Dying for faithOne of the latest videos from Iraq shows a Christian man forced to his knees, surrounded by masked ISIS militants. They force the man at gunpoint to ‘convert’ to Islam before beheading him. It was an awful act of cowardice filled from hell’s hatred.

Another believer, Meriam Ibrahim, is a Sudanese Christian and mother was arrested on charges of apostatizing. While she was in prison awaiting trial was formally sentenced to a major ass wupp’n and death. In an attempt to force renunciation of faith, the court threatened her many times. Still, Ibrahim held firm to her Christian belief and whether by power of the media, power of God or otherwise, she was released.

I’ve been thinking about both of these Christians for hours. If one takes Christianity seriously, it leaves you unsettled. Were these Christians simply caught in a ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ moment? Was the Christian man so shaken, so willing to cling to life, he attempted to convert to Islam? Would we look upon either as weak and repudiated by God or courageous? One lived, met the Pope and relocated back to America … the other died. Surely, moments such as these are amongst the hardest to digest. For this reason alone, I condemn neither the Christian man nor Ms. Ibrahim.

Many recent stories arising from the Mideast are horrendous. Labeling one group or the other of the Israel–Palestine conflict as terrorists is fruitless, for the Angel of Death has touched both sides over abundantly. Transparency and dialogue, even in the face of injustice is perennially missing. At the end of the day, one wonders if either group is religiously better than ISIS? Each claims to march to the tune of a different drummer, but is either group any better?

For the Christian who lost his life to an ISIS sword, should the world respond in kind, via violence? Christ was violated, yet forgave. Should we do likewise? To families who’ve lost children or relatives in Gaza, how does one respond? With vengeance? Vengeance won’t bring redemption.

Is it possible to sheath the sword of vengeance? If so, how does one faithfully walk when loved ones are violated, rapped, killed or beheaded? How would you follow Christ should terrorists place a steel cutlass against thy own throat? Then again, how much trust do we afford God when laid bare to modern crucifixion? Would you turn the other cheek as rockets propel back and forth over our homes?

These are tough questions. And sadly, I have no answers.

Terrorism is born from no religion, for it’s not written in any scripture. As a Buddhist, I try to avoid the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. I’ll admit, the middlepath is awfully challenging. While I understand that taking any life, be it one’s own, is not sanctioned by any religion, society as a whole must continue to emphasize that self-mortification must be avoided. But will education ever be enough?

There’s a legend of two Kings on the brink of war. Each claimed the right to irrigate lands from the river flowing between.

Buddha asked, “What is the water worth?

Very little.

And what is a life worth?” Buddha continued.

Priceless,” each responded.

Then why would you trade something priceless for something of little worth?

All I know is that we’re at our strongest when society dismantles their weapons and sheds violence. That path is never easy, but then again, revenge produces nothing valued as priceless.

Be not shortsighted.

Be not longsighted.

Not by violence is violence ended.

Violence is ended by nonviolence.