A 9/11 Reflection

Five years and one day ago, Mary Beth and I were in Cleveland, OH to watch the season opening game against the Seattle Seahawks (one of their seven opening day losses in eight tries since their return, by the way). They lost 9 to 6 in a thriller (note the sarcasm). We flew back to Nashville after the game. Little did we know then, that if we had decided to stay one more night, we would have been stuck in Cleveland for a few extra days as the terrorist plots unfolded across the East coast. It became one of the very few events from our lifetime, when everyone remembers what they were doing, where they were, and what they saw. For a few days the entire country stood still. How could anyone get any “work” done those days? I was in the church office when I heard. Mary Beth was substitute teaching at a middle school. I will always remember that.

Five years have now passed. It seems impossible. Harder still it is to remember what life was like before then. As sweeping a statement as it is, I think it is true to say that life has not been the same since. The Trade Center attacks have become for my generation what Pearl Harbor was for the generation of my grandparents – an unmistakable, unmissable, wake-up call – a reminder of finitude and defenselessness.

Last night Mary Beth and I watched the 9/11 documentary that came out a few years ago done by a couple of French brothers who were doing a documentary on a new firefighters who was becoming a man . . . Little did they know what they were in for. I have to admit the images were moving and hard to comprehend, even this far removed.

Last summer my grandfather and brother and I took the subway to “Ground Zero.” We had driven all day, and it was getting late, but all three of us felt the need to see what we had seen on TV for all these years. There wasn’t much we could see through the tall metal fences, but it was a reflective moment all the same. My mind was flooded with all the dust-filled images I had seen just a few years earlier.

Such is the event in my mind . . . But what of the subsequent dominoes that have since fallen. “God bless America” became a theme for unity and signs of Congressional unity graced all parts of the country quickly settling back into partisan bickering and arguments over new issues.

George W. Bush is a President who will always be remembered. Irregardless of how he handled what happened five years ago today . . . He would be remembered. Where have the last five years taken us? Now . . . The “us” I am referring to here is not the “us” of America. To be honest, I seldom am concerned with that “us.” I am concerned with the “us” of Christians living in this country. Where are “we”?

That is a powder-keg of a question if there ever were. The five years following the most extreme terrorist attacks this nation has seen so far have been years filled of war, fear, suspicion, turmoil, terrorist threats, national security, higher airline fees, reduced airline carry owns, and constant media attention. The average American has become familiar with new people and places: Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, Iran, Afghanistan, and numerous Islamic terrorists whose names we can never pronounce.

Debates rage on national security, legality, civil rights, and on and on. In my opinion President Bush’s task in this war on terror is the most difficult plight facing a President since Abraham Lincoln was faced with the rift within his own nation (I know this is a lofty opining considering LBJ and Vietnam, both World Wars, the Cold War, etc., but I believe we are only at the cusp of something that may not relent in my life time).

Wherever you stand with the President (and probably more accurately wherever you stand with his political party) probably has a lot to do with how you think the past five years have gone. People on the extremes of both sides often receive a lot of media attention in these regards. My personal views have been extremely challenged by Mr. Bush. One of the biggest reasons I voted against him in the first election was my fear of his adeptness in America’s foreign policy. When this happened, I was really concerned.

OK . . . I got off on the America stuff like I had hoped to avoid. Where are Christians? I know they tend to be very, very supportive of our military personnel. I, personally, have major reservations about Christians serving in the military. I would personally have to concientiously object if I was ever drafted. While I am very uncomfortable with Christians serving in the service, I also believe it is a personal choice that one must come to a decision on his or her own terms.

What makes me most uncomfortable is the relative ease that many Christians will use the Old Testament teachings toward Israel and then apply them to the United States as if both are God’s chosen instruments for carrying out God’s plans. From the outside looking in, that might appear to be very similar ideolgy as the Fundamentalist Islamic jihadists support. That is why I feel as though we have moved to a very difficult and, potentially, world altering time with 9/11. President Bush has made this a battle of ideologies – as he often refers to it. From his post 9/11 address rings the words “you’re either with us, or your with the terrorists.” While in the midst of a post 9/11 response, these words may have seemed appropriate, I think the subsequent years have shown things to be much more complicated than this. Does that mean that anyone who won’t send troops to Iraq are supporting terrorists? Does that mean if you don’t turn your confidential classified information in to the United States you are as guilty as the “regimes of evil”? I don’t ask these questions mockingly, I just don’t know.

I don’t think this issue is black and white. I think it is about ideology, but it is more fundamentally about faith. This is why Christians must be so reflective and prayerul in this time. What is to be our role? Do we support war? What about “pre-emptive war?” ( A war that has always been looked upon as not grounds for “just war theory”) How is our faith to play out in a pluralistic society? What impact does foreign policy play in our support of government? Should we care? Should we be busier spreading the Gospel message than lobbying political parties?

Fundamentally, I think our role as Christians in a post-9/11 era is to be a refreshing breath of hope and optimism. Most are more fearful than they were five years ago. Why? Christians shouldn’t be. Christians have suffered and died for their faith willingly and rejoicing because they had incredible faith in who they worshiped.

This morning in an interview with George Bush, Matt Lauer prodded into the issue of how terrorist prisoners were treated and how information was retrieved. His answer was constantly, “I’m not going to tell you what we do, because I don’t want the enemy to know and prepare against it. All you need to know is that we are keeping your family safe and we are not breaking the law.” Maybe for Americans that is enough. As Christians, is that enough? Are we that fearful that as long as we get pat answers we’re fine just knowing we’re safe? I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t the best example but it is one from today. All in all, I think 9/11 has given us a great opportunity to be a much needed voice and character of hope and love when there is great war and hate in the world.


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