London Firefighters Observe a Moment of Silence on 9/11/11
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Firefighters from the Clerkenwell Fire Station’s Green Watch observe a moment of silence for their fellow firefighters who lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York in London, England.
(photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
A Father Mourns His Lost Son
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Robert Peraza, who lost his son Robert David Peraza, pauses at his son’s name at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial during the tenth anniversary ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011, in New York.
(photo: Justin Lane/AFP/Getty Images)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
—President Barack Obama, who read this passage, Psalm 46, at the ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
~by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Let Us Draw Fear and Solace from Certainty and Permit History to Surprise Us
by Krista Tippett, host
I’ll confess here (as I didn’t do in the public event that became this week’s show) that I’m already feeling overwhelmed by the 9/11 remembrance. Part of me hesitates to add to what will be a media deluge by Sunday. On the other hand, so much of that coverage is about reliving and revisiting; I’m longing to make some new kind of sense, to bring some new reflection to our common grappling.
We framed this public conversation at St. Paul’s Chapel on the edge of Ground Zero with a phrase I’ve used once or twice across the years: “remembering forward.” This is a play on my favorite line from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
And on Tuesday night, September 6th, remembering forward did take us to different places than I recall in my own September 11 deliberations up to now. We began by dwelling with the sense of vulnerability that was at the heart of that terrible day ten years ago — a catastrophic reminder of mortality and frailty even in our strongest fortresses. New Yorkers and Americans experienced a magnitude of “grief and dread” — Hendrik Hertzberg’s evocative words — that were disorientingly new.
I expected to be surprised, being in conversation with such an eclectic gathering of insightful thinkers — The New Yorker's Hertzberg, writer and thinker Pankaj Mishra, and theologian Serene Jones — but I didn't expect the word “hope” to resonate so loudly. It emerged as an intriguing, bittersweet theme.
For in pondering the strange and universal experience of vulnerability, we dwelt less on what was done to us and more about the work of living with the reality of that. We focused on the enduring, inward work of trauma that accompanied and followed that day ten years ago. As Serene Jones reminded us, when grief becomes mourning it encompasses a vision of wholeness.
On Tuesday night, we mourned not only for the tragedy but for the gift of those immediate post-9/11 days: the unprecedented solidarity that they called forth among strangers and fellow New Yorkers, between New York and the rest of America, between America and the rest of the world. And in this chapel, which is the symbol and practical heart of that ennobling moment of solidarity, we named questions, which themselves have power to create new realities in this coming decade. Did we really take in the extraordinary compassion the rest of the world extended to us in our moment of crisis? Is it too late to learn to extend that to each other and the world anew in more generous, more intentional ways?
My hope right now is rooted in a quiet, growing sense that, slowly, after many twists and turns, we might be settling into a more helpful realization of the limits of our understanding — and that this can open us to a new range of new possibilities and actions. We are more aware of our global interconnectedness this decade on. We are better equipped to understand that our dramatic moment of fear and grieving, of weakness in our strongest fortresses, is an experience many people across the world live with much of the time. We’ve realized that the Arab world we suddenly saw as full of enemies was also full of human beings who want the same dignity and democracy as us. The economic roller coaster of recent years has also reminded us of the perplexing reality that the only constant in life is change.
All these features of the decade since 9/11 have driven home its lesson of vulnerability. But they also drive home the lesson that there is both fear and solace to be drawn from the certainty that life and history will surprise us. Within that certainty, as Pankaj Mishra said so helpfully on Tuesday night, hope remains renewable. This was palpable at St. Paul’s Chapel that evening, making no sense at all and all the sense in the world.
The God Who Fits Our Agenda: 9/11 Then and Now
by Debra Dean Murphy, special contributor
Photo by Aftab Uzzaman/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. Most of us remember that day and what we were doing around nine o’clock that morning. (I was at the veterinarian’s office; we had just gotten a puppy the Saturday before).
