Prayerful perspectives from a journalist, a recent Army veteran, and a peacemaker.

This material world is even now becoming the arena for conflicting forces. On one side there will be discord and dismay; on the other side there will be Science and peace.
— Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 96

In response to mail bombs and other recent terrorist threats, the Sentinel's New Editor, Rosalie Dunbar, spoke with three Christian Scientists whose global activities have given them reason to pray about this important subject. Mark Sappenfield, The Christian Science Monitor's deputy national news editor, spent three years with the Monitor in south Asia, including assignments in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Elisabeth ("Libby") Hoffman is the President of Fambul Tok International, working in community-based reconciliation in post-conflict countries, with a focus in Sierra Leone. Joshua Niles served in the US Army and spent a year in Iraq as a combat platoon leader. He is presently a Christian Science practitioner and a member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship.

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How would you define terrorism in today's terms, and how are you praying about it?

Josh: As an attempt to control through fear and violence. One way to pray about it would be recognizing that spiritual sense is natural to each of us. Sometimes spiritual sense gets buried under a false theology or fear. But recognizing and really cherishing its presence in each individual can help to reveal it. Each of us is certainly drawn to the Christ [the healing truth Jesus demonstrated], whether we know it or not.

Mark: I've always considered terrorism an interesting topic to study in Christian Science, specifically because Mrs. Eddy wrote in Science and Health about the "looms of crime . . . weaving webs more complicated and subtle" (p. 102). I think that describes terrorism perfectly.

Terrorism is not planes and tanks. It is a mental warfare. It's an attempt to cow someone through fear. You're not actually endangering the person; you're threatening to endanger the person. Most people aren't in a war zone. The war zone is inside their own mind. And so in that way, I think Christian Science is uniquely adapted to help people deal with that. It's a kind of mutating form of war, mentally.

Libby: Sometimes I think about defining terrorism from the perspective of a potential victim, and from that of a potential perpetrator, because I think it has two dimensions. From a potential victim's perspective I think of terrorism as the belief that evil can invade or control our experience, and subject us to harm.

The way I pray about it is by really understanding more and more that in fact God governs every aspect of our experience. And that's what we have the opportunity to bring to light more and more fully.

From a perpetrator's perspective, I think of terrorism as "hatred indulged." And that's where the idea of the naturalness of good, our identity as fully and wholly good, and reaffirming that spiritual fact no matter how much gets plastered over in an attempt to cover it up, is important. I think of prayer as washing away that which would encourage us or enable us to indulge hatred.

Have any of you had an experience where terrorism was a factor?

Josh: When I was in Iraq with my platoon, we were on a mission, and a gunman fired an automatic machine gun at us while we were stopped, even though there were lots of Iraqi children all around us. But no one, in that particular instance, was affected or hit by any of the bullets. I guess I caught a glimpse in that moment of how an active acknowledgment of God's protection and presence can really change a situation.

I wasn't particularly praying with a specific passage or a Bible verse or something like that, but I went through the day with a sense of God's constant care and protection. I was recognizing that any act of hate was a lie—a counter idea to good. And I just wasn't going to accept hate. I saw how some of those ideas really changed that situation, and no one was harmed in any way.

Mark: As a member of the Army, Josh probably faced terrorist acts much more acutely than I did. My experience, mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, was more a sense at all times wherever you're walking, whatever you're doing, that terrorism could be right around the corner.

What helped me the most was being able to see these people day to day. I think when you're watching TV, you see people yelling and screaming and shouting, "Death to America," and this sort of thing. But being able to see them through my own eyes on a person-to-person basis, I can honestly say that I've never been anywhere where the people have been kinder and more hospitable than Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And I'm not saying that out of political correctness. I was deeply touched by how much they loved me and cared for me. It felt Biblical, like Abraham responded to visitors on the plains of Mamre—I was taken in as a stranger and cared for (see Gen. 18:1–8). A part of that, I think, was the fact that I showed them respect. I think they come into the equation with the feeling that the rest of the world is at war against them and against Islam. They feel that people are looking down on them, for example, when some draw buffoonish cartoons of the Prophet. All these things tell them that the rest of the world does not value them, looks down their nose at them.

