The phone rang, jostling me out of bed on a morning when I was already oversleeping. My Mother’s panicked voice on the other end was my first awareness that something horrible was happening. “An airplane has hit the World Trade Center,” she said. At first, I assumed it was a minor freak accident. As we now know, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Minutes later, I had the TV on and watched in horror as the second plane smashed into the WTC tower and I knew the world changed forever.
The rest of that morning was a frenzy of activity as I rushed to get to start my day while listening to NPR for the continued information of the deadly attack. I was hanging on every word and praying for some degree of meaning, purpose, and understanding amid the chaos and confusion permeating lower Manhattan. Soon, however, my attention was pulled in different directions
As I was leaving the house, local talk radio station called me into the stuido for a live interview about the unfolding scene in New York. Now, news reports were also coming in that the Penteagon was also a target and speculations the White House would be next were already circulating. Clearly, the whole nation was in shock and disbelief and the initial speculation was clear that Muslim terrorists may be the blame. Since I had done extensive study on Middle Eastern affairs and had personal relationships with Middle Eastern Arabs, the radio host wanted my professional commentary on the unfolding events.
As I was concluding my radio remarks, the hospital called and requested my services to attend the tragic death of a child in the emergency room and comfort the grieving family. As I was arriving at the hospital parking lot, I listened horrifically to the live reports of the first tower collapsing. While I was praying with the grieving mother in the emergency room, an Emergency Room staff shouted out, “The second tower collapsed.” The world was truly changed.
It would be days before my beleaguered spirit came to terms with the catastrophe of that day. Without exception, it was a morning that has altered history forever.
Yet, the way we choose to remember that tragic day will also impact history—for the positive or negative—depending on how we choose to remember.
Amid the catastrophic human casualties that September morning ten years ago were peace, love, and authentic religious faith.
As fear, hatred, and anger took over in the wake of the horrific 9-11 attacks, the terrorists won new victories. Likewise, as these destructive and dehumanizing emotions fueled the post 9-11 rage, both Christianity and Islam—religions that in their authenticity stand for peace—were largely usurped with by a religiosity of retaliation, intolerance, violence and fear.
Now, nearly ten years later, not much has changed. Muslims continue to suffer unjust and inappropriate discrimination at the hands of professed Christians. Hatred and mistrust continue to prevent faithful dialogue, and efforts to seek peace, healing, and restoration. War rages on in Iraq and Afghanistan and innocent lives perish daily amid the violence and veracious human indignity of incivility and hate.
Perhaps the most Christian way to remember the 10 year anniversary of September 11 is to commit ourselves to prayer, peace, understanding, and overcoming the evil of this world with the love God has for all, including those who we do not like or clearly understand— and yes, even those who truly hate us!
These are challenging words that are frequently challenged under the self-protectionist guise of practicality and rationalizations of justified hatred. Yet, in ten years, what has such hatred gained us? A costly decade of warfare that significantly contributed to the collapse of the global economy? The untimely deaths of thousands of American soldiers? A political system bitterly divided—dare I say hopelessly crippled in partisan rancor? Unrelenting hostility between Muslims and Christians?
Honestly, I fear that the ongoing hatred, hostility, warfare, violence, and bitter distrust that has permeated our post 9-11 world has done more to fester the bitter wounds of that September morning and have prevented genuine, Godly healing! Perhaps our anniversary remembrances this year can change that.
9-11 changed the world, but it need not change how the Gospel calls us to respond to the world. Perhaps, as we remember in the days to come, we can make it our focus to remember God’s priority for peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Then, on the 20th anniversary of this tragic moment in human history, we will have proven that peace and love truly are the means to healing.