September 11, 2011 is a Sunday. For those of us who will be in church that morning — in the pulpit or the pew — there’s an expectation that something important must be said; that appropriate ritual solemnity must be observed; that meaning, in some form or fashion, must be made.
It’s just bad, calendrical luck that the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks falls on a Sunday. Tuesdays are made for the busyness of school and work, for picking up the dry cleaning, and taking the dog to the vet. Sundays seem to call for ceremony and somber speechifying. Most pastors and preachers, I suspect, won’t be able to resist the urge.
But what is left to say? Haven’t we done too much talking and not enough listening these last ten years? And haven’t Christians of all stripes spoken too hastily about the events of September 11? Haven’t we summoned pious God-talk for our own well-intended purposes, sputtering and stuttering dubious theological explanations for an inexplicable tragedy?
In his beautiful book, Writing in the Dust: After September 11, Rowan Williams suggests that “when we try to make God useful in crises, we take the first steps toward the great lie of religion: the god who fits our agenda.” It’s discomfiting to realize in the immediate and long-term aftermaths of tragedies like 9/11, that “we might be committed to a God who can seem useless in a crisis,” Archbishop Williams writes. Certainly this wasn’t the god invoked after the fall of the twin towers when our leaders summoned the “wonder working power” of a deity whom we simply assumed would sanction our “crusade” against global terrorism.
But we worship, in fact, this Sunday and every Sunday, a God whose power is made perfect in weakness. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew, “only the suffering God can help.” The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. Try putting that one on the churchyard sign sometime.
When we set the script of American civil piety next to the scriptures assigned for the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we notice that the 9/11-inspired “remember and never forget” meets up with Jesus’ outrageous admonition to forgive ad infinitum those who sin against us.
The secular liturgies that have commemorated the events of September 11, 2001 from the beginning until now make no room for forgiveness. Indeed, one of the unquestioned assumptions of such rites has been the specialness of our dying as Americans — the lopsided value we have placed on American lives lost that September day, compared to the men, women, and children who die every day, every second of every day, around the world, often in circumstances at least as horrific as the terrorist attacks of 9/11. As anthropologist Talal Asad perceptively puts it, “human life has differential exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ peoples” and “this is necessary to a hierarchical global order.”
So the “important” word we wait to hear this Sunday is one that should be routine in our hearing and our living: the suffering God of the cross gathers us, greets us, and sends us out to love and forgive our enemies. What we “remember and never forget” is the commemorative meal in which he feeds us at a table of gracious plenty. On a Tuesday or a Sunday or any day of the week, this is who we are: a people turned by the eucharistic table into friends of God and neighbors to all.
Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.
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But for the day’s main event—the secular ceremony headlined by President Obama—the Kennedy Center’s a better fit. If our civil religion were less tangled up with actual religion, the event would have been planned there from the start.
Steve Thorngate of The Christian Century takes issue with the original location for the National Cathedral’s headliner event for the 9/11 anniversary commemoration, “A Concert for Hope.”
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Trinity Requiem”
by Chris Heagle, technical director
As the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th approaches, we’re continuing to plan for our event at St. Paul’s Chapel on September 6th. Co-produced with Trinity Wall Street, the public dialogue is called “Who Do We Want to Become? Remembering Forward a Decade After 9/11.” Three public intellectuals, Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker, Serene Jones of Union Theological Seminary, and the author Pankaj Mishra, will speak with Krista for an hour and then answer questions from our in-house and online audiences.
And, so it was a pleasant coincidence that just after returning from a scouting trip to the chapel, a colleague handed me a CD of Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem. Trinity commissioned the Denver-born composer to write a piece for their youth chorus commemorating 9/11. The result, which will be released September 6th, is a lush work for voice, organ, harp, and cello. The track above is actually two — the “Offertory” followed by “In Paradisum.”
