This was originally written in 2013, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
I’ve lived in the Dallas area nearly my entire life. I have plenty of friends who can call any place home. They’ll move across the country and, for them, it’s an adventure. For me, home is Dallas. I love to travel and visit other places but I ultimately long to be back where I grew up, where my entire family lives, where my lifelong friends are, and where I’ve invested all of my ministry efforts.
When I was a kid, the West End was one of my favorite places to visit. It’s an old red brick complex of restaurants and shopping along the west side of downtown. Back in the 90’s, there was an old six-story mall with plenty of shops and souvenir kiosks for tourists. Back then, the area was booming. Even today, the area is often loud, busy, and full of people.
But if you walk down Record St. a couple of blocks and turn west on Elm, suddenly your surroundings go quiet. You can hear the sounds of people and traffic all around you but in this place where Elm St., Main St., and Commerce St. merge, the ground is sacred. To your right, you’ll find the Texas Schoolbook Depository and directly in front of you is a white painted “X” where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
The City That Killed the President
In 1963, my mom was only six months old and my dad was yet to be born. The event, which marked an entire generation, was well before my time. I used to pass by Dealey Plaza regularly on my train ride to work just like it was any other street corner. But over the last few weeks, as we’ve prepared for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, I’ve begun to realize just how much that event impacted our city.
In the weeks that followed the assassination, the story morphed from “Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President” to “Dallas killed the President.” I’ve been reading reports of Dallas businessmen who were being thrown out of moving taxicabs in New York City in the months that followed. As Dallas residents would visit other countries, locals would back away in fear upon learning where they were from. Even the mayor began receiving letters from people all over the country who vowed never to do business with Dallas companies or visit the city ever again.
The city did the only thing it knew it could. It began building. Dallas was already growing ferociously but the city council became even more proactive. In the decades that followed, we built one of the world’s largest and busiest airports. We established one of the most storied NFL franchises in history. We developed the nation’s largest arts district and attracted a record number of Fortune 500 companies. The metro area has grown to nearly 7 million residents, adding roughly 130,000 new people every year.
But while all of the growth is exciting, the sad reality is that we aren’t running towards something in our future. We’re running away from a painful wound in our past. The city has done all these things in an attempt to redefine itself, to be known for something other than where Presidents are gunned down. But it doesn’t seem to matter how much we build, grow, develop, or dream. There still remains a painful wound that won’t go away along the grassy knoll between Elm and Main streets in the heart of our city.
Building to Cope
Aren’t so many of us doing the same thing? I’ve met so many Christians who are running from some mistake or painful moment in their past. For some, it was the loss of a loved one. For others, it’s a terrible mistake that haunts them every morning when they wake up. So what do they do? They build as loud and big and impressive of a life as they can, in hopes that it will drown out the regret and pain looming behind them.
Peter was one of those guys. He was a man who loved Jesus and wanted to give him everything, yet when the moment came to stand up, he often fell down instead. The darkest moment came when Jesus was standing trial. As Jesus had prophesied only hours earlier, Peter was standing over a charcoal fire in the cold when he denied being one of Jesus’ faithful disciples – three times!
So after Jesus died, what did Peter do? He went back to his old life. All of his hopes for greatness and living a life of purpose and sacrifice were seemingly over. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead like he said he would, could it ever be the same?
Then, in John 21, Jesus (now resurrected) calls out to his disciples from the shore as they’re fishing. Peter is so excited that he strips down, dives into the water, and swims to shore. It says that as he made it to Jesus, “they saw a charcoal fire in place.” Jesus was recreating the scene in which Peter had so fervently denied knowing him.
After breakfast, Jesus then questions Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Finally, he encourages the dejected Peter:
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19
In other words, Jesus is saying, “Peter, you want to lay it all down for me? It’s not over. Follow me.” Or put more simply, “Don’t worry. I know where you’ve been and I know what you’ve done and I’m not done with you.”
It’s easy to build a loud, distracting life around your pain but it doesn’t provide healing. Your Dealey Plaza will still always be there. But when we give it up to him, Jesus takes us back to the place of the hurt and guilt and heals our hearts. This gives us the freedom to run towards what God is calling us to, rather than running away from our regrets. In Christ, we not only have freedom from death but also from the hurt and shame that haunts us.