Inner City Diary
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Man's death gives lessons on life
September 15, 2002
The body lay where it was found, on the front steps of a troubled rooming house on Maryland street. Covered with a white sheet, police guarded the man while they waited for the coroner to pick him up.

It was early in the morning on Wednesday, September 11. I don't yet know the cause of the man's death, though I was told it was not due to violence.

Seeing that body gave some perspective on the remembrances of September 11. As a transplanted New Yorker and a minister, people in the neighbourhood asked me how I reflected on the memorial services this week. Here's what I've been telling them.

LESSON 1 - We live in a dangerous world.

Everybody dies. We are all more vulnerable than we care to admit. Whether by the thousands in a terrorist attack or alone at home of a heart attack - we all die. There's cancer, car accidents and many more local forms of violence. And once we're dead, people will either have to struggle with shame and negative memories of our lives or draw from a reserve of positive memories. How will people talk about us once we're gone?

We had an 85 year old grandma in our church for awhile. Before she died, she occasionally said, "Don't just bring me flowers when I'm dead. How about a few to brighten my apartment while I'm still alive?"

As a pastor I encourage people to consider how they live and to prepare for their future.

LESSON 2 - Beliefs have consequences.

All religions are not the same. There's a difference between a personal faith shared with others and a religious ideology established or enforced by violence.

We are told that the terrorists were not "real" Muslims. We are told that fanatical suicide bombers in Palestine are not "true" Muslims. In Indonesia, the Laskar Jihad aims to kill, convert or exile 18 million Christians to "purify" Indonesia. In Sudan, two million Christians and animists have been killed in the government's attempt to impose Islamic law on non-Muslims.

Even in the "moderate Islamic government" of Saudi Arabia, it's a crime to build a Christian church or Hindu mosque. Conversion is punishable by death. Challenging a mullah or criticizing Mohammed can be a capital offense.

In the West, we take political and religious freedom for granted. Governments guided by Islamic rule don't seem to be models of tolerance, democracy or religious freedom.

It's hard to believe rhetoric of tolerance in the face of realities of intolerance. Is there something about Islamic faith which allows or fosters such potential abuses?

Islamic emphasis on submission and obedience inspires respect for many devout and gracious Muslims. On the other hand, it also paves the way for many abusive political, cultural and religious controls - all in the name of facilitating and safeguarding religious obedience.

Don't get me wrong. Christians (and other faiths) could ask themselves the same questions. Are there things in Christian faith which foster problems well known among us?

Christian emphasis on forgiveness and grace encourages freedom and release from the obligation to achieve salvation on one's own merits. On the other hand, it also paves the way for turning a lazy eye to many evils - all in the name of forgiveness and mercy.

Maybe it would be good if all of us set aside the rhetoric and reviewed the practical consequences of our beliefs.

LESSON 3 - Terrorism does not achieve its goal.

I remember watching the cowardly friends of the terrorists as they cheered the attack on America. If their goal was to destabilize western culture they succeeded for a little while.

But now I bet they're choking on the many very public displays of resolve, unity and patriotism. To say nothing of the number of flags! Terrorism backfired again.

LESSON 4 - Life goes on

It's good to remember 9/11 because there are lessons to learn. But I finished watching TV late Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, I woke up and went back to work. Our reflections on the past should recommit us to people around us today.

The body of that man on Maryland Street was a stark reminder to me, challenging me to live my days as an expression of care for those around me. It's dangerous not to care enough to tell and live the truth. And equally dangerous not to allow peaceful and free discussion of your reaction to the truth I'm living.
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929