I thought a lot about "where I was on 9/11" - in Randalstown, Northern Ireland - sort of a suburb of Belfast. I was upstairs at my friends' house, reading something theological, when Liz hollered at me to come downstairs and look at the TV. My first question, upon arriving in the family room was, "What movie are you watching?" Of course, it wasn't a movie.
Having the BBC as my primary news source in the days following 9/11 shaped my experience of those days differently than Americans watching network news or CNN 24/7. And being in a country that's had more than its fair share of terrorist activity in the last multiple generations shaped the way I started thinking about the events of that day, too. Over and over again I heard versions of "I'm really sorry for those who lost their lives, and for those who lost loved ones, but it's about time Americans felt what it's like to live anywhere else in the world." The naivete (and arrogance?) of the shock and "I-can't-believe-this-could-happen-here-this-is-America-and-everyone-loves-us" attitude portrayed in European media was, frankly, shocking to folks in Belfast - as it was also in France, where I spent a week at Taize in mid-October 2011.
I didn't think I had much to say about the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and I guess my own rememberings havven't really said much. I've appreciated these people over the last few weeks - people who've said what I wanted to say, far better than I've found words to say it.
Will Willimon, presiding bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, wrote for Christianity Today:
On 9/11 I thought, For the most powerful, militarized nation in the world also to think of itself as an innocent victim is deadly. It was a rare prophetic moment for me, considering Presidents Bush and Obama have spent billions asking the military to rectify the crime of a small band of lawless individuals, destroying a couple of nations who had little to do with it, in the costliest, longest series of wars in the history of the United States.Diana Butler Bass is brilliant, here.
The silence of most Christians and the giddy enthusiasm of a few, as well as the ubiquity of flags and patriotic extravaganzas in allegedly evangelical churches, says to me that American Christians may look back upon our response to 9/11 as our greatest Christological defeat. It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross.
September 11 has changed me. I'm going to preach as never before about Christ crucified as the answer to the question of what's wrong with the world. I have also resolved to relentlessly reiterate from the pulpit that the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on our own terms by crucifying God's own Son.
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today
A colleague I hope to meet someday posted this sermon.
And thanks to Mary Hess, one of my favorite seminary profs, for posting an Indigo Girls rendition of the first couple verses of Finlandia, below. I hadn't even considered putting a patriotic song in the liturgy on 9/11 (a Sunday, remember) until Saturday afternoon, September 10th - too late. And on Sunday morning, during Communion, a member of the congregation handed me a note asking to sing America the Beautiful before worship was over. I knew I had to do it, but I didn't want to. It's not that I'm unpatriotic, it's just that too many American Christians get their patriotism and their faith blended and confused in ways that aren't good for either. I'm thankful that Finlandia is in our hymnal. A little perpsective - and humility - is good for us.