I happened to be on vacation in New York City when news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Brent and I had gone out for a musical and dinner, and as we were walking past Times Square toward the subway station, Brent got a text message saying Bin Laden was reportedly dead. People were gathering down the street.
We headed back to the hotel and flipped on the TV to watch President Obama’s speech. B-roll footage showed crowds gathering outside the White House and all over New York City, singing, shouting, and waving flags as they celebrated.
On my laptop, I followed the Facebook and Twitter updates as my friends struggled to make sense of how to respond. Is it right to celebrate death—even when it’s a terrorist? How can we pursue peace and justice? Share a quote from Jesus or another famous theologian?
The next morning, we went to the World Trade Center site (which we’d already been planning to do before the news broke). Church Street was clogged with TV crews and satellite trucks. Security personnel were everywhere, and tourists held up the day’s newspaper as they took pictures in front of Ground Zero.
We went on the Tribute Tour and heard the powerful stories of courage, loss, and hope from that autumn day nearly ten years ago.
And it got me thinking about another journey I was on exactly a year ago.
I was traveling in Israel and Palestine with a small group of young adults, meeting people of faith who are working across religious and cultural lines in the Holy Land.
For the last ten years, we’ve let Osama Bin Laden influence interactions between Christians, Jews, and Muslisms. At times, we’ve let his representation of Islam become an excuse to shut down interfaith dialogue and work toward peace.
I still don’t think I can celebrate Bin Laden’s assassination. But I do pray that we move past letting his image define Islam and instead see hope in the change that’s rippling through the Middle East. Through the voices of young people in Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, and Libya who are trying to shift the conversation.
For that, I can pray and hope and celebrate.