20 Years Later: My Thoughts on 9/11
If you were an adult 20 years ago, chances are you know exactly where you were when our world changed forever. However, chances are you may not have realized what forces were put into motion following the tragic events of that day.
Where was I? I had just become a Youth Pastor in Albuquerque, New Mexico a few months prior (A position I still hold to this day.).
I remember being disoriented driving into work that morning. I lived about 5 minutes away from the church at a local apartment complex at the time. During my brief drive in, my radio was filled with chatter over a plane hitting one of the twin towers in New York. I truly thought that it might be a radio drama that I had cut in on. Somewhere during the drive it hit me that these were real reports. At the time, the official word was that it was a tragedy and the cause of the crash was unknown.
Shortly after arriving at work, the second plane hit the other tower and our world changed forever. Unlike the first plane, which most didn't notice until after it hit, the second plane was caught in real time as news crews around the world were already fixated on the events unfolding in the North Tower. Someone was deliberately targeting civilian landmarks.
The results of this second plane strike sent feelings of horror to the U.S. populace that would only intensify as the day progressed. The third plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane was downed in a field in Pennsylvania. In real time, the question was: How many more? There was a frenzy to ground all flights and to get the President safe, in case he was a target.
Then there was the drama unfolding in getting survivors out of the towers. Brave men and women working emergency situations mobilized: ambulance & EMT workers, firefighters & police all put themselves willingly in harm's way trying to save as many as they could. They were joined by extraordinary civilians who did the same.
Less than an hour after the second plane hit the South Tower, the unthinkable happened. The tower collapsed. The terror of the day increased a thousand fold. There really are no words. I was relegated like most to being a mere spectator praying from a distance yet helpless to do anything else.
With the collapse of the South Tower, the urgency of the rescue of those in the North Tower became the story everyone was following. Less than 30 minutes after the South Tower fell, the North Tower also crumbled.
I don't like seeing the photos or videos of that day. The thought of those who perished under the rubble of the towers haunts me. The people who threw themselves to their deaths, hastening the inevitable because they were without hope of being rescued, is something I can't watch...even in remembrance.
The bravery of those who willingly sacrificed their lives for the sake of saving others whether emergency workers and others at the towers and Pentagon or the fearless men who stormed the cockpit of flight 93 has always made me wonder if I would do the same. I have thought of that often since that day. Would I stand, protect and save if it cost me something...even my life?
The days that followed were filled with uncertainty. Airlines were halted until September 13. However, to be honest with you, it seemed like much longer than that. For those 48 hours, everything was surreal. Minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days. Those two days felt like two weeks.
During those days, we held a prayer service to give hope and comfort to our local community. For the next couple of weeks, the numbers in our church swelled to nearly double, as a confused community ran to God for answers. It surprised me how many people were personally connected to the events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11 and it seemed that everyone knew someone associated with those events. The fabric that made up our nation was on full display and everyone was affected by the tragedy, in some personal way.
America rallied together under a common banner, maybe for the last time that many of us can remember.
In Search of Answers
After the initial shock of the events of 9/11, the world began looking for answers. Who did this and why?
Most of us in America were introduced, for the first time, to the idea of militant jihad. The idea promoted in extreme forms of Islam that says the only way to ensure salvation is "holy war" against the infidels (those who do not believe in Allah or Muhammad as his greatest prophet, as Islam holds). Outside of this "holy war", most forms of Islam have no guarantee of salvation.
Reports came in that some who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks spent the days leading up to it in drunken orgies. That doesn't make a lot of sense until you consider that those who hold to this extreme form of jihad believe that they will have 72 virgins for which to have perpetual pleasure with in eternity.
Our Youth Group met on Wednesday night, less than 36 hours after the events of 9/11. All of them wondered why? We discussed Islam, it's beliefs and these extreme forms of Islam that gave rise to the violence they had seen. I don't know if it brought any comfort, but it did bring some understanding.
The Fear of Labels and The Rise of Phobias
Something else changed through these events. As our country was learning more about Islam, there was a fear that identifying someone as a Muslim would incite violence or discrimination against those who hold to this faith. There was a righteous anger toward those who had instigated these attacks on people who wished them no harm. The reasonable concern was that people would begin to associate everyone who identified themselves as a Muslim with suspicion, at best, and with hatred and persecution, at worst. So the media began to run pieces that attempted to describe differences and assure Americans that Islam was a peaceful religion. These first efforts were an attempt to preserve unity as a nation and not to see fellow Americans as the enemy, just because the enemy shared the same religion.
But what started as an exercise in understanding, quickly morphed into opportunistic fear mongering. It wasn't long after 9/11 that the suffix "-phobic" began to be used against anyone who disagreed with any tenet of Islam. Reasonable support for policies that would monitor those involved in the radical fringe of Islam were called Islamophobic. Instead, we had to equally be suspicious of 90 year old women with no attachment to any terrorist organizations. Either our suspicions were universal or they weren't allowed to exist at all. Random searches at airports tone deaf of context was the beginning of our disunity and the restrictions of our freedoms.
The labeling of "-phobic" had its intended effect. People became much less likely to criticize questionable or even violent practices of Islam for fear of being called Islamophobic. People began to couch their conversation with qualifiers galore to make extra sure offense wouldn't be taken. In order to keep the fragile peace of unity, no slight offense would be tolerated and those who caused the offense would be labeled "intolerant".
