from that book. It is the recollection of the Rev. Stuart Hoke. Hoke, who was executive assistant to the rector of Trinity Church was dispatched to the church—just a block from Ground Zero—where people were gathering soon after the planes hit the twin towers:

When the rector said to me, “Go into the church and do something,” I ran to Trinity Church, and, along with the organist, began doing an impromptu service. Reading prayers, reading Scriptures, singing hymns. At 9:59, when the first tower collapsed, all the lights went off and the place filled with debris. People screamed and they jumped under the pews. And I was as cool as could be. I was standing up there in front of the congregation doing my thing. I was reading the Beatitudes at the moment, trying to find something in Scripture that people knew, that would connect with them. I had gone through the Beatitudes: “Blessed be the poor in spirit, and blessed be you when men revile and persecute you” and all of that.

As the tower fell, I was reading the second part of the Beatitudes. And that was, “Pray for those who persecute you, never exchange evil for evil. When someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone wants your shirt, give him your cloak as well. If someone says to you, ‘Go a mile with me,’ go two miles.” And all of a sudden, there was this gasp in the congregation, and a sense of connectedness—not only to each other, but also to God who was saying something to us at that moment that was uncanny. We knew what was going on. We knew that terrorists were bombing us. And here we were saying, “Pray for those who persecute you. Never exchange evil for evil. Turn the other cheek.” The very things I don’t think I would have ever said, things that go against the American grain in such an incalculable way, especially right now.

We had a young journalist in the congregation at the time and he wrote the next day that was the very first strike against the war on terrorism—a priest reading the Beatitudes in front of the demoralized congregation.

It is my hope that we continue on this path Jesus set before his disciples so long ago as we continue to struggle with terrorism in many forms. Please join me in praying for those who persecute us. Join me in striving to avoid exchanging evil for evil. Join me in fighting terrorism in the manner in which our Lord would have us so to do.

In peace,
+Bill Franklin, Bishop of Western New York

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7 Responses to Closing the Circle

  1. sckeppy says:

    I read “Will the Dust Praise You?” during Lent this year, and found it very moving to hear so many stories of those involved in hands-on response to the attacks of 9/11.

    I do understand the relief many feel at his death– an unrepentant mass murderer, who would kill again without compunction– and I share it. But it is all evidence of a broken world, isn’t it? When causing a death is your best option, things have come to a difficult pass!

    The root causes of terrorism are still firmly in place, even if there is one less terrorist alive and planning evil. I believe we have a right and responsibility to defend ourselves, but I think if we really want the world to change, we must be praying and working for justice for all.

  2. Judith Lee says:

    This is a great beginning for thoughtful conversation. What a powerful example of how we can be “surprised by grace”–sometimes despite ourselves, and by what is most familiar to us–the Beatitudes. Although I know that “doing battle” is a central, and perhaps apt, metaphor in our spiritual traditions, I struggle with the language of war and violence, perhaps especially in describing our spiritual lives. The very notion of “fighting terrorism” troubles me–if we’re called to transformation and reconciliation, how do we use language that is not only accurate but opens up new possibilities for understanding and action?

  3. Catherine Way says:

    I felt no elation when I learned of Bin Laden’s death, and I’m not even sure I felt any relief because I immediately thought of how his supporters might retaliate – how many more innocent lives would be taken? One of the commentators said how this would bring closure to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. I doubt that – how could there ever be closure for such an event? The lives of mothers, fathers, children, wives, husbands and others were changed forever in a matter of seconds. With time, perhaps, comes a bit of acceptance and I pray, peace, but never closure. I too read Will The Dust Praise You and also was deeply moved by the stories of those on the scene. I am struck now with our charge to “forgive those who trespass against us.” That is hard in the case of Bin Laden, but isn’t that what we are called to do?

  4. Sue Nealon says:

    Thank you, Bishop William, for your thoughts, and to the 3 people who commented. As a Christian, I am struggling with this. Yes, we need to pray for our enemies, and for ourselves that we don’t become like them. I hope that you will help us with this, Bishop William!

  5. Barbara J. Price says:

    When I picked up my granddaughters on their first day back at school after Osama bin Laden’s death, they asked me (1) who he was, and (2) why the United States was mad at him. Those were their second and third questions. The first question was “Why are people happy that someone is dead?”
    It is from our most base collective energy that we operate in the realms of survival and vengeance. At some level, even a seven year old can understand that from his/her own experience of anger and “mine.” Teaching our children that we are called to live by a different spirit – to be conduits of a loving and non- self-focused energy – that’s the challenge. We try to meet that challenge by embodying Beatitude living ourselves. Only by grace….and only moment by moment….

  6. Thank you, Bishop Bill, for this fine response.
    I have often noted that the beautifully composed prayer for our enemies in the back of the Prayer Book is virtually never used in our congregations. I commend it to your readers (it’s on page 816). I have just written something on my own blog about the death of bin Laden.

  7. The Rev. Remington Sloan shared this poignant message during Eastertide on my Facebook wall:

    “Only one death has the power to give life. Only one death has the power to bring peace. Only one death has the power to end oppression. Only one death has the power to restore the dignity of humanity. Only one death warrants celebration, and that only in the light of the resurrection. All other deaths rob us of life, peace, and dignity. Do we dare forget this while these fresh alleluias remain on our lips?”

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