It was Tuesday. I woke up late (as usual) and ran out the door with breakfast in hand, scarfing it down as I drove to class. I was in my second year of seminary. I got to class in time, pulled my binder out of my backpack (yep, I still used pen and paper to take notes back then), and then realized I had forgotten my reading glasses. Crud. This was going to be a crappy day. I was frustrated because I struggled to take notes. I was a bit gaseous because breakfast wasn’t sitting well with me (when you scarf down food while driving and drinking coffee at the same time, it happens…and you really didn’t want to nor need to know that either). It just wasn’t a fun day. But I made it through my first class. I had a short break before my next class.
As I was walking the hallway of the seminary, I heard two people talking about a plane crash. Sad, I thought, but things happen. Then I saw people rushing down the hallway to the seminary auditorium. This can’t be good. I followed. I walked into the auditorium just in time to see an airplane fly into the World Trade Center. This really can’t be good. I stood there transfixed as the camera panned out and showed both the World Trade Center buildings on fire. I stood there watching as another camera showed a group of fire fighters walking like a Roman Legion down the street towards the towers. I leaned over to the person standing next me and said “They’re walking to their death.” Prophetic words. I stood there as the first tower fell. I saw it all live on TV.
I looked at the time. I was late for class.
My problems were much smaller. I slunk into my class. There were only 4 students there out of 15. The prof looked around at us and wondered where everyone was. I asked if we could cancel class. He said no. I sat down, took out my binder and pen, frustrated I didn’t have my glasses, and was ready to take notes. The Academic Dean came in and announced that classes had been canceled for that day. I packed up, went back to the auditorium and watched as the second tower fell.
Time flew by quickly. I gave up watching the news on the screen in the auditorium. There was nothing I could do. I was powerless. I found my wife. Hugged her. Classes were canceled at the college as well. We went home and watched TV. Malls were closed. Schools closed. Family members calling each other up. People cried for revenge. People cried for retaliation. People cried for help. People cried.
Months later, the wreckage was combed through. Bodies found. People mourning. Questions being asked. And the phrase kept popping up everywhere as it would this time each year for the next 13 years “Never Forget.”
I have chills now as I write this. The memories fresh now as they were the day it happened. But as I reflect on the last 13 years filled with tears, with memories, with law suits, with wars, with political fighting, with protests, with anger, tears, patriotism, and all that ilk, I see that we still have not forgotten.
But we as a nation have not forgiven.
In just saying that, I can hear some questioning my patriotism while others are cheering that it is written. I’m not writing in support of one or the other side of this decades long debate. This is a spiritual matter. Forgiveness is key in healing. Forgiveness is key in dealing with traumatic issues that affect us personally and also as a nation. Not forgiving is, as I believe Anne Lamott says, like drinking rat poison and hoping the other person dies. Forgiveness is key to growth. Forgiveness is key to being spiritually alive.
“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
“I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14
A large number of Evangelical Christians claim that the US is a Christian nation. Does a Christian nation lob missles at their enemy? Now you might say that we as a sovereign nation were attached and in return need to protect ourselves. Correct.
Jesus says to turn the other cheek when attacked. An old pastor of mine once said that after you turn your other cheek, learn to duck. Forgive but don’t forget. Don’t let it happen again. Get yourself out of the situation you’re in so it doesn’t happen again.
Jesus responded to those who placed him on the cross with love asking for God to forgive them. Peter, Paul, John, and others forgave their attackers and those who harmed them. But they also didn’t put themselves back into the same situation.
Followers of Christ are to respond in love but also to not put themselves back in the same situation. The problem is, is that there are times when, yes, military might must be used. Yet that might wasn’t used when it needed to be used. The Taliban rose to power in the 1990’s and massacred thousands, subjecting and oppressing women, Christians, and other religious minorities. Nothing was done by Christians. No voices raised in horror. No cries for the nation (which many Christians still want to be a Christian nation) to offer aide and assistance to refugees fleeing oppression. 5 years later we cried for blood out of pain, revenge, hurt, and fear.
Love was not offered when it was needed most. And forgiveness hasn’t been offered when needed most.
My heart goes out to all those affected, hurt, forever changed by the atrocities of this terrorist attack and the subsequent wars which followed. My heart is filled with pride for our soldiers who went and fought. My heart hurts for those returning with PTSD, disabilities, and broken hearts over lost loved ones who died on foreign soil away from friends and family.
I want to be clear: We as a sovereign nation have a right to defend ourselves. We as a sovereign nation have a right and responsibility to do what is needed to protect ourselves. We have done a lot to help both Afghanistan and Iraq rebuild themselves (not going on about Iraq, but there were huge humanitarian issues happening there as well which were atrocious and needed to be stopped). We as a nation also have the responsibility to help when help is needed and asked for. We as a nation have a responsibility to give humanitarian aide to others in need. And we as a nation have a responsibility to be willing to give of ourselves to aide those here at home in need and those abroad who are being oppressed and hurt.
In never forgetting, have we let our hearts become hardened and calloused to the needs of the world around us? Have we become so insular that we have forgotten what it means to truly be willing to live to help others? In not offering forgiveness have we harmed ourselves in such a way that other problems have arisen out of our unwillingness to forgiven and offer love and assistance?
I’m trying really hard not to be political here. I really am. I want to end this post with the words of the prophet Isaiah uttering the words of God to us:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from our own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7
At this moment, oppression is happening around the world from Syria and Iraq to Ukraine vs Russia. There are problems happening in our own nation of people crying foul against racism and people upset about misunderstandings of others. How are we living this? Are we living this? Or have we as a people, personally and nationally, not forgiven and in so doing have grown cold to the simple truth of the Gospel that the Kingdom of God is already here and not yet fully come and this is show through love and forgiveness?
Has a lack of forgiveness hardened us? Never forget, but always forgive.