Saturday, September 11, 2010

9 Years Ago: Reflections on my Big Fat Christian Family

Last night before I went to bed I posted this update to my Facebook page:
Susan Russell is heading to bed early and remembering that 9 years ago tonight I went to bed in my little apartment in San Pedro grateful that I had the next morning off and wouldn't have to get up early for Day School Chapel and thinking I knew what tomorrow would look like. And I was wrong. Kyrie eleison.
And this morning I woke up to a Good Morning America reporter doing a stand-up in front of Ground Zero adjacent St. Paul's Chapel in NYC. And I remembered being in New York in November 2001 and attending services at St. Paul's with members of the National ECW Board and the ashes that still covered the headstones in the church yard around St. Paul's.

Today the ashes are gone but the memories remain. Memories of tragic loss. Memories of great courage and heroism. And memories of a time of national crisis bringing out both the best and worst in our Big Fat Christian Family.

I've been digging through archives for the last few days, and here are two examples. The first from a sermon I preached at St. Peter's in San Pedro on Sunday, September 16, 2001:

I read with horror and amazement the transcripts from the dialogue between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on Tuesday’s tragedy: blaming the ACLU, feminists, gays & lesbians and those who support a woman’s right to choose for causing this calamity: for bringing down God’s anger on the United States. "I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'" said Falwell.

And I thought of the public fury over photos of the reaction of a handful of Palestinians to the news of the destruction of the World Trade Center. How indignant I would be to have the venom spewed by Falwell, Robertson and their ilk portrayed as definitive of "Christianity." No less appalled than the millions of Islamic faithful who watch in horror as their spiritual heritage is categorized and vilified based on the actions of the evil ideologues who orchestrated these heinous attacks against humanity.

I realized with sobering clarity on Friday morning as I watched the service from the National Cathedral, that I hold much more in common faith with the Islamic and Jewish leaders who gathered with Billy Graham and our own Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon to pray for peace and healing than I do with these "fellow Christians" who use the Gospel of Jesus Christ as an assault weapon aimed at those with whom they disagree.

And nine years later I could preach the same sermon using this week's Terry Jones "Burn the Qur'an" circus as an illustration.

And yet, during that same dig-through-the-archives, I came across this link to the old ECW website -- the one I maintained while I was a member of the Nat'l ECW Board from 2000-2003. (Yes, I've had an eclectic portfolio!) It was the "first response" of our Episcopal Church Women to the 9/11 tragedy. Entitled "Give peace, O Lord, in all the world; For only in you can we live in safety" it was a page dedicated to interfaith resources with this introduction:

Our Presiding Bishop has called us "to engage with all our hearts and minds and strength in God’s project of transforming the world into a place of peace." We have, in this crisis, been given a unique opportunity to model Christian community in action. Imagine the impact we could have on the heart and soul of this great nation of ours if every Episcopal Church in every community, large and small, committed to participate in this project of reconciliation and understanding between people of faith ... people who are part of this same human family of ours.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As we pray for the "whole human family" during these days of anxiety and challenge, the Episcopal Church Women invite you to join with them in committing to:

● Networking with members of other faith communities, through prayer, dialogue and mutual community outreach.
● Educating ourselves about other traditions in order to challenge the misinformation and dangerous stereotyping such as that which so tragically emerged regarding the Islamic faith from the events of September 11th

The resources listed below are but a beginning. May the Lord who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power to perform them!

And nine years later, it's the same prayer. In a week that has brought out both the best and worst of our Big Fat Christian Family I pray that the impulses that led the Episcopal Church Women to lead the way in 2001 by providing resources for education and bridge-building between people of faith will inspire us all to go and do likewise.

I know that will be a focus for us at All Saints Church in the days and weeks to come.

I know that will be the message of the sermon I will preach tomorrow (which I should have been finishing instead of writing this blog.)

And I know that will be the witness we will bear this morning as we gather at the Islamic Center of Southern California for the Interfaith Peace Vigil. 11:30 a.m. 434 South Vermont in Los Angeles Your prayers and presence are requested.

Shanti. Salaam. Shalom.

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