Once again this week the country has been shocked by the violence of the Marathon bombings. I’m sorry to say that when I first heard about it my second thought was, “Oh no, here we go again!” I was so afraid we would respond the same way we did after 9/11. By mid-week, I was somewhat reassured because several people, those in Boston and those in Washington had proclaimed that we would go on as before and would not further curtail our open society because of this bombing. I wonder. . .
Let me explain a bit. After 9/11 there seemed to be an aura of fear everywhere. That atmosphere of fear allowed the congress to pass the Patriot Act and the president to authorize the use of torture, something I never thought our country would do. It also created Homeland Security, which might be a good thing, in that the various agencies have to cooperate, but it also created another layer of bureaucracy that will probably never be dismantled in the future.
Remember that huge truck that used to sit outside the jail labeled, City of International Falls Mobile Command Center? “Free” money from Homeland Security – but I never saw it that I didn’t wonder why we couldn’t have had that money for our schools. And where is it now?
One of the things I figured out, somewhere in mid-life, is that there is no such thing as security in this life. Not really and not for certain, no matter what we do to try to stay safe. But the attitudes of our leaders and the 24 hour news cycle after 9/11 made us scramble for safety. And I believe they spent millions of dollars to create the illusion of safety.
I know that many of you remember WWII. Do you remember the Blitz? After 9/11 I said that I was disappointed that we did not respond more like the English reacted to the Blitz. I was with six other educated women, although younger than I by one to three decades. Not one of them actually understood my comment.
So let me explain this too. The Blitz was the sustained Nazi bombing of England, especially London. The purpose was to interrupt production of war materials but mostly was to defeat them by ruining the morale of the populace. Starting in early September of 1940, London had 57 consecutive nights of air raids. This bombing destroyed over a million homes in England; it killed 90,000 civilians, over 20,000 in London alone.
Imagine living there: you come home from work and have supper with your family (your children may or may not have been evacuated to the countryside), then went to bed around ten. The air raid sirens would go off an hour or two later. You’d get up, throw on something over your night clothes, run to the shelter, most likely part of the tube system, where you would try to find a place to get some sleep while the bombs rained down. When the all-clear sounded you went back up to street level and walked home –around fires, rubble in the streets, bodies, – maybe to find everything OK, maybe to find you’d lost everything.
When I lived in England in the early 90’s I had a friend and neighbor, probably in her early 70’s then, who had lived in London all during the Blitz and worked at some government agency. She and her mother were bombed out twice. When I asked her what they did then, she replied, “Well, we borrowed some clothes and went to work!” This said in the most mundane way.
During the time I lived in England there were frequent bombings in London like the Marathon bombing this week. Many times when I was in the city, the tube system would be halted for some period of time, or I’d hear lots of sirens converging on some spot a few blocks away. The IRA were bombing public transport and pubs.
One morning at work, we heard there had been a bombing in Victoria Station in London and when the rail lines where locked down, lots of our people could not get to work. That night I wanted to hear the news because no one seemed to know if this was another IRA bombing or some other group was involved.
I lost track of the time and turned on the telly at five after 10 PM. I listened to 25 minutes of news and not a word about the bombing at Victoria Station that morning. I was astonished! But that’s the English for you. They covered it in the first 5 minutes and then went on to the other news of the day. I never saw an interview with anyone who was in Victoria station that day!
And the following morning everyone went to work as usual, including those who had to go through Victoria Station. I was pretty much in awe of the English public for their refusal to run scared in the face of terrorist threats. Now in their case I doubt that this courage came from their religious views, but more likely from their native toughness.
We, as practicing Christians, should be capable of this same kind of toughness because we have reason for it. We must ask ourselves, do we expect our government to keep us safe? Are we willing to give up our open society and turn it into an armed fortress in order to stay safe?
I say that there is no such thing as security or safety in this life on earth, and to destroy the life we’ve had in the U.S. to try to attain it is foolishness. Even if the government could prevent attacks, like 9/11 or the Marathon bombings, and I’m sure they have prevented some, they can’t prevent tornados, floods, and hurricanes. They can’t prevent cancer, heart attacks, or strokes. They can’t prevent birth defects, miscarriages or death.
Over and over again Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Why? One of the answers is in our text today. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” No one!
Can we trust this? Do we have faith in what Jesus promises? What kind of life do we want to live: Do we want to live in fear – building walls to hide behind, circling the wagons to keep US safe from THEM? Or do we want to live as though God’s Kingdom is here now, going about our own business and also God’s business as usual, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the poor, etc.
Remember the picture from Revelation today – the multitudes from every nation, dressed in white robes, who have come out of the great ordeal? In my mind the great ordeal is this life itself, the life we are given to live on earth. However we choose to live it, it will at many times be an ordeal, but if we live it well in spite of that, it will also be a blessing to many, and we will leave the world a little bit better than we found it. AMEN