Over the past two years my understanding of this case has evolved. I initially thought Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was guilty of participation against his will in the Boston Marathon bombing. I now believe him to be innocent and his participation fabricated by forces beyond his control. I just wanted to be clear on that from the outset.
When Rolling Stone magazine published the first in-depth expose about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, many never read it. They couldn’t get past the fact of his attractive picture on its cover. I was not one of those people.
I’d never met Dzhokhar, never knew he existed until his likeness was splashed all over the news, post-bombing. When I heard the announcement that Rolling Stone would publish an in-depth article about the accused, I was immediately anxious to read it.
That story connected all the dots for me in a deeply personal way. What I read spoke volumes about Dzhokhar. Here was yet another sad illustration of what lack of love, emotional suffering, poverty and godlessness can cause in a life. It reminded me of my own. I felt I had gained an understanding of how Dzhokhar could be caught up in a horrible crime that did not fit with his character or his ideology. I felt his hopelessness. I grieved for him even as I grieved for the victims.
I do not believe eyewitnesses exist in this case. There was simply too much attention focused on the finish line for anyone to have seen whodunit. That explains why victims told of how they suffered in lieu of actual eyewitnesses giving factual accounts of who and what they saw that caused the explosions.
I do not believe clearly incriminating video exists. If video had caught the perpetrator or perpetrators in the act, we would certainly have seen it at trial and on You Tube, Fox and CNN. We did not.
Fingerprint evidence did not point to Dzhokhar. And we still do not know where or by whom the bombs were made. That’s basically the whole case, so many of us are still asking who and how and yes – why.
Yet Dzhokhar remains in solitary confinement tonight, convicted of bombing the Boston Marathon, causing death, dismemberment and tragic loss to a multitude of innocent people. And he has been sentenced to death for those crimes. Twelve people concluded that it is an acceptable and just response to end his life by a lethal injection. The court thanked them for their service in pursuit of that sentence.
Their decision was made based on an almost complete lack of evidence. Many of my fellow Americans are just fine with this. I can’t be on Twitter for long without being aware of how much this young man is hated. I have learned the definition of shill and troll firsthand. And I have become prolific with Twitter’s blocking feature.
I could live the rest of my life not knowing the answer to most of the why’s in this tragedy. I really could. Because, you see, I am like most people: if it didn’t happen to me, I can forget, given enough time.
We humans eventually go back to our own lives. The relative quietness on Twitter, now that the trial is over, attests to that. Bills have to be paid, kids have to be raised, houses have to be cleaned. Stuff happens, and then happens again, and soon three years have passed… then five…
But there was one “why” I had to have answered. It was not really a “why” about anything to do with the case. It was not a “why” that any man could answer for me. It was a “why” about Dzhokhar’s life – and about my own. It was a “why” only God could answer.
And I have some good news: He did.
You may not like what I claim God told me. You may write me off as a nut for saying I hear from God in the first place. I’m fine with that.
“When heaven is about to confer a great office on a man it always first exercises his mind and soul with suffering, and his body to hunger, and exposes him to extreme poverty and baffles all his undertakings. By these means it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and enables him to do acts otherwise not possible to him.”
Mencius was a Chinese philosopher who lived about a hundred years after Confucius. The above quote is from him. I read it in a very old, out of print book the library finally located for me. I was lying in the sun on Daytona Beach. The year was 1983. I was twenty-five years old.
My mom was visiting me from Ohio and I was glad to see her. At that particular time in my life, I once again found myself living in severe emotional pain. As usual, I kept this fact to myself.
When something moves me, it stays with me. I’ve said that before in a previous blog post. The words of Mencius moved me to tears. I was glad no one noticed. Thank God for sunglasses and big hats.
I cried silent tears on the beach that day because the quote went through me like a knife. I suddenly knew, in the deepest part of my being, that a great destiny awaited me and that the years of suffering were preparation. I hoped it would end soon. I didn’t know how much more preparation I could take.
Being that I was a nobody from nowhere, I couldn’t imagine exactly what great thing I might someday put my hand to. And I was way off on the timing of this destiny’s arrival in my life. Way, way off.