We have to be equally tenacious for the truth of God's goodness in our thought, in our prayer. We have to recognize and cherish the idea that God is the only cause.

For me, it was "Love ... reflected in love" (Science and Health, p. 17). The more I loved them, the more I felt that love in return. At times when I was in Pakistan, I felt like I was being cared for—meaning not only by God, but also that these people were caring for me. And that was the principle on which I built my defense against terrorism. If you combine "Love is reflected in love" and the idea that "clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you" (Science and Health, p. 571), you've got your perfect defense.

Libby: Because I tend to work more in areas after the conflict is over, my experiences are a little different from the ones you guys have been talking about. But I had an experience that seems like it illustrates the principles behind it. I was doing a long-term project with teams of grass roots-level peace-builders from around the world. They were working to bring peace in their settings of violence or working to rebuild after violence.

One of the teams was religious leaders from northern Uganda. They had been actively working to broker a ceasefire between the rebels and the government. And some of them were participating in the training project that I was helping to run in the Philippines.

While this was going on, we received word from their team in Uganda, which had faced a huge impasse, that the negotiations they were delicately working to help broker were about to fall apart. We had a team of folks of all different religions from all over there in the Philippines. What we most wanted to do was to support this team from Uganda and their country.

We just came together and prayed. I don't remember exactly what the impasse was, or how I specifically prayed at the time, but it was an awesome experience to be with Muslims, all stripes of Christianity—Catholic, Protestant, Ethiopian Orthodox, Episcopalian, Christian Scientist—and Hindu, praying together. And more than anything else, what I had was a sense of the oneness and allness of

God—tangibly experiencing it in a way that you couldn't help but feel the power of that idea.

In a way it became easy to affirm the oneness and allness and omnipotence of God in the very place in northern Uganda where the threats to peace seemed to be loudest. It was really a holy moment of praying together along those lines, and I think we all together reaffirmed the power of that prayer. The next day the team from Uganda came to our meetings with word that the impasse had shifted, and their team was going back to help with the negotiations and to support that process.

So this experience isn't a response to terrorism, per se, as much as it is to a threat to peace and a peace process. In that instance, really understanding the oneness, allness, and omnipotence of God, and that that was the law in operation at the very place where peace seemed to be threatened, had a peace-inducing impact.

Wherever we are, we can't be pulled into thinking that sometimes we could be in a safe place and sometimes we could be in an unsafe place. We are always in Him—in God, "we live, and move, and have our being." —LIBBY HOFFMAN

Terrorists seem to strive for the maximum emotional effect through targeting noncombatants. How can people pray for the safety of the innocent, and also not be overcome by the scenes they're watching on TV or the Web?

Josh: We have to be equally tenacious for the truth of God's goodness in our thought, in our prayer. We have to recognize and cherish the idea that God is the only cause. Evil is a lie—the Bible talks about evil, or the devil, being a liar (see John 8:44).

We can destroy that sense of a lie when we recognize the omnipotent power of good. I thought about this when

I was deployed in Iraq—that regardless of what sense of evil may be on the battlefield, it's our job to see what God is seeing. We have to combat those aggressive suggestions with that sense of radical right-seeing. We should really be alert to spiritual reality—what's God knowing and seeing in this situation?

Mark: I like the ideas that you presented there, because I do feel that this is a mental battlefield, and I think, again, that's where Christian Scientists really have a great advantage when it comes to thinking about terrorism. To me, so long as the world concedes power to mortal mind, we're always going to be dealing with these issues of violence.

What's happening now is that the violence is becoming more obviously evil. If you think about it, the bombs that were dropped in World War II probably killed far more women and children than terrorism ever has. But in terrorism the evil is more obvious and acute, and it's the actual purpose of the terrorists' actions, as opposed to having some sort of strategic plan to take that city. The whole idea is to kill women and children. And that is an idea that is presenting itself to be destroyed. It is the progression of evil.

In Science and Health Mrs. Eddy talks about the progression from the serpent in Genesis to the red dragon in the book of Revelation. This is a progression where evil becomes slowly more obvious, until it becomes so obvious that it is essentially self-destroyed because it can't support itself. We're on that progression, and we're moving forward on it.

