By Ryan Phipps
The city in which I live, work, and where my kids play is once again under a terror alert. New Yorkers are being encouraged to avoid subway "hubs" and to be watchful of their surroundings. There is a marked increase in police presence today throughout the city.
This is in reaction to the explosions in Brussels this morning. The Times reports,
New York is, after all a global city with many heads of state, business, and culture living their lives here. It is also the location of one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in the history of the world.
I've lived here for six years, and after awhile you just get a kind of "ache" in your gut each time you see terrorism anywhere in the world. You ache for the people that are just like you and me, leaving their homes to go to work just like every other day only to be met with terror, tragedy, injury, and even death.
You watch the news, then you look over at your spouse playing with your kids and think, "I live three blocks from Grand Central Terminal and four avenues from the United Nations Building. Are we safe today? Will we all make it home tonight?"
Days like today feel dark.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus said the following words which (I think) speak to how many of us may be feeling.
People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.
Yep. That's exactly how all of this feels.
One thing we are waking up to as society is that religious extremism in any form (yes, even Christian Extremism) only breeds terror and death.
One of my favorite pieces of writing by Aaron Sorkin is housed in an episode of his hit show, The West Wing, titled "Isaac and Ishmael."
In the episode the White House goes on lockdown because of a terrorist threat. When the lockdown occurs, a group of students happen to be in the White House for a tour and they are required to stay inside until the threat is dissolved.
The senior staff wait with them in the mess hall, and the students begin asking them about terrorism.
Watch the clip, below.
At the very end of the episode, Josh Lyman (the man speaking in the clip you just watched) says something profound, which I think is something we all need to be reminded of.
He tells the students who are paralyzed with fear exactly how to combat religious extremism in whatever form it chooses to manifest itself.
I think that this statement from Lyman (or rather, Sorkin) is a prophetic word for our time, especially on days like today. These words point us to the plan of starvation for the terror in our world.
What are we to do when terror strikes?
Will we sit down, be silent, hide and feed the fear exactly what it wants? Or will we heed the words of Jesus; "Stand up and look up!"
When we sit down and look earthward, we feed fear. We breed terror. All we see is tragedy. All we feel is despair. We see the immediate and not the possible. We see ourselves and not others. We act out of self preservation instead of selfless compassion.
But when we stand up and look up, we breed courage. We see wide open skies wherein we can dream, hope, and strategize how to repair what is broken. We gain empathy for all of those who have been affected by tragedy in our world.
In doing this, then and only then will we starve the "barking dogs" of the world. Bullies travel in herds, but I believe that those who seek peace travel in much larger herds. We who seek peace are not alone. We are many, but we must make ourselves known to each other so that we can stand together in unity.
What are some practical ways that we can do this?
1. Ask someone how they're feeling about all that has befallen our world today. Listen. Really listen to them. Try to feel what they are feeling. Letting them share openly will validate them and give them hope. It may also create an ally in the bringing of peace in our world through unity.
2. Pray for the people of Belgium and other areas of the world that have been terrorized by religious extremism.
3. Above all, keep accepting more than one idea. Seek out the commonalities that you share with others instead of highlighting all the differences. Before doctrines and traditions, we are firstly human. And in this, we have much more in common than we may realize.
Ryan is the Lead Pastor of Forefront Church in Manhattan, NYC. Forefront is an interdenominational, multi-site congregation dedicated to cultivating a just and generous expression of the Christian faith in New York and around the world.