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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by Eric Nelson, guest contributor
In addition to providing me with a least a decade’s worth of entertainment, J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series has also given me a fresh and hopefully meaningful way to explain my not-always-easy-to explain religion to others. And given that practically half the world has either read or seen the last installment of this epic series, I feel comfortable doing so without fear of spoiling the ending.
But first a little background…
As a Christian Scientist, I’m often confronted, by others and within myself, with some pretty tough questions about my faith — questions like, “If you believe that God is all good, all-powerful, and ever-present, how do you explain natural disasters, famine, war, and violent rampages? What about sickness, disease, and death? Why do bad things happen to good people?”
In short, “How do you deal with the question of evil?”
Although I’m very far from having anything even approaching a complete answer, I can tell you that one thing I don’t do is close my eyes and pretend it’s not there. Simply avoiding evil or wishing, hoping, praying that it just goes away is not the answer.
On the other hand, something I’d like to think I am getting better at over the years is choosing between what I consider to be effective and not-so-effective ways to defeat evil.
And this is where Harry Potter comes in.
As every Potterphile knows, there comes a time in Book Seven when Harry has to choose between two courses of action in his quest to deal with the evil Lord Voldemort, aka “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
One path involves the acquisition of three “Deathly Hallows.” These include the immensely powerful “Elder Wand;” the death-defying “Resurrection Stone;” and the “Cloak of Invisibility” which, as the name implies, enables the one who possesses it to become completely invisible.
The other path — and the course Harry ultimately chooses — is to track down and destroy seven hidden “Horcruxes.” These are objects in which Voldemort has placed a part of his soul as a means of achieving immortality.
Now, I realize that any analogy between Harry’s strategy for defeating “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” and the practice of Christian Science may seem a little loose at this point. But hear me out on this.
You see, Christian Science is all about getting at the root of the problem. No, not by tracking down bits and pieces of an evil wizard’s soul (if this were even possible) but by addressing the mental nature of all evil, sickness and disease included — not with magic, but through inspired prayer. In this sense, Christian Scientists like myself are in league with increasing numbers in the medical field who acknowledge the direct connection between mind and body.
By challenging long-held assumptions about God as unknowable and man as essentially biological — even the apparent invincibility and inevitability of evil itself — I’ve found that I’m able to confront and defeat evil in much the same way as many folks in the Bible did.
Although modest by comparison, the physical healings I’ve experienced include a wide variety of problems — everything from everyday aches and pains to more serious, life-threatening conditions. The result of this process, this battle if you will, is the destruction of at least some small element of evil that would suggest that man has separated himself, by choice or by design, from God’s care.
Getting back to Harry, perhaps the biggest lesson for him, and for us, is what these evil-defeating experiences can teach us about the presence and power of love — a word that Episcopal priest and Yale lecturer Danielle Tumminio in her superb analysis of the Potter books equates with God.
But still we’re left with at least one unanswered question: If what Christian Science teaches is true, how come we still have all this evil to deal with?
This is a question I continue to contend with. While I may not have entirely grasped the why of evil, I’m grateful to have caught at least a glimpse of the how of its destruction. And I have no doubt that there will come a time when we’ll all discover, as did Harry, that evil in whatever form it presents itself can and will be defeated once and for all.
Eric Nelson is from Los Altos, California. In addition to his work as a Christian Science practitioner, he also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.Comments