Holding it together when everything is falling apart : an extended reflection on the Boston bombing


Boston… before that Newtown… before that Aurora… Darfur, Ground Zero, Columbine, Jonesboro, Oklahoma City, Munich ’72.  The list is growing.  No longer names just identifying spots on a map, these are now sign-posts of our collective pain, markers where the fabric of our society and our communal life together have been torn.  And with each explosion or gunshot, we hear another rip.  Sometimes the noise is so loud we can’t distinguish one tragedy from the next.  Many go unnoticed.

  • Yesterday, 82 were killed by firearms in the United States.  A third were under the age of 20.
  • Yesterday, dozens were killed or injured by unexploded ordnances – the leftovers of wars we think are over.
  • Yesterday, in Africa, almost 1500 died of malaria (a treatable, preventable disease).
  • Yesterday, almost 16,000 children worldwide died of hunger-related causes.

None of these should in any way minimize the pain and grief we feel because of yesterday’s bombing in Boston.  But, maybe, it will give us the opportunity to see that yesterday’s pain was not an isolated event.  Our world is unraveling.

And I am weary of the weight of grieving for our world.  When I was young, I thought it was the whippings, the nails, the weight of his body hung on a cross that killed my Savior.  Today, I believe it was the weight of our sin, the weight of his grief that ultimately crushed him and expelled his last breath.

That we feel grief today is hope.  That we are still shocked by such senseless violence is hope. The world is unraveling, but we still recognize the pattern in the tapestry God intended.  We have not and should not accept that this is life as it is.  I am reminded, however, that my life of relative security, comfort, and ease, is neither a given nor an entitlement. On observing a convict being led to the gallows, John Wesley commented,

 There, but for the grace of God, go I.[1]

My good life is not primarily the product of my hard work or virtue any more than the pain those affected by yesterday’s events are feeling is a product of some individual sin of theirs, hidden or otherwise.

 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’[2]

Those who suffer aren’t worse sinners… whew, that’s a relief… but unless you repent, your fate will be no better… WHAT?  Here’s how I read this:  Our world is fallen and is falling apart.  Our world is unraveling.  But we are still connected in often strange and unpredictable ways.  Pull a thread here and a hole opens up over there.  Sin and death are chaotic.  They tear at the order of creation God intended.

Here are some affirmations I am holding on to today.

  • Yesterday, God’s will was not seen in the bombing that led to such pain and loss of life.  Whoever is responsible for yesterday’s bombing was working against God, not for God.
  • Yesterday, God’s will was seen in the courageous and loving response of those who ran to help even while still fearing more explosions.
  • God’s will shall prevail because whatever is unraveled in the tapestry of creation, God can reweave.
  • Finally, we are called to help in the reweaving.

So what are we to do?  First, it’s ok to say a prayer of thanks that the little corner of the tapestry under your feet is firm today (if that’s the case, and I pray it is so).  But do not stop there.  Find a loose string wherever you are and secure it.  Weave it back into the fabric of life.  It is these even small things that may matter most.  There is a wonderful quote in The Hobbit (the movie, not the book) by the wizard Gandalf that we need to hear…

gandalf-galadriel Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don’t know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.[3]

Yesterday, with the explosions at the finish line of the Boston marathon, flesh and bone and the fabric of our society were once again torn.  But there were also many “ordinary folk” who came forward with courage and love to begin the mending.  Today, we begin again, and that gives me hope.

[1] This quote has been attributed to several others including John Bradford, a Protestant martyred in the 16th century and John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress.

[2] Luke 13:1-5

[3] In the movie, the “great ones” (Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond, Saruman) gathered in Rivendell are faced with the prospect that the ancient Enemy has arisen.  Faced by such evil, Gandalf reflects on how the free people shall resist it.