Sunday marks ten years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I spent a lot of time last week designing and writing the interfaith service we will have here in Pittsfield. This gave me an opportunity to reflect upon this anniversary.
The sorrow of that day cannot be erased. People who lost family, friends, and neighbors will not be able to overlook this anniversary. Marking this day as a day of remembrance certainly makes sense. Yet, shouldn’t we also think about the lessons we’ve learned, especially in light of the past ten years?
We responded to the events ten years ago in fear. We unleashed our military power in a two-front war. We diminished our right to privacy and suspended the right of habeas corpus. We lost our mantle of moral authority when we tortured our captives. We took a budget surplus and turned it into a huge debt.
Fear is such a primal feeling. We immediately want to defend ourselves, but when we respond in fear, we don’t think too clearly either. I believe there is a substantial pool of regret colored with remorse for going to war. I believe we may have slipped without thinking into giving up our civil rights whenever we feel under threat. Fear enabled us to overlook the sinful and morally corrupt nature of torture. Fear put us in such a deep financial hole that it threatens the health of our community institutions like public schools and libraries and has frayed the common good.
While fear is natural, it betrays our faith by putting our trust in false gods. We have the mightiest military in the history of the world and our military expenditures far exceed the combined expenditures of Russia, China, and North Korea. Yet, our military could not soundly defeat armed resistance in Iraq or Afghanistan. If we subjected these wars to a cost-benefit analysis, the wars won’t look too effective. By rushing to authorize the Patriot Act, we implicitly denied our faith in our Constitution and the legal framework that has evolved. Torturing prisoners showed that we have more faith in morally corrupt and sinful practices than acknowledging their human dignity.
Gripped by fear we overlooked the transforming power of love. Think of 1 John 4:16-21, “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
We can’t turn back the clock to do over what we have already done in the past ten years, but we can recognize that continuing along the path we started in response to fear offers us no hopeful option. Indeed, today’s Washington Post had an article noting we have entered an era of endless war.
The attacks that day caused a tremendous national trauma. The ten-year anniversary is a good time to reflect upon the lessons we have learned and to imagine a path that leads to a more hopeful future. I intentionally did not name this service a commemoration. Rather, it is a community reflection. This will be a time to reflect upon what was and what can be. Isn’t there greater potential to find grace, compassion, and hope when we let perfect love cast out fear? When we place our faith in love we stand a greater chance for reconciliation. Putting our faith in love enables us to embrace the stranger. Love leads to forgiveness, too.
Love, especially in the wake of such brutal attacks, is hard; it’s not easy. But that’s the gospel’s challenge for us. That’s our accountability to God and living out our Christian discipleship.
The National Council of Churches published a hymn written for this occasion. The hymn, written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, ends with these words: “Give strength to work for justice; grant love casts out fear. Then peace and not destruction will be the victor here.”