Transforming Tragedy

September no longer arrives without bringing with it recollections of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Without effort or intent, the memories are just there when August ends. Images of buildings and planes, smoke and rubble find their way back to my mind. What a shocking and awful day that was for all of us.

September has had its share of tragedy and turmoil. In 1940, September marked the beginning of Germany’s blitz bombing campaign of Great Britain; similar in ways to our September 11th, only it lasted for nine months. In September of 1972, terrorists attacked the Israeli delegation at the Munich Olympic Games. Eleven Israelis, five terrorist and one police officer were killed. In 1957, when Arkansas students were heading back to school, then Governor Orval Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine African-American students from enrolling in Little Rock Central High School. In 1901, the month saw U.S. president William McKinley assassinated in Buffalo, New York. In 1974, it was the month in which President Ford issued an unconditional pardon to former President Nixon, bringing to an end the Watergate affair.

Each of these events captured the attention of the world for days, weeks, and even longer. With the exception of President McKinley’s assassination, a movie has been made about each of these events. Interestingly, in the mid-90’s when the National Football League started a league in Europe, the nickname of the team in London was the Blitz. When a new scandal arises in Washington very often the suffix “gate” is attached to the end of whatever it is being called, thus recalling the government scandal to which all subsequent scandals would be compared. In some way they have each left their mark on our collective memory.

These moments in history, and others like them from other months, caused the world to stop in shock and disbelief. The fear, grief and disappointment that followed them changed the way people looked and thought about the world. In our lifetime, we have lived through some days that brought dreadful news to everyone everywhere. At the same time, we have lived through some days that brought their own dreadful news into our own lives. The rest of the world proceeded as usual while we lived through the pain of a broken marriage, the tragic death of a loved one, or the turmoil of losing a job. Our personal tragedies, no less than ones that we experience as a nation or a global community, also change the way we look and think about our lives and how we live them.

The challenge of the life and teachings of Jesus is to not let the events of history and our lives define who we are as people. Certainly we grieve when we experience loss, we are frightened when terror strikes, and we are sad when misfortune occurs. We experience what we experience and live through what we live through, yet the calling of Christ in our lives provides for us a lens through which to view those events, a filter through which to strain them that will not let us settle for being the sum of our life experiences. Instead, Jesus insists that our lives, our selves, are best defined by our relationship and our experience with him.

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.” Luke 6:20-23a

His words call us beyond our trials to transformation. From poverty, hunger, tears and hatred he proposes a kingdom, fullness, laughter and joy. The happenings of our lives could justifiably leave us bitter and cynical. Christ calls us to something more even as he lives with us through our trials and tragedies, never leaving us to face our perils alone. What has happen to us shapes who we are, but it is not who we are. We are children of God saved by his grace, transformed by his mercy and empowered by his spirit to join with him in letting fullness, laughter and joy reign in our lives and in our world.