Sunday, September 11, 2011

Terrorism Tightrope

Ten years ago.

I was walking around a classroom filled with 9 and 10-year-olds, 26 or 27 of them. I don’t remember what the lesson was. I do remember glancing through the hallway window and noticing my assistant principal -- the principal was out that day -- talking earnestly with the teacher across the hall. I stepped out of my fourth-grade classroom to see what was up.

The AP just said there were reports of a possible terrorist attack. We'd avoid upsetting the kids with any announcement, but she wanted us to be aware. By the time my planning time rolled around I had gathered the gist of what was happening from quick forays into the hall and whispered snips of conversation with other teachers. I walked into my neighbor teacher's classroom where she had the news on, now that the kids were at PE. I saw the smoke rising from the towers, several teachers were crying. And then the unthinkable happened. A tower collapsed. And soon the other. It turned out I was watching a tape: the others teachers assumed I had known. I don't think any image has ever affected me so dramatically.

The rest of the day was frightening and awkward. I wanted to communicate with my own children and Sheila. Brannon was newly away from home as a college freshman. But I needed to help get these school kids through the day and was proscribed from preparing them for the tumult they would face when they got home. Somehow a few managed to pick up hints, during lunch and recess, that there was something terrible happening.  Child after child was called to the front to go home.

You, dear Reader, also know exactly where you were and what you were doing that day, I'll bet.

Of course, the terrorists had made a horrible mistake. They had succeeded in inflicting great pain and sorrow, but if we were terrorized we were also galvanized. No action could have united our divided country so completely or garnered us more allies around the world. Firefighters and police officers of both parties and no party fought side by side to save the occupants of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Passengers of a miscellany of political stripes rushed the hijackers on the fourth plane and forced it down before it could hit one of our national shrines. Leaders of both major parties worked to give the executive the authority it needed to bring the terrorists to justice.

Soldiers of all races, religions, and parties risked their lives, and some gave their lives, to take the fight to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Those of us still bitter over the debacle of the election of 2000 immediately put partisanship on the back burner and gave wholehearted support to our national leadership. No one was concerned about red vs. blue any more, we were concerned for the Red, White, and Blue.

I was saddened and angered early this morning to see that some, on Facebook, are using this anniversary to divide us again. That dredged up the rage I felt nearly ten-years ago, when some used the terrorist attacks as an occasion to casually demean their political opponents.

So I did not want to go to church this morning. I wanted to watch and listen to the moving memorials on TV and radio. I wanted to write about my memories, my love for my country, and my disgust for the far-right-wing Arabs and far-right-wing Americans. But Sheila was ready to go, and I managed to get there. I am so glad I did.

I was in the cross hairs from prelude to benediction.

The opening hymn was one of my very favorites and somehow especially appropriate for this day: “Morning Has Broken”. And I thought of God’s re-creation of 3652 new days since that one. Our anthem was “God Bless America”. We did not have choir practice on Wednesday because of the youth concert, so we were a little rusty but still I love that song and enjoyed singing it on this special anniversary. We sang “America” as the hymn of preparation. 

The pastor at our church has political beliefs that are far different from mine. But still somehow God manages to use his wonderful, thoughtful, biblically sound sermons to convict me on a regular basis.

Today his topic is forgiveness.

Matthew 18: 21-22
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The sermon is not on the podcast list yet, but check back later and listen to it:

I know well the folks I need to forgive. If the pastor could have seen the anger in my heart this morning, he could not have spoken more clearly to me. He called his message: Tightrope.

Rhetorically he questioned us about the tension between forgiveness and accountability, between citizenship in our democracy and citizenship in the Kingdom of God, between doing our duty to country and our duty to God.

And he told of his experience of meeting with Iraqi Christians in Baghdad while he was stationed there as a chaplain early in the Iraq War. He was shocked to find that they were prepared to forgive even Saddam Hussein. They understood that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. Or as that old reprobate, Mark Twain, has said: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

So, on this sobering anniversary, I can forgive those who hate me for my beliefs. I will strive to hold those folk accountable for their words and actions when I can. I will try to correct their errors through my own writing when I can. But I will also try to remember my own fallible nature. I will avoid speaking or writing in anger. I will not use ad hominem arguments.

I was moved both by President Bush's reading of Lincoln's letter and President Obama's reading of Psalm 46. They each struck the right note of unity by keeping to brief quotations adding the prestige of the Presidency to a national day of commemoration while remembering that the event is not about them.

Thursday, September 01, 2011