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A Menno Minute - Our Human Vulnerability

posted 29 Jan 2020, 17:44 by June Miller, MCA Communications   [ updated 29 Jan 2020, 18:22 ]

A Menno Minute

by Caleb Kowalko, Pastor at Calgary First Mennonite Church

Our Human Vulnerability

I was just about to collect my things from my office after church when I overheard the very sad news.  One of our church youth, following close behind me on the stairs, informed their mom, “Kobe Bryant just died in a helicopter crash.”  Like many who first heard the news,  I thought it must be some kind of joke or prank.  But when I went to my phone, sure enough, officials were reporting about the very real tragedy in Southern California.

Most people who know me recognize that I am a very big basketball fan - more-so than the average Canadian, I suppose.  Although I usually thought of Kobe Bryant as a villain (he always beat my favourite teams), I found myself on Sunday in complete shock.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.  The sad news didn’t stop with Kobe, as it was later reported that his daughter and seven others died in the crash.

Kobe Bryant was a legend, someone that a whole generation of basketball fans looked up to - they wanted to be just like him.  He was world renown.  He made history.  So how could he die so young (at only 41 years of age)?!  How could he die like this?!  He was supposed to be beyond these kinds of seemingly random and meaningless tragedies that afflict us human beings.  It would have been less surprising to so many if Kobe Bryant stood up from the wreckage without a scratch.  Because he was more than human.  In the words of sports writer Tommy Ross, Kobe was a “basketball god.”

Far be it from me to try to make sense of this, or any other seemingly random tragedy that has taken lives.  In moments like this, I do my best to resist that ever-so tempting, yet dead-end question, “why?”  But like so many other tragedies that I have witnessed in my life or in the news, it does cause me to reflect on that quintessential feature of our humanity: our vulnerability. 

Among so many other things, humans are vulnerable.  We trip, we get hurt, we fall ill, we get into accidents, we age, and so on.  Much of what we have tried to do in the modern west has been to overcome that vulnerability because for the most part, we hate our vulnerability.  Or at least, we are taught to hate our vulnerability.  So we try to overcome it.  We try to not be vulnerable.  We try to escape our humanity.  And for the most part, we assume that what it takes to escape this very human vulnerability is to reach a status not unlike that of Kobe Bryant.

But it turns out that Kobe was still human - a creature.  Despite his status near the pinnacle of Olympus,  he was still human.  Despite the glory of his fame, championships, records and awards, Kobe was still human.  And if there is a particularly Christian way to reflect on this tragedy of that helicopter crash on Sunday, it might be as a reminder that our human vulnerability cannot be escaped. 

But rather than this recognition drawing us towards a paralyzing fear, or perhaps looking to the latest technology that will surely save us from our human vulnerability, a Christian response has been to direct that vulnerability in a life-giving direction: in turning our dependence upon our Creator.   In fact, our God did not seem to think that this vulnerability was something that needed to be escaped but actually chose to enter into it joyfully.  

Our vulnerability is not a sin - something that needs to be escaped.  We claim that God created our vulnerability and intended that it be one of the things that would draw us towards God.  This doesn’t mean we are not to be careful in our lives.  It doesn’t mean we are to be reckless.  But we acknowledge our vulnerability is an important and beautiful part of what makes us human.

God did not want Kobe Bryant or any of the other eight individuals to die in that crash.  Those nine people were God’s beloved creatures.  And our God desires life not death.  So it is right to grieve and mourn when tragedy strikes anywhere, and especially close to home.  But it is my hope that our own human vulnerability is never the thing that causes us to lose faith.  God’s work in our world is never to eliminate our vulnerability - to save us from our own humanity.  Rather, God’s work is to be the completion of that vulnerability in communion with us  -  the Creator and the creature together again.