Saturday, September 10, 2011

Q. Where were you on 9/11?

Tuesday was the morning I didn't lead chapel. Monday was a late EfM night for me and so on Tuesdays our principal led chapel for the K-6th grade students of St. Peter's Parish Day School and I came in later in the day.

So on Tuesday 9/11/2001 I got up later than usual, poured my cup of coffee and settled into the "big chair" in the living room to watch a little morning television. And -- like so many others who I've heard had a similar reaction -- at first I thought I'd stumbled on a rerun of some kind of disaster movie. Except it was on all the channels. And it wasn't a movie.

And I watched as the second plane hit the Twin Towers.
And I got dressed and went up to St. Peter's and led chapel.
And I fielded calls from parents who wondered how to talk to their kids.
And I called parishioners who had family members traveling and didn't know where they were.
And I listened to the eerie silence over the San Pedro peninsula as the airspace was shut down.
And I called my kids. And my mom. And my best friend. And I told them I loved them ... just in case.
And I tracked down our rector (Alan Richardson) who was in New York City on sabbatical and found out that he was OK.
And I met with our parish leadership and we called everyone in the parish to tell them we'd be having a service at 7pm.
And we gathered. And we prayed. And we cried. And we waited to see what would happen next.

The next day ... September 12th ... our kindergarten teacher brought me a drawing one of her students -- Ben -- had made that morning, It was a typical kindergarten assignment -- draw something "alike" and something "different."

And here's what Ben drew:

It remains for me -- ten years later -- a reminder that the world that is is not yet the world that God would have it be.

And it remains for me -- ten years later -- a profound gift that in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11 a child opened his box of still-sharp-for-the-new-school-year Crayola Crayons and drew an icon of hope.

On Sunday, September 16 like clergy all over the country I had to get up in the pulpit and say something. And -- thanks to the miracle of the "Way Back Machine" -- here's what I said:

September 16, 2001~ St. Peter’s, San Pedro ~ Susan Russell
Exodus 32:1, 7-14; Psalm 51:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

I grew up on Morning Prayer. The versicles and responses found their way into my mental "hard drive" without my even knowing they were being "saved to disk" – but there they are:

Show us your mercy, O Lord;
And grant us your salvation.

Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
Let your people sing with joy

Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
For only in you can we live in safety

"For only in you can we live in safety." Those words I’ve said a thousand times became sort of a mantra this week as the grim horror of the events of Tuesday morning replayed over and over and over again … etching themselves into our collective consciousness.

The week seems a blurred combination of stunned disbelief at the horrors unfolding from New York and Washington and a desperate need to respond in some way … any way. Lines at the blood banks: at least we can give blood! Services here at St. Peter’s on Tuesday night and again on Friday afternoon: at least we can pray! Donations to the relief organizations (including our own Episcopal Relief and Development Fund which is centered in New York City) just beginning to scratch the surface of the incalculable needs: at least we can give!

At least we can do something ... anything! … and yet it seems so little in the face of so much evil.

Listen to the words of Bishop Roskam of the Diocese of New York "… we may not have control over the evils that happen to us. But we do have control over the actions we take in response. If we make destructive choices in the aftermath of evil, we extend its influence into the present. If instead we make positive choices, we stop the evil, even transform it. The way Christ did on the cross."

We gather this morning under the Christus Rex … this great symbol of our risen Lord -- who took the evil of death on the cross and transformed it into an icon of hope for us and for all humankind. As the Body of Christ in the world, now is the time for us to start thinking about what kind of positive choices we can make to begin to transform the evil that has made itself so real to us.

For it is now the beginning of beginning to begin to imagine the "what next" as we journey together into God’s future as people of faith.

People of ALL faiths. As a minister of the Christian Gospel and a priest in the Episcopal Church I speak unabashedly out of the particularity of my experience of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior … of my own journey of faith in Christian community … of my reliance on the Good News of God in Christ Jesus as a vehicle for transformation and redemption for the whole of creation – not just a means of individual salvation.

My response to the reality … the centrality … of this faith in my life is to invite others to "come and do likewise" … to experience the joy and peace that I find in this community as we strive to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind … and our neighbors as ourselves.

All our neighbors. Jew and Gentile. Muslim and Mormon. Orthodox and Otherwise. Nothing that divides us is greater than the love of the God who created us all. Never has it been more crucial that we work together to find the bonds of our common humanity and strive together to combat this evil perpetrated by a few which threatens to destroy us all. Never have the stakes been higher – never have the questions asked in our baptismal vows had more meaning:

Will you persevere in resisting evil?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

The response to each and every one of these questions is "I will, with God’s help" – and never before has that answer held as much promise and as much power at it does today: for it is only with God’s help that we can undertake the challenges ahead of us. And undertake them we must.

As people of faith we must challenge the voices in our culture which call for revenge against a people they do not know or a faith tradition they do not understand. And we must work together to overcome the voices of narrow exclusivism in our own traditions which feed and nurture the kind of fanaticism we have seen acted out with such destructive power.

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.

In the days and weeks ahead, I pray that God may lead us into a place where bridges can be built, where understanding can begin, where people of all faiths can begin to work together to overcome these forces that threaten to divide us. United we can combat the evil that surrounds us – trusting that the God who would leave the 99 sheep to find the one who is lost; who would search all day for the lost coin; will be with us as well, in these present difficult days.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold writes, "we are keenly aware that violence knows no boundaries and that security is an illusion. To witness the collapse of the World Trade Center was to confront not only our vulnerability as a nation in spite of our power, but also the personal vulnerability of each of us to events and circumstances that overtake us.

Many are speaking of revenge. Never has it been clearer to me than in this moment that people of faith, in virtue of the Gospel and the mission of the Church, are called to be about peace and the transformation of the human heart, beginning with our own. I am not immune to emotions of rage and revenge, but I know that acting on them only perpetuates the very violence I pray will be dissipated and overcome.

I pray that these events will invite us to see ourselves as a great nation not in terms of our power and wealth but measured by our ability to be in solidarity with others where violence has made its home and become a way of life.

Yes, those responsible must be found and punished for their evil and disregard for human life, but through the heart of this violence we are called to another way. May our response be to engage with all our hearts and minds and strength in God's project of transforming the world into a garden, a place of peace where swords can become plowshares and spears are changed into pruning hooks."

Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
For only in you can we live in safety.


1 comment:

Just Me said...

A couple of days after 9/11, I was standing in a check-out line at Target. Our daughter was a year and a half at the time and she was sitting in the cart.
There was a Muslim woman in front of us and she had a daughter about the same age.
The two girls were smiling and waving at each other the way small children do.
I cried. What I wouldn't have given at that moment to be as innocent as they were.