Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? I was serving as bishop in the Dakotas, living in Fargo, and I saw on the morning news that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. At that point it was assumed to be an accident, so I finished my breakfast and started getting dressed to go to my office without thinking too much about that “accident.” Marsha soon came rushing into our bedroom to tell me that a second plane had hit the WTC, and now it appeared to be a deliberate attack. I remember the feelings evoked by that realization, don’t you? We were under attack. Who could be doing this? What possible motive would cause anyone to cause such damage, death, and destruction? As the morning continued, the news got worse: A plane hit the Pentagon, another plane went down in Pennsylvania, and there were many other rumors about other attacks.
It was a day that all of us will remember, and as the 10th anniversary of that 9/11 event comes this Sunday, we all will be remembering and wondering how much the world has changed in these past 10 years.
How shall we respond to this 9/11? The United States responded to that first 9/11 with many efforts to seek revenge, and that has resulted in two wars which are ongoing, the loss of many American lives and many, many other lives in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places around the world. The U.S. has spent many billions of dollars to punish those who caused the 9/11 attack, and we have spent other billions to seek a new sense of security. Most Americans, according to recent polls, feel somewhat more secure than we did on September 12, 2001, but none of us feels the security (even if it was naïve) that we felt on September 10, 2001. Whether or not our responses to that first 9/11 have been successful only future history will reveal, but surely this 10th anniversary of 9/11 calls for a different response.
So how shall we respond to this 9/11? I am pleased to see how many of our United Methodist congregations have scheduled times of prayer, including many having special worship services with persons of other faith traditions this Sunday. The emphasis of many seems to be on peace, understanding, and hope for a better future. I applaud that emphasis, and I believe it is the best way for us to mark this 10th anniversary of 9/11. Clearly this Sunday is not a time to seek revenge, but it is a time to speak of faith overcoming fear, of love overcoming hatred, and of peaceful understanding prevailing over prejudice.
After that first 9/11, I sent out an e-mail devotional (called “Life in the Dakotas” but similar to my current “E-pistles” here in Indiana) with these suggestions about how to respond to 9/11:
TURN TO GOD – this (9/11) is a reminder that we need God in our lives and in our society and in our world. It is heartening to see so many turning to God in these moments of crisis, and we must help everyone to see that trusting in God is a life-long adventure, not simply an emergency response. This crisis can be a great teaching moment for us in the Christian community, and we dare not miss it.
CONFESS – we in America have to admit that our hands are not clean in this tragedy. We in the US must confront the fact that our own actions as a nation have contributed to the hatred that others feel toward us, especially our actions of offering uncritical support of Israel. We must not "excuse" the terrorists, but we need to understand their motivation and confess to our own role in creating the situations which have produced those terrorists.
PRAY – this is a time for prayer, for seeking God's wisdom rather than jumping on the bandwagon of quick and easy human answers. Yes, we are angry and hurt, but turning toward revenge and retaliation is not the answer. We must turn to God in prayer for the wisdom to know how to respond to this crisis.
BE PATRIOTIC – it is time for true patriotism, which is never uncritical of our own country, but which offers support, loyalty, and constructive criticism of our nation's policies. We must beware of those who attempt to turn our patriotism into a motivation for their own private agendas. We must watch out for those who would twist our genuine national pride into an arrogance which makes us blind to our own failures. True patriots are always willing to criticize their country – because they love their country.
HELP WITH RECOVERY – we learned here in the Dakotas that recovery takes ten times as long as relief after a disaster. Many will want to "get on with life" and forget about the needs of those who were hurt in New York and Washington, along with all of those who were bruised in spirit by these events. Typically our United Methodist Church is good at staying with the recovery process long after the Red Cross and other emergency groups have gone home, and we must take the lead in continuing to help with a long-term recovery after this disaster.
WORK FOR PEACE – we are called to be peace-makers in this world. Peace always includes God's vision of justice (rather than simple human revenge), and peace is not without pain. But in the midst of too many cries for "war" or other violent answers, we who follow the Prince of Peace must work for God's peace, for shalom, for wholeness. Such "peace" is not the absence of war; it is finding ways to help everyone find God's salvation and wholeness. Such "peace" is not weakness; it is a quality of strength which comes from discovering God's purpose in life. Is such "peace" possible? Scripture reminds us, "With God, all things are possible."
I continue to pray for peace. Perhaps this year’s 9/11 will be remembered as a time when we joined all of humanity in praying for the peace which only God can bring to our world. Amen.