September 11th has come and gone yet again; and to be perfectly honest I sometimes wish I could avoid the day all together. It stirs up a bunch of negative and uncomfortable emotions in me revolving around my (our) vulnerability, the hatred that is in the world, how fear affects us, and also grief of many layers.
I remember back to when it happened. I was simply a sixteen year old kid whose mother had just died that summer, leaving me feeling extra scared, extra vulnerable, extra sad. Extra everything. I so longed for my mother to be there with me during that time to help me feel better, and yet I was also so glad she was not alive to see it happen because I knew it would have deeply affected her heart.
Today I no more than look at a picture or listen to a story on NPR about the event that I begin to cry. My empathy goes into overdrive and awareness (though not full comprehension or experience) of those directly affected sweeps over me, and leaves me feeling utterly overwhelmed at points. Deeper beyond that grief is the grief of how God must feel seeing his creation act with such hatred towards each other. Grief at realizing that it goes much deeper than “terrorists hate our way of life” and into forms of oppression through American imperialism; grief over a cycle where not loving and allowing injustice met in such a disastrous ways ten years ago. Grief that there are no simple reasons, answers, or solutions, despite what George W. told us at the time.
Today I have both grief and hope over where September 11th of 2001 led me. I mourn that for at least five years afterwards I walked down a road of fear, hatred, and vengeance. Man I hated the “terrorists”, and I applauded when we went to war. I was amazed to see the bombs drop over Afghanistan and Iraq. I was proud of how much better we were able to hurt “them” versus how much they could hurt “us”. Sure they killed a few thousand of us…but we bombed the hell out of them and killed thousands upon thousands. Vengeance was mine. Vengeance was ours. Ohhhh but how I was scared. I was scared enough to let George W. take us into any war that would ensure that it never happened again. I voted for him just to help ensure this. How much did it cost? No worries, it was worth it. Fear led me to applaud the Patriot Act. The government needed to do what it needed to do. So they were discriminating against Muslim Americans? Not a problem if it kept us safe. The fact that hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs were on the rise? Well I would say it was sad and then try to not think about it too much. I was so scared that I added a Homeland Security major in college. I was going to do everything I could to BE IN CONTROL and make sure this did not happen again. My career goals were to work for the CIA (I had a perfect 4.0 and was sure I would make it there). I was going to help hunt down all those terrorists. I was going to help kill them.
Did I mention that I was a Christian during this time?
At this point I almost do not know where to begin. In looking back on myself I am amazed by how far from heart of the God I claim to serve I was. Looking back on myself I see everything that breaks my heart about the American church. Looking back though also gives me hope, because it also shows me how powerful God is at changing hearts. I know I have shared on here before about my journey to coming to a much different and deeper place in my faith that shook up all my old beliefs about what it meant to be a Christian so I will not repeat it all now.
What I will say now is that the way much of the American church reacted was very, very wrong. We got a little too swept up in being Americans and forgot that really we belong to a Kingdom. We forgot that the person we declare Lord told us to love our enemies. That our Lord told us to forgive. That our Lord was willing to endure torture and death that he did not deserve. That he gave up getting “justice” and vengeance, and instead chose forgiveness. Much of the American church went the other way and became fearful just like the rest of the country. We forsook the security of God for the security of armed missiles, and counterinsurgency tactics. We valued our lives sadly at the cost of our souls. Most of the American church got behind the war effort and then proceeded to use God as our “defense” (even all we were really relying on was US military might). God had after all chosen us to be a great nation. The greatest right? (Remind of where to find that Biblical reference again because I seem to have misplaced it). Your very Christianity was questioned if you did not support the fight against terrorism. I know this because I myself questioned the Christianity of those who questioned the wars years ago, and later on because my Christianity was questioned when I was convicted and could no longer support the wars.
So in looking back on the anniversary and everywhere our church and country has gone in the last decade I cannot help but feel great grief when I see how the church lost its true voice and mission, and how our entire country and world suffered for it. Can you imagine with me what might have happened if we had chosen forgiveness over vengeance? If we had chosen to live in faith versus by the sword? What if we had sent out goodwill ambassadors around the world instead of soldiers? If we had set out to tackle AIDS, human trafficking, maternal healthcare problems, or poverty with the money we instead spent on killing our enemies (and many innocent people along the way). What a witness that would have been the world, including the Muslim world, if the church in America had led the nation in declaring that we would forgive those who had done this to us; just as Jesus forgave those responsible for crucifying him for crimes he did not commit.
Critics often criticize Christian pacifists stating that these measures would not work. They argue that even if we all forgave and went around the world “serving and doing good works” the terrorists would still try to attack us and kill us. And they are probably right. But that doesn’t really matter. Because once again Jesus forgave; and therefore (no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it) so should we. Will our forgiveness transform the hearts of terrorists? Possibly, (the spirit of God that dwells within forgiveness is the only thing that I truly believe can transform hearts) but it is guaranteed to transform our hearts. Forgiveness frees us to live beyond “an eye for an eye” and fear that leads us to make bad decisions. Jesus forgave and he was still crucified. As the church we do not exist in the same paradigm as the world and therefore our arguments and objectives are never going to match up. Nation-states are about power. George W., Osama, Obama, some pastors (unfortunately), our militaries, and other powerful people and forces would have us believe that the only way to win is to beat the other side and protect ourselves. Jesus did not fight to protect himself though; he did not spend his last hours alive gathering troops, weapons, or intelligence on what the “enemy” Pharisees were up to. No, on his last night alive he showed us how we are to live in the face of death. We are to get on our knees, wash each others’ feet, have a great time sharing life over a meal, and pray. If Jesus could wash Judas’ feet then what excuse do we have?
Going into this next decade my prayer for my life, my family’s life, and my church’s life is that we will stop running from our crucifixion, and instead run towards it. Looking at Jesus we see that it is not about winning, but being willing to forgive and wash any and everyone’s feet.