Monday, September 8, 2008


Seven years ago today, the foundations of our world shifted, and we have never been the same since, and probably never will be. Politically and emotionally, it was as if we had been struck by a great earthquake. We did not see it coming! It has shaken our long-held understandings of reality about ourselves as a nation, and our illusions of security. It has shattered our naive notion that we are universally admired and respected by the rest of the world, and, if not admired and respected, at least feared by any who would dare attack us. We never dreamed that anything like 9/11 would or could happen. Most of us still vividly recall our feelings of shock, sadness and rage on September 11, 2001, and with very little effort we can recover those feelings with the original intensity.

I made my annual visit to New York as Summer Guest Preacher at Christ Church ten months after 9/11. I thought that my initial intense feelings had been laid to rest, or at least put into perspective. I was mistaken. Having something of the soul of a teacher, I took my fifteen-year-old grandson to Lower Manhattan to see that terrible hole in the ground with the idea of giving him a well reasoned "Grandfather lecture" on how and why this happened. The sight of ground zero brought back all the feelings I thought I had worked through. Instead of getting a reasoned lecture on history and religion, my grandson saw what the combination of sadness, anger and fear can do to an old man. It wasn't pretty. I hope he did not hear some of the things I muttered under my breath.

What has happened and what have we learned in the seven years since our world changed? In an attempt to find and destroy an ubiquitous enemy, we launched one of the strangest and most expensive wars in which this country has ever been engaged, not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in other places around the world where we suspect the enemy might be. It has, in many ways, been like fighting a ghost. The enemy is here and there and everywhere. We see where the enemy has been but not where he is. Our fears rise and fall with successes and failures in the search, and we just cannot seem to find the serpent's head. It is somewhat like our experience with the Vietcong in another war, except worse, because the battle is not confined to a specific geographical area. It is essentially world-wide. In this whole experience we have lost our innocence. The illusion that we are safe because we are bordered by two huge oceans and two friendly countries now lies in shambles at our feet. And, our fear rises and falls as the hunt goes on.

We have learned how much we are hated and mistrusted by so many. We have seen how easy it has become for that hatred and mistrust to get expressed not only in terrorist attacks, but also in political defiance by countries we thought respected, if not admired us. This has wounded our national pride and put our collective political consciousness into a state of shock.
Having heard the rhetoric of politicians and preachers who have always urged us on to a more zealous expression of patriotism and religious faith, we have been shocked to see what happens when religious fanaticism and mindless nationalism are combined. It is a real witch's brew! It produces people who are willing to die for "the cause". People who are willing to die for a cause are always on the cusp of being willing to kill for it. We have seen it happen.

When we think of the pathos and pain this senseless terrorist attack has caused, it stirs the dregs at the bottom of our souls. And yet, this is a time in which we should be very intentional in calling forth what President Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature". Two sure ways to lose the battle against terrorism would be to cringe in paralyzing fear, or to let their ways become our ways. We should leave justice to those whose duty it is to administer it, and we should leave revenge to God. Let our anger be tempered in the cool springs of prayer, and let the faith about which we speak be acted out.

Remember 9/11, but do not forget that we live in an increasingly small world which requires a greater and greater measure of tolerance and temperance for mutual survival.

Think about that, and do your best to have a nice day.

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written, by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

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