02 May 2011

with God on our side

Because I'm an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of person, I didn't hear President Obama's speech about Osama bin Laden live.

Instead, I found out at 5:30 this morning when I took little pug out for a walk. The Chicago Tribune was waiting for me on my doorstep, just as it always is but of course the headline was 10 times the size it always is.

U.S Kills Bin Laden

I read the paper on my walk, pausing occasionally to say, "Oh my, Miss Daisy, the world isn't the same as it was yesterday."

It's a touch of crazy, I know, to talk out loud to your dog, especially about world affairs, but as I looked at the rising sun and the bed of daffodils by the library—things that feel new and promising every day—I wanted to...

I wanted to recognize that no, the world isn't the same as it was last night when I went to bed.

There is a man who was here yesterday and who is no longer here today. And he was a bad man, responsible for many deaths.

His death, though, doesn't heal all the pain from those deaths, nor does it justify them, nor does it extinguish evil.

The world isn't the same as it was yesterday, but Osama bin Laden's death isn't total victory in the wars we're in now, nor is it the total triumph of good over evil.

It is death, and as I looked at the pictures in the Tribune of people chanting "USA" and singing "The Star-spangled Banner" outside the White House, I did feel a wellspring of patriotism.

And when I saw the pictures of New York City firefighters in Times Square, the marquee above them announcing bin Laden's death, I almost cried.

But I couldn't bring myself to rejoice in his death, and the rest of today, I've been thinking of this Bob Dylan song—"With God on Our Side." {You can see Joan Baez singing it here, or down below, I put in the lyrics.}

It addresses that belief that we will beat whatever we're fighting because we have God on our side. We are the chosen nation, the Christian nation. God must approve of what we're doing, and he'll show it by making us powerful and victorious and right.

But that's a messy argument when you factor in people, actual people. When people get involved—and we're all a mix of good and evil, of sin and redemption—it's harder to be able to claim God's approval so confidently.

At least it is for me.

Yes, I believe that we should seek the will of God. And I believe that we should work every day to love him more by loving those around us more.

But I don't believe that we should rejoice in someone else's downfall—as natural as that is for us humans.

This rule applied in elementary school—when we all learned that it is not right to laud a good grade over someone who didn't do so well, even if they deserve it because they rubbed it in your face when they did better on a test.

You don't get to feel smarter just because someone else did worse.

And you don't get to feel more righteous just because an evil person, your enemy, even, died.

This isn't a chastisement of the celebrations, nor is it a callous take on what was a very successful, very hard-earned mission.

It's more me working through the maelstrom of emotions that swelled up this morning on the walk with little pug. Osama bin Laden is dead, and I'm thankful for that.

And now, Lord have mercy on the state we humans find ourselves in.

With God on Our Side
Bob Dylan

Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And the land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns on their hands
And God on their side.

The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I've learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.

In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.


  1. Brilliant words Kamiah. I think you wrote what we are all thinking.

  2. Thank you, Val! I'm glad I was able to get out all the mess of thoughts that were in my head yesterday. I saw your facebook post about the news (along the lines of violence begetting more violence), and I know that's true and that creates a lot of fear in me. There's simply no simple solution, and that also makes me hesitant to rejoice.



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