I haven't been in many American cities, but I have been in Boston three times. My good friends Bob and Becky live in New England, and as their guests we have enjoyed the hospitality, warm love for all things Scottish, and the intellectual and cultural experiences of New England people. And from a blugerass concert to Shaker heritage, to Boston and its important place in the history of Baptist thought and practice, even visiting the Quaker assembly which Elton trueblood attended.
I guess not many now know the name Elton Trueblood. Philosopher and cultural critic, radical Christian practitioner and intellectually generous follower of Jesus, a man whose wisdom and deep love for God illumines much of what he wrote, lived and said. His sermons The Yoke of Christ, his numerous books on Christian engagement with society in the 1950's and 60's, and his reputation as a thinker deeply plunged in the contemplative foundations of Christian theology and prayer, made that brief glimpse of the place where this man lived out his later life a kind of low key pilgrimage. I owe much to Trueblood's thought.
His book Alternative to Futility was born in class discussions about war and peace, violence and dialogue, conflict and reconciliation. In the 50's the Cold War was fuelled by runaway fear and suspicion, and the futility of a world divided along lines of terror, hostility and the idolatry of explosive power. The idolatry of explosive power from bullets to missiles, smart bombs to IED's, and yes nuclear weapons and drone delivered death, is now an established and largely unchallenged recourse to the explosion of energy for the damage of other human beings.
And I guess my overwhelming response to the explosions at the Boston marathan, immediate and so far largely unreflective as it is, is one of deep sadness at the futility of such acts of violence and hatred of other human beings. The death of an 8 year old boy, there to celebrate his father's finishing the race is, well futile. The reduction of human life to fuel for publicity of any cause or none fulfils no meaningful purpose I can discern. Trueblood's thesis still requires adequate refutation - whatever the motives for the use of explosive power to the damage of another human being, it will always be invalidated in any hieracrchy of values that sees human hurt and human killing as a means to an immensely lesser end. I realise more can be said. And on reflection I may wish I'd said more, or less. But the sense of sadness, and the refusal to give in to the temptations of despair and cynicism that grow out of a sense of futility, will not make me want to be less hopeful, more committed to an alternative view of the world, more thoughtful in my prayers for a world like ours.
One of the great visions of the Hebrew Bible is children making the noise of play and excitement in city streets. Whatever else the death of that young boy means, it is a reminder of what I hope for in human fulfilment, and what I pray against in the actions and thinking of those who settle for futility.