On April 15, 2013 two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I saw it on the news and followed the developments almost non-stop.
It wasn’t as if I had anything else to do. I was jobless and homeless. My room at a rundown, dangerous extended stay hotel had become my world.
I had been in preparation for my great destiny for a very long time now and I was tired. In fact, I no longer cared if or strongly believed that a great destiny awaited me. The words of Mencius had long-since been forgotten. Or so I thought…
So much had happened over the years, most of it painful, all of it challenging. I was a mess, a broken vessel, useless, defeated, a failure in my own eyes.
My season of preparation was coming to an end.
“I could go on and on about the shit that my life became but it would serve no purpose. It is what it is. That saying ‘Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it’ is true. And I have spent more than enough time responding in unhelpful ways to the 10% of crap that made up my life.”
I wrote that in a letter to Dzhokhar. Towards the end of my season of preparation, I would need to remember I said that.
It isn’t necessary to relate what happened. It doesn’t really matter now. What matters is how I responded.
It had been three days since “the event” that rocked my world. I was driving, feeling nothing. I had said very little since getting the news. I was still stunned, still reeling. I couldn’t even connect with the anger I knew had to be rolling around somewhere inside me. I think this is called being in a state of shock.
It was probably not the best time to be behind the wheel, but being alone in a car is a good place to talk to God. After three days of giving Him and everyone else the silent treatment, I was ready.
“You know Lord, I gotta tell You… I don’t really want to trust You anymore.” (Pause) “In fact, to be honest, (deep breath) I don’t really want to walk with You anymore.”
I drove on a short distance before concluding “But once you’ve tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, THERE’S NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!!!”
Out came the tears, non-stop. And as I continued to cry, it happened: A deep knowing hit me like a wave. I knew, in that moment, I had passed some kind of test that was unlike all the others. Something changed, something shifted on the inside of me. I would never walk away from God. I was His, no matter what He allowed to happen in my life.
God had always known what was inside me. Now I knew it too. The season of preparation was nearly over; this was a turning point. It wasn’t the end of attacks, setbacks and painful valleys to walk through, not by a long shot. But that event and my response to it was a watershed moment in my life. It was one of those moments that will forever define who I am. And for whatever lies ahead in my life, I know I will need it.
Last week I found myself googling some topic that led to another topic that led to another. You know the drill. I don’t remember what prompted the internet searches, but I do remember what I found. I found the answer to my question of “why.”
Why did it seem that some people, like Dzhokhar, like me, were born only to know pain, suffering, failure, lack? Why was the deck forever stacked against me, against him, no matter how hard we tried, no matter how good we were? Why, God, do You allow this in the lives of some?
“The word apostle in the Greek is apostollos or “one sent forth” as an ambassador of the Gospel. An apostle is a minister sent directly by God to do a specific work. A number of the saints of God and even Jesus himself were called apostles in the New Testament.” (From: What is an Apostle? By Michael Clark)
And from my second google search:
“So where does this leave you in the Lord’s plan? To begin with, I would like to make it clear that the call to the apostolic ministry does not come in a grand announcement where all of the world can see it.
It comes as it did for a shepherd boy tending his father’s sheep. Yes, just like David was anointed in secret, so also are the end times apostles being selected and called out even now in secret.
So the first sign with which you can confirm your calling is to identify when the Lord first called you to be an apostle. It was likely at a time when you were at your lowest and when you least expected it. Yet no matter when the call came, it has become a conviction in you!”
(My call came on that beach in Daytona, thirty-two years before I did the internet searches that produced what I share here today. The information in this section comes from a website I found for Apostolic Movement International. It is based on the article “Signs of Apostolic Calling” by Colette Toach. It is interspersed by comments of my own.)
FIRST MARKER: PERSONAL CONVICTION
“Until you have that inner conviction you will never have what it takes to endure the preparation and training that waits for you. It is not enough to hope or to guess or to rely on the revelations of others. No, you must know in your own heart that God has called you to be an apostle. This kind of calling does not happen by chance and you cannot make such a calling up. You cannot hope to be an apostle and you cannot try to be an apostle. You are either called or you are not. When you have that conviction, nothing will move you. No amount of rejection will deter you, no amount of failure will phase you and no amount of fire will consume you. You will know what you are and you will know what you are called to be.”
