Violent Death and Hope in Oklahoma City [4-22-15]

Dear Friends:

On Sunday, April 19th, Oklahoma City remembered the horror of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in which 168 persons were killed, including 26 children, and another several hundred injured both in that building and in the surrounding buildings and spaces. But even in that remembering there was a defiant celebration of the city’s dogged refusal either to collapse from the staggering devastation and deaths or turn away from it in attempt to bury it in a forgotten past. Instead the city collectively saw to the care of the wounded and the burying of the dead and then set its mind on creating a different future in which terror and the horror of terror will neither be forgotten nor definitive of the city’s future.

In the coming years partisan politics faded as common aspirations took shape and a new vision of the city beckoned and pulled the politicians and the public into a heretofore unimagined future. The badly demolished Murrah Building was replaced with a grand memorial to the dead and injured and their surviving families that to this day is one of solemn dignity and hopefulness, called now the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. And as though a redemptive spirit was hovering over the downtown, new plans emerged and a new configuration of buildings and terrain slowly became a burgeoning downtown cosmos, including a clean river/lake/canal for boating and sports, a new baseball stadium and a coliseum for the wonderful Thunder pro-basketball team, at least one hundred new eating venues, and the construction of the Devon Tower—at 50 stories the tallest building in Oklahoma—and many other new and remodeled buildings and redesigned streets.   A metropolitan Oklahoma City emerged from the devastation!!

As many of my readers know, I was born and raised in Oklahoma City. The Murrah building was completed in 1977, and at that time my oldest brother, the Honorable Charles R. Jones, was serving as Federal Magistrate and moved into that new building. That was the time in which the Democrats controlled the state governance and Democratic senators and congressman brought many federal investments to the state and was responsible for the erection of the new Murrah building. Another Democratic project transformed eastern Oklahoma into a green bonanza of new lakes and the Kerr-McClellan canal from Tulsa to the Mississippi. While the benefits of these federal investments are daily enjoyed by tens of thousands every day, most have forgotten their origin in a cooperative relationship between the state and the federal government.

To this day I remain a steadfast Oklahoman. Yet as I now stand in admiration of the bipartisan character of the rebuilding and expansion of downtown Oklahoma City, the state has now slipped into the governing hands a right-wing Republican Party whose rhetoric is filled with daily denunciations of the federal government and affirming adamantly the right to own guns and bear arms to protect ourselves from that federal government. This rhetoric is incessant and without significant public opposition.

Hence, it might appear to be a betrayal for me to even mention that Timothy McVeigh—the bomber—understood himself as an enemy of the federal government and armed with the political right to express such by bombing and slaughtering utterly innocent occupants—from the day-care infants to the various federal employees and visitors. Yes, McVeigh placed the bomb at a federal building. It now seems that so many of us are armed with weapons that our streets are daily filled with the blaze of gunfire, from the police and the citizens. The mindset of Timothy McVeigh stalks the streets and lingers among the habitats of my dear Oklahoma City. But do not mention such in polite company.

In the remembering the cowardly bombing of the innocent, it is right that we should also remember the rhetoric that loaded his bomb-ware and parked the truck in front of the most prominent federal building in Oklahoma—that rhetoric is echoing again and again in our taken-for-granted right-wing discourse full of hate and mean-spiritedness.

In my local congregation on Sunday we struggled to remember the innocent victims and to embrace the stout and admirable ways in which the city was memorializing the terrible deaths—desperately trying to move beyond the terror of a vicious terrorist—when a pastoral assistant stood before us and raised a profoundly courageous and devout prayer to the Triune God of judgment and grace and hope. It moved me deeply. I hope some of my Oklahoma readers also heard Christianly meaningful prayers that day.



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Reader Responses

Keith Watkins

responded on 04/23/15

Joe, this is the best thing I’ve seen on the Oklahoma remembrance and the way it highlights the terrible and wrong-headed, wrong-spirited nature of political discourse in our time. Keith

Charles Ragland

responded on 04/23/15

Joe, thank you for this timely and thoughtful piece. Obviously, you intend it to be thoroughly read and thoughtfully considered by those whose true Savior and Lord is Jesus Christ—and none other. Those who find their salvation elsewhere and pledge their allegiance to the principalities and powers will have the greatest difficulty comprehending the trajectory of your truthfully provocative words. 

Kent Dorsey

responded on 04/29/15

Joe, the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday is the “true vine” description of our savior and our discipleship.  Your words are pastoral, wise and graceful, but your use of the word “betrayal” was a reminder that we have many branches - political and Christian - that claim “true” status, which are severed branches from the root of American democracy and the root of Christianity.  I remember arguing against the death penalty when that phase of Timothy McVeigh’s trial came around and feeling the Judas at the time. I knew no victims and have wondered if I would have felt differently if someone I loved had died that senseless death.  But, I’m guessing there are many survivors who, like you, have noticed the toxicity of the “rhetoric” in many state capitals and officials.  Thanks for putting it in words for the rest of us.

Sara Masters

responded on 04/30/15

I enjoyed your thought provoking comments on the Murrah bombing subsequent bipartisan cooperation and progress made.  It seems that disaster brings us all together but how soon we forget and fall back into bickering and dissent.  The apathy felt by so many towards “politics as usual” will continue as long as this continues.  I also agree…weapons are not the answer.  The weapons mindset is a problem.