Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Earthly Tent

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God,
an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
~2 Corinthians 5.1

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and I was standing in front of the barista bar at Starbucks while Dutch and the girls waited in the car, combed and pressed and ready for church. I tapped my foot, checked my phone, and threw a hurried glanced at the New York Times which was propped on a shelf beside the register. The cover photo – a brick colonnade crowded with people, all of them in woolen caps and thermals – looked vaguely familiar. So I looked closer… Yes, I thought, with just a glimmer of satisfaction, it is: Pioneer Courthouse Square. My Pioneer Courthouse Square, the one which sits at the center of the city where I grew up.

The tree in the background suggested that the photo had been taken at the annual Christmas tree lighting, and I wondered which of my friends, if any, had been there.

Foreshortened memories flicked through my mind like slide show images and, with them, forgotten feelings of forgotten afternoons – strolling up and down the square, past street kids on skateboards, asking for change; slackening my pace to take a long look at the classical facade of the Federal courthouse building; drinking iced coffee in front of the flower stall across from Nordstrom, and lingering to ogle at the magnificent dahlias, their petals all a-glimmer with raindrops.

But one look at the picture’s caption shattered all my reveries: “About 10,000 people were in Pioneer Courthouse Square when the authorities said a teenager hoped to detonate a car bomb,” it said. I quickly scanned the article which described how a Somali-born teenager was arrested Friday night after detonating what he believed was an authentic explosive device.

Standing there in the atrium of the coffeehouse, waiting around for what suddenly seemed a meaningless concoction of espresso and milk, I understood keenly why and how such acts of violence – even the failed ones – achieve a degree of success: for if they succeed they do so by making us afraid, by bringing home the unsettling thought that we are not safe, not even in the most innocuous, most familiar surroundings.

Thus the bomb may have been a fake, but the threat was - and is - startlingly real.

Less than two weeks ago, in Tucson, for entirely different reasons, a lone gunman shot congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords along with more than a dozen others. As most of the world knows, Congresswoman Giffords survives, in critical condition, but six others were killed.

And when, several hours after the attack, I passed by the scene of the crime, which also happens to be my neighborhood grocery store, my stomach churned.

The idea that there is lurking beneath the hood of some vacant car, or strapped beneath the clothing of a nearby stranger, a ticking bomb, a loaded gun … sends a chill like a shock-wave rippling down my spine, proving that while the individuals responsible for these crimes may have been taken into physical custody, their actions threaten to imprison those of us who remain "free." We may not be literal hostages, but we risk becoming emotional ones.

Walking into a bakery less than a mile from the site of the shooting I overheard two people talking. "It really makes you think,” said a woman to a man. “At any moment our lives could be snatched from us without warning. Just like that.”

It is the kind of talk that is often heard in the wake of tragedy; and it is so familiar as to have become cliche. But just because a thing is hackneyed, does not make it untrue, or unworthy of honest consideration, does it?

In fact, last weekend’s shootings reveal the truth that has been there all along, but which the pale of untroubled circumstances, or the frenetic pace of life, allow us to overlook: the truth that life is fragile, tenuous, uncertain. That we could be asked to cross the bridge from life to death at any moment; and that even if we live another fifty or a hundred years, death awaits us all.

But whether we live a few decades more or die tomorrow is not, ultimately, the point. The point is where we’re going, where we long to be, and whether we have any sure means of getting there. Out of the rubble that we human beings have made of this world, Christ rises. He rises, and has risen, having defeated death - and the paroxysms of fear which just the thought of it induces - for every man or woman who would deign to call on His name.

There is something exquisitely unique about the hope of Christ – for it is a hope which will one day be replaced by reality. As Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthian church, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven… For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15.49, 52).

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” ~1 Corinthians 15.58

*Images courtesy of {frolic!}.

1 comment:

KillerB said...

Beautiful post. Thank you for your thoughts.