SECOND MARKER: CONFIRMATION You will receive confirmation from others that supports the conviction you already carry inside of you.
THIRD MARKER: IDENTIFYING WITH THE TEN SIGNS OF APOSTOLIC CALLING:
1. Set Apart: You can no longer see yourself as a regular churchgoer. Another fire burns in you and you will indeed find yourself separated. You always find yourself on the outskirts of church fellowship and standing outside of the boundaries of “how things are done” in the local church. You are not complacent or satisfied with how the church is run and you burn with a greater vision. This discontentment is what sets you apart. If you were content with the way things were and you were accepted by the majority, then you would not be separated would you? I am afraid that this is a great price for one to be called an apostle and if you find yourself having a need to be accepted or recognized, then you are about to find out that being ‘separated’ is part and parcel of the apostolic calling.
2. Spiritual Entrepreneur: Even amongst the apostles of his time, Paul was always different, he stood apart. He was indeed a spiritual entrepreneur who did things differently! He had a vision that the others did not and this is one sign that is prevalent in all who are called to the apostolic ministry. Your ideas might not always work out, but you are always coming up with new concepts and new patterns. You have an idea in your mind at all times of what you would do ‘if you were in charge’ and when given the opportunity you would turn things upside down! An apostle is not only willing to take chances, but he is also willing to change. Just as Paul was willing to leave his entire Jewish heritage behind and mingle with gentiles, so will you as an apostle be called to change and to rock the boat when everyone has just become comfortable.
3. Called by Jesus: If you have had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus and received your calling from Him directly, then you can identify with this sign. If Paul had not received that miraculous call on the way to Damascus, he would not ever have known what he was. Before that time he really thought that he was doing the work of the Lord. Before that he felt that he was being the best Jew that he could be. How misdirected he was! He was correct in knowing that he was called, but not until his conversion did he know his place and purpose. So you too need such a call before your apostolic training can begin. This call might in fact usher you directly into apostolic training.
4. Early Call: When exactly does the Lord call the apostle? Well in Paul’s case, he was called from the womb. At first glance this seems like a strange comment. If you take a look at Paul’s life, you will note that for the first part of it, he persecuted (read that, murdered) the Christians! He was very far from being an instrument in the Lord’s hand. Yet even in his sin, Paul hungered for God. Even as he persecuted the Christians, he did it in zeal for the Lord. If you can identify a hunger for the things of God from a young age, then this too is just one sign of an apostolic calling. You might not have had a full knowledge of God or understood what was happening, but even in your heart as a child, you hungered for God and sought after him.
5. Trained in Secret: There is this misconception in the church that the call to apostleship is one of glory and of fame when in fact, the complete opposite is true! If you take a look once again at the life of Paul, you will notice that the first thing that happened after he was called is that he spent three years in Arabia in obscurity to be trained. Paul was not the only one who was trained in secret. You hear nothing of Jesus until He was already trained and ready to implement his mandate. David was sent to the wilderness and poor Moses to the backside of the desert. Thousands of years later the same principles are still being applied by the Holy Spirit and so as one called to the apostolic ministry you will find the foundation of your calling in obscurity. Now this can be particularly hard for someone who has a desperate need for recognition, but until you have been trained in secret, you will not be ready to rise up in the public eye.
6. Rejection and Opposition: (My personal favorite of all the signs – not!) The call to apostleship is birthed in the crucible of rejection and it is wrought in the fire of opposition. Rejection and opposition are the spiritual weights that strengthen the apostle. As he pits his conviction and spiritual strength against all that comes his way, he finds himself standing to overcome storm after storm. Facing and overcoming the rejection and opposition is what will make you fit for the Master’s use. So if you are facing rejection and opposition from your family, church and friends because of your calling and all your ‘new ideas’ then rejoice! Not only is it a confirmation of your apostolic calling but it is a tool in the hand of God to forge you into the apostle that He has called you to be.
