Friday, September 12, 2008


It has been amazing how little time I've had the past couple of weeks. The beginning of the program year here at the church (which basically follows the school year) requires a lot of attention! So much so that I was a little off my game yesterday when Emmi, my co-dean for The Written Word told me via AIM that her office was observing a moment of silence in memory of September 11th. "Oh yeah... that's today, isn't it?" I said. That's how busy it's been. But I'm almost ready for Sunday, and I feel bad about (a) not blogging regularly & (b) not reflecting on 9/11, so I thought I'd do both of those things now.

My first memory of disaster is watching the Challenger explosion on TV when I was 9 years old. (I just glanced at the wiki article, and the image of that smoke plume still haunts me.)

The next time I remember being that deeply disturbed by tragedy was the Columbine High School massacre. I was in college then, and remember sitting in my dorm room and watching CNN all day long, trying to wrap my mind around it. I don't think the image of students being rescued through a second story window to the top of a SWAT vehicle, or racing for their very lives across the lawn, will ever leave me. I remember just... devouring every snippet of information I could on what happened there and did my very best to understand why... and I came to some hard conclusions about our society--but that's a post for another time, I think.

But 9/11... I was a student at ANTS and classes were supposed to start on the 12th. My wife was only my fiancée then, and the plan was for her to ride up to campus with me, spend the day with me, and then I would put her on the train home again. My dad was still working for the Navy then, and he and my mom had gotten up very, very early, had breakfast, watched the news and turned off the tv before the attacks happened. Then Mom and I went to the train station in Westerly to buy the tickets for the next day. And the gentelman at the station said, "We're not selling tickets today, nobody's going anywhere." And we were obviously confused, so the man said, "What? You haven't heard? Somebody flew a plane into a building in New York, they aren't sure yet if it's an accident or if somebody did on purpose." So we went back to the car and drove home, listening to the radio. I decided that driving towards Boston the next day, where the planes that hit the World Trade Center had taken off from, might not be my best move... I remember people around me feeling sorrow, and anguish, and... I couldn't feel anything. I was numb. But this disaster caused me to do more soul-searching about my country, my religion, and my God than any other.

I love this country, but I did not run out and buy a flag for my car. Instead, I wondered what kind of person decides to make a buck selling those flags on the backs of the nearly 3,000 dead in those attacks. I have always held dear the ideal of pacifism, because I believe that Jesus taught us to be pacifists and because I believe that violence begets violence and pacifism begets peace. But I cannot fault the passangers of Flight 93 for mounting their assault. There's certainly something about the words, "Are you guys ready? Ok. Let's roll!" that strike deep into the heart. I still struggle with 9/11, and all the things that it changed--all the positive and negative things that it revealed about this country, about this people, that I love.

On Neil Gaiman's blog yesterday there was a post about how layers of meaning have been added to 9/11 over the years, and it uplifts a clip of Jon Stewart as a means of maintaining perspective. My wife and I watched it in silence this morning, but before I embed it below, I'd like to point out one more thing I struggle with about this country, this people. In this clip, Jon Stewart proclaims that the 9/11 attacks forced us to a place where we judged not by the color of a person's skin, but rather by the content of their character. As we gear up for another election, and I hear people tear down the Democratic candidate because his last name is "Obama," I must beg to differ. Maybe in that pure moment of terror, as the towers came down, maybe then every color, race, and creed were for a moment equal. But I ask you, how long did that last?

If you have issues seeing the video, try this.

Be good to each other.
Rev. Josh

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