Note: I decided to write a separate piece on 9-11 for the Troy Patch. I am reposting here for your reflections.
Today is the eleventh anniversary of the tragedies of 9-11-2001. These numbers speak loudly to us as a nation. Many of us remember that day vividly, watching with horror as planes hit the Twin Towers in New York and then the Pentagon. Later in the day we would hear word that another plan went down in a field in Pennsylvania. What its destination was, we can only speculate. Could it have been the Capitol or the White House? There’s no use in speculating, just remembering and honoring the memories of those who died, whether as passengers and crew of planes or the people trapped in buildings, or the Responders who gave their lives to save others. But this day will forever frame our sense of identity and presence in the world. It has encouraged both the best and the worst in us.
Last year people gathered to remember the 10th Anniversary. Many of us did so here in Troy. The Troy Clergy Group in partnership with Troy-area Interfaith Group gathered together at St. Anastasia Catholic Church to remember and to pray, sharing our thoughts from a variety of faith traditions, from Hindu to Muslim, Jewish to Christian. Ten years before, and eleven years ago now, I was serving as President of the Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association (California), and it fell to me to help organize a service of remembrance. It was important that we do this for two reasons – one was to remember and honor those who had died, and the other was to send a message to the broader community that we should not seek vengeance on neighbors who happen to be different.
In the intervening years the United States has engaged in two wars, one of which we’ve recently removed ourselves after nearly nine years of involvement, and continue to be engaged in another that has gone on for more than a decade. The rationale has been two-fold – vengeance and deterrence. The vengeance part has, hopefully, dissipated, but we’re not sure about the deterrence. Indeed, our military engagements may in the end make us less safe than otherwise. But my point today isn’t to talk about wars. Rather I want to focus attention on building relationships.
9-11 has at times tapped into reservoirs of bigotry, hatred, and fear. It has created distrust and anxiety. Before 9-11 probably most Americans didn’t pay much attention to Islam or the Muslim world. Since then, it has been ever present on the minds of many. A President could face attack, and the form of the attack could be tarring him with being a Muslim. Now, President Obama happens to be a Christian, but so what if he was a Muslim? Would that in and of itself be a problem? Not for me, but for some it is a problem (and that’s putting it nicely). We remain, as a nation, fixated on Islam. We tar a religion and peoples who are as diverse ethnically as any on earth, a religion that is different than mine, a religion that has been in conflict with mine, and mine with theirs over the centuries, as evil or as terrorists. We put up walls and live with views colored by stereotypes.
On this eleventh anniversary, is it possible to honor the dead and their families by building bridges across religious and ethnic barriers? Is it possible for us to lay down the arms of these culture/religious wars, and recognize in each other true humanity? Can we stop and check the ways in which we relate to one another. Can we not embrace that old motto, the motto I wish had become official, e pluribus unum? .
I want to close an excerpt from something I wrote days after 9-11, inviting the community of Santa Barbara to gather to remember, to grieve, and build relationships across potential divides:
Although the religious community does not speak with one voice, as our theologies and values often differ, we are joined in a common concern for the loss of life and a collective loss of security and safety that is the aftermath of Tuesday morning. We find our vulnerability unsettling, and consequently, we have been and will continue to come together in our various houses of worship to pray for the victims and their families. From our pulpits and in our study groups, we will consider the causes and the solutions. Therefore, we must come together and support each other, whether Christian or Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, Hindu or Humanist; at a time like this, our differences matter less.
May our remembrances of that day draw us together today, rather than tear us apart. May we not forget, but let us remember in a way that builds peace and justice, rather than anger and mistrust.