Chairs of Hope
I am in Oklahoma doing a youth rally at Oklahoma Christian University. I left behind 70 degree weather with blue skies and low humidity and arrived to blast furnace-style heat complete with wet-rag/warm-towel humidity. Knowing it was only going to get hotter this week, I left my hotel early this morning and went downtown to spend a good amount of time around the Oklahoma City Memorial.
It was just over eleven years ago when the nutcase McVeigh (with help from others -- some caught, some not) blew the front off of the Murrah building killing 168 people and injuring 700 more. Where the building stood is now framed by two large, black memorial arches connected by a long eternity pool, a reflecting surface. Some of the walls of the Murrah building are as they were that day -- shattered, broken, rebar poking through ragged holes. A survivor tree is circled by a memorial to the responders -- professionals and average citizens -- who charged in again and again to find and save anyone caught inside.
A field of empty chairs is on the other side of the pool, 168 of them to represent those who died. It is an effective and moving monument. Frankly, I was unprepared to discover that people are still bringing flowers, leaving wreaths, notes, stuffed toys, and letters of love and loss at one end of the memorial. It was moving in a way that took me by surprise. I paid my $8 and went into the museum next door. It walks you through the opening hours of that day, shunts you into a room where you hear a recording of a water board meeting that was in session when the bomb went off. When the sound of the bomb comes over the tape, the lights dim and you hear the cries of people organizing each other in the midst of the unknown, looking for a way of escape.
As if the museum were not touching enough -- with its piles of keys, children's toys, shredded appointment books, shoes and briefcases -- there is also a traveling exhibit attached for a limited time. It is "Terror in America -- the enemy within." It would be easy to forget that we have always had terrorism in America. From anarchists (who killed two American presidents), German saboteurs, communist radicals, the Weather Underground, the Animal Liberation Front, and so on to the islamofascists and white power and black power advocates of today, this nation has always faced enemies from within and without.
And sometimes they leave 168 empty chairs.
Before I could descend into despair, though, I remembered last night. In the Judd theatre I spoke to an enthusiastic and tuned in crowd of teens. I can't remember the exact number I was told were in attendance but I believe it was.... 168. They sat there in chairs, singing praises to God, praying to Him, listening to my little set of stories about our reliance on Christ and salvation by grace. Afterwards, they came up and hugged me, smiling, full of life and hope and faith.
Empty chairs, made that way by a madman. Full chairs, made that way by faith.
He has not deserted us. He is not far from us. He walks with us, even in the shadow of grim arches and twisted rebar.... and faith rises up and fills the chairs again.