A quick recap: Hezbollah is a political party and power-broker, a social service agency and a terrorist organization that has taken credit for some horrific acts of violence throughout the Middle East. Their stated mission is the elimination of Israel and the destruction of those western powers who support Israel. (Read this excellent article from The Atlantic). Hezbollah was behind the bombings of the US Embassy and marine barracks in 1983, killing 258 Americans. Since then this so-called “Party of God” has carried out suicide bombings, targeted assassinations and currently is fighting in Syria for the regime of President Assad. Here in Lebanon, Hezbollah, composed of Shiite Muslims operates as a “state within a state.”
After visiting the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp, Mohammad (the guide/driver from my last post) must have thought I would be sympathetic to this group. How else can I explain why we took a detour on the way back to the hotel? Passing through various Hezbollah checkpoints with Mohammad hissing for me to “take no pictures!” we pulled up to a non-descript concrete building in the southern neighborhood of Beirut called Ghobeiri.
Having no scarf with me, I walked in with this silly helmet on my head and stopped dead in my tracks. Inside was what I can only describe as an indoor cemetery. Row upon row of granite graves flanked by flowers, topped with copies of the Koran and each holding a photo of a young man who had died as a Hezbollah fighter.
The picture above is a picture of Mohammd kneeling at the grave of a famous Hezbollah general (who I later learned was the brain behind the ’83 bombing). I knew I would not be kneeling at any of these graves. But I was very interested in a couple dressed in black who were sitting in a far corner around an elaborately decorated grave.
Seeing me, the couple called me over and introduced themselves. They said they visit daily. Their only son was killed fighting in Syria in 2013. In excellent English (“My sister lives in San Diego!”) the father explained that “every day between 3 and 6” they arrive to simply sit and talk with their son at his grave.
As I sat next to her I looked around at all these graves and thought about some of the ways we waste life. Both our lives and the lives of others. I thought about the ideologies we hold and the allegiances we assert and this universal bent toward violence and domination. I was angry thinking about all the violence the dead in that room had carried out and I was sick thinking about the violence governments and regimes had carried out throughout the world. I am not a pacifist (though I suspect Jesus was) yet it was difficult to see how violence ever creates lasting hope.
There is none righteous. No. Not one, St. Paul says. Not the one who commits the act, nor the one who avenges the act.
A few weeks ago I preached on the wedding of Cana in John 2. In studying the text I consulted a few rabbinical sites on the culture of Jewish weddings. They said the great Jewish toast to life — L’chaim! — had likely been around for at least 2,000 years. My heart warmed to think about Jesus raising his glass in Cana and booming, L’chaim! Imagine, Jesus asking his father to bless life!
You and I may never reach for a weapon.Surely not. But sitting amidst the dead I remembered that blessing life is more than simply not taking life. To bless life is to honor it, to celebrate it, to share it and to prize it — to allow life to flourish. Somehow, sitting in respectful silence, munching on cookies with these parents who had lost their only son seemed to be a small act of honoring – even blessing- life.