Last night I joined the throngs of millions of Americans in celebration of our nation’s democratic birth. I pawed through our vacation-packed luggage for semblances of the requisite red-white-and-blue for my children’s ensembles and reflected on the greatest reasons why I love my country, and my deepest hopes for it as well. While speeding luxuriously across a hot, muggy Midwestern lake towards a fine meal of steaks and wine, I was acutely aware of the great privileges surrounding my life to make this scenario remotely possible. I supped and sipped in humble gratitude for the legacy of lost lives and the litany of wars whose cumulative effect is for me to live in relative peace and to seek after opportunities for justice to be extended to all.
As our celebratory crew later lit off firecrackers and, in inky darkness, listened for the deep bellowing booms that heralded the commencement of the community’s firework show, I was struck that these blasts weren’t sending us for cover. Rather, these blasts joyfully invited us to lift our faces up to the beauty of the night sky. These sounds of siege and ominous glows on surrounding horizon lines, in any other decade and/or war-torn country on our earth, would have seen us screaming towards safety and huddled close to those with whom we share our homes. But instead of these reverberating blasts delivering demolition and death, the fire created a coordinated display of artistry, which resulted in a corporate sense of joy. People’s laughter and festive shouts, along with affirming honks of speedboat’s horns, all mixed together with the echoing screams and blasts of the fireworks was a seasonal picture of redemption and reclamation. Even these sounds that are historically rooted in war can instead, be used for festive joy and community celebration. These are the sounds of redemption.
The proclaiming words of the Psalmist, that there will be a time when the God of the Universe will break and shatter weapons of war and make them into instruments of peace (Psalm 46:9), bellowed in my heart as I witnessed the peaceful explosions lighting up the sky. And my thoughts have since gone to my musician friend, Trace Bundy, who is a world renowned guitarist, and was deeply moved by the account of an Agros village in El Salvador called San Diego de Tenango, so much so that he wrote a song in response to their story.
Tenango’s history is one of horrific hardship and despairing displacement. During a season of civil war, the villagers fled the country, surviving the war by finding safe keeping in Honduran refugee camps. The villagers returned years later to find their homeland ravaged and occupied. With the aid and assistance of Agros International, the original families were able to purchase back the land and start a new life again together as a community. Out of gratitude for their story and with a deep sense of faith, this group decided to postpone the building of their own homes and instead erect a church and join together in a service of joyful gratitude. To make the church complete, these villagers wanted a church bell. Due to limited supplies and resources, they went searching and discovered an old missile casing laying in a nearby field left over from the war. While this very token could have been that which destroyed their village, the families instead saw the peaceful possibility and quickly hoisted it up on a rope, thus transforming the casing into their melodious church bell.
This missile-turned-to-bell speaks of the transformative power of redemption: the old becomes new, what was of war turns to peace, what brought demolition can bring beauty and joy. This El Salvadorian bell now rings in praise, just as the Fourth of July booms and blasts now proclaim peace. There is great hope in this ancient paradox and one that continues to call to us, even while living in privileged peace.
What is warring about you in your life today? Is there something that threatens and seeks to destroy? Our call is to come to that place and redeem it, restore it, reclaim it. Believe in the beauty that is inherent in all of creation and begin to witness the transformation. It will be better than any firework show you’ve ever seen!