Through Us

Minuteman Statue in Lexington, Mass.

If earth is to be like heaven, we are the ones--We the People--who must make it so.

In the poem entitled "Concord Hymn," Ralph Waldo Emerson called the first shot of the American Revolution the "shot heard 'round the world."  That shot was fired in Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 and Emerson's grandfather, a local minister, was the first man to show up, gun in hand, after the alarm was sounded.  Seventy-six other men joined him.  By the time they reached Concord, Mass. they were 400 strong.  By day's end, there were 3800 colonists engaged in the battle for freedom. It is this first battle of the war that is commemorated in Massachusetts on Patriots' Day.

At the close of the day, forty-nine of those colonist-soldiers were killed, thirty-nine were wounded, and five were missing--well under half of the British losses.  Emerson's grandfather contracted fever on the battlefiield and died on a homeward march. His son and namesake was only seven years old.  The younger William Emerson, the poet's father, also became a minister and was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bible Society, which I lead. 

That is exactly what history feels like on the streets of Boston and why the Boston Marathon is the perfect event for the day.  It is triumphant and strenuous, grueling and exhilirating, dangerous and lifegiving all at once.  Those who run in Boston do so for themselves to be sure.  They train for months and years just to qualify--to get out there and say they did it. Even the very last to stumble across the finish line is a victor.  But there is also something more.

Those in Boston also run for the day.  They run on the very ground where men fought and died to create a free and independent nation.  They run where those we now look to as "founding fathers" ran and played as children, took up arms as men, and finally governed a new and chaotic nation.  They run where people wrestled with conflicting loyalties, and where ministers like William Emerson both buried the dead and brought others to the grave with their own muskets.  They run on ground that has been soaked by blood before.

The battles of Lexington and Concord are re-enacted in the early morning every Patiots' Day.  And then the runners run and the Red Sox play, filling the day with sweat and exertion and memory and the hope of symbolic victories.  But yesterday was not to be so simple.  Yesterday came the bomb blasts, very literally heard 'round the world.  The symbolic battlefield suddenly was filled with very real carnage.

We are in shock here in Boston.  In the days, weeks, and months to come there will be much to say and do.  People will turn to faith leaders for answers to their "Why?"s and we will stumble through our inadequate responses.  As our shock passes through grief to anger, God will get an earful as prayers ascend around the city.  And some praying lips will fall silent with a new conviction that no one is there to hear them after all.

As understandable as that all is--honestly, God gets an earful from me as well at times like these--I think we are mistaken to look to the Divine to spare us from all horror or to magically fix the tragedies that rain like sulphur upon our heads.  My Judeo-Christian faith teaches me that from the creation of Adam onward, God is at work in the world through us.  God is vigilant in tryng to prevent tragedy--through us.  God is an instantaneous responder in terror attacks--through us.  God is with everyone who suffers through even the deepest grief and loss--through us.

When horror attacks, when evil rears its abominable head and strikes, instead of blaming God, we should hear it as our own call to step it up.  Like the battles of Lexington and Concord, it is the beginning of a hard war, not the end.  When Hate triumphs in a moment, Love needs to get back on the treadmill and train harder.  God may be the general, but a general can only do so much.  There must be an elite and vigilant force to command for any battles to be won.

It is in moments like these that we remember our role.  Christians pray in the prayer that Jesus' taught his disciples, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Nothing in all of the Bible indicates that God is going to tap the earth with a magic wand and make it heavenly.  If earth is to be like heaven, we are the ones--We the People--who must make it so.  We have the enormous strength of God's love and Spirit to aid us, but in the end, we must be the agents of any transformation we hope to see.  As uncomfortable as it is, most of the time we are the answer to our prayers and the answer to the prayers of others.

We are the ones who must learn to get up in the morning committed to love over hate--even, and most especially, when our enemies have killed and maimed our loved ones.  We must be the ones to nip a bully in the bud.  We must be the ones to teach our children to get along, to respect rather than mock our differences, to work for justice at every level.  If Jesus is to live and work in the world today, it must be through us.

We will remember for a time.  The twin bombs yesterday woke us from our slumber.  But will we stay awake as the months and years wear on?  Will we bring the shivering runners into our homes when they are exhausted from addiction rather than from a world-class race?  Will we rush to help a victim shot by a gang member the way we rushed to help a wounded spectator at a marathon?  Will we stop asking if something is legal and begin to ask whether it is just?  And, for the sake of the God that so many prattle on about and so few actually heed, will we quit the partisan divides that are making the halls of Congress look like a room of two-year olds badly in need of a time out?  Hello?  We're getting bombed out here!

The Patriots of 1775 lost life and limb to buy our freedom.  That may be a white-washed version of history--things are rarely that simple.  But freedom is still the cause for which we fight.  I pray that our fight now might rely less on weapons and more on the grit, the resolve, and the unfettered love at the core of the human spirit.  Whether yesterday's bombing turns out to be an act of domestic or foreign terror makes no difference.  The world is here now, and we are in the world.  Don't shake your fist at God.  Don't shake your fist at any group or individual.  Instead, let us shake our fists at hate and vow that the power of our love will melt its steel and reforge it into heaven on earth.  God can do it--but only through us.


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