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Reflections on 9/11 Ten Years Later

September 12, 2011

What sticks with me after this emotional weekend:

Lives who reveal a pattern for our lives:  The firefighters and first responders running against the grain of those fleeing the two towers, going up instead of down, laying down their lives as a bridge for others between death and life.  The passengers who overpowered the hijackers and crashed United Airlines Flight 93, preventing further carnage.  The passengers on the other flights who called their families on the way to their deaths to say “I love you.”  In these lives we see who Jesus Christ is.  (A paraphrase of Duke Chapel Dean Sam Well’s comments last night).

After 10 years of war, the church’s missing prophetic voice:  Rep. Walter B. Jones, a conservative Republican Congressman from North Carolina, says he voted for the Iraq war in 2002 because “God was being challenged in my heart by my evil desire to be re-elected” (see interview in Sojourners).  Since then Jones has written over 10,000 letters to families and extended families of people killed in the war.  “This is my penance,” he says.  Two quotes:

  • “If half the American people could visit Walter Reed [Army Medical Center], we would’ve been out of Afghanistan five years ago. If I’m a true   pro-life member of Congress, then isn’t that 18- or 19-year-old boy or girl who gave their life in Iraq or Afghanistan part of God’s plan too?
  • “Why do we continue to allow Americans to die in Afghanistan while cutting funding for children and senior citizens? It doesn’t make any sense. In all honesty, I don’t understand why the church has been so quiet on the issue of Afghanistan”

Tasting the world’s suffering:  I was humbled by an email last week from a Rwandan friend who said she was praying for comfort for her American friends on 9/11.   I’ll never forget visiting a Rwandan church in 2004 where, in the 1994 genocide, 9,000 people were slaughtered in one day – three 9/11’s in one small church.  May this anniversary remind us of those who daily suffer immense violence on home ground.  And that after America’s suffering on 9/11, the deaths of our two wars have occurred on the soil of other nations – over 100,000 civilian lives in Iraq alone.

Hope out of the dust:  The recent TIME article “The Next Greatest Generation” tells the stories of a growing number of returning Iraq war veterans who are starting innovative initiatives to serve out of a deep frustration over America’s divided politics.

Learning to lament:  We Americans resist lament, but Paul Simon’s stirring rendition of “The Sound of Silence” at ground zero yesterday reminded me of the power of the arts in learning how to name the pain which cannot be fixed.  Bruce Springsteen’s post-9/11 songs “Missing” and “Gypsy Rider” helped me grieve yesterday.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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