“What could possibly connect these events?” you might ask.
Well, maybe nothing, but here goes:
In reflecting on the Royal Wedding, I’ve been wondering:
Is the Bishop of London right in his homily when he pronounced “it is good” that the whole world should be celebrating this marriage because, like all marriages, it was a day of hope, or are others right in dismissing it as expensive escapism?
In reflecting on bin Laden, I’ve been wondering:
Is President Obama right when he said the “world is a safer place” as a result of -- in the words of a colleague friend of mine -- “a decade-long icon of extremism, terror, and gratuitous violence” being dead, or are others (such as the conservative New Testament scholar N.T. Wright) right in decrying this action as “American exceptionalism”?
Which brings me to Mother’s Day.
I find that as I reflect on these two matters, even though I am almost 50 years old and my mother has been dead and buried for over two years, it is impossible for me to separate “what I think” from what my mother would have thought about these matters -- or more accurately, from the influence my mother had on me growing up.
Here’s what I mean: my mother had a lot of personality traits, but chief among them was a love for all things glamorous (she loved watching the “vain but beautiful people” on the red carpet at the Academy Awards) and all things dignified (part of the reason she loved Episcopal Church liturgy).
And my mother was fiercely patriotic. Almost to a fault: the United States, in her opinion, could do no wrong. Lest you judge that attitude, let me tell you (or remind you) that she, a native Bulgarian, immigrated to the United States as a World War II refugee, having been liberated from the Nazis by Patton’s Third Army. And I mean literally liberated: American tanks rolled over a hill and American soldiers opened the makeshift-prison-train-cars in which my mother and her family had been living for the past nine months, stemming from her father’s arrest for declaring himself against the Third Reich. They were sent to Red Cross resettlement camps in Switzerland, and eventually immigrated to the United States and became citizens. And Eisenhower Republicans!
So as I watched the Royal Wedding, what began as a guilty pleasure turned into pure, unapologetic pleasure: it was a couple hours of dignity and grace, and yes, glamour, in a world that’s too often gross; it was, as the Bishop of London said in his sermon, “good” to celebrate hope, and most of all it was good to be reminded that
“Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed.”
And so as I read about American Navy SEALs breaking into bin Laden’s compound and killing him, and then reflected over the past week on (as another colleague friend of mine wrote) “the people celebrating in the streets, and then the people chastising the celebrating, and then people chastising the chastisers,” what began as feelings of ambiguous good news turned into an unambiguous “yes, President Obama (and President Bush before him) are right in this instance, the killing of bin Laden met a greater ‘good.’ Since when do we need to be defensive about tracking down and taking the head off of an organization dedicated to the slaughter of innocent people going about their daily lives?”
In saying all these things, I am not asking you to agree with me. And I am not saying I have all the right answers. I am, however, looking for a non-gauzy way to “honor my mother” on Mother’s Day weekend by acknowledging that her influence on me continues as I seek to make sense of the world we live in today.