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When the news of yet another act of violence brining with it death and destruction was reported, this time a terrorist incident involving suicide bombing and shootings at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport in Turkey on the 28th of June where 45 people were killed and at least 239 people injured, my heart once again ached and I grieved for the world. And I grieved especially for Istanbul and Turkey for over the years I have come to love that nation. Sadly this grief seems to have become commonplace this summer, the violence and sadness, be it Orlando or Falcon Heights, Nice, Dallas, or Baghdad… We’ve been grieving a lot.
Our response communally may well be grief and fear, but individually at least, it is certainly impacted by the way in which we can personally identify as well.
Did so many in the States turn their social media profiles the French Tricolour after the Paris terrorist attack last year because there was a commonality of being “western”? Did Orlando impact you more because you know the sting of homophobia? Do you respond a particular way because you know what it’s like to be driving while black, or shopping while black, or actually doing anything or nothing at all while being black? And similarly, if you are in law enforcement, does that affect your take? In each situation, “personally” obviously includes both you and your loved ones. So, who do you love?
I have never been to France. But I have loved ones who are there now. So when I arrived home the other night to hear of the calamity in Nice, my fears and anxiety rose. Why just the week before we were jousting back and forth about UEFA Euro Soccer, my buddy having shared a photo of his kids in their beautiful blue French soccer jerseys while I rooted for Germany. (France won.) I knew my friends where not scheduled to be anywhere near Nice, but then I pictured the family making a last minute decision to celebrate Bastille Day down on the coast. Oh, my imagination! By this point it’s 3:30 AM in France and if I’m overreacting I don’t want to wake them by texting or calling. So I Facebook message his sister in Michigan instead, which only alerts her to what took place and now has her worrying too. The family was in Taizé the whole time, five hours north of the coast—right where they were suppose to be—perfectly safe and sound and until the morning, quite unaware of what had taken place in Nice the night before.
Personal connections aiding us in identifying one with another can make the world a smaller place, in some ways helping to dispel our fears and anxiety of “the other” whoever that might be. But in other ways, they can increase our anxieties because now we understand how connected we are one to another. And when one hurts, we all hurt. Which leads me back to Turkey…
My first experience of Turkey was the Atatürk Airport. Back in 2004 I flew into Istanbul to spend 36 hours there before flying on to join friends finishing up their Peace Corps assignments in Tbilisi, Georgia. After two weeks in Georgia we would travel another two weeks throughout Turkey concluding our time together in Istanbul. When I first arrived I felt how “exotic” it all seemed to me. It was the first time I was in a Muslim majority country. The first time I’d be in Asia. The longest time I’d travel outside of the country by myself. While all those things were true I would also experience in Turkey some of the most gracious, beautiful, and welcoming people in the world. And I would learn that Istanbul is an incredibly cosmopolitan city of great history but also immensely modern. It is actually the largest (by population) city in Europe. And Atatürk Airport, while not as large at the time (has since become the third busiest airport in Europe) was as modern and cosmopolitan as any place I’d flown through in the States. But what struck me most that first time at Atatürk was the sheer variety of the place, of the people. It was the kind of global crossroads that I’d never experienced before, so many peoples and cultures and languages literally crossing paths with one another.
There was a family on my flight from JFK to Atatürk, a family of six, what appeared to be a mother and her five children ranging in ages from wee little elementary age kids to older teens or early twenties. We had been seated in the same section on the plane and when we arrived we were both arranging further flights for later flights then transportation into the city. We sort of ended up traveling through Atatürk itself together. We exchanged pleasantries and perhaps even some snacks and water, but otherwise I don’t recall conversing much with them. My time in Turkey would eventually allow me to understand they were ethnic Kurds. I don’t really know anything about them, but my mind has often wandered back to wonder of them. Where was her husband? Was she a widow? Were they returning home to eastern Turkey? Or maybe Iran, Syria, or Iraq? What had they experienced? What would they experience? Where are they now? I’ve had so many thoughts on the connections of them and the world.
Another time years later I would end up on a much shorter layover at Atatürk Airport flying from New York to Jerusalem—I remember great food and drink in the airline louge! And then again, just last November I flew to Rome through Istanbul—not the most direct flights but it was most affordable. I wrote about that experience here at the Twelve. As far as airports go, I have found Atatürk to be overall pleasant, which is saying a lot since most airports aren’t very pleasant. So when the news arrived of the violence there last month, by heart was filled with grief and sadness. But I also considered I had often walked in those terminals. I had gone through those kiosks.
Contrary to what it seems however, this post is not about violence in the world or the accompanying sadness it brings. Rather, this is about connection. This is about connection to the people and places that impact our lives and about how very connected we are (or need to be) to one another. It’s also about a God of connections.
Following the Atatürk Airport incident and because Facebook has become the place where we express our thoughts and feelings on just about everything I wanted to post an Istanbul photo to reflect a kind of solidarity with Turkey. In recent weeks with failed coups plots and an over zealous Prime minister, it seems ever more important. I discovered that alas, my travels were so long ago that those old digital photos had never made it to my new computer (at least two computers ago)! Eventually uploaded the old pictures took me on a stroll down memory lane.
In a lot of ways writing here at the Twelve has done the same for me. On a weekly basis, as a preacher and a pastor, most of my writing is in the sermon format. But I didn’t want to preach here at the Twelve. Although I didn’t exactly know what to write here at the Twelve, or necessarily how to write for whoever this great audience is that comes back day after day—and indeed you are great—I found that often times I needed to process the events of the world and the events of my life, of ministry and meaning, and find the words that fit. And often the right photos too. I’m not sure I’ve necessarily done that well. But in any case, this has allowed me the chance to go on a journey of exploration, looking back and looking forward. It has helped me make connections to things and persons and events and places, for which I am truly grateful.
Some years ago I was amongst a group of clergy folk and we were discussing various aspects of what it meant to be Reformed. There was substantial banter about TULIP and differing expressions of our catholicity and evangelicalism. But when it came time for me to share, I landed on sovereignty. What does it mean that God is Sovereign? I’m not entirely sure. I know I wrestle with a lot of questions in my own life. Often we like to center sovereignty in God’s control, which is all well and good but… But ultimately, it’s about God’s sovereign love that has the last word. It is that love revealed in Christ that we belong to and by which all things must work together for God’s ultimate plans/purpose/reign/new creation. God is love. God is sovereign.
Which means God cares about all sorts of things in our world and our lives because God is involved and using all things. The Twelve can be all over the place, dealing with religion and politics and everything else that goes with it. And that’s good because it’s about our God. That’s pretty Reformed to me.
This blog started on Reformation Day in 2011 and four days later I had my first posting here. Today is my last regular posting here at the Twelve. (I’ll fill in for others when needed.) The Twelve has only grown and it has been an incredible honour to be included and given the opportunity to ponder out loud along with so many of you. I am grateful. But it’s time to pass the opportunity on to others. I’m looking forward to the assortment of voices to come! The Twelve will continue to help me stay connected. Thank you.