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Ministers and Magistrates
American Muslims: Race, Faith, and Political Allegiance
Reuf Bajrović responds to Shadi Hamid’s “Holding Our Own: Is the Future of Islam in the West Communal?” Spring 2020.
On Maureen Swinger’s “Precious Friend: What’s Your Victory Song?” 2020 Special Digital Issue: I’d like to thank you, Maureen, for writing about Robert and his family and friends, as well as earlier about your brother Duane, who also had special needs (“The Teacher Who Never Spoke,” Spring 2017). There are so many threads holding you and us together in addition to the love of God. I think of your ability to understand the challenges faced by Robert and his family because of what you learned from Duane. Your position of strength comes from having experienced great hardships and challenges. You all clearly are celebrating the life of the beautiful boy Robert, both giving and receiving joy in doing so. We have a good friend who has ALS, and for about a year now he has been able to move only his eyes. I think of the deep inner contemplation and acceptance that those whose movement is inhibited must learn to accept and even embrace. In reading about Robert’s sixth birthday serenade with Jean close by, baby daughter in arm, I saw myself as if in a mirror twenty-seven years ago, holding my baby daughter and helping my seven-year-old son, whose movement was severely limited by weakness caused by leukemia. (Our son passed on in 1993. He is still teaching me.) Child and parents are refined and purified by the suffering of the child. And we have so much to be grateful for. To hold and love such a gift from God is a gift not to be surpassed.
No Easy Comfort
On Edwidge Danticat’s “This Too Shall Pass?” 2020 Special Digital Issue: Thank you, Edwidge Danticat. This is beautiful. We have a much-loved friend who has moved out of home from wife and baby in case of infecting them, due to frontline work. We can’t glibly say everything will be all right. But as the Iona Community pray at the end of a communion celebration: “Is God good? God is good. Is life worth living? Life is worth living. Is the best yet to come? Always, the best is yet to come. Then go, as friends of Jesus and enjoy him forever.”
He Did Not Open His Mouth
On Zito Madu’s “The Edge of Justice,” part of the Arc of Justice series on Plough.com: Madu’s piece reminded me of some of the street boys I know in Lima, Peru, from my frequent visits there. Their life is hateful and they are hated by most people. They don’t trust anyone. When they are hunted by the police they are abused beyond belief. They are asked to tell about their hideouts and the names of their friends and so forth. They consider “ratting out their friends” the very worst thing they could do. So they keep their silence, and get kicked around like soccer balls by the police.
They usually want nothing to do with the message of Jesus. But one day we were telling them about Jesus’ interrogation by the authorities. As the spiritual says, “He never said a mumblin’ word” when they struck him and spit on him. A couple of the boys were wide eyed. “He kept his silence,” they said. They could relate to that. It was the opening we needed to share the love of Jesus.
You never know what will help people to hear. Jesus lived life completely; every moment of his life can touch someone.
Salt and Light to the Warriors
On Ronald J. Sider’s “Christian Nonviolence and Church History,” a web exclusive: Sider quotes Miroslav Volf: “If one decides to put on soldier’s gear instead of carrying one’s cross, one should not seek legitimation in the religion that worships the crucified Messiah.” Later, Sider says that “no extant Christian text from before Constantine says military service is ever legitimate.”
I struggle with these things. In all the years I’ve read arguments along these lines, I have never seen anyone grapple to my satisfaction with the narrative of the first Gentile to be converted, “Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:1–2). The only command Peter issued was for him and his companions to be baptized. In this he was following Jesus, who said of a centurion, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith,” and who didn’t tell him to leave the service (Matt. 8:5–13).
I’m not convinced that military service means one is not and cannot be a true worshiper of the crucified Messiah. There is also no place in such arguments for the thousands of Christians who have served among, ministered to, and witnessed to the military. There are those in the military who mock Jesus – and those who would say, with another centurion, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Do unbelievers in the military not need salt and light, especially when deployed? My wife is a retired officer who has been salt and light in all of her units. When I once made this argument to a “Volfian,” he told me that my wife was a whore justifying it by claiming to be salt and light in a whorehouse. Violence comes in many forms.
I believe I would be compelled by conscience to try to protect another. When I was eleven, I was repeatedly struck in the face by a bully, and intentionally raised no hand to defend myself, but I also stood my ground and allowed him to continue striking me. An older boy stopped it by standing beside me and challenging the bully to fight him. That he stood up for me was, I think, right; that moment, and his courage, has influenced me to this day, and it is why I also believe law enforcement can be conducted by Christians.
I have found that many Christian pacifists seem to think that Christians in the armed forces never struggle with the issue. My wife and I, along with brothers and sisters in Officers’ Christian Fellowship in college, read deeply and struggled with this, and I still do. None were ever eager for violence, and while most I knew settled on Just War doctrine, they didn’t get there by default.
Likewise, there are deep spiritual struggles for many of us in military families. I opposed the war in Iraq as both a moral evil and a political mistake even as my wife was deployed there twice. Learning how to support someone you love who is in a combat zone is a spiritual challenge.
A Moment in Kairos Time
On Leslie Verner’s “The Gift of Death”: This article deeply touched me. My father and I were not close. Or perhaps we were, but did not know how to show it. The one time we hugged was awkward and we never again risked that discomfort.
I was in the military and he came for a visit. Neither of us had ever seen the mountains, so I took leave and we drove to see the continental divide for the first time. As we came to the top of the pass, the entire horizon of the valley below was backdropped by snow-capped peaks as far as the eye could see in either direction.
I was taken by this kairos you speak of in your article: For a moment there was no “me.” I was experiencing pure being/God. My personality had no reference point for what I was seeing and it momentarily shut down my thinking mind. I could sense my father’s body shaking in the seat next to me and I knew he was having the same experience. He reached out and held my hand. For a moment, there was no distance between us. We were in full communion with each other, God, the mountains… all of creation. He said with a shaking voice, “What was that?”
We never talked about that experience, but for the short time he had left, we would look at each other with soft eyes knowing love that goes beyond words. He died shortly thereafter. That was thirty years ago. I ache to have that experience again.