Monday, September 12, 2011

The Weekend of Remembrance (3): Ten Years After

We have gone ten years now. We live in a post-9/11 world. So much happened. So little happened. We have become used to what is and find it hard to remember what was.

I'm not talking about air security and having to take off our shoes or package little bits of liquid in bags if we are to carry them on. It is not about the Department of Homeland Security agents I saw by the train platform at Target Field, concrete barriers at the Mall of America, or big dump trucks blocking streets at the Metrodome. Those are inconveniences that we pay for living in a world where, in reality, we are less safe than we think we are. Security changes like that, in fact, make me feel at least a little safer when I fly. I'll put up with the lines, thank you, just as I put up with intense and personal searching by El Al Airlines almost 40 years ago when we flew to Israel.

I am pleased with the respect we have learned to pay to firemen, first responders, police, public servants. September 11 taught us some amazing things about bravery as I commented yesterday. May we never forget or take for granted the potential dangers they face for us.

But several things bother me as I ponder the past decade.
  • First is that there were so many opportunities lost. For those of us in the church we experienced a return to church right after 9/11. I gather, though, that all research shows that it didn't last. It was momentary and gone before the year was out. Sure, some of that was looking for comfort- and I know many found it during those days. But why didn't people stay? What didn't they find. I fear we were found wanting and they left.

When people were searching for soul answers, we didn't provide them a way to find them.

  • Second, we also missed the opportunity to understand and grow in our national acceptance - and embrace of diversity. The divisions and underlying racism, distrust of those different, and a Christian triumphalism united so fully with American patriotism has done us more harm than good. As I said the other day, these are still underlying layers of the American history- our American original sin of slavery. Sadly, 9/11 brought those out. When faced with fear- fear and powerlessness- we turn to an "us" vs. "them" way of living. I am afraid we haven't seen the end of such attitudes. 9/11 didn't cause them- our reactions of fear and anger brought them to the surface. When we get that way it is difficult to be rational and learn that differences in style, religion, color do not make enemies. Extremism does that.

  • And third, and most devastating to our nation as a whole is that we have now lived through a decade of war. I am not an isolationist. I understand some of the things that led us into war in Afghanistan (though not in Iraq.) But we have now become so used to war- 10 years of it next month- that it becomes normal. This IS part and parcel of our 9/11 response. And it scares me.

War does not bring peace. Nor does anger and a desire to lash out in irrational ways. War will not make us feel safer. We become immune to the horrors. We become more war-like in our attitudes.

We also can fall apart as a nation. Economically. The Soviet Union was finally undermined by a number of factors, but an unending war in Afghanistan played a big part. We have had unfunded, unending wars for a decade. $1.2 trillion has been spent - unfunded. No wonder our national debt soared in these years. We had a budget SURPLUS in 2001. It is gone.

We have lost opportunities in the men and women who have been killed as a result of the wars. They are our families and friends. We continue to lose them to depression, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse.

As I listened to classical music radio yesterday as well as some of the remembrance programs, I was transported back, of course, to the memories and fears of that day. But I also remembered the way, for that brief moment, we came together as a nation. I remembered the feeling of wanting to hang on to who we are and can be as a nation and not allow the terrorists to turn us into mirror images of their irrational hatred. You see, I believe that we are better than that. We have an underlying ethic and code of morals under-girding our history.

We have not always lived up to it- we are, after all, a nation of imperfect people.

But I still believe we can be better than we have been. I believe that we can embrace those roots of freedom and diversity that we have so imperfectly followed some days. Those roots can be our source of nourishment when the 9/11-type events strike us. And they can, if we listen, allow us to grow more fully each and every year as a source of hope.

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