Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cicero, Springsteen, and Common Grace

Expectant mother Amanda Blackburn was murdered at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 10, as she protected her infant son from a violent home invader.  Her husband, Pastor Davey Blackburn, has released a beautiful statement.  The Indianapolis Star has details of the crime.

This is but one more instance of senseless violence.  One.  More.  Instance.

The Roman orator Cicero closed one of his earliest speeches with these words:

Nam cum omnibus horis aliquid atrociter fieri videmus aut audimus, etiam qui natura mitissimi sumus adsiduitate molestiarum sensum omnem humanitiatis ex animis amittimus.  (Pro Roscio, 154)

"For when at every hour we see or hear some atrocity taking place, even those of us who are by nature most gentle, by growing accustomed to the violence, lose all sense of humanity from our souls."

Yet today in this city that wakes up to the news of one more mother killed, one more unborn baby murdered, we will go about our business.  I will teach my classes.  Baristas will serve coffee.  Doctors will heal, officers will help, and lawn care crews will rid homes of unwanted fall leaves.

How is this possible?

Bruce Springsteen once wondered the same thing in song.  After he recounts various mundane tragedies in the verses, he sings in the chorus, "Struck me kinda funny.  Seems kinda funny, sir, to me.  At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe."

How is this possible?

Some of the students at our school, one of the largest public high schools in Indiana, have faced horrors no one, certainly no child, should ever face.  These pictures and words from our English Language Learners currently on display tell part of their story.

How is this possible?  How can these children survive such atrocities and not, as Cicero had it, lose all sense of humanity from their souls?  Sadly, some do lose their humanity, but most do not.  Most, in Springsteen's words, find some reason to believe and to carry on.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:45.  "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."  (ESV)  There is a common grace that allows us to endure.  It gives us a reason to believe and, for those who would "rage against the dying of the light" and would not lose all sense of humanity from their souls, to keep going.

As these thoughts were running through my mind while I walked the halls before the start of school, I was reminded of how important it is that I love my students well.  I must provide an environment for grace to flourish.  I do this in part by treating my students with respect, by enjoying them and the things they do, and by creating a positive atmosphere in my class.  I also do it by striving along with them to achieve the greatest rigor in our subject.  We work hard because our subject matters and they matter.  We correct mistakes.  We do not flinch from academic difficulties.  We conduct class this way because to do other would be to cheapen the experience and to say that they are not worthy of the best in human endeavor.  This would truly be a loss of humanity, and it is something grace will not allow.


  1. Your post brings tears to my eyes for so many reasons…but mainly because of my joy that we do carry on. One of my college roomies and sorority sisters passed Tuesday night after a long battle with cancer leaving behind – among others – a husband and three elementary aged children. I know they will carry on because of their love for Gail – wife and mother – but my thoughts sure do keep wondering to them hoping they okay at that very moment…

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Traci. Such moments are never pleasant, but as I have shared with students many times, they are the reason we have art and literature and music. Knowing that others have gone through the same experiences and have presented them in one of the arts can be a great source of comfort. We do not avoid our pain, nor do we grotesquely embrace and allow it to define us. We encounter it, boldly, and with the help of others.

  2. Your words bring comfort , hopefully to draw on in these troubling times . Thank you , from a grumpy ole vet


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