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Reflecting on 11 Sept. 2001

I received an email today from a friend that I met grading AP Statistics exams the last couple of summers. He teaches at a private school in Washington, D.C. and shared his memories of 11 Sept. 2001, and asked others in our circle of AP friends to do likewise. I’ve decided to share that here, followed by some further reflection that I decided might not be appropriate for that audience.
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I was just starting my first semester on campus as faculty. I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, and as I was leaving heard something about a “jet” hitting one of the towers. I pictured a small private prop plane or something, and nothing in the conversation between the nurses and staff indicated anything much more severe than that. Once getting on campus, I had a lab after chapel and decided to go a little early and tune in CNN on Messiah’s TV network. I had figured out that this was somewhat more serious than I had surmised at first. Upon getting to lab, and seeing the coverage, I knew there was no way I could teach that day. I ended up turning down the volume, leading the class in prayer for the situation, and then telling students that I would leave it on, and stay in the room. They were free to leave, or stay there to watch, and I would be willing to talk if any of them wanted. I don’t recall details about whether Messiah canceled all classes the rest of the day or not. They may have left that up to our discretion, with the proviso that students could not be penalized for absence. (I don’t grade on attendance, so that would not have made any difference to me.) I remember the general solemnity in the air for a while, but also the realization that life would go on. Also, as hard as it was to believe then, I knew that someday most of us would live day to day without thinking all that much about it. As a Christian school, it did give many of us a chance to help students seriously consider their faith in light of the realities of what we believe to be a fallen and broken world.
I did have a former recruiter who helped me find interviews for statistics positions as I was completing my doctorate who worked in Manhattan, and called and emailed her to see if she was ok, which she was.
For me personally, the slaughter at Virginia Tech hit much closer to home. That is where I did both my M.S. and Ph.D., and I had a Messiah Alum in the Math masters program at the time. She was in the building right next door to the shootings. I cannot imagine the terror for anyone in or around any of these sights, and pray that we would be doing all we can to make life safer for all of us.

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But all of this raises other thoughts for me. How do we as Christians rightly relate to others who have declared us to be their enemies? Certainly, we must heed the words of our Messiah: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ” (Matthew 5.44-45) That sure sounds like a hard directive to follow. It goes against human nature, at least mine, to live like this. My prayers for my enemies all too easily turn into prayer against my enemies.

I found myself having to fight against the “flow” of reaction to 11 September 2001. Many around me were calling for swift action to “teach them a lesson” or “make them sorry they messed with us” or the like. Under all of this I found an assumption that we are the pure and holy nation, and “they” were the heathen, unholy people from “those countries” where our sense of right and wrong don’t hold sway. I really felt that God was asking me to ask different questions, and consider uncomfortable answers. Questions like “Why do they consider us the enemy?” or “If they see the U.S. as a ‘Christian Nation’, what impression do they get of Christ?” I felt uncomfortable. I am not an expert on foreign policy, but I think that if I were in the middle east, especially the Arab middle east, I would probably feel that the U.S. did not like my country, and might someday decide to step in like it has in so many other places over the years. Maybe there were justifiable reasons, but why should we expect other nations to agree with our reasons when not everyone here in the U.S. can agree.

Also, looking at American culture, I cannot think of a period in our history as a nation where God would not have been embarrassed by our behavior on one issue or another. The European settlers did  not do well in dealings with the native people; slavery was legal for almost 100 years, and then discrimination was enforced by law in many area, and by practice in many others. As we as a culture began to allow equal rights for minorities (a process still under way and not nearly complete) we began to throw sexual morality to the wind, not to mention personal ethics. It is a long and disappointing history. This is what the Muslim world sees as a Christian nation that claims to honor the one true God? No wonder they consider us infidels whose decadence condemns us. I admit, I have been guilty of the sins of lust, pride, greed, etc. for which we are reviled as a nation.

So … I pray for my enemies as I would hope someone would pray for me. I pray for God to touch them. I pray for Him to reveal Himself to them. I pray for His wisdom in my own actions, that I may influence them in whatever way He sees fit. I pray for Him to reveal His Truth, in place of their error. I pray that He would heal the wounds in them, and give individuals the strength to see what is right and to do it. I know that this means I am asking for the bravery to be willing to be kicked out of their family or killed for converting, but I ask that God will show them that He, and the Truth, is worth that. I pray that God will soften my heart, and remove my hatred, anger, and bitterness. I pray that God will comfort those whose losses I cannot imagine, and enable them to let go of the bitterness and loss. May they turn to Him for comfort and healing. May their mourning be turned into gladness, that they may be able to dance and celebrate those they love that have been taken from them, and those that remain.

– Sam

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