"And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten." (Exodus 13:3)
This month of April 2014 has been marked by probably the most intense focusing on the Boston Marathon (here in Massachusetts, particularly) that I can ever remember. It was exciting that the race took place on Monday, April 21 without any negative incidents taking place. During the 1990s and the 2000s I missed very few Boston Marathons. In that era, I had Patriots' Day off. I'd set up my outdoor chair in front of Dunkin' Donuts on Route 135/Waverly Street in Framingham, and I'd spend several hours watching the race and cheering on the participants. It was always very exciting; really watching those Marathons was a big highlight of each year. Now that I have a secular job which usually requires me to work on Patriots Day, I can only slip out to watch the race for about twenty minutes or so. I was glad to make one of those "cameo appearances" on Monday. There definitely seemed to be more crowds in downtown Framingham than usually showed up for the Marathon in the past, and the atmosphere was just electric with excitement and enthusiasm.
Now that we've gotten past the one year anniversary of the 2013 bombings and past the running of the 2014 Marathon, there has been some discussion about the slogan "Boston Strong" and whether it's time to retire it. Some folks feel (no pun intended) that the use of the "Boston Strong" slogan has run it's course and that it's been way overused. Others feel it's a great slogan and should continue to be proclaimed and promoted. One Boston news commentator (Jon Keller of WBZ) has written a short piece in favor of not retiring "Boston Strong". Another radio personality (Bradley Jay, also of WBZ) has weighed in, saying he would not completely eliminate it, but that it has been very much misused, and that the commercialization and trivialization of "Boston Strong" is something that needs to stop. He'd like to see the "Boston Strong" slogan narrowly used in the future, with the focus being on the Marathon first responders and heroes of the 2013 Marathon. One male caller to WBZ's overnight "Bradley Jay Show" said that while he has a "Boston Strong" tee-shirt, in the future he intends to wear it only on Patriots' Day/Marathon Day to honor and remember the heroes and victims of the 2013 Marathon bombings.
I last wrote about "Boston Strong" on my blog almost a year ago when the slogan was new. At that time, some of my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters had posted opinion pieces on-line in strong opposition to the slogan. They believed "Boston Strong" was a statement of great arrogance, pride, and independence that was at best inappropriate and at worst sinful. I wrote my piece to say that I did not agree with those sentiments. I felt (and still do) that "Boston Strong" was part of a healing process- it was like the people of Boston (and really all of eastern and central Massachusetts) saying, "We're hurting, we're in pain, this is very difficult, but we're not giving up, and we're going to get through this, and we're believing there's a good future ahead for us." In my piece from last spring, I did frankly admit that maybe "Boston Strong" (which could come across as arrogant) was not the very best slogan to have chosen, and that perhaps a better one could have emerged after careful thought; but that now that it was the slogan, I was pretty much O.K. with it.
A year ago, I never imagined how pervasive "Boston Strong" would become! In walking through shopping malls and public places in Massachusetts you see it everywhere. "Boston Strong" is on tee-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, and even an occasional tattoo! It's also found its way into corporate advertising. Just yesterday as a Pepsi truck drove by I noticed that "Boston Strong" lettering was displayed on the truck along with the usual Pepsi corporate advertising. If you do an on-line search for "Boston Strong" the first links that come up are those to buy "Boston Strong" merchandise. Now, I know that in many cases, the proceeds of the "Boston Strong" merchandise go to charities; but the whole merchandising thing frankly leaves a sour taste with me.
I am mindful of what happened with the whole "W.W.J.D." emphasis of the late 1990s. You may recall that "W.D.J.D." stands for "What Would Jesus Do?" Many of those reading this piece probably do not know the origin of that question or of what the promoters of the "W.W.J.D." bumper stickers and tee-shirts were really trying to accomplish. Believe it or not, "W.W.J.D." comes from an 1896 novel by the Rev. Charles Sheldon. The novel is entitled, "In His Steps". I've read "In His Steps" a couple of times. The book is a fairly easy read with a very positive and challenging message. In the story, the minister of a medium-sized Protestant church in a small mid-western city challenges his congregation to take one year of their lives and for that year endeavor to live as much like Jesus Christ would want them to live. Prior to any major decision, and really prior to many minor decisions, as well, they are to ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?" and then act accordingly. As I recall, not everyone in the church congregation makes this commitment, but the majority do. Such radical Christian discipleship radically impacts and changes the church and the city! The newspaper editor asks the question when trying to consider whether Jesus would want the results of a big prizefight published, and he leaves it out of the paper! All sorts of matters like that take place. People who previously ignored the poor and needy now have their consciences pricked and begin to help them. The way people spend their leisure time and their family time radically changes. For them, Christianity became something they were living out at all times and not merely a matter for Sundays or special occasions.
Yes, that's challenging! Would Jesus drive like a maniac down Interstate 95 cutting in and out of traffic even if late for a meeting? Probably not! Would Jesus work "under the table" or cheat when filling out a 1040 tax form? Definitely not! Would the twelve-year-old Jesus who taught the scholars in the Temple become physically intimate with a middle-school girlfriend? Or, would Jesus use illegal drugs? What do you think?! Would Jesus be a "saint" in church on Sunday morning but live like the devil on Saturday night? Of course not!
Back in the 1990s, the intent of promoting the slogan was to accomplish what Charles Sheldon tried to accomplish with his novel. Regrettably, "W.W.J.D." became so commercialized and trivialized that it became a common butt of jokes on sit-coms and late night talk shows. Ultimately, nobody took it seriously. The intent was good, but the outcome was horrible.
I see a definite parallel with "Boston Strong". I think radio's Bradley Jay is onto something with this. I would also like to see companies stop using "Boston Strong" for promotional purposes; and I'd prefer that the shirts and caps be reserved for Patriots' Day and for events that honor first responders and victims of the 2013 bombings and their families. (I chose the above Bible verse about Passover because it was a once a year remembering of Israel's miraculous exodus from Egypt. Passover was remembered once a year- not trivialized by being done all the time, and not forgotten, either. I think that's how it should be with "Boston Strong".)
Finally, would Jesus' wear a "Boston Strong" tee-shirt or cap anytime and anyplace? Well, I'll let you think and pray about that one.
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