Guest Blogger

9/11: When We Were One

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 10, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 9/11, Chris Glaser, September 11, Twin Towers

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Chris Glaser, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, is an author of 12 books, a contemplative blogger, an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and an MCC pastor. Chris also has his own blog where he Sept-11-memorial.jpgpublishes a progressive Christian reflection once a week.

In the days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, as people speculated as to the U.S. response, an unorthodox thought crossed my mind. "What if we did nothing?" I wondered. "What if we just took the brunt of their hatred and did not respond in kind?" We had gained the world's empathy; why squander it on violent action?

It was an idealistic thought. Certainly easy to say for someone who only experienced the terrorism on live television; who had lost no one directly. And not pragmatic, as I pride myself at being. Probably would be interpreted as weakness, inviting more attacks. My experience with church bullies has taught me that not responding to attacks is an ineffective way to stop bullying. And I must admit I was glad to see the Taliban driven from power in Afghanistan--those who had blown up the giant stone Buddhas, those who wouldn't let girls go to school, those who banned children from flying kites.

In a presentation in Chicago a week after 9/11 and in Dayton three weeks after, I pointed out that our immediate response to the attacks was heartening:

Categories seemed to disappear; divisive walls came down. We were no longer Democrats or Republicans, no longer black or white, no longer gay or straight. We were humbled, but not by the terrorists. We were humbled by recognizing our need for one another; that we do not, that we can not stand alone. Look how quickly Jerry Falwell was slapped down for his divisive comments that blamed gays, feminists, pro-choice advocates, and God! Remember how rapidly we sought to defend Arab-Americans and Muslims that some would separate out for retribution. And notice how we resisted those few who would divide us by blaming the victim, the U.S., in a way they would never blame the victims of any other form of violence, such as rape or spousal or child abuse. We are rallying around each other, symbolized politically by the flag, symbolized spiritually by our prayers.

And then I cautioned:

Eventually, Americans and the world will move beyond the tragedies in New York City, Washington, D.C., and the Pennsylvania countryside. Walls and differences and partisanship will be reconstructed.

I paralleled our experience as a nation in that moment of kairos - that moment of spiritual crisis and opportunity - to a conversion experience, an encounter with an awesome God that is humbling, prompting us to come together "no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female," remembering that we are all beloved children of God:

An encounter with God transforms us, and we are ready to love everybody. But then we return to building our walls, divisions, categories - reminding us that we have not yet recognized the kingdom of God in our midst, the commonwealth of God in which we share a common spiritual wealth.

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Chris, I am not sure I agree with your idealistic assessment of post-attack America that you give in your first block of quote.

I was living near Long Beach, California at the time. Few a few days, society seemed to be dealing with the enormity of the tragedy. Then about a week later, people started getting angry. The Right attacked not only Muslims, but all immigrants, as if white America's ancestors from England, Germany, France, Italy, or Ireland had never been immigrants. That beautiful ceremony in the National Cathedral ended with a singing of the "Battle Hymn of The Republic" and a friend of mine immediately commented, "That song means only one thing: We're going to war, baby!"

The anti-Islam anger got so heated that I was concerned for the physical safety of my Muslim friends and my former workplace subordinates. Mexican teenagers were feeling the anger coming at them like heat from a blast furnace, and they were going around Long Beach in groups chanting, "USA! USA! USA!" -- not so much to campaign for war, but to convince whites that the Latinos considered themselves to be Americans.

So I did not experience the nirvana that you did. Sure, I heard countless heart-moving stories of strangers reaching out to strangers. But I think it was only a day or two after the attacks when a friend remarked to me, "You just watch! This will become Bush's excuse to go back into Iraq!"

Our anger has cooled, but I fear our Islamophobia is almost as strong as it was ten years ago. When I mention Islam in front of my family members, someone invariably interrupts me with a comment of their own -- sometimes it changes the subject, but it tells me they aren't even willing to hear that people have a right to choose their own religion.

(A little personal kvetch here: I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran -- The Missouri Synod is so insistent that theirs is the only true religion, that they do not allow Lutheran pastors to participate in ecumenical events with Jews, Muslims, or even some other Christian sects. This isolation results in unbelievable ignorance about other religions: When a family member of mine saw me reading a book by the Dalai Lama, she remarked, "Oh, you're reading about that fanatic that used to run Iran." In bigotry, one cannot tell a despot from a bodhisattva. What is worse, some people do not want to rise out of their ignorance, having swallowed it hook, line and sinker that to even learn about other religions is a sin.)

You speak about not "blaming the victim" -- and nor do I. But once again, America has overdosed on excessive war, this time putting the entire bill on its credit card. America is still a very ethnocentric and bigoted country, with or without a Black president fathered by a Kenyan immigrant and raised by a white mother, who fails to convince too many that his Christian faith is genuine. And I won't lecture you on what Americans will do for greed. Or oil. Even our recent President from Texas admitted America is addicted to oil, but to no avail.

Is it any wonder that the rest of the world, at best, is wary of us?