7. Called To Forsake Everything: There are many who would proudly confess that they are willing to be a martyr as Stephen was for the Lord, yet when the same kind of person is asked of the Lord to give up their bitterness, their material possessions or even a relationship, suddenly the price is too high! You will find that the call to apostleship will cost you more than just your life. It will cost you your family, friends, material possessions, and even your country. Paul knew this well and the greatest price for him was to let go of his achievements and great learning. Just as Paul had to give up everything for the sake of the call, so also will you be called to give all up for the calling on your life. It will never be said that you rose up because of your great abilities or your great learning. At times you might not have understood this and thought the Lord unfair. Perhaps you were tricked out of privileges or lost honor that you really deserved. If so, then rejoice, for it is another sign that God has called you as an apostle and that His hand has been on you to prepare you.
8. Suffering For the Call: It is difficult to understand why suffering must come for the calling on your life when those around you are affected. (How well I remember the day my own daughter made the innocent comment that maybe our lives would have been easier if I had done a little more backing down when we were attacked by this or that.) Because of the suffering that Paul had to endure, those under him were consoled because he faced suffering for them. Just as Jesus went to the cross and faced death for us, so also will you be called time and time again to face sufferings and to overcome them for the sake of others. The Lord has chosen you as His vessel and to be effective you need to have the life-changing answers that will revolutionize the church. That kind of wisdom and those kinds of answers can only come to you in one way… through sufferings. So if you have faced more hard times than the average believer and you seem to experience one wave of difficulty after the next, then rejoice! For this is another sign that you are called to the apostolic ministry and it is also the tool of the Lord to prepare you to be effective in ministry!
9. Call to Leadership: Paul was never satisfied to be a follower. A leader will do things differently and will not be afraid to do so. A true leader is one that takes responsibility for his actions and the actions of others. Paul was such a leader and never forgot his failures and successes. The Lord could use Paul because he was willing to follow the Lord instead of man. Are you the kind of person that has never been content with following? Perhaps you are always asking questions and looking for the truth for yourself. This is another sign of your apostolic calling. The apostle seeks to know the truth for himself. He does not just accept anything everyone says, but listens and then seeks his own revelation and conviction. The leadership qualities in the apostle in preparation might not be easy to see from the outside at first.
10. Has A Pattern – The Old to the New: The apostle has the ability to see the flaws in the old church structure, desiring to usher it unto the new. The apostle is as a master builder who will look at a structure and notice all its weak points. If you find yourself going to church services and noticing its cracks and flaws, then this too is a strong apostolic orientation. The apostle does not try to be out of order, but he simply sees things in the church system that others do not. You are always wanting to let the people of God know that there is a Promised Land where things are different! You desire to show them a better way and a new building that does not have the flaws of the old.
Why did I bother sharing all this that some of you may have found long and maybe a little boring? Here’s why: I believe it explains the life I have led and the life I am entering into. I also believe it explains the path that Dzhokhar’s life has taken. I believe this young man, who may or may not still claim to be a Muslim, is being pursued by the God I love and serve. I believe Dzhokhar will come to know Jesus from the confines of his jail cell and that he will need no one to make the introduction. Jesus will do that Himself, most likely in a very dramatic way that Dzhokhar will not be able to stop talking about.
At the appointed time, I believe God will expose and is even now beginning to expose the truth regarding the Boston Marathon bombing and the crimes that came after. I believe Dzhokhar will eventually be exonerated and released from prison. I do not believe he will be executed or that he will emerge from solitary confinement as a mad man. I believe he will emerge a free man when his own apostolic training in obscurity is complete and he is ready for ministry.
Remember the post on this blog titled “David, Goliath and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?” Throughout that post I repeated “Because of all I have been through and how it has shaped me, I am unafraid to stand up in support of you and advocate on your behalf.”
When Dzhokhar is released, he will have a place in my family, in my home, as my son, if he wants it. This has been in my heart since the early days following the bombing. It frightened me at first, sounding crazy even to my own ears.
With my new understanding of apostolic ministry, it no longer does. In fact, it sounds like the destiny for which I have been in training all these years. If I am right, it will all have been worth it. And if I am wrong, it will all have been worth it.
There are many logistics that would have to be worked out in order for this vision to be fulfilled. Be assured that, if God is in this, He is at work on those logistics.