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Perspectives on the September 11, 2001 Crisis
(Prepared for Chapel at Christopher Dock High School)
Scarcely are there words to describe the myriad of feelings a day like yesterday elicited. With you I lament the loss of life, and mourn the devastation and destruction. Probably more than anything else we collectively feel our vulnerability to the dangers of the world.
Last evening I felt drawn to join in the prayer service at the Franconia Mennonite Church to find personal solace and receive strength from God in the company of my sisters and brothers. A prayerful reflective attitude will hopefully characterize our community and nation for days and even years to come.
There are a multiple levels of emotion and meaning that might be expressed about the destructive actions of yesterday. It will take many years to fully comprehend and interpret what has transpired. Meanwhile I have been invited to share some perspectives for this time of national crisis.
1. First, to you as young people I want to offer some assurance of hope. The tragedies of yesterday are enormous, and they interrupt life as we have known it and cast a huge shadow on the future. But be assured that our God is big, and spans eons of history, and remains the sovereign overall the mechanization's of human life, including the natural and human created catastrophes that we experience. Isaiah 40 assures us of the faith we dare have in God who in the words of the spiritual "holds the whole world in his hands". You can continue to plan for a purposeful life under the guidance of God. As you are in touch with the meaning of these events, they may offer guidance to you in your life priorities and the choices you make. At least be open to this possibility.
2. We do well to remember that the good life we enjoy and assume as our right is not shared by most of the people in the globe. We know this, but we often don't realize the anger and envy and resentment this creates for those who feel left out of the abundance of our prosperity. These feelings of resentment increase when others realize that some of our wealth is at the expense of the poor of the world in the form of cheap clothes, toys, tools, appliances, and on the list could go. Can we make this a time of responding with generosity and compassion rather than to protect and defend the wealth that we have received, often through no major effort of our own? Let I John 3:17 guide us in these responses of sharing with those in need.
3. I suggest we be careful in the language we use to describe this tragedy. Words like terrorist and barbarian are demeaning terms that tend to make us prejudge and label whole groups of people. Not all Moslems and Arabs are terrorists. Much of the destruction of the world comes at the hands of westerners and Americans. Witness the Oklahoma bombing. I heard of one Mennonite pastor who last night was seeking out a Mosque in which pray to show his care for those we so quickly tend to blame in this situation. Let's also be cautious about describing these events as war, language that is designed to incite militant responses. Let our language be seasoned with love and grace, rather than bitterness and condemnation.
4. As one of the historic peace churches, Mennonites have an enormous opportunity to model restorative rather than retributive justice at a time life like this. In other words, to heal and restore relationships rather than to seek retaliation. Now this will be very contrary to the popular rhetoric of the leaders of our nation. But the scriptures remind us in Romans 12 that vengeance belongs to God. And we have already seem the unending escalation of violence in the middle east when an eye for an eye is the rule of behavior. Let's remember that while we are afraid in the wake of yesterday's activities, others in the world are afraid of us, of the retaliation of our country. Our fear does not legitimize us putting others in fear.
5. Perhaps this goes without saying, but we should not be surprised by the violence we experienced yesterday. I was surprised, but I should not have been. The world is a dangerous place. We see violence and destruction on the news everyday. Usually it is across the ocean. But should we assume we are immune to the evil and destruction that others live with every day? It is among us, in our own culture, in our own hearts. Let this be a time of self-examination, of repentance for the seeds of violence within us. How many of us experienced a quick reaction of wanting to fight back and harm those who have harmed us? This is not unusual. But can we label and blame and condemn others when we harbor the same spirit in ourselves?
6. This is a wonderful time for Christians to link hands in encouragement and comfort to one another, in ministry to the needs of the world, in worship and prayer to our God. Our differences as denominations and nationalities pale alongside the greater unity we can have with God's global family. Let's remember God's family is on all sides of the conflicts of the world. Who could our nation retaliate against without injuring some members of the body of Christ? Those we are inclined to villainize are part of God's creation, and may be our sisters and brothers in Christ. It might interest you to know that while we felt attack yesterday, the Mennonite Central Committee received calls and e-mails from places like Holland, Cuba and Bolivia to offer their assurance of love and support for us in the face of this destruction. Our own offices received similar messages from Mexico and Honduras.
7. Above all, we need to reaffirm that Jesus is our peace, both
peace for our hearts and peace in our relationships (Ephesians 2).
Jesus is our reconciler, our Savior from sin, our Lord who orders
our lives, our example for how to live. What an opportune time to
reflect on the words of Peter in chapter 2:21,23-24:
There is much to be said, and no easy answers for times like this. As people of faith, in the words of James (1:19) we do well to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. May the grace and wisdom of God guide you as students and faculty in this difficult time.
James M. Lapp