Thinking Out Loud

May 7, 2018

When Tragedy Strikes Your City

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

I spent the first 33 years of my life in Toronto, so when NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt led off with the story of a van driving down a 1 mile (2.2 km) stretch of a major street killing people, I immediately thought the stores in the background the design of the traffic lights looked familiar.

Sure enough, on April 23rd, a city outside the United States opened that newscast. I knew the area of Yonge (pronounced Young) Street and Finch Avenue well. It was stomping ground for my late-teen and early twenty-something years, and furthermore, our son currently lives just a few miles north, at Yonge and Steeles. The event is not being regarded as an act of terrorism.

Saturday night after attending a concert for which tickets had been purchased several weeks in advance at, yes, the same Yonge and Finch, I said, “Let’s go for a walk up the street as an act of defiance.” Defiance in the sense of taking the street back from those who would render it a soft target. Defiance in the sense of not allowing fear to overtake us as we walk. Defiance in the sense of supporting the local merchants by buying a slice of pizza. Defiance in the sense of supporting the other people doing the same.

But it only took less than one block to come across the first memorial.

A group of people were busy repairing that one from damage incurred by a major windstorm on Friday night. The bouquets of flowers and memorial candles were being held in place by sandbags.

This was real.

This was everything I’ve seen on programs just like NBC Nightly News only this time it was our family which was standing at the memorial, about which the only positive thing that can be said was the beautiful aroma of the flowers themselves.

Otherwise, we were looking into the aftermath of tragedy. Ten lives, needlessly taken. All I could think was, “These people shouldn’t be dead right now.”

One man commented about the victims “having peace wherever they are.”

I wanted to talk to him about that. To get him to expand on what he meant. To — yes, forgive me — turn it into an evangelistic moment.

That’s what I do. I love striking up conversations.

But (a) I wasn’t alone, and (b) we were facing a 90-minute ride home. I don’t live in Toronto now, but I do believe the ministry opportunities in an environment like this abound, if someone is there to see and hear them and know how to gently respond with grace and hope.

There are many, many people in Toronto very broken by the experience. I don’t want to see their grief exploited, but I think this is the very place Jesus would be and should be. It doesn’t mean handing out tracts and seeking immediate conversions, but it does mean bringing Christ into the conversation and being his very presence in that location.

Had only one person or even two died, there might not be this outpouring of grief and tribute. But when it’s ten, it attracts greater attention. I looked at some of the pictures of the victims and the notes and comments about them and wondered aloud if they could see the enormity of the response their deaths had brought. Locally. Regionally. Nationally. Worldwide.

Then I quickly backed away from such conjecture. Perhaps they would be embarrassed at the attention being paid. Conversely, they might feel vindicated that their dying was not for nothing. Toronto now joins the ranks of many cities where barriers are being placed to control access to pedestrian walkways.

At one point someone had laid a hockey stick on the flowers, conflating this tragedy with the other Canadian tragedy just days earlier, the deaths of 15 aboard a hockey team’s bus in Saskatchewan.

It was later, but as we drove north on Yonge, we saw a larger memorial. I had to stop.  I just couldn’t drive by. We revisited the process of slowly, reverently circling this cluster of flowers and signs and candles. Something compelled me to see this one as well, despite having seen the other. It was an event in the city’s history, that will never be forgotten. I asked my son if he remembered us visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington as something struck me about the similarity.

One cardboard sign quoted Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

My desire is that both immediate families, complete strangers, and everyone in between would know the reality of that.

 

 

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September 19, 2017

Sobering Stroll

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

Ruth wasn’t feeling like cooking last night so we grabbed our coupons and headed off to Subway®. We then walked to see what was being built at the other end of the retail complex, and then looking across the road I noticed a cemetery. I have bicycled through it when the kids were young, but I suggested we go for a short walk.

I think we’ve only done this on foot one other time. It’s not like a stroll in the park or a walk on the beach. I tend to talk loudly, but in this environment, I kept my voice lowered. Even carrying the beverage from the restaurant felt somewhat disrespectful. There are names on tombstones and each one is a story, some of them obviously quite tragic with the lives of both children and soldiers cut short.

I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 7:2: “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies–so the living should take this to heart.” (NLT) Looking it up at BibleHub.com, the site offered a cross-reference for Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (NLT)

If you’ve been reading here this week you know we’ve found ourselves tracking with this, but my thoughts last night were broader than this one particular loss. At the same time, there was something peaceful about our walkabout; those buried there have left behind the pressures and trials of human existence, though as Christians we know that that they may be experiencing widely different afterlives.

While we stopped to read less than 2% of the grave markers there, only one that we saw hinted at a better promise, simply stating, “With Jesus.”

 

September 11, 2011

Because People Tend to Forget

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?”  You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this.  Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it.  The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist.  Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal? 

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22.  In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief  moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night.  Even if it makes the disciples look bad.  It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good.  If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.'”

I’m serious.  It’s that much out of place with all that has just happened.  Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled.  And they’re arguing about who gets to be Disciple of the Month.  How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly?  In a matter of seconds?

Easily.  People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted.  September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story.  We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily.  We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9 (NIV)
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Image: The Cross or Rubble – Ray Tapajina
at The Art Project – Artists Respond to Terrorism

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