Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering the Right Things

Every year on September 11th I re-post this particular piece, if for no other reason than it speaks to me. I hope it speaks to you as well.

"The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it."  - Chinese Proverb

I confess that I dread days like this.  Things like marking the anniversary of the September 11th attacks are exactly the kinds of things that we USAmericans so often get so wrong.  We produce countless documentaries so that those who suffered the greatest losses can watch those planes and buildings blow up over and over again.  We profit from their pain, selling souvenirs disguised as remembrances.  And we focus on the wrong things.  Today is not about the terrorists, or conspiracy theories, or poorly thought out government responses, or military success.  Today is most certainly not about patriotism.  Today is about remembering those who through the most random of circumstances lost their lives 12 years ago today.  And today is about those who, that day and in the days that followed, stood with God and with great faith refused to allow the human spirit to be crushed by the events of that horrible morning.  This is my tribute to those people.

I watched that morning, completely stunned like the rest of the world.  I hear many people talk about how surreal it seemed to them.  It was very real to me almost immediately.  I was living in Chicagoland, and rumor spread quickly that the next target was the Sears Tower.  My wife Marilyn worked downtown, and almost immediately the evacuations began.  Panic and chaos were the words of the day.  As our church staff sat in our weekly staff meeting and tried to figure out some way to respond, we learned a local youth pastor had been on one of the planes.  It was all too real.  Three days later Marilyn was flying to Tampa to check out our new home.  Going to the airport and feeling the tension, being scared of something that had never scared us before, made it all too real.  As we watched for weeks as workers sacrificed, struggled and died in the hopes of finding even one person left alive in the aftermath, it seemed like life would never be the same again.  But eventually, we moved on.  We remembered, but we moved on.

In March of 2003 I took a group of youth from Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa to NYC for a few days, and while there we headed over to Ground Zero.  We expected to be moved by the destruction, the lists of those who died, and the remembrances of the horror of the day.  And we were.  But those things were not what we really remember from that visit.  It was our stop at St. Paul's Chapel that changed us all.  The little church on Wall Street, which backed up to the devastation, had been an oasis of peace and rest in the midst of the tragedy. It had become a shrine to the human spirit and the love of God.  It honored the dead, but also honored those who had given so much as first responders. It honored those who came as volunteers from all over the country simply seeking to help.  Pews in the sanctuary were damaged by the heavy equipment many of the firefighters wore that day.  Flowers, signs and banners were everywhere in honor of those who had served.  As you read the log books. watched video interviews and walked around the building, you could not help but realize that this was not an USAmerican thing; this was a GOD thing!  It was the loving responses of the many that would not allow evil to claim victory on that site.  

So how will I mark this occasion today?  By remembering these things- when despair overwhelms us, evil wins.  When anger rules, evil wins.  When revenge is our motivation, evil wins.  When faith, hope and love are all we are left with, then God wins.  There is a story told that a volunteer from St. Paul's tells of how he overheard one of the exhausted rescue workers coming into the church for a meal and a break, and he was singing.  The song he was singing was a youth group favorite by Lost And Found"Oh them lions they can eat my body but they can't swallow my soul..."  And that should be our lasting lesson from September 11, 2001.  It's also in the Gospel of John, chapter 1.  "The Light (Jesus) shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it."  For me, that will always be the story of 9/11.  Today, do not waste energy hating those who are evil.  Remember the fallen and those who were heroic in their selfless, sacrificial, Christ-like response.  That is what this day should always be about. Let's remember the right things...

Because of Jesus,

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