The former is a variation on Pachelbel’s famous "Canon in D." During the recording sessions in Trinity’s downtown sanctuary, as if on cue, a series of sirens can be heard passing by the church. The liner notes of the CD suggest this occurred during the best take and couldn’t be edited out. I would argue that they were meant to be there all along. Thanks to SoundCloud, you can preview the whole CD.
We’re looking for your reflections on 9/11 and specifically on how we pass on the narrative of those events to future generations. Share your thoughts with us and we’ll incorporate them into our discussion.
Reich’s piece brings back some searing memories, with (for me) an emotional intensity that had dimmed over the last 10 years. His work is a reflection of the chaos and horror of that day, and of the struggle to understand what happened. In that light, using that photo feels, to me, appropriate. I don’t fully appreciate the dark smudging and streaking of the image (the NY sky was a bright clear blue that day)…but this feels like a quibble. The events of that day were ghastly, abhorrent. But I appreciate the way Reich’s piece brings me face-to-face with what happened, and with my own visceral reaction.
The classical music aficionado and public radio host weighed in on his show’s Facebook page with a brief perspective on the new cover art for the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steve Reich’s latest work, WTC 9/11, from Nonesuch Records. Released this week, the gritty adaptation of Masatomo Kuriya’s famous photo showing the second plane moments before plunging into the south tower has stirred up quite visceral reactions among people from all walks of life.
But, what about the music itself and the fact that the cover art is meant to support or tease out a central element of the music it sheaths? Well, Fred has been “listening to the piece obsessively this past week” and he’ll be writing a lengthier reflection for us in the coming weeks. As a fan of Kronos Quartet, I, for one, can’t wait to read his interpretation of the piece and how the image fits in.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"Do Not Rejoice When Your Enemies Fall"
by David P. Gushee, guest contributor
"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”
Photographs of firefighters killed on 9/11 are seen outside the World Trade Center site after the death of accused 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was announced May 2, 2011 in New York City. Bin Laden was killed in an operation by U.S. Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)
We feel compelled to respond today to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States and to the jubilant response across the nation.
A nation has a right to defend itself. From the perspective of the fundamental national security of the United States, this action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self-defense.
But as Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.
In that sense, President Obama’s sober announcement was far preferable to the happy celebrations outside the White House, in New York, and around the country, however predictable and even cathartic they may be.
For those of us who embrace a version of the just war theory, honed carefully over the centuries of Christian tradition, our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news.
This event does provide new opportunities for our nation.
President Obama’s respectful treatment of Islam in his remarks, and his declaration that Osama bin Laden’s body was treated with respect according to Islamic custom, offers all of us an opportunity to follow that example and turn away from the rising disrespect toward Muslims in our nation.
A second opportunity is for the United States to reconsider the questionable moves we have made in the name of the war on terror. From our perspective, this includes the indefinite detentions of scores of men at Guantanamo Bay, the failure to undertake an official investigation of detainee interrogation practices, the increase in Predator attacks in Pakistan, and the expansion rather than ending of the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan.
We also now have the opportunity for national reflection on how our broader military and foreign policies — including the placement of our troops throughout the largely Muslim Arab world, our posture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our regular military interventions around the world, create a steady supply of new enemies.
There can never be any moral justification for terrorist attacks on innocent people, such as the terrible deeds of 9/11. But we must recognize that to the extent that our nation’s policies routinely create enemies, we can kill a Bin Laden on May 1 and face ten more like him on May 2. Might it now be possible for us to have an honest national conversation about these issues?
May we learn the right lessons from the news of this day. For Jesus’ sake.
This statement was originally published on the website of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good on May 2, 2011.
David P. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He is the co-founder and board chair of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a columnist for the Huffington Post, Washington Post, and Associated Baptist Press, and a contributing editor for Christianity Today. Dr. Gushee also currently serves on the Church Relations Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has published 12 books, including Kingdom Ethics, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Getting Marriage Right, and Only Human.