Friday, May 9, 2014

Following Jesus in a Boko Haram World

Boko Haram makes me struggle with my faith.

The conversations have been everywhere, about those girls, about their fate.  It's been a wild mess of a discussion.  

For the right-wingers, woken from obsessively muttering "Benghazi" to themselves in their twitching, disturbed sleep, the answer is simple:

Kill Boko Haram.  Just kill 'em good.  With drones, preferably, although if Vlad the Impaler can be somehow roused from his sarcophagus, his strategic inputs would also be welcome.  He was always such an excellent negotiator.

Done and done.  Now can we talk about Benghazi again?  There are Documents That Were NOT Released in a Timely Manner, Dagflabbit! 

Leftists?  Well, they're doing what leftists do.  On the one hand, outrage!  Racist America is silent and ignorant, and does not care about these young women of color!  We must raise awareness!  But also, Outrage! Because we are daring to speak about these Africans through social media, a clear sign that we are #slacktivist #privileged cultural imperialists!  But wait, Outrage! Because we allow these girls to be nameless faces, unaware of their identity as persons.  But hey, OUTRAGE!  Because we're naming these victims of sexual violence, thus exposing them to cultural shame.

The American left needs to get out more.  Or not.  Maybe not.  Maybe the aimless nattering chaos of #twitter is the best place for it.

Stepping outside of the din, and into encounter with this horror, part of the butchery of a madman whose methods even give Al Queda pause, I wonder at how to respond from the discipline of my faith.

Having spent time in Nigeria, I feel this one.  My mom used to personally teach young girls from our neighborhood in Ibadan-- a city 130 klicks northwest of Lagos--to read, inviting them into our home and providing them with materials.  This is a real thing for me.  I see the faces of those girls, as people I know.  

But I also know there is nothing that I personally can do.  Not here, not from this distance.  I can be aware, as I  try to be.  I can speak, as I am here.  I can pray, as we do when there is nothing material we can do.

When faced with such hateful, monstrous violence, though, I am torn.  The heart of Christian faith is self-sacrificing nonviolence.  It is the way of the cross.  This is radically, intensely, inescapably true, no matter how much we wish it not to be so.

Nonviolence transforms and restores.  Nonviolence heals cultures, just as Jesus healed.  I know this as a truth, because when we have had the courage to try it, it has had power.

Yet I hear the empty, feverish hatred in the voice of Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram "prophet," and I see no purchase for nonviolence.  I see only a maw into which peaceful and nonviolent lives would be poured.  I see only madness and the incoherence of a broken soul.

Perhaps this is just a failure of my faith.  It is easier to see such a person as little more than an animal, a being who has lost hold of the sentience that is our created nature, and now is no more responsive to grace than a rabid dog.  You put them down, as you would kill an animal that was threatening your children.

That's the easy way.  But it is a profoundly dangerous way of thinking, if you claim Jesus as your master.  You can never approach another human being as an object.  Ever.  No matter how hateful and monstrous they have become, your stance towards them must be grounded in the awareness that they have within them the same potential for relationship with God that you bear in your own self.

You must love them, as God loves them.  This is very, very hard.

Faced with predatory violence, I am still not sure that I could see the path of nonviolence.  Or rather, I can, but I do not know if I could take it.  I could see, perhaps, how after hundreds of nonviolent resisters poured themselves out in love...gunned down, assaulted, hacked to death with words of forgiveness on their lips...that such relentlessly gentle madness might make an impression on Boko Haram.  Might.

But I wrestle with how many kind, gentle, and justice-loving souls that would cost.

I also know, from faith, that we are fundamentally interconnected by God's love, which is the inescapable foundation of God's justice.  We participate in one another, in ways that we do not see in this life from behind our walls of existential isolation.  Allowing a blighted soul to spread horror sets them towards that horror as the defining feature of their relationship with God.  

The full reality of every rape, every mother's tear, every death that Boko Haram inflicts is their inheritance in eternity.  That will be Shekau's hell.  I know this as surely as I live and breathe.

Believing this, I wonder if using force to stop the madness of unthinking violence might be a mercy to the one who is inflicting harm.  With Augustine, this is where I find myself when it comes to protecting the innocent.  It is not an easy place.  Ending the life of a broken soul is like killing your own broken child, your own lost and prodigal son.  If it is not that hard, then you do not understand God's love.

And so I still struggle.  It is a struggle worth having.