Denison Forum – Boston Marathon bombing victim: “It changed me for the better”

Kenyan runners Evans Chebet and Hellen Obiri won the Boston Marathon yesterday. Ever since the bombing in 2013, the race has taken on an aura of grief and fear along with accomplishment and celebration. For two brothers, the world’s oldest marathon is all of the above. J. P. and Paul Norden each lost a leg in the bombings and now utilize a prosthetic leg. As a result, their family started a foundation, A Leg Forever, which so far has helped sixty people who’ve lost limbs pay for prosthetics, wheelchairs, and bedside care.

Speaking of the bombing, J. P. says, “In a lot of ways, it changed me for the better.” Their mother says of her sons, “Nothing stops them. I’m in awe all the time. ‘Cause I’m still angry, I still get sad sometimes for them, but nothing holds them back.”

“Either weapons or tools”

The Norden brothers typify this fact: most things, events, and experiences can be used for bad or for good. The terrorists who attacked the Boston Marathon had no idea their horrific crime would lead to good for so many who need what A Leg Forever provides. It is far easier to face challenges if we trust that they are being used for a greater purpose.

As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman points out in his fascinating recent article, “America, China and a Crisis of Trust,” this is a principle of enormous geopolitical significance.

Friedman makes the foundational point that digital services are “dual use”—they can be both a weapon and a tool. He explains: “In the Cold War it was relatively easy to say that this fighter jet is a weapon and that that phone is a tool. But when we install the ability to sense, digitize, connect, process, learn, share, and act into more and more things—from your GPS-enabled phone to your car to your toaster to your favorite app—they all become dual use, either weapons or tools depending on who controls the software running them and who owns the data that they spin off.”

As a result, “Today, it’s just a few lines of code that separate autonomous cars from autonomous weapons. And, as we’ve seen in Ukraine, a smartphone can be used by Grandma to call the grandkids or to call a Ukrainian rocket-launching unit and give it the GPS coordinates of a Russian tank in her backyard.”

“The single most important competitive advantage”

This fact is especially germane to America’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China. There was a time when China sold us primarily what Friedman calls “shallow goods”—shoes, socks, shirts, and solar panels. Now it is selling us “deep goods”—software, microchips, smartphones, robots, and other goods that go deep into our economic and technological systems and are dual use.

Here’s the point: America doesn’t have enough trust in China to buy its “deep goods.” We purchase microchips instead from Taiwan, where 90 percent of the world’s most advanced logic chips are manufactured.

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is a foundry, meaning it takes the designs of the most advanced computer companies in the world and turns them into chips that perform different processing functions. Their business model is simple: TSMC makes a solemn oath to its customers never to compete against them by designing its own chips and never to share the designs of one of its customers with another. Their customers trust them because they know that TSMC’s business depends on keeping their trust.

By contrast, China is pursuing a strategy of global competition and dominance over the US and the West. Its failure of transparency with the origins of COVID-19, its crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and on the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, its aggressive claims to the South China Sea, its support for Vladimir Putin, and its increasing threats toward Taiwan all exacerbate the failure of trust that exists between China and the West.

For example, US law enforcement officers arrested two New York residents yesterday for allegedly operating a Chinese “secret police station” to target Chinese dissidents now living in America. And the Chinese military recently rehearsed “encircling” Taiwan after the US House Speaker visited the island.

As Friedman notes, “Establishing and maintaining trust is now the single most important competitive advantage any country or company can have. And Beijing is failing in that endeavor.” He quotes one of American statesman George Shultz’s cardinal rules of diplomacy and life: “Trust is the coin of the realm.”

My experience in Beijing

Friedman’s perceptive analysis demonstrates one of the reasons the gospel is so vital to human flourishing: only Jesus teaches selfless character and then empowers Christians to fulfill what he teaches.

I was invited several years ago to deliver lectures on ethics to a group of business leaders in Beijing. I focused on the fact that sacrificial integrity is foundational to an economy based on consumption. If producers do not trust their employees to do what they are paid to do, production falters. Conversely, if consumers do not trust that products will perform as advertised, consumption falters. A culture based on atheistic communism has no ideological commitment to sacrificial integrity and no power by which to effect such a commitment if it were to exist.

By contrast, Christians are taught to “clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5) and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Then we are called to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) so he can produce his “fruit” in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).

Imagine the difference if everyone exhibited such “fruit” in their business relations. This is what the Spirit of Christ can do in everyone who follows Christ as Lord. This is what both China and the US need if they are to flourish in a trust-based global economy. This is why a true spiritual awakening is our only hope for the future we long to experience.

If you believe that Jesus redeems all he allows, you will unconditionally trust his word and others will be drawn to the Christ they see in you. So, when last did you pay a significant price to trust and follow Jesus? Are you willing to pay such a price today?

In other words, is trust the coin of your realm?

Denison Forum

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