I still cannot comprehend these facts three weeks after it all began.
About 9:00 PM, Monday, May 6, Tim Bosma of Ancaster, Ontario, and lifelong member of Ancaster CRC, took a test drive in his seven-year old Dodge pickup. With him were two young men who saw the ad, called Tim and drove to his rural home. Young men do this all the time. Tim told his wife Sharlene he’d be back soon.
But Tim did not return. Three days later a 27 year old man was arrested and charged with forcible confinement and theft over $5000. A week of intensive police work and huge community social networking resulted in terrible news. The Hamilton Police announced that Tim’s burned body had been found. The charge was now first degree murder.
On Wednesday May 22 Tim’s astonishingly courageous family held a public memorial in the hall where Tim and Sharlene celebrated their wedding three years ago. At least 1500 people attended, many others being turned away. Two weeks earlier no one, certainly not Tim’s family, could have dreamed of attending that service. Afterwards the family learned that another man, 25 years old, had been arrested and charged. Police are still searching for a third suspect.
All that has been playing in my head for three weeks like a wicked song I can’t turn off. I don’t recall any event, pleasant or dreadful, ever before churning for so long. I can hardly begin to imagine the turmoil of Tim’s friends and family.
My response is not unique. Thousands of people far from Tim’s circles remain haunted by this cruel jumble of memories and feelings. Extensive and remarkably sensitive media coverage (Christian Courier and Challies.com) of his terrible ordeal has only now faded from print, radio and television news.
Why does this young man’s death and his family’s grief make such a deep impact on so many who never knew Tim? Perhaps because, as Tim’s widow Sharlene so poignantly put it at the memorial, Tim was so ordinary. Yet after unspeakable cruelty ended his life and shattered his wife and two year old daughter’s lives without warning or sense, every ordinary person who has heard about this surely thinks: “That could be my husband, son, brother, cousin, uncle, friend—or me.”
So now confusion still ebbs and flows in our minds. Everybody, Christian believer or not, who has heard of Tim is now tied to the Bosmas. Tim’s memorial service was live-streamed, turning a family and church community event into a far-reaching, heart-rending public lament that honestly mourned Tim, yet also gave expression to somber hope. Still we wonder, “How can Tim’s family and community even begin to cope with such madness?”
Pop psychology tells us, “one step at a time, one day at a time.” That is meaningless, because no one knows where that first step will start. Regardless, the minds and hearts of desperate people, many without spiritual convictions or religious habits, turn to God (or gods) asking the unanswerable “Why?”
So that is where we start, because that question links us in a universal human community to which we belong whether we realize that or not. That common link prodded faith communities all over the world (USA, Australia, The Netherlands and more) to do what comes naturally to confused and spiritually wrung out people: they hold sober times of prayer and invite everyone.
Without claiming special grief, our congregation, Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, was reeling perhaps a little more than most after Tim’s death; his sister Michelle and family are long-time members. I was honoured to baptize three of Michelle and Doug’s four children. Both extended families attended the baptisms. I surely met Tim on those occasions, but do not remember exactly.
For those elemental reasons our staff obeyed what I take as the Holy Spirit’s urging to hold a simple prayer vigil after hearing of Tim’s death. We decided to develop a service of lament. It did not take long to choose Psalm 88, the most desolate song in the Bible, as the service theme. Our staff sent invitations to neighbouring churches: “7:30 PM, Thursday, May 16—prayer vigil in solidarity with Tim Bosma’s family.” We had no idea who would attend, though we knew why anyone would: We all needed an opportunity to gather in our bewilderment and sadness.
Somehow on Wednesday our city newspaper had learned that Tim’s sister was a member. Karena Walter, St. Catharines Standard reporter, called the church, noticeably affected by the story she was covering. “Our whole newsroom is stunned. We wonder what can we do to help? Is your church doing anything?” I told her about Thursday’s service. “Is it open to anyone?” “Of course.” Two hours later she posted an article on the paper’s website highlighting the service, inviting the community.
The next evening, around 300 people entered the sanctuary somberly, expectantly, but for what no one really knew. Michelle, Doug and their two oldest daughters attended, bravely sitting in the front row, attention riveted, tears flowing often. After brief announcements, we opened with God’s Greeting and asked people to greet each other. Several prayers by Rich Loerop, a pastor colleague, gave opportunity for reflection and silence. A teacher from the local Christian school read three stanzas from “A Communal Lament (Psalter Hymnal, #576). Our gifted pianist led the haunting “Blessed Be Your Name” (Matt Redmond), evoking from the congregation not only sadness, but also a moving, though mournful celebration of Tim’s life lived—and ended—in God’s mysterious embrace.
My meditation on Psalm 88 was one of the few times I spoke without notes. Psalm 88 is so utterly bereft of hope. The writer accuses God of just not being around when it counts; finally claiming “the darkness is my closest friend.” Yet his words also bespeak such an intimate relationship with this absent God that he prays despite his accusation of divine absence.
That is faith—being foolish for God, believing when that seems the craziest response. That is the faith that sustains Sharlene and Tim’s family for now. That is the faith that moved Tim’s sister Michelle to declare through tears at the memorial that “this will not break up our family." That is the faith that strengthened the Bosmas’ pastor, John Veenstra, to attend Sharlene and the Bosmas so honestly and faithfully. That is the faith that prodded Jen Slocum, a singer-song writer from Hamilton, now living in Alabama, to write “Prayer for the Broken Heart” for Sharlene.
So, finally, to try to answer Karena Walter’s question, “Is your church doing anything,” the only response I—and more churches and people than I could ever count—can give is this: “We’re praying and believing despite doubt, anger and suffering.” And that’s the way it’s going to be until Jesus returns.