Gleaning Good in the Midst of Tragedy

For decades, our need for thrills was met by movie spatter. When the real thing comes, it makes playacting look stupid.

Here's a checklist for post 9/11: Rescue survivors. Comfort the bereaved. Execute strategic response. Revise security protocols. Repent.

That last one clangs like a cymbal in a flute solo. We're Americans; when slapped by suffering, we get practical. We move ahead soberly and briskly, with confidence and resolve. Introspection isn't our style. A call to repentance may even seem cruel, as if it implied that this disaster was our own making. When we can see hard-faced mugshots of killers on TV, we're not confused about who the bad guys are.

Yet there's good spiritual precedent for taking a moment for reflection and assessment in any time of sorrow. The Hebrew scriptures show a consistent pattern: a devastating loss was a signal to repent, turn, and change. That didn't mean that the enemy was "right" or that God liked them better, just that it was time to learn a hard lesson.

A lesson, that is. The Bible wasn't talking about mere punishment. The goal was renewal. As Ezekiel wrote, Jerusalem would fall to forces of sacrilege and terror, but the plan went further. The beloved people of God would be changed. "Thus says the Lord God: I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh."


For us, some of this assessment began instantly and without too much pondering. It was obvious that now was not the most tasteful time to release a Schwartznegger flick about a man avenging the death of his family at the hands of terrorists. Likewise pulled: a hip-hop CD cover that showed the artist about to detonate the World Trade Center. For the past week, entertainment violence has not been included in the category of "general fun." We've had decades of peace and plenty, and the persistent human need for thrills was met by lots of spatter. When the real thing comes, it makes playacting look stupid. Since entertainment drives our culture, it's not surprising that this would be the first noticeable arena of change. Let's push it further. Can we ditch the "reality" TV shows now? As a friend of mine said, "I don't want to turn on the TV and see real people being unhappy."

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