Jesus loves terrorists, too (Reflecting on the Sydney Siege)
The Sydney Siege has changed Australia.
Granted, I’ve not lived here long enough to recount how Australia felt in another era, or to recall the tone of childhood here, but fourteen years (most of my adulthood) and a sliver of preschool days must count for something.
Most would say it’s a fair generalization to say that Australians have grown up feeling safe. As a nation we’ve made our place on the map through our strange animals—the cute variety as well as the lethal variety—and the draw for tourism that comes from the beauty of places like the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, the Great Ocean Road, and our many fantastic wine regions and sweeping coastlines.
Although Australia hasn’t been exempt from tragedy through recent years (in addition to the tragedy deeply woven into the foundation of our colonial history), our image as a place of rest, fun, and adventure is not only a reputation that onlookers hold, but that Australians readily claim.
We’ve prided ourselves on competitive sport, fantastic beach culture, strong mateship, and a laid back approach to life and work, and have lightheartedly endorsed the notion that most of life’s problems can be solved with a beer, a barbie, and a backyard game of cricket.
And then all of that changed
When lone gunman Man Haron Monis holed himself and seventeen hostages inside a the Lindt Chocolate Café in downtown Sydney, the nation was jolted into the sharp reality that we aren’t exempt from the types of scenarios we often see play out on world news reports in places like America, Europe, or the Middle East.
It was a sobering day for Sydneysiders, and for all of Australia. We realized, with sadness, that terrorizing events can happen anywhere, any time, and to people as “regular” as a young pregnant woman, a part-time barista, or a high powered attorney.
#IllRideWithYou exposed the Aussie spirit
The stand of solidarity with (non-jihadist) Muslims through the #illridewithyou hashtag on social media spread like wildfire in the days following the siege, giving strong testament to the Aussie “mateship” spirit, as well as to the determination of our nation not to live in fear of one another. Since Sydney is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities on the face of the planet (40% of us were born outside of Australia), seeing tolerance move into a tangible and very vocal demonstration of care for one another gave cause for the nation (and the whole world) to celebrate and say, look how far we’ve come. And, indeed, it’s been refreshing to see unfold.
As a city, and as a nation, we look around and see one another—hopefully—with an invigorated sense of appreciation for some of the things that make us unique as a nation, recognizing that our uniqueness is more than just our population of wallabies and koalas, but rather our rich diversity of the human soul. It’s this stunning and varied landscape of people that make Australia stand out as more than just a sexy tourist destination.
In the days that followed the siege, the tone across Sydney was incredible. Instead of noses glued to phones, people were talking with strangers, patting each other on the back, and asking, “how ya going, mate?” There was a genuine respect and care for one another that was stirred and it was breathtaking.
I wonder though, if in our compassion for one another, we are open to having compassion for the very people bent on destroying what we stand for?
To love your enemies (easier said than done)
When he walked the earth, the God-man Jesus said things like “love your enemies” and “bless [or pray for] those who persecute you.” We rattle off these quip phrases often without thinking within our own borders. It’s easy to “love” enemies that we don’t rub shoulders with. How easy is it when they are within our cities and across our streets?
What about when they’re armed with an automatic weapon full of ammo?
Most of us won’t come into contact with men or women like the Sydney Siege gunman who overtly claim to be our enemies, but if we did, then what? What does love look like then?
What does love look like?
I don’t honestly know the answer to that question—I wish I did. I’m asking Jesus what it means to love an enemy that seems to epitomize evil, one who laughs in the face of monstrosity and injustice. (I’m thinking of Boko Haram now. Lord, have mercy in Nigeria.)
As much as I’m still personally wrestling with that question, and searching for real life application for these horrific ordeals, I believe that part of loving our enemies has to do with the approach we take in our prayer life.
While watching the Sydney Siege unfold last month I had the hostage-taker and his family on my heart almost as much as the victims and their families. Almost. Maybe that sounds a little crazy; he was a man, after all, who was resolute on destroying all that so many of us work to build for one another. But I’m challenged, prodded, and spurred by Jesus to remember that God cares as deeply about the man perpetrating evil as he does the victim held within evil’s grip.
What if Love had reached him before he’d reached those seventeen?
This idea of loving our enemies is hard to wrap my brain around, much less my heart, but I believe it’s the way Jesus demonstrated when he walked among us declaring the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The Apostle Paul helps me to remember that no one is beyond the reach of our kind and merciful God. Before his radical conversion at Damascus, Paul was unyielding in his mission to persecute and destroy Christians. After his encounter with Jesus he became, arguably, the most influential follower of Jesus in history.
Paul reminds me that Jesus loves terrorists, too.
When a child sounds like Jesus
A couple of days after the Sydney Siege, I was explaining to the kids what had happened downtown so that we could pray for the families of those who had been killed in the siege. I kept the details preschool-vague, but told them enough so we could pray together and to help prepare them for a visit to the memorial site in Martin Place. Although the gunman was already dead (which I forgot to mention), the prayers of my four-year-old reflect God’s heart more than most of us would have the compassion and courage to think:
“Jesus, I pray for that man who had a bad and sick heart. Would you please heal him and give him a good heart. And I pray for the whole, wide world for everybody that ever did one bad thing or any number of bad things – would you give them a new heart. Take away their bad hearts and give them new ones. And I pray for that family that their mommy died and that man. And thank you for mommy for making us dinner tonight and for our family and our friends and all the good things in the whole wide world that you gave us. Thank you for Christmas. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
-Levi, age 4 (17 Dec, 2014)
Levi’s bedtime prayers remind me that I am no better than this man with the “sick heart.” Whether I have done “one bad thing or any number of bad things,” Jesus is the one who can rescue me and heal my heart and make a way for me to live in right relationship with the world around me.
That same Rescuer makes himself available to all who are willing to be rescued.
Living upside down
As Australia has realized that we’re not exempt from acts of terror, and that—despite that knowledge—we also live with a strong and beautiful sense of mateship and the desire to take care of one another, let us also embrace the way of Jesus and commit to loving our enemies and asking him what that looks like in real time in our real lives.
The way of the world is to hate our enemies and seek revenge on those who cause us hardship, pain, persecution, and heartache. But let us be a people that love radically and pray for those fixed on our destruction. Let us be a people who live according to the upside down kingdom – a people who build up rather than tear down, who sow love rather than seek revenge, who serve the ‘least of these’ rather than flatter the famous and influential. Let us be a people who love one another.
Dear God, teach me what it means to love my enemy.
For the love of Sydney, for the love of God, and for the love of the world.
Friends, 2014 was a tough year for the world and for Australia. Now that the Sydney Siege is over, may I ask you to continue praying for our city? For most of us the crisis is over, but for the seventeen victims and their families, as well as for the gunman’s family, the crisis has only just begun. There is much healing and reconciliation yet to come. #PrayForSydney
For the Love of Sydney,
P.S. I wrote this piece on January 1st, and scheduled it to post today. In the last week we’ve seen horrific acts of terrorism in France and unspeakable violence and terror in Nigeria. It seems we will never have a lack of enemies. I continue to ask: Jesus, how do we love? because I still have very little idea…