Whatever else the terrorists of 9/11 wanted to accomplish, they succeeded in one thing: the world stopped and took notice. We have all heard the question: “What were you doing?” Or “Where were you?”, and if you are like me, you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. I remember it so clearly it is almost as though someone had a video camera over my shoulder and I’m watching the replay.
Why? Because we all knew as it was happening that this was history. This was something that had never happened before—and as it unfolded we prayed it would never happen again.
Now it is 18 years later. I find I’m not asking “Where were you?” I’m asking: “What have we learned?”
We have learned some good and valuable things:
We can be resilient. We can suffer such a catastrophe and still go on. Even knowing we are not “safe” all the time, we can live our lives. The terrorists have not been able to take that from us.
We can work together when we choose to. Following 9/11, the country came together in a way it hasn’t since WWII. People needed help, encouragement, strength. We gave that to one another.
We have great first responders. Thousands of fire department and police personnel, as well as countless civilians ran TO the wreckage, not away from it. They came because people needed help, and they gave it, even though it cost many their own lives.
We have people who are willing to die to protect others. Today, “Let’s roll!” is a phrase everyone knows, because we have all heard of those civilian passengers who gave their own lives to ensure that the terrorists on Flight 93 would not succeed.
We learned we need strength beyond ourselves. At least for a little while, many seemed to understand this. Many turned to the Lord in prayer. Many grew to know Him and followed Him. At least for a little while.
Unfortunately, these are not the only lessons we seem to have learned.
We have learned suspicion and bigotry. If you don’t think so, ask any middle easterner. My friend the comedian Nazareth has a line he uses constantly referring to this. My Christian Palestinian friend, named for his birthplace, says “whenever I’m in an airport, I feel so Mexican!” The line always gets laughs (for him—sorry if I butchered it my friend), but it teaches us who we have become when someone hailing from the same small town as the King of the Universe wants to be mistaken for another ethnicity so he will be safe.
We have learned hatred and brutality. Young men—and now women—grow up believing the best and most noble thing they can do is join the military. There they will learn to kill people—whoever the government tells them to kill. Of course, it will always be for “national security”—it always has been. But something is lost when a society believes the most noble thing someone can do is join the military.
In the days following the news that Bin-Laden was killed, Facebook was alive with literally millions of posts. One theme appeared over and over from young (and some not so young) people who say they are Christian was the thirst for blood. For revenge. To do to them as they did to so many of us—or to do more! One young posted: “I just hope they (deleted here) him and cut his (deleted here) off and he had the worst (said much nicer here) pain before he died. I hope he rots in hell.”
When I messaged him and asked how he could say such things as a follower of Jesus (which he claimed to be) he seemed genuinely astounded I would ask. “You don’t think Jesus agrees?”
No, I don’t. Jesus died for Bin-Laden and if he did go to hell (I’m not his judge and neither are you), Jesus wept. I believe Jesus is weeping now for those who have allowed this tragedy to make them like their enemy.
We have learned to not listen. Of course what was done was heinous and there is no justification for it. But when something that heinous happens, should it not cause us to ask “Why’?
And answering that they are “crazy” or “that’s just what they are all like” is lazy to the point of intellectual cowardice.
Why would 19 young people hate so much that they would do this? There is an answer to this question, and I have seen very few people address it. The reason? If we answer the question, we know we should do something about it.
These lessons have not only been learned, they have been generalized. They aren’t just applied to middle easterners, Muslims or terrorists. They are applied to anyone who thinks differently than I do. They are applied to anyone with whom I am angry (and that can be a lot of people). They are applied to all the people who are not me and have, in my imagination at least, harmed me. They apply to Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, young and old, “white” people and people of color, pagans and Christians.
So we don’t listen. We are suspicious of anyone not like us—even if that just means people who don’t feel like we do. We accept hatred and brutality as normal and acceptable responses to people who harm us—or those we think might harm us in the future.
Have you noticed that these are exactly the characteristics we believe Al Qaeda, The Taliban and others who align with them have? When we learn these things, we become them. Like people bitten by Zombies we become what we hate and want to destroy.
In spiritual terms, we become part of the problem instead of the solution.
May I suggest a few things we need to learn from this tragedy:
- If we are Christian, we belong to the King. We suffer whenever ANYONE for whom He died suffers. Christian or Muslim; liberal or conservative; middle eastern, African, European, American; terrorist, innocent—when someone for whom Christ dies is lost, we all suffer, whether we know it or not.
- We can protect those who cannot protect themselves, while we guard our hearts and minds and do not allow this to become an excuse to behave or think like animals.
- We can listen. We don’t, but we can. When someone does something you can’t understand or thinks in a way you just can’t agree with, ask yourself why. There is always a reason, and when we understand that reason, whether we change our minds or not, we change how we behave toward that person.
- We can choose to love. Even in the face of extraordinary pain, we can love. We can choose to do what is best for another. We don’t have to feel good about that person. We just have to do what is best for them. This is the definition of the term “love” when Jesus commands it.
- Which brings me to Jesus. 9/11 should teach us that we need Him in order to learn the right things, and unlearn the wrong ones. Jesus isn’t white. By the way, He isn’t black either. He isn’t Asian, or European. Ironically, Jesus is middle eastern—Jewish. He is for all of us, and if we choose to ignore Him or reject Him, we will certainly be part of the problem in this world, and not part of the solution.
As I write this, September 11, 2019 is coming to a close. I hope each of us remembers. I hope each of us refuses to allow these acts of terror to change us—to make us like them. We are approaching a time of choice and potential change in this country. Which values will we choose?
So, let us Know Jesus and Be Faithful.