Remembering the day (9/11/01).

I was in the middle of “Christian Traditions” class at Saint Paul School of Theology on September 11, 2001 at 9:30 in the morning. We came up for our break at the one-hour mark and saw people sitting in front of the TV in the break room crying. Someone said that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I remember two thoughts coming very quickly and very distinctly into my head. The first was, “O my God, how horrible!” and the second, which came almost immediately, was, “Please don’t let this be a terrorist attack.” I knew that if it were an attack and not just a freakishly horrible accident that the ripple effects would go on and on and on.

But of course it was a terrorist act. And the ripple effects went on and on and are still going on. That horrible moment has sparked not one, but two wars. It originally cost more than 3,000 American lives, but has since cost many thousands more… American, Iraqi, Afghani, and others.

We face two distinct impulses today on this anniversary of that event. The first is to grieve the lives of those killed… both the innocent victims, but also those who died trying to save lives. Our second instinct is to look at that event with the advantage of nine years of distance and ask what it has taught us. Sometimes I am very afraid that it has taught us very little. When Jesus – speaking his message of love of enemies and prayer for persecutors and healing for the broken – was finally silenced by a brutal public execution on the cross, people naturally came to the conclusion that in the end, violent political force wins. People who dare to challenge the empire should keep their mouths shut and mind their own business.

But that all changed on Sunday morning. When Jesus rose bodily, alive and resurrected from death, transformed and transfigured, the tables were suddenly turned. God won. Love triumphed. Violence and power came up empty in the end. Case closed.

Except that it’s not. The world’s history has shown us that humanity has an enduring love affair with violence and power. It is the quickest and easiest way to solve problems – or so we think – and we reach for it without thinking. And we are amazed when we find that violence keeps causing more violence and power keeps leading to a hunger for more power.

The attacks of 9/11 were unique in many ways. They were the first, and so far the only, attacks on this country’s soil by a foreign antagonist. We really can’t sing the second stanza to “America the Beautiful” anymore where the words say, “Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears,” because our alabaster cities of New York and Washington, D.C. have indeed been dimmed by human tears. These attacks were completely unexpected and we were completely unprepared for them and they have caused HUGE changes in our sense of national security.

But in a way, they are old news. They are just one more example of the impulse to lash out violently at the people we are at odds with… one more example of either forgetting or completely ignoring what we learned in the garden on Easter Sunday morning. One more failure of faith and one more example of giving up and giving in to our basest human instincts.

So the question for us today on this anniversary is how will we commemorate this day? Another question is what have we learned from it? Apparently not much since there is still a nutjob threatening to burn copies of the Qu’ran later today.

This is not the 10th anniversary of the day, which always seems like a significant milestone, but I noticed something interesting about the date when I was writing it yesterday. The attacks happened on 9/11/01 and today is 9/11/10… the designation of the year is an exact reversal of the digits. So maybe the idea is that today, on this particular anniversary, we commemorate it with an exact reversal of the intended effects of that day. Just as Christ’s resurrection reversed the intended effects of the cross, so let our observance here today reverse the idea that violence triumphs. Let it be a spur to each one of us to LIVE the message of the resurrection, which underscores the ultimate triumph of Jesus’ life and teaching.

I am going to conclude my remarks here with a prayer that I found on the United Methodist website that, while not really written about the 9/11 anniversary, contains a powerful challenge for each of us in how we relate to those who are our neighbors.

A Prayer for Peace with Our Neighbors


How quickly we have transitioned 
From alien and stranger in this land

To Home Team Captain

From being the stranger

On Plymouth Rock (or did we arrive some other place?)

To the notion that we are entitled

To direct traffic, and pronounce:

This one clean

And that one unclean

In your eyes.


How quickly we have forgotten

The days when we were strangers

To this soil and to your Kingdom —

Not only strangers, but unrepentant enemies

Spiritually — bent on remaining as we were

Socially — determined to mark every tree that we passed

n our neighbors’ backyard.

Yet you loved us all

In spite of us all.

Teach us, O God, your ways.

Exchange our impulse to devour and destroy

For your impulse to turn swords into plowshares and pruning hooks.

Teach us how to love enemies, to do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27)

and to love strangers as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:34).

Strangers become friends

And enemies become neighbors. Amen.

By Safiyah Fosua

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