Thursday, September 08, 2011
Pastoral Reflections on the 9/11 Anniversary
This appears as the Bishop's letter to the Faithful in the Diocese of Springfield in the September issue of our newsletter, the Springfield Current.
Beloved in Christ,
This month marks the tenth anniversary of an event that any American adult, and many youth as well, can recall with vivid clarity. I lived in California in 2001, so it was just after 6am, as I lay in bed on a Tuesday morning thinking about facing the day, when the familiar voice of NPR's Bob Edwards on my nightstand radio calmly announced that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A few minutes later I was downstairs watching CNN as the rest of that morning's horrendous developments unfolded.
Ten years later, what can we make of "9-11"? It has changed our lives in more ways than we can count and for longer than we can imagine. Something as simple as accompanying a loved one all the way to the departure gate at an airport, or meeting them there when they arrive, is a thing of the past. Instead, we have to take our shoes off going through security and remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids and gels in our carry-on baggage. Thousands have died in the ensuing military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of lives have been adversely affected by those wars.
We now live in constant fear--even if that fear is subliminal--of terrorism. What I personally find most disturbing is not what we know, or what we know that we don't know, but what we don't know that we don't know ... the literally unimaginable. And for that very reason, I take great comfort from the words of one of our Prayer Book collects: "...that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness..." (from the Office of Compline, p. 133)
Of course, in addition to being afraid, we are also angry, even ten years later. We not only suffered the loss of lives and the destruction of property, our national pride was wounded. They went after some potent symbols of American identity: the twin towers, the Pentagon, and, but for the heroism of those aboard United 93, probably the Capitol Building or the White House. I must confess that I have at times pictured those who plot terrorism when one of the imprecatory Psalms comes comes up in the daily office lectionary, such as these lines from Psalm 109: "He loved cursing, let it come upon him; he took no delight in blessing, let is depart from him. He put on cursing like a garment, let it soak into his body like water and into his bones like oil...".
To the extent that we are afraid or angry, then, we do neither ourselves nor anyone else any favors by trying to deny or repress those feelings. We do well to recognize and acknowledge them. Then, as disciples of Jesus, we do well to lay that fear and anger at his feet and allow him to deliver us from them. When I visit the churches of our diocese, the liturgy often concludes with the Pontifical Blessing, which begins with the line from Psalm 124: "Our help is in the name of the Lord." This is the context into which we are invited to place our fear. Then we can take note of the scriptural counsel to avoid letting our instinct for revenge get the better of us: "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19, Deuteronomy 32:35). This is the context into which we are invited to place our anger.
Then, having been partially liberated from fear and anger (full liberation does not occur in this world for most of us, I think), we can turn our attention to more constructive endeavors, such as justice, righteousness, and peace. Remember that in classical Christian theology, evil does not exist absolutely in its own right; it is, rather, the absence of good. Perhaps one could also say that evil is sometimes the distortion of good. The motives that lie behind terrorism are invariably rooted in a distortion of good, which, in turn, is rooted in a perceived absence of justice (a form of good). We don't have to agree with the moral assessments of those who attack us. We can legitimately oppose and attempt to thwart their efforts. I, for one, am more than happy to see armed guards at airports and to walk through scanners if any of that helps protect public safety. But we are only being foolish if we blind ourselves to the fact that those who wish us harm think they are doing good and opposing evil. Being open to engaging them on that level might just yield fruit that makes us all feel more secure. If nothing else, it is an act of obedience to the injunction from the Psalmist (34:14): "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
Blessings in Christ Jesus,