If you're talking about World War II, you're talking about the war effort, you're talking about women back of the lines building things, and men signing up and going to war. Today, more women are actually engaged in the war effort, but to me, the real battle to be fought is mental. And that's what everyone can do, that's what Christian Science is all about. To me, this progression is a validation of what Mrs. Eddy saw about evil.

Josh: I was thinking about the progression from the serpent to the red dragon as well, and Mrs. Eddy's point that it is "ripe for destruction" (Science and Health, p. 565). Each of us has that opportunity to serve, to really see good in action, and put down this idea or notion that there is power or legitimacy in fear, terrorism, hatred—anything like that.

Libby: Definitely. I was just going to add, it reminds me of Mrs. Eddy's statement, "Innocence and Truth overcome guilt and error" (Science and Health, p. 568). One of the things that our world is really hungering for is to learn more and more of the power of innocence. Innocence is unassailable.

One of the things I always affirm is the more egregious an example of terror seems, the more my prayers have to be universal and embrace everybody—not just the potential victims but the potential perpetrators. All need to be embraced in prayer. And I pray to understand that the innocence of the people who would let themselves be used as perpetrators is in fact more powerful than the pull toward indulging hatred or destruction.

What about the threat of terrorists to take hostages and potentially kill them? Do you have any thoughts about how to address that?

Mark: For journalists, that is the greater fear, at least it was in my mind when I was going to Pakistan and Afghanistan—far more than "Will I be in a place where there's a suicide bombing?" There are elements out there that want to kidnap you, for money, for political gain, what have you. So that's where my thoughts were.

The way that I dealt with it was, in part, what's been mentioned about the power of innocence, which was seeing these people and loving them. And the interesting thing was it wasn't difficult to do. When I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the people were so hospitable that it was very easy to love them; then it becomes an easier job of seeing the innocence in everyone.

For me, it was very easy to "love the enemy," because I saw where they were coming from, and I knew that for the most part they are being taken advantage of, Many are illiterate, and very poor, and needing money, needing inspiration. These people are very innocent. Obviously some of the hardened criminals are at the top. That's a more difficult prospect, but I have a lot of sympathy for some of these people.

That helped me get rid of the fear of being kidnapped, and to say to myself, "Let's let God's plan work out. I'm going to take the steps I think are sensible. I'm not going to be reckless or something." So I got over my fear of being kidnapped, and this helped me to go and do what I needed to do, according to what God was telling me to do.

Libby: In praying for people who have been taken hostage, one of the things that I really like to work with is the verse in Acts where Paul reminds us that "in him we live, and move, and have our being" (17:28). That wherever we are, we can't be pulled into thinking that sometimes we could be in a safe place and sometimes we could be in an unsafe place. We are always in Him—in God "we live, and move, and have our being." Affirming and understanding that this law is in operation on everyone's behalf—and is at work right in the very place where it seems that somebody has been yanked out of God's kingdom or God's safety—we could no more be yanked out of living, moving, and having our being in God than the sunbeam could be pushed out of being the outcome of the sun.

Josh: Mark, you've mentioned seeing correctly, seeing the real man, and how important that was for you. That was something in my thought as well when I was in Iraq and in Baghdad—getting past seeing an enemy to really seeing the child of God in each of these individuals. As I was praying through some of these situations and finding a sense of peace with these ideas, I cherished this statement from Mrs. Eddy: "Simply count your enemy to be that which defiles, defaces, and dethrones the Christ-image that you should reflect" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 8).

God's man is pure and whole, and I think the more clearly we understand that purity and wholeness and oneness with good, the more we can appeal to that nature in each individual. And that has to shift the situation. So I think that's applicable when we're praying in a hostage type of situation, and it can be tremendously helpful.

If you combine "Love is reflected in love" (Science and Health, p. 17) and the idea that "clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you" (ibid., p. 571), you've got your perfect defense.

Some people are afraid when they have to take an airplane flight that a terrorist might be on it and blow it up. All of you spend quite a lot of time on airplanes. What are your thoughts when you're getting ready for a flight?

