Boston Marathon 2013 – Reflections

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.

Just sayin’….

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Go Where No One Has Gone Before.

In my childhood I remember watching Star Trek re-runs after school, the adventures of Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew as they explored “space… the final frontier”. This fueled my imagination about other worlds, expanded horizons, and different peoples, exploring the realm of the unknown.  Then in my later teens came Star Wars on the big screen, which I saw four times.  I dreamed of what it would be like to go to places no one had ever gone before.

I knew nothing then about philosophy or theology or world view or science. But the appeal of a future showing freedom for all, with no one left behind, regardless of race, gender, language or culture, combined with excitement and adventure and the triumph of the human spirit, appealed to me then.

It still appeals to me today.

I continue to enjoy movies and novels that portray such an exciting world and universe of possibilities where the human spirit is free and enabled to be all that we were designed to be.  Many might say that this is escapism in the midst of a decaying, dysfunctional, corrupt world.

That may be a fair statement.  However, if true, I think that this is the same escapism that fuels scientific exploration, and in particular the exploration of space itself.  The other day Stephen Hawking was quoted as saying that earth and humanity on earth is doomed to destruction, and that we need to accelerate the process of exploring space with the view to colonization and escape.

This is a gloomy picture.  It says that the earth is not redeemable.  Ironically, it sounds a lot like the end-times viewpoint of many Christian evangelicals, who expect a cataclysmic end to this current iteration of the earth which will be preceded by their escape from this imminent suffering and destruction to be with the Lord.

The problem of course, with this gloomy picture, this utopian view of a future in the stars, or waiting for the rapture to escape destruction, only to later rule with the Lord in a re-made heaven and earth, is that it removes us from responsibility to go change our world.  It denies our fundamental call to stewardship of all humanity and in fact of all creation itself.

Does it not seem strange to you that billions of dollars are spent on military weaponry, influence and political intrigue, and on space exploration, while a blind eye is turned toward the poor and disadvantaged in our midst, the oppression of women, the sexual slavery and exploitation of children, the curable sicknesses where available treatments are unaffordable and the persecution of entire people groups based on race, ethnicity, caste or belief?

Imagine instead a world where the billions of dollars spent on military strength, political hegemony and escape to the stars were instead re-directed toward transforming our world and changing the living conditions of its people.  Imagine the efforts of the “haves” in our world re-directed toward transforming our world and changing the living conditions of all of its people, especially the “have-nots”.

Imagine the Body of Christ actively engaged through a full implementation of the gospel to go out and transform this world, instead of being fixated on escaping from it.  We have dumbed down the gospel to mean only the spiritual salvation of souls which will then escape this corrupt world to be with the Lord in heaven.  We have forgotten that His kingdom was inaugurated on earth at the moment of His resurrection, that Jesus (Yeshua) spoke more to his disciples on the kingdom of God and its practical implications for living than He did on going to heaven, that in His instructions on prayer He stated “May your kingdom be established on earth as it is already established in heaven”, and that our eternal dwelling place will be here and not away someplace else.  His kingdom, through the full embodiment of the Great Commission, will be implemented through His body in people and on earth, in part as far as we are able, while we wait for His return and the full consummation of His kingdom with a transformed and renewed heaven and earth.

Gnosticism pervades our worldview, even inside the church.  Basically gnosticism is dualist, believing that all matter in this world is bad / corrupt, and the that the spirit world is good, and that at death the soul is freed from its corrupt encumbrance.

In popular thinking, exemplified by Hawking’s recent statements, this world view manifests itself in believing that the world is not redeemable, and that humanity needs to escape its destruction and shed its encumbrance to begin again in the stars, where all corruption will be left behind.  This leads to a fatalism about the future, and a withdrawal from active engagement in the lives of other people and in our society.

In evangelical Christian thinking, this manifests itself in making salvation only a spiritual matter in which the soul is liberated, and, in terms of end-times scenarios, manifests itself in the glorious rapture of His faithful people to meet the Lord in the air, escaping tribulation and a world heading to destruction, finally free of earthly and carnal encumbrance.  This leads in its most extreme form in a “people of God” who have interest only in people for their soul liberation and the jewels it puts in our crowns, and who display no interest in environmentalism or in social responsibility for the disadvantaged or in the liberation of oppressed people in the world, because the world is going to be destroyed anyway.  One sad but amusing picture of this dualist escapist approach to our stewardship appeared in the movie Left Behind, where, on a plane filled with major Christian leaders in bit parts, the rapture takes place and their clothes are left behind.

In a recent keynote address given at Liberty University, Christian rap artist Lecrae identified the issue another way: that Christians in every day life have compartmentalized their faith in a sacred/secular divide.  On Sundays and in church circles Christians tend to exercise their “spiritual side”, and then go out into the world for the rest of the time, living in their neighborhoods and working their jobs / careers to make money and to help themselves to “live”.  Lecrae challenged students when they left the bubble of Christian college to go out and transform their world, and to break down the dualist sacred/secular divide, to practice a lived faith in Christ evident in all parts of their lives.  In this way, our neighbours are our mission field, not just for the sake of their souls, but for the sake of the kingdom which pervades everything everywhere.  In this way, our jobs are not just about us or making money but about impacting people and impacting our world.

This is a challenge to us all to a paradigm shift in world view, in the way we understand the kingdom of God and our calling (the calling of every believer) to the great commission and to living a practical lived faith in Christ.

It is a call to go where no one has gone before… to go where Jesus Christ calls us to go, and to be fully engaged in what He calls all of us to do.  And others have gone before… starting with our Saviour, and with people who lived their faith in every generation since the Resurrection.

Take up your cross, and follow Him.  Go and change this world, and its inhabitants.  To this we are called!