Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Four Things to Tell Children after 9/11

After September 11: Four Things to Tell Our Kids
[I wrote the following for a column I have in a local chain of suburban Cincinnati newspapers right after the horrific events of September 11, 2001. It has also appeared on the web site of recording artist Carolyn Arends,]

The morning after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, my barber, Vickie told me about a conversation she'd had with a young mom the day before. "What," this mother wondered, "do I tell my child?"

In the face of such incredible evil, what do we say to our children? What do we tell each other?

I don't have easy answers to those questions. But let me share a few things I'm saying to children of all ages.

First, we live in a world in which people consumed by evil do evil things. The Bible's New Testament tells us that all of creation groans under the burden of human sin. While most of the time, we're likely to be safe, bad things can and do happen.

One day, God will put all things right. In the meantime, it's the call of Jesus-followers everywhere to share the good news about God's love in the hope that people's hearts, minds, and lives will be changed.

Second: We are loved and helped even in the midst of evil we can't understand. Children need to know that there are people who love them and are doing everything they can to protect them. Hugs and kisses from parents, goodnight prayers, and time spent just talking together are all important means by which we can make children feel safer and more secure.

But even more than having the assurance that people love them, children need to know that God loves them. They need to know that God is bigger than all these horrors and that through Jesus Christ, all who believe in Him can live with a hope that goes beyond death.

Third: We need to give our children a clear picture of Who God is. Some believe that the perpetrators of these attacks were acting "in the Name of God." But if they did, it is a twisted, evil version of God. Martin Luther said that if you want to know Who God is, look to Jesus hanging on the executioner's cross.

The God Who has revealed Himself to the world in the Person of Jesus is a God of infinite love Who, as He was being wrongly condemned and executed, prayed for His enemies. He taught us to love as we have been loved by God. He sacrificed Himself to give us eternity. A God like that would never sanction a plot in which passenger jetliners were turned into bombs, taking the lives of thousands. "God is love," the New Testament tells us. Children need to know that.

There's one other thing I feel is important to share with children right now. Midmorning on
September 11, I got a telephone call from our son, a student at a Christian college. As we were sharing some of our feelings about the day's events, I could hear a rising din behind him. Phil looked out into his dormitory hallway and was told, "We're all going to give blood!" "I gotta go, dad," he immediately said. The entire college community took off for the Red Cross to donate blood they hoped would help people in New York City and Washington, D.C.

While at the blood center, my son was approached by a TV news reporter. Why, the reporter wondered, were Phil and his fellow students doing this? "I'm a follower of Jesus Christ," Philip said, "and He calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That's what I'm trying to do."

Here then is the fourth important thing I feel that we need to share with children today: God specializes in retrieving good from evil. In the face of evil, God inspires His followers to undertake acts of love and compassion. God also helps people who have turned a hardened heart to Him to understand how much they need Him. And God causes people to embrace those who are hurting.

This is the way God works. Two-thousand years ago, the world conspired to snuff out the life of Jesus of Nazareth. His followers, who had felt certain that He was the Savior of the world, were inconsolable. Their world had come crashing down. But Jesus wouldn't stay dead! He rose to life again on the first Easter Sunday and because of that, all who follow Him have a hope that will not stay dead, no matter what happens.

God retrieves good from evil. He will do it again. You can count on it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

What Makes Bono Run?

What Fuels the Ubiquitous Rock Star?
Of course, Irish rock band U2 [] took their name from the U.S. spy plane. But lately, the "U" could stand for ubiquity. Lead singer and lyricist Bono has been everywhere: Bono with President Bush, South African hero Nelson Mandela, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill; Bono on a recent cover of Time magazine; and the May issue of Decision, a Christian magazine, found him seated next to Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, reading Irish poetry.

I suppose most of this hyperactivity would ordinarily be seen as publicity seeking. But in all these recent travels and photo-ops, Bono isn’t promoting his latest project. He's pushing causes: the environment, debt relief for Africa, human rights in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, freedom in Burma, the need for treatment of AIDS victims throughout the African continent. By all accounts, from the President of the United States to officials at the United Nations, Bono is more than just a rock star gadfly. He's well informed and speaks with passion and common sense. Unlike so many self-serving media superstars, Bono seems to believe that he should use his success and celebrity to benefit others.

It had been a number of years since I purchased a U2 project. But I couldn’t help but wonder what was fueling Bono’s passion for his neighbors on Planet Earth and thought that perhaps clues could be found on U2's most recent release, "All That You Can’t Leave Behind." So, I bought the CD.

For a small purchase price, I was richly rewarded with music and lyrics that are great, standouts in an era of repetitive musical brain candy. Bono’s evocative lyrics combine with tremendous musical compostions and musical accompaniment on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind." There are many elements you would expect from a U2 project: Bono’s passionate, rangy vocals and The Edge’s wall-of-sound, frenzied guitar work, for example. But there are musical departures here as well. I admire artists who are willing to change, experiment, and grow. And on this CD, The Edge successfully experiments with his guitar work on a number of cuts.

But the richest rewards to be found on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" are spiritual. Bono, a professed follower of Jesus Christ, liberally passes out inspiration and plenty of hints about what powers his passion and his compassion. The CD opens with four strong cuts: Beautiful Day, Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Elevation, and the anthemic Walk On.

Several other songs rise to the heights of greatness on this CD. The plaintive, Peace on Earth, looks at the human penchant for war and violence and cries out, "Jesus, could you take the time to throw a drowning man a line."

When I Look at the World, is a song clearly addressed to the God revealed to us all through Jesus Christ. The lyrics marvel at the love with which God looks on the world and confesses, "So I try to be like you, try to feel it like you do, but without you it’s no use. I can’t see what you see when I look at the world." Here, Bono agrees with Paul in the New Testament book of Romans, "I know that nothing good dwells within me...I can will what is right, but I cannot do it." If we’re to live with the kind of life, love, and passion to which we all aspire, we can’t manufacture these things on our own. We need to rely on Christ, their author and perfecter.

The CD’s final song is "Grace." Grace is a Bible word. In the original Greek of the Bible’s New Testament, the word is charitas, from which we get the English word, charity. Grace is God’s free acceptance of us and His transformation of all with faith in Christ into His "new creation." Bono most tellingly explains the roots of his passionate sojourn through life in the final words of this song: "What once was hurt, what once was friction, what left a mark, no longer stings because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things."

When God looks at you and me, He sees children He loves and wants passionately to help. That’s what keeps Bono loving his neighbors non-stop. God bless him for the path he’s chosen and God bless U2 for giving us so much inspiration on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind."