At the risk of causing serious offense – a thought on this, the 12th anniversary of 9/11.
Like many, September 11, 2001 is a day I’ll never forget. The phone call from my wife about a plane crashing into one of the WTC towers. Then the images. An all-university convocation for prayer. The lines backing up out of the gas stations. More images. Time standing still. We were blindsided out of the sunny skies by a force we were only dimly aware of. The day – and days that followed – were filled with unimaginable grief, tales of heroism, and a new national resolve. “Never forget” became the watchword.
I suppose that when people say “Never forget”, they mean different things. Many are simply remembering the fallen – a good and right thing to do. But I get the impression that for others “Never forget” means something entirely different. Or, perhaps, something more.
It means, “Never forget what they (the bad guys) did to us (the good guys).” It is an occasion to affirm our moral superiority. We tell and retell a narrative that divides the world into a tragic “us vs. them.” If that is what is meant, then I object on two fronts.
I object on the theological front that in Christ there is no “us” vs. “them.” Paul is quite clear throughout his epistles that in Christ the “us” and the “them” has been weighed in the scales and found wanting. No serious reader of Romans and Ephesians, for instance, can walk away feeling justified in an “us vs. them” way of thinking, with “us” being the morally superior. No. In Christ there is only “us” – desperate for mercy. Only “us” – failures, fallen, backwards, wayward. Only “us” – all too ready to pull the trigger. Only “us” – longing to live in a world where there is no one to fear, no hostility, and often clueless as to how to proceed. No “us” and “them.” Just “us” – bound together as the broken and terrified humanity the Son of God spilled holy blood to save.
Following from that, I object on the pragmatic front that such “us vs. them” sentimentalizing can only have the effect of reinforcing stigma and antagonism – and thereby making the world an even more unsafe place to live. When “they” are suspicious that “us” is suspicious of “them”, and when “us” is afraid that “they” might be out to get them, then we are surely setting ourselves up for trouble. That does not mean we are unaware of the reality and possibility of great malice – only that as a matter of posture we do not live reinforcing the stigmas and antagonisms that give rise to and amplify the violences of our world. In Christ, we are called “peace-makers”–meaning that at a minimum, we refuse to engage in patterns of thought, postures, and activities that are sure to keep distorting and dividing the world that Christ died to pull back in shape.
It is hard, to be blunt, to imagine Christ the Lord getting very excited about “Never Forget”, if by so saying we mean something like the sentiment I have here expressed. It is easier, I think, to imagine him saying things like, “If your enemy is thirsty…” or “Father forgive them…” or even “Lord have mercy…”
We live in a world where things like 9/11 happen because we are bound together in systems that distort human life. There can be no moral back-scratching among the community of those who have chosen to live under the judgment and mercy of the cross. Only pleas. Not for “us” against “them”. But for all of us.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. For we are in desperate need.