Thursday, November 19, 2009

Faith, Family, and Nidal Hasan

I've been thinking a lot lately about Nidal Hasan. Last I heard (and I've been behind on the goings on in his situation) he was being charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder, a charge that, in the army code, carries death as its sentence. His attorney said in an interview that he was concerned that Hasasn would be unable to get a fair trial without a change of venue.

I'm of the opinion that there isn't a venue far enough that could get this man a fair military trial.

I don't really want to debate whether the man is insane or is a terrorist. It seems to me the media is foaming all over itself doing that. I read a headline today that asked, "Nidal Hasan: American or Muslim?" as if in this country it is impossible to be both. In a discussion of an HBO documentary called Terror in Mumbai, my new favorite political writer Fareed Zakaria had a really interesting thing to say about the role of faith in the life of the terrorist. You should check it out: there's a transcript here. (p.s. the doc's airing tonight. If you have HBO, you should watch it, and then tell me all about it, or tape it, and then I can watch it too. No cable here.)

But I've been thinking about Nidal Hasan because he's eventually going to be held accountable for the 13 lives he took, and if he is convicted of his charges, he will forfeit his life. I'm thinking about the death penalty. About forgiveness and vengeance and the human and the Divine.

My heart aches for the people who lost loved ones at Fort Hood. There was a Reservist who was killed, a woman, who got into the Armed Forces for maybe the noblest of reasons, not anticipating that the world would take her so firmly and decidedly into war. I can't pretend to know what a Reservist does, if it's still the two weeks a month or two weeks a year or two months a year, or whatever the tidy little ratio was, but I'm betting she had no idea that a despotic man of faith who was desperately unhappy was going to kill her.

Yes, allegedly.

Thirteen families are angry. Grief-stricken. Inconsolable, and hungry for this man's blood. I'm assuming; and I think it's a reasonable response to having your loved one snatched from you in such a violent and untimely manner. I hope I never have to know the searing, all-consuming pain of losing a loved one this way. When I think of the vengeance that people seek after their loved ones have been killed, I think of my mom, who didn't know or lose anyone on the flights that were hijacked on September 11, 2001, but who all the same was hungry for the lives of the terrorists who committed this act. I've never seen her so blind with rage, and I've pissed her off plenty. But on that day, and the days and weeks and months afterward, my mother was furious. Language of turning cheeks be damned, this was a time at which my mother wanted a fiery, judgmental Old Testament God on her side; she wanted to smite the hell outta some folks. And she was in good company.

And so the families of victims of senseless violent crime want justice. They want retribution. They want payback. This is a human need, right? When one can plainly see what is right and what is wrong, we want to make manifest what is right, especially if that means punishing the wrongdoers in a way that will cause them to suffer as we have suffered. Eye for an eye and all that--that's the reason we have capital crimes, right? Except for sometimes, the families of victims see the perpetrator killed, see justice meted out appropriately, and then must return to their lives, the lives in which the sun still rises in the east, where rain falls down and not up, and where their loved one is still absent. Sometimes they realize they've been throwing things into this hole, the hole created by the absence of their son/wife/daughter/father thinking that something would fill it up, and certain that when the person who took their honey from them is executed, that would surely be enough to fill the hole. And yet, that life falls on top of all the other efforts, and the hole still remains, as large and dark and lonely and cold as it ever was.

Where is there room for Christ in the question of vengeance and punishment? Are we so myopic as to consider our side as The Right Side, the side God would choose to back if he were a betting man? (Imagine, pencil-thin mustache, pinstripe suit, "Go baby, Go!" kind of gambler.) Answer: probably. It messes a lot of people up to think that God is static and allows suffering and pain in our world. But that's a sticky wicket, and I don't want to get stuck there. I'm saying this: God is love. Christ was the incarnation of that love on the planet for a while, and now God moves in and through and with ways often misunderstood by humans. While Christ was on earth, he preached about love, about doing right, about giving and reaching and working and building. He preached about boundless forgiveness, forgiveness that can only come from the Divine, because it is simply and obviously not in the nature of humanity to be so excessively forgiving. He excessively forgave on a regular basis, up to and including at his execution. How do we, mired in the trappings of our humanity, access the Divine power to excessively forgive? Is it possible for any one of these families to forgive Nidal Hasan for having allegedly murdered their family member or friend? Is it possible not to want the man hanging by a rope, despite the fact that he killed so many people? Is it possible to fill up that dark, damp, lonely hole with forgiveness?

Let's lower the stakes a little bit. My mom recently invited my sweetheart and me, and his whole family, over to celebrate Christmas dinner. His parents said No. They begged off with some kind of health request that was vague and terse, and because I don't understand it, I'm struggling to take it at face value. I was stunned. Shocked. Incredibly hurt: it felt to me like another instance in which I was (and in this case, I and my family were) being rejected by his family. I am trying to talk myself into the place where I accept that this isn't about my race, that I acknowledge that this has to do with the fact that my future husband comes from a family that is incredibly different from me: I'm a chatty, warm, bubbly outgoing individual, and his family is stoic, even taciturn at times, brusque, and frankly made ridiculously uncomfortable by someone like me.

(Sidebar: That's right, more people who find me intimidating! Jesus Christ, if I meet one more person for whom I am too big, I might just reach over and bite their fucking head right off their shoulders, give them something to be intimidated by. Last night I was venting to him that it seemed that I was too big a person for everybody in the whole world. I got "the look" from him, and amended my statement. "Everybody except you," I said.
("That's right," he said. "Thank you."
(No, sweetie. Thank you. The only man I've ever met in my whole life who loved me despite my emotional and relational size. Thank you.)

So his parents, while doing something that may feel to me and mine like they are being thoughtless and rude, are perhaps--and absolutely unconsciously--trying to protect themselves from people who are interested in getting to know them. This doesn't really make me feel any better. It just means I have to keep putting myself in situations that make me want to climb the walls, or be content to avoid seeing his family as much as possible. Every time I spend time with these people, reach out to them, or make myself vulnerable to them, I wind up feeling bad. I can dig that despite the fact that I keep trying to lower my expectations of them that they are still too high, and the fact that I can't reach these people at all with my warmth and charm and interest seems to touch something really deeply in me: I am working really hard at examining what is mine in all this.

But how often do you kick a dog before it stops greeting you at the door?

The human part of me is saying enough of this. I am so over putting myself in situations that are bound to fail, with only heartache as the end result. I am loving these people the best way I know how, and that clearly isn't working, and I have no earthly or heavenly idea how to love them the way they need to be loved and they are wrapped so tight that they can't tell me. This is too hard: it's exhausting and excruciating and I am fed. the fuck. up.

But that's my flesh talking. That isn't the thing that Christ called me to. The thing I love the most about Jesus, the thing that saves me every day, is the fact that He is willing to meet me where I am. That is what He asks me to do.

Meet these people where they are.

Oh, great. Another fucking growth opportunity.

I don't know how to do it. This is a process for which I have no guidance. I suppose the only things I can do are pray for that divine forgiveness, that divine grace that allows me to give without expectation of reciprocity, that divine love that will teach me how to show these people that I value and treasure them in a way that will matter to them, instead of to me and not to them. I have to try to stay grounded in what this junk--God I hate this junk-- can teach me about the baggage I'm toting around the planet. My sweetheart would remind me that I have to remember that I'm marrying him, and not his family. I cannot solve the problem of his family: they are who they are, and will always be who they are. I have to solve the problem of who I am relative to his family.

How glad I am that I'm not faced with the question of how to forgive someone who's killed someone I love. The pain I would feel around makes this pain less than nothing.

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