I am quite naive. Perhaps therein lies all my problems.
Something happened this Easter. Something I’m now writing about with mixed feelings. I went to church throughout the Holy weekend- hurray!
I’m still a christian- nominally at the worst.
The denomination I attend hosts a program annually starting from Good Friday through Easter Sunday, some years they even throw in a sermon or two on Easter Monday for good measure. The reasons are many. People need to remember the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and keep it front and centre as the season goes on. Also, they wouldn’t want to leave the flock to their own devices, lest they succumb to the frivolities of the festive season and stand the risk of partaking in pagan rituals- conventional Easter traditions with shady origins, or even worse, lose their salvation. What better way to occupy them than a full scale retreat; back-to-back sermons with the occasional tea break for the entire three days. And this is how I “celebrate” Easter every year. Every year that I’m home that is. When I’m not at home, It’s a long weekend and so I catch up on much needed sleep. I have never cared much for celebrations and festivities. Perhaps I never will.
Anyways, this year, I spent Easter with my uncle’s family- which counts as being home too, in case you’re wondering. And where we go to worship is within the inner city districts, in a quite sizeable shanty that I’m sure is not on the city’s official maps.
As you can imagine, all the glories of squalid living are on full display. Petty crime and theft have a life of their own in these parts. Numerous tiny children roam the narrow passages between the corrugated zinc and plank-wood “houses” and the air is thick with the hazy scent of human waste- sewage systems scarcely existent here. Again, this is in the Federal Capital Territory and it sits plush in the centre of the North Central Geopolitical zone. This means that there are relatively equal proportions of Christians and Muslims in this part of the country.
Well, it is against this beautiful backdrop that we “celebrate” Easter. Despite our surroundings, I’m still quite surprised to see two beefy young men, sitting outside the church, cradling semiautomatic weapons- AK- 49s, I guess. I don’t know a lot about guns- an anomaly perhaps, judging by how the American Christians seem to love their guns quite dearly.
Thank God I’m not American ?
But again I digress. They’re are security- plain clothes miltary policemen, I learn later on. I am stunned to think that a church would “need” security by means of a gun. We are inside the auditorium praying and shrieking, singing, yelling and stomping, calling upon an all-powerful God, who controls the entire universe and has our planet in the palm of his hand.
Now stop! Take it all in.
I understand that it is probably realistic to hire protection. This is after all, a relatively high profile Christian event. There’s nothing to say that worshippers cannot be mugged or abducted or something like that, given the “pristine” neighborhood we are in. Again, while most of Nigeria’s Muslims are moderate, especially here in Abuja- the official capital and seat of political power, where religion succumbs to power, money and influence, it is still understandable that with Boko Haram for example, doing what they do best (terrorizing people, blowing up churches, schools and markets, sacking entire towns and wiping out whole villages), the possibility of a “religiously” motivated attack is far from remote. This Easter, Coptic Christians in Egypt were attacked and many lost their lives, for instance. I understand that. It didn’t make it any less confusing or perplexing.
While we waged spiritual warfare inside, the two young men kept vigilant eyes and fingers on their triggers as they patrolled the perimeter, ready to do physical warfare. It was surreal. To me at least. I am not used to the increasingly frequent instances of security agents protecting “men of God” as they go to and from functions, seeing as my church is a rather simple, laid back congregation. Perhaps, that is why I was shocked. Perhaps it had something to do with all the sermons we were listening to about the power of love, all the fervent songs we were singing. I don’t know.
I kept asking myself. “Has the world fallen this far down, that we now need guns to protect worshippers in the sanctuary?” I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if there was an actual attack on our small church. I found myself wondering. Would they shoot? Would they hold their fire? If they shot would they shoot to scare away? Or would they shoot to maim (incapacitate is the right word, I believe)? Would they shoot to kill? What would happen if someone was killed protecting a church? Would there be civilian casualties? There are just too many children around these parts.
While I was considerably agitated and uncomfortable with their presence, I cannot deny that it felt reassuring and safe. Should anyone try to send me or the other worshippers to heaven prematurely, there would be a torrent of hot lead to contend with. Perhaps I could breathe easier with my phone and wallet in my pockets and so could the dozens of others gathered to sing and pray that weekend.
I haven’t made peace with the confusion, anxiety and misery that the whole episode stirred up. I was scared, yes, but I was also angry, angry that I was feeling safer with guns around me. Safer in the ability of hot lead to burn through human tissue and leave a scar, disability or even death in its wake. Me who has a license to save lives. It was a mixture of fear, grief and shame. I never for once contemplated what my role would be, should a shooting break out and there were injuries. It was too surreal, too scary perhaps, too jolting.
One thing is clear. The times are changing. The world is turning into something I can not recognize. If guns have to come to the sanctuary to protect those within. I don’t know.
I don’t know how to explain how this whole thing makes me feel. It feels somewhat akin to that transient feeling of gross invasion of the privacy one feels after the last item of clothing has been removed, and you see your partner’s eyes roaming through your body. It feels a little uncomfortable but it is something that has to be done. It feels as if the guns are violating the essence of the sanctuary, yet somehow, their presence there is explainable, understandable even, some would even go out on a limb and say necessary…
I haven’t decided yet, if this is something that needs to be done, I’m talking about the guns now in case you’re wondering… if this is something I could get used to, something that I’d be willing to see more frequently.
The world is changing. I’m not quite sure yet, how much I am willing to change with the changing tides.