Where I failed after 9/11

It’s been 19 years. I can still remember where I was sitting. The memories of halting the retreat where I was attending, huddling around the one TV with bad reception, the shock… calling my family…

Coming out of that time I also knew the word I had from the Lord: “Prepare the Body. The world is different. Get back to discipleship.”

This is where I failed. Miserably.

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I still remember

I still remember where I was 18 years ago. It was a Tuesday morning at a prayer retreat. The morning session had just begun when someone came in and gave us news that a tower had been hit in New York City.

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Why do we fear relationships?

The issues of race, ethnic divides, immigration concerns, are such hot button issues. 

Immediately following the events of 9/11, I immediately contacted my Muslim friends to make sure they were okay. I wanted them to know I wasn’t angry with them and I wanted, above all, to make sure no one else was taking anything out on them right away. It was in knowing these precious friends I could understand the nervousness and fear they felt in the months following 9/11. 

I reached out further by organizing events to put Christian college students with Muslim high school students. The director of the Muslim school was so deeply appreciative and during the event he pulled me aside and thanked me. Then, the inevitable question: “WHY are you doing this?” 

“The more we know, the less we fear,” I responded. 

And it works both ways. When these white Christian students got to Muslims, they feared less. The Muslim students getting to know at least one white Christian helped them not have a knot in their stomach as well. 

In our own community, the police are very pro-active in building relationships so kids don’t see a cop and have an urge to clam up, turn away, or run. The community has “coffee with a cop” days. The police sponsor open gyms at the middle school and high school. They get to know kids and kids get to know them so if a 9-11 call happens and a cop may know a kid or adult involved, they can have a bit more civilized conversation in the process and things don’t escalate as much. 

Interestingly enough, it is because I know police officers and also have friends who are from the St. Louis area that also know the racial tensions in that area that I know the anxiety on BOTH sides. If we are on the outside looking in, we tend to look at “systems” and want to diagnose the “system.” If we actually know people and have relationships, we know “systems” may be part of the problem, but the situation is a lot “stickier” than solving a legislative issue. 

I prefer the mess of relationships. I am weary of the ideological bombs we throw at each other. I can hunker down in my ideology and feel good about winning an argument, but at the end of the day, I’m just hunkered down with my ideology feeling good about myself. For some that’s enough. For me, the world is much richer than that. It’s messier, but it’s richer. 

One of the Genuine Benefits from 9/11

Last night I was with a dear friend of mine and was reminded once again of how long I have known him. Over the years his influence has brought together many Christian leaders in our metro area and as I was introduced to many new Christian leaders last night, we would ask each other how we met our mutual friend.

I met my friend just a few days after 9/11. I had been away on a prayer retreat with other pastors when 9/11 happened. When I got back to town a day later, I immediately called several of my Muslim friends and let them know I was their friend and would always be their friend. If anything happened to them or their place of business, they could call me and I would help with whatever they needed.

Not long after that I made a trip to another Islamic center that was overseeing the mosque six blocks from my church. I asked to see the director, who was also the imam of the mosque. That was the first day I got to meet Dr. Hamdy El-Sawaf. That first meeting was very brief. I only introduced myself and let him know I was the pastor a few blocks from the mosque. If there was anything I could do for him, he could let me know.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to bring students and city leaders and congregation members to see Dr. Hamdy. We’ve been to Friday prayers. We’ve been to special Ramadan events.

Last night was an inter-faith event to talk about Ramadan. It is an annual thing at his mosque now. (He moved to lead another mosque near my house.)

One of the genuine benefits from 9/11 was the opportunity to meet Hamdy. He is a man of genuine peace. He genuinely seeks the peace of his city and the welfare of those around him. His generosity is immense. I am so fortunate to call this man my friend.

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Remembering and Mourning

Today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11. It was actually a Tuesday when the attacks happened.

I was reflecting with one of my classes last week about things like 9/11. One thought struck me during that discussion is built on a conviction I’ve had for quite some time about 9/11.

We haven’t properly mourned 9/11.

In personal tragedy, if someone doesn’t really mourn a loss, if they don’t take the time to grieve, “issues” pop up later. Until there is real grief, sorrow, a letting out of emotions, we find ourselves struggling with raw emotions. Those emotions will surface at the oddest times and we will wonder where that came from!

I think this may be true on a national level. We had memorials and services, but I think our national emotions are still raw. We’ve divided, so that if people get upset with a mosque being built near Ground Zero, we chalk it up to “crazy conservatives.” If someone else has an opposite reaction to something else tied to 9/11, we lash out and say, “Weak liberal.”

It exposes raw emotion. I think it’s because we haven’t really mourned this day and this loss. We still search for the “why” in some way, but that search for “why” isn’t the answer to our grief. Bin Laden being dead isn’t the end of our grief. Hussein’s death doesn’t resolve grief. Revenge doesn’t resolve grief.

The first few weeks after 9/11 I remember people talking about re-evaluating what they do. One “gossip columnist” I heard on MPR spoke about the shallowness of her job. There was a sense of reality. A chance to grieve.

Then, we were told the most patriotic thing we could do was get back to shopping. We’re consumers. Go consume. Show those terrorists they didn’t win!

We went to war, we went to the mall, and we tore into each other. We blamed George Bush. We blamed liberals. We blamed France. We blamed anyone we could find for what was wrong in our world. And we’re still blaming. We still have raw emotions over all kinds of things not even related to 9/11… and it just may be because we haven’t really let out the emotions we truly feel from this day.

Then again, I could be all washed up on this one.

Today… I remember.