Libby: Recently, when I was preparing to leave on a flight to Africa, I got an e-mail from somebody wishing me well. There was a typo in the e-mail and instead of saying, "Have a good trip," it said "Have a [G]od trip." I thought it was really appropriate because I was thinking about that question, and I realized how it totally shifted my thought.

So it's God's trip. It's not about what we're doing; it's about what God's doing. And that always reminds me that there's no safer place than being about God's business.

Josh: When I fly, I tend to hold a phrase from a solo called "On Eagle's Wings." I think it goes, "And He will raise you up on eagle's wings," and then one of the other phrases from that song is "And He'll hold you in the palm of His hand." It reminds me that God is close and tenderly caring for me, and really all of us—everybody on that flight, just right there in the palm of God's hand. It removes that sense of separation. There is a real comfort with that idea of nearness to God.

Mark: It's funny—I had scratched down some notes before I came in here for the interview, and under that question I have "Held in the palm of His hand."

What about the feelings of helplessness and insecurity that people have in the face of terrorism? The mail bombs from Yemen, and other situations that crop up?

Libby: One of the things I find most helpful when a sense of insecurity or anxiety or helplessness is really presenting itself strongly in my thought, is to, first of all, be grateful. Be grateful that it is coming to the surface in my thought to be seen and to be prayed about and to be eliminated.

Just starting from the standpoint of gratitude, helps shift my thought to remind me who's really in control. Also, when I'm tempted to be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, it's helpful to know that fear doesn't have any power to create or to destroy. It's ultimately Love that's in control, and Love isn't dependent on my thought, one way or the other.

Another idea I find really helpful is knowing that just turning our thought to divine Mind aligns us with all the power of good. And since that is the only power, turning to it has already, by definition, more power than any terrorist act or threat could ever have, because terrorism is, by definition, powerless. It has no kingdom, it has no law, it has no place, it has no person, it has no power of any kind.

Turning our thought to divine Mind aligns us with the infinite power of infinite, divine Love. And we can trust that even if we might still humanly be experiencing fear and anxiety, we have aligned our thought with what's real and true and governing any situation in which we might find ourselves.

Mark: When people ask, "Will terrorists act? Where will they act?" my immediate thought is that it's what I think that matters. Someone might ask, "How do you make that practical?" Mrs. Eddy provides very practical, relevant advice. We were talking earlier about how terrorist acts are part of a progression of evil. Mrs. Eddy wrote about the progression from the serpent's subtlety to the red dragon. She says: "As this consummation draws nearer, he who has shaped his course in accordance with divine Science will endure to the end. . . .During this final conflict, wicked minds will endeavor to find means by which to accomplish more evil; but those who discern Christian Science will hold crime in check. They will aid in the ejection of error. They will maintain law and order, and cheerfully await the certainty of ultimate perfection" (Science and Health, pp. 96–97).

That is a profound statement and eminently practical. It says just align your thought with God, and nothing else matters. You are going to be the effective agent in the equation—not the terrorists.

Josh: I can certainly relate to this question, having done hundreds of missions outside the relative safety of our forward-operating bases (our FOBs) in Baghdad. But I always went with the sense that I could not be outside of my true protection—outside of God's protection, outside of God's law.

I really worked at letting the Christ guide my thought, being receptive to divine intuition and holding to the idea that I was receptive to that, when I needed to know where to go or what to do in a certain situation. That the Christ was right there with me to direct my path, to help lead the way.

This question reminded me of a soldier who was one of my gunners. We'd get in the Humvee, and he'd be doing his duties before we left the FOB to get ready for the convoy or our mission. He'd be up there in the turret and be reciting to himself the 23rd Psalm.

I know he found a great deal of comfort and a sense of protection in that. And I did too. Just hearing, each time we got into the Humvee, that 23rd Psalm repeated with a real sense of trust and direction was always a special thing before we rolled out.

Mark: The more that we're able to keep our thought in line with what we need to be thinking about, the more those things just kind of spring up around us. When I was in Kandahar, or in various parts of Pakistan, I saw that if your thought is in the right place, you will see God. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). You'll see it everywhere in everything, including in Iraq or in Afghanistan—it's Truth at work. It's evidence of divine Principle. And as you prove that Principle is present, it just blossoms everywhere.CSS


Look for the expanded version of this interview on

December 13, 2010

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