Remembering and moving through...

I remember September 11, 2001 vividly - and eight years later I am still moving through its significance. Today's NY Times carried a lengthy article about how many of the fears we felt so deeply at that time have never been realized: car searches are mostly a thing of the past, gasps of fear upon seeing a single plane on the horizon have subsided, tourists have returned to Times Square in hordes and there are far fewer American flags adorning public space. I would suggest that the collective shock we experienced after that terrorist attack has now moved below the surface; it still touches us deeply but in significantly less visible ways.

Two thoughts run through my mind as I remember and also reflect about the journey of moving through it all. First, the aftermath of fear, anger and blame that so many of us felt after the smoke cleared was clearly used to both manipulate us into an unnecessary war in Iraq and nurture suspicion and hatred for our scapegoats. As Renee Girrard has so carefully observed, fear and violence can be used to promote social cohesion - that is one of the stories of history - and it certainly was used that way in the United States.
  • There was an uncanny sense of solidarity throughout America in the days and months after the attack. I felt and experienced it at Ground Zero a few weeks after the World Trade Towers were destroyed: my oldest daughter, Jesse, had just started teaching middle school in Manhattan, so I quickly flew East from Tucson just to see her and hold her close. My youngest daughter, Michal, and I met first in Massachusetts to do likewise before driving to NYC. There was a stunned apprehension every where - AND - a profound sense of community, too. This was all cynically manipulated by the Bush administration time after time - in Iraq and Iran, in Asia and Europe, throughout the Middle East, too - until our fear and solidarity was transformed into arrogant brutality with no sense of history or truth.

  • And that is precisely what Girrard describes in his work regarding scapegoats: pinning all of our hatred and fear on the scapegoat always unifies a society - but only for a season - and then more violence is needed to bind people together. Further, societies rarely consider the consequences of scapegoating - history is never told from the perspective of our victims - so we rarely feel remorse or act in repentance.

  • Which is why the story and reality of Jesus is unique: for the first time, Girrard suggests, history is told from the perspective of the innocent scapegoat. For the first time we can see the horrible consequences of our violence. Indeed, what makes the passion of Christ so important in NOT the horrible violence a la Mel Gibson. That, sadly, is all to ordinary. No, what makes the passion life changing is the awareness that Christ died to expose this horrible sin and invite us - with God's grace - to stop it.

Second, the legacy of this fear, manipulation, anguish, sin and deception has helped fuel both the historic election of President Obama - we ache for hope - as well as increased the vitriol and incivility that continues to plague American society. Today fear has replaced reason, shouting has supplanted careful public conversation and opinion generally trumps truth. Talk radio and its hate mongers are partially to blame: they have carefully wounded our sense of propriety in pursuit of ratings and money. Politicians and preachers of all hues have done likewise: it has been lucrative to build on phony apocalyptic scenarios - and it keeps adrenaline junkies coming back for more.

So, as I move through my memories as well as my reflections on this eighth anniversary of that tragic day, I sense that part of my new calling is to live simply as a "lover in this dangerous time." (see previous postings re: Bruce Cockburn's song and the way it has become a prayer.) In this week's reading from the Jewish scriptures - Isaiah 50: 4-9 - I find a quiet sense of encouragement in the prophet's words:

The Master, God, has given me a well-taught tongue,
So I know how to encourage tired people.
God wakes me up in the morning, wakes me up, opens my ears
to listen as one ready to take orders.
The Master, God, opened my ears, and I didn't go back to sleep,
didn't pull the covers back over my head.


Being a lover in a dangerous time seems a good description of what faith feels like today. In that truth, I think poet Billy Collins got it right more than all our politicians and preachers - and brother Springsteen nailed it, too.

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.


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