It is the marriage of this fear of labels by the populace and the rise of using "-phobias" as an offensive weapon that Critical Theory (CT) found the proper hold to fully take root in our society for the last two decades. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the target shifted from Islam to homosexual marriage. As laws focused on homosexual unions grew, those who disagreed with the idea of homosexual marriage, either from personal conviction or religious grounds were labeled "homophobic". The only way one could love a homosexual was to affirm, accept and promote their lifestyle. To do any less, was to label one's self homophobic and intolerant.
The promotion of same sex marriage was that of a personal choice that would not affect anyone else's life. Those who religiously opposed it were bigots who didn't care for those who only wanted to love one another the same a heterosexuals do. Others who feared that the redefinition of marriage would open a Pandora's Box of problems were considered crazy people out of touch from reality. Their homophobia lead them to paranoia concerning this harmless change.
Yet, the same year that homosexual marriage became the law of the land (2015), the push toward transgender acceptance began its heavy push. Again, those who were sympathetic with the struggles of those who had gender dysphoria, but in disagreement with them were labeled as "transphobic". By the school year of 2015-2016, those who were identified as transgendered were allowed to go to bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender. It was no longer enough to love them, but disagree with the type of care they needed. It had to be affirmed, accepted and celebrated...even to the point of the physical mutilation of transitioning. To do any less, was to be intolerant and unloving.
Add to all of this the issues of race that began to surface with the incident of Michael Brown in 2016 and the race riots that have continued and you have yet another cultural moment used to divide. Inequities became the new buzz word and added to the list. The "-phobias" began to be wrapped and packaged together in the form of "white privilege" which included anything coming from a Christian worldview.
As time progressed, it wasn't enough to agree that racism was bad, rather one needed to be declared an "anti-racist". This meant divesting oneself of their "privilege" and repudiating what it meant to have gained that privilege through confession. Those who denied it were simply blind to their inherit racism, if they were white, male, straight & Christian or blind to their oppression, if they weren't.
Now, facts concerning gender, mathematics, achievement, statistics concerning crime or education, anything that shows disparities are all considered "-phobic" or systemically racist, created solely for the purpose of creating inequities to keep certain people down while lifting the privileged up. This new mantra is communicated with memes in social media that have no real depth to them, but a viciousness associated with disagreement to them.
So, as Christians, we began to be more and more quiet, as the views we espoused were ignored and attacked by the culture around us. There has been a retreatism that focused on the preservation of the faith, rather than the expansion of it and sharing the good news of Christ to a lost and dying world.
From Phobia to Fear
This retreatism from the culture was in full swing when the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. A world that only shut down for 2 days in the wake of 9/11 still isn't fully back to normal after 18 months. "14 days to flatten the curve" has become an excuse to continually play on the fears of people that have been drummed up for the last two decades.
The fear drummed up by asymptomatic spread has become so great that we have treated the healthy as if they are sick in direct violation to the words of Christ. Some are even considering not medically treating or hiring those without the vaccine, coerced and encouraged by our government, dividing us even further, treating those without the vaccine as less than the image bearers of God, somehow less worthy of medical help or personal provision.
Consider the contrast of reactions of those professed to be believers in Christ.
9/11 drove us together and to our knees, even if only for a short while. The fear of Covid drove us apart.
9/11 saw brave men and women sacrifice their lives for the sake of others in danger. The fear of Covid has driven us away from family, friends and gatherings for the sake of self-preservation.
9/11 was our last true expression of American unity. The fear of Covid has us on the precipice of creating a second class of citizen based on vaccination status of a disease that has over a 99% recovery rate.
9/11 saw us determined to be arm and arm in unity, despite our differences. The fear of Covid has accentuated our differences to make an excuse for disunity and division within our families, churches and communities.
I mourn over the fact that there are still people that I haven't seen in over a year and a half because of the attitude of self-preservation over that of self sacrifice that we rightfully celebrate this day. However, these attitudes didn't happen overnight. It has been 20 years of fear mongering that has turned us into a quiet people, overly concerned about self preservation in a world that is passing away.
Our Next Mission Trip
Our church has taken a number of mission trips over the last 13 years, all over the world. There is a natural fear that comes with the unknown. Pastor Mark is fond of saying the following to those who have those fears: "What's the worst thing that could happen to you? You could die. But if you die, then you know where you will be. What greater way to enter glory than doing the Lord's work when you meet Him face to face?"
It has been a year and a half, some of you need to take a mission trip out your door and back to community. What if someone doesn't have the vaccine? What if someone doesn't mask? What if someone doesn't distance? What is the worst that could happen to you? You could die. But dear friend, you were destined for that anyway. You've just forgotten that as the prospect of death has been daggled before you and the lie and the illusion of the steadfastness of this world is promoted to us all.
Let us recapture again the spirit and the courage displayed by 9/11, the worst that can happen to us is death to a world we don't belong in to begin with. Let us boldly speak out against those who would make the bonds of health, race or the requirement to celebrate a sinful lifestyle stronger than that of the bonds of Christ. Only let us be doing the will of God boldly, in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, despite our differences, until He comes.
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen --Jude 20-25