April 15, 2013 will be a day not soon forgotten in the United States. As an iconic sports event held on Patriots Day, the Boston Marathon was supposed to typify all that is essential to the American dream. It was to be a day to celebrate. Instead it ended in tragedy with 3 dead and more than 100 wounded, with the lives of civilians on U.S. soil rocked and destroyed.
In the past week other tragedies have occurred around the world. A week ago a bomb blast in Damascus killed 15. Last night a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the Iranian-Pakistani border, killing at least 8.
What makes this different? Because it happened at home [for us], and the expectation is of safety at home, and that these things only happen “over there”. Increasingly however, tragedy is striking close to home, and it is home-grown. Newtown is still fresh in our memory.
The Boston Marathon bombing is another reminder of how quickly life can change, and how we should not put off until tomorrow what we need to do today… particularly in the area of relationships – to God and to each other – in love, forgiveness, compassion, patience, and reconciliation. Tomorrow may never come.
It is also a reminder of the transitory nature of this phase of life that we live, and that we need to make each day count and not waste it or get hung up on self-absorption. The way we live each day is how we live our lives.
The challenge, especially in times of challenge and suffering, is to not let the experiences of your past and present to negatively define your future.
We all can, and must, choose to go on. We all can, and must, choose to respond positively and truthfully, even in the face of danger or tragedy. As someone once said, “you can choose to curse the darkness, or you can choose to light a candle and dispel the darkness”.
In the summer of 2005, I was in London when the tube was bombed and civilians died. One day we were on a bus returning to the City from Oxford, and the tour ended at Victoria Station where we were to get on the tube. The tour guide asked us if we were afraid, and then told us not to fear. England, he said, had endured years of IRA bombings, and did not and would not bow before it… NOTHING would deter us from continuing to live life without fear or surrender. So don’t be afraid, he told us… get on the tube because this was a new day. We would NOT change our lives or bow to fear.
I had a similar experience in 2009. I was in Israel on a tour of the Holy Land, and one day we visited the Golan Heights overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and then went on to visit historic sites under the shadow of the Lebanese border. The next day, while in Tiberias, we learned that Hezbollah had launched rockets into Israel right where we had been the previous day. When we inquired of our hosts, they said that they lived with the threat of attack on a regular basis, but that they would not be shaken because Israel was their home and they would not surrender to bombers or rockets or hatred.
In both countries, they have learned three lessons very well. First, as a people, they will carry on, no matter what. Threat and attack and pain and suffering and loss do not lead to a crisis of faith or of soul-searching or of wondering where God has gone. These lead rather to a strengthening of resolve and, if anything, greater certainty of one’s identity. Second, as individuals and as a people they have come to recognize that a refusal to surrender to fear is far more powerful than any weapon or any right to bear arms. Third, they have learned from experience that the threat of terror is home grown, and comes from people who sound like you and look like others in your midst.
These are lessons we need to learn in North America. First, our identity is not defined by our prosperity or by the crises within our borders. If our identity has been defined in these terms, it needs to be redefined. God is still here in our midst… but we need to better define what His blessings look like, and what a strong, or peaceful, or just society requires of each of us… as in Christian terminology, we are in the business of putting His kingdom and its principles into effect. American values, or Canadian values, need to be redefined in term’s of God’s values and what He would require of us.
Second, and this is particularly true in America, our response needs to be one where we refuse to surrender to fear or anger or revenge, but rather to carry on, and implement the values of a Godly, just society, not by force of arms, but by strength of character, and by faith. The response to defend the right to bear arms, no matter what, is no answer. Qualifying the meaning and context of the Second Amendment, and realizing that the right to bear arms is instead a privilege and a responsibility, is essential. Change will be brought about by a change of hearts and a return to Godly character, and not by the right to carry handguns and assault weapons. America, like Canada, is not a nation under God at this current time, and we had better realize it and stop fooling ourselves. To call us a Christian nation at this juncture is to make a faith statement as a downpayment on a future that requires us to return to God and His values, and implement these in our society.
Third, there must be a recognition that the threat of violence against our state and its people is coming increasingly from within, from people who sound like us and look like others in our midst, but who do not live by Godly values or by what is defined in the New Testament as the fruit of the Spirit, the outworking of one’s faith in practical terms. This means re-defining our notions of “enemy combatants” or the stereotypes we conjure up when the word “terrorist” is used. It was distressing to hear, even today, that the FBI were following up on a tip, and declaring that they were looking for a perpetrator who was a dark-skinned male, possibly black and with a foreign accent. In word association, one says Palestinian, you think terrorist; one says Muslim or fundamentalist Christian, you think extremist; one says dark-skinned or black, many think criminal. This must change… for in most of the mass violent crimes committed in America in the past couple of years, the perpetrators were white, born in the U.S., speaking English with regional accents, of no particular religious conviction, and only a minority of them had previous criminal records.
Profiling on the basis of skin-colour, ethnicity, language, gender, age or religious conviction must end. The perpetrators of violent crimes are home grown and come from every walk of life. There are individuals who do good things and individuals who do bad things, and sometimes they are the same individuals. It is time for a re-load of American values based on God’s purposes and values. It is time for a re-load of Canadian values based on God’s purposes and values, to recapture in people’s hearts the scripture carved into the Parliamentary building: “and He shall have dominion from sea to sea”.
It is fallacy on the part of the NRA to desire to place armed individuals in our schools… as if arming ourselves with weapons is the answer. They say that “good guys with guns don’t commit crimes”. The enormous flaw in that argument is the pre-supposition that you can tell the difference, by looking at someone or talking to them, whether they are a “good” person or a “bad” person. You can’t. And despite the popular revisionist approach to reconstruct the past lives of perpetrators to see how they were bad all along and “the signs were there”, the fact remains is that good people have often done bad things.
In a similar fashion, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, there is an intense hunt on to track down the bombers to bring them to justice. I hope they succeed. But success will not be defined ultimately by catching these perpetrators, or by intensifying security or by arming ourselves. Success will be defined by a paradigm shift in our corporate and individual identities, to return to values based on the Word of God in our actions and in the actions perpetrated by our governments, and to not be moved from this no matter what comes. We must not give in to fear or recrimination or revenge but instead establish a just society in which peace, order and good government is not maintained by legislation and by force of arms but by the change of heart and action in each of us. Building this just society means that we can no longer turn a blind eye toward the increasingly desperate plight of the lower classes, women and visible minorities. We must recognize that the American dream does not remove us individually and corporately from caring for the least in our midst, and indeed if we are to call ourselves a Christian nation once more, there is a moral imperative to ensure that no one leads a life of desperation or fear or hate, or a life of personal abundance at the same time as so many have no hope. Desperation, together with a departure from Godly values, does far more to create violence at home than anything else.
For the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, today is a day to mourn. Tomorrow is a day to bring the perpetrators to justice.
But of far greater import in the coming days, and by far the harder task, will be to implement a paradigm shift in our values and our actions, based upon the foundation of faith in God and His plans and His values, to implement a new and just society.
Borrowing a quote from the movie “The Matrix”: – “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. It is time for you to choose.”
It is time for each of to choose.. and there is really no choice about it. We all must take the red pill, and walk in our new identity, based on Godly principles, and work together to implement a truly just society with no one left behind. It will be a long and hard but edifying road, and be one that will please God.