Tonight as we were getting ready to start our first kindegarten choir rehearsal at church, one of the kids took some building blocks and created his own replica of the NYC World Trade Center towers. No doubt he'd been learning about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at school, what with this being the tenth anniversary and all. It was sort of odd to think of the perspective from which he saw those events; for him, 9/11 is just something out of a history book, albeit a very serious something. For those of us who watched it all unfold on TV, it's something quite more than that.
Back then I was a freshman in college, just getting started on the jazz performance degree I would not ultimately complete. I remember seeing the news reports on a TV set up in the lobby of UNT's Bruce Hall, just after I'd had a nice cafeteria breakfast; I can still taste the orange juice (from concentrate, of course).
As far as I knew classes were still proceeding on schedule, so I made my way to the music bulding for my morning theory class. The class was full; none of us had really quite figured out how to react to what had happened. My theory professor took the podium and informed us that classes had been cancelled.
Then, he did something I will never forget, something that really helped me put everything in context. It seemed appropriate, he told us, that we should all sing a hymn together, to help us find an anchor in troubling times. (Amusingly, he also said that if we didn't believe in God, we could sing solfege.) I believe the hymn we sang was God the Omnipotent (lyrics); we had been studying it in class as an example of traditional harmony, so we already knew it pretty well. We may have also sung Eternal Father, Strong to Save (lyrics), but I may be remembering that wrong. It was a beautiful experience either way, uniting our voices in a song to the Lord, in a context where hymns are usually only a subject of academic study.
Later that evening I wrote the following in an email to friends back home:
I just wanted to write you all and express my hope that everyone is dealing with today's events well. And at the risk of being unpopular, I also want to remind everyone to pray. Some of you might not be too excited about the prospect, but I can guarantee it will be productive, not only to help the immediate rescue efforts and such, but also to bring about whatever greater good God has coming out of this.
That's what He does; we screw things up, and He fixes them. It doesn't always seem like it, but remember that the absolute greatest evil ever done by mankind (the murder of His Son) turned into the absolute greatest good for mankind. That's an historical fact, whatever you believe.
Things definitely look horrible for our nation at the moment, and the carnage that happened today will not be undone. But just you watch what happens next if the people of God get down on their knees.
The people of God did get down on their knees after 9/11, at least for awhile. In the weeks that followed, it seemed like everyone was talking about God. It was also a time of great unity in our nation even apart from faith; the sense of having a common enemy will do that to a people.
But then for some reason we went nuts again. The other day I read an article from the Onion entitled Nation Would Rather Think About 9/11 Than Anything From Subsequent 10 Years; unlike most Onion articles, it was only a little facetious. In the past ten years, the American economy has turned upside down, and the political system has become almost comically divisive. For some reason, the unity we all felt after September 11 has vanished, to be replaced by relentless, uncompromising bickering in Congress, rampant sensationalism in the media, and a cultural attitude toward religion that would probably rather condemn my professor for singing a Christian hymn in a state-funded classroom than laud his willingness to address his students' most basic need to find comfort in a Creator who cares for them.
So, ten years after the World Trade Center went down, I would like to reiterate what I told my friends years ago. We still need to pray for our nation, perhaps harder than ever. We live in dangerous times, not just because of the threat of terrorism (that's always been around), but because we seem to have lost our ability to unite in any meaningful way, to compromise, to acknowledge a universal standard of right and wrong …and most importantly, to humble ourselves before the God in whose hands rest the pillars of the earth. We remembered those things after September 11; we need to remember them again.