I honestly thought narwhals were mythological creatures.
Not only are they real, but apparently some are stuffed and mounted on restaurant walls.
Ever since reports came out that the man who attacked people last Friday on London Bridge was fended off by a narwhal tusk, I have been thinking about the weirdness of that tragic story. What’s not weird is that there was a terrorist attack. That’s – sadly – the most normal part of this true story.
What’s unusual about the story:
- Ten ordinary bystanders helped subdue an attacker who wielded knives taped to his wrists.
- The ten people – now hailed as heroes – include a kitchen worker, two non-profit volunteers, two tour guides, two “coat check girls” and a convicted murderer.
- The “weapons” they used to overpower the attacker included a fire extinguisher, a metal pipe, their own bodies to block doors, and the aforementioned narwhal tusk.
We can learn something from this event in terms of how to be community with and among each other. Listen up, Church.
- Terrible things happen. Terrible nonsensical things. And sometimes they even happen when we are trying to do the right thing. Jack Merritt was a coordinator for Learning Together – a rehabilitation program for formerly incarcerated people. Saskia Jones was a volunteer at the Learning Together event that day in Fishmongers’ Hall by London Bridge. Both Merritt and Jones were murdered by the attacker.
- When people need help, it might be our turn to step up. The people who dropped what they were doing to run towards the danger are indeed heroes but they were also everyday people.
- We should not judge others by the worst thing they’ve ever done. James Ford was a hero on the day of the attack but in 2004, he murdered a woman. He served his prison sentence and was out and about the day of the attack. For which event will he be remembered? As the guy who killed a mentally disabled woman? Or as the guy who saved the lives of innocent people?
- In times of crisis, don’t worry about criticism. Whoever ripped the narwhal tusk off the mounted narwhal did not think, “I wonder who will get mad at me for breaking this wall mounting?” He just took it and used it. The guy who used the fire extinguisher didn’t stop and say, “I hope the fire department doesn’t mind me using up the foam.” Times of crisis require in-the-moment creativity.
- It’s not about us. Most of the heroes that day have not been identified in the newspaper. The kitchen staffer corrected the media when he was credited for using the tusk. (He actually used the pole.) The “coat check girls” have not been named even though they slowed down the terrorist. These brave humans will be honored with medals and might be invited to Buckingham Palace (except for Mr. Ford. Apparently ex-convicts are not allowed at the Queen’s house.) But the story is not about individual bravery. It’s about working together.
We in the Church can learn from this, especially as we are stuck in an alternate universe that is neither real nor holy:
Sometimes we in the Church don’t want to hear about terrible things. We want happy stories, and yet the reality of the world is ugly and God calls us to address the ugly. Sometimes we in the Church are quick to assist our friends and family, but we are slow to help strangers (unless we can control the way we help them.) Sometimes we in the Church are the judge-iest judges in the neighborhood. Sometimes we in the Church worry more about what the congregation thinks of us than what God thinks of us. Sometimes we in the Church make it all about us. We want to dominate the program. We want to control the financials. We want to command the power.
Adventures in missing the point.
Like the wielding of a narwhal tusk, we have been called to be and do something rare and unusual. It looks like this:
Go out into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold fast to what is
good. Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the fainthearted,
support the weak, help the suffering. Honor all people. Love and
serve the Lord your God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s more than a benediction at the end of worship. It’s a way of life that ten strangers exhibited on a Friday afternoon in London. As it usually happens, there was something terrible and – still – there was also something beautiful in the midst of that terror. Because God uses everything.
Image of a narwhal. Source here.