I don't care too much for fireworks. I mentioned this to friends last Saturday and one of them audibly gasped. Look, I know Canada Day is all about heading down to the water to sit among the masses and enjoy the fireworks, those dazzling streaks of fire that flash and shimmer through the summer night and then fade into smoke. I'm no stranger to fireworks.
Many a summer in BC, I would make the long commute downtown, along with thousands of other people, to stake a spot at English Bay and wait for hours until the sun finally dipped below the horizon. And of course the display would be magical. But when the last of the colourful flames dwindled into the dark sky, there my friends and I were -- stuck among hordes of people and clouds of marijuana fumes. And then all of us would make the slow trek uphill, back to the nearest Skytrain station (or not the nearest if you were trying to be smart) to join the massive line-ups encircling the station. Inevitably, there would be rowdy, inebriated young people and it was not too uncommon to avoid flying beer bottles and street fights. Maybe post-firework pandemonium is primarily a Vancouver phenomenon. However misrepresented that may be, those are my [negative] associations with fireworks.
In general, I'm not a crowd person. I don't have anxiety attacks and I can navigate fine through a crowd, but I find nothing electrifying about crowds either. They're more of a nuisance than anything. It seems as though people stop thinking like, well, thinking individuals in crowds and become susceptible to all kinds of foolishness. A kind of groupthink mentality takes over along with a false notion of anonymity -- you meld into the mass, becoming indistinguishable from the thousands, and feel yourself to be both invincible and unaccountable to anyone: who will know?
I find it interesting to consider what causes someone to do things that they would not typically do in an ordinary scenario. Is it the fact of being in a crowd that brings out the worst in a person? Are only external factors at play here?
What if, instead of shifting the blame to crowds and atmosphere, we took a hard look at ourselves? What if the problem is not my circumstances, but, actually, the person I am? What if crowds only bring out qualities that always existed in me in the first place? What if what I am like in a crowd is a good indication of what I would be like if I was unhindered by social norms and order? (That's frightening to think about.).
English writer G.K. Chesterton is famously attributed with taking personal responsibility for what is wrong with the world. Interestingly, Jesus pinpoints our hearts as the source of evil: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matthew 15:19). So perhaps my dislike of fireworks is misplaced -- it's not the fireworks and it's not even the crowds. It's actually the ugliness that spills out of human hearts (including my own!) I dislike.
As I think about this, however, I'm reminded that Jesus -- God incarnate! -- did not avoid the ugliness of humanity. Jesus hung out with obvious sinners often enough so that the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, would ask Jesus' followers, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" Jesus responds with, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:11-13). Jesus did not come for those who considered themselves healthy, cleaned-up, shiny, and good -- he came for those who knew their own wretchedness and sickness of heart and need for forgiveness from God.
When I think about the holiness of God, how good and set apart God is, it is remarkable that Jesus never hid himself from my ugly sin; in fact, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
What does this have to do with me not liking fireworks or crowds? Well, I'm still thinking through that. Suffice to say, insulation from the mess of crowds is not the answer, but neither do I necessarily have to frequent crowds. Jesus gives me a lot to think about.