“Something died in the United States of America this week. In the smoke and debris of lower Manhattan, in the western wing of the Pentagon of Washington, D.C., and in a placid wooded area of western Pennsylvania, our sense of invulnerability burned to the ground. In the horror and confusion of Tuesday, September 11 and the days which followed, we watched and listened and talked and prayed, trying desperately to make some sense, any sense, of this horrific act of terror and violence on U.S. soil.
– Andy Wall, September 2001
It was the second week of September 2001. I was scurrying about, chasing details for our fall ministry launch that coming Sunday. My friend’s stepdad had died and I was gearing up to attend his funeral in San Diego. Then the first call of the day that Tuesday rocked my world: “Turn on the news! The Twin Towers in New York City have been destroyed!! They think it could be a terrorist attack.” It took us a long time to process the magnitude of this event; I daresay we’re still trying to recalibrate our lives to the new realities of our world.
A lot has transpired since that day of infamy twenty years ago. We have engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter of which just ended on August 30. Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were found and put to death. New words have entered our vocabulary: Ground Zero. Homeland Security. Al-Qaida. Patriot Act. Taliban. Shoe Bomber. Air Marshal. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Jihad. Abu Ghraib. Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG). Al-Jazeera. Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
What impact has 9/11 had on me over the past twenty years as a follower of Jesus? First, I have been disappointed at how lustily many of my fellow Christians have celebrated the deaths of our enemies. I understand that in our fallen world, evildoers must sometimes be opposed with force and brought to justice; but I don’t get followers of Jesus cheering for the deaths of those for whom Jesus taught us to pray.
Second, I’ve gotten to know some of the service-people who have served multiple tours of duty for the United States in the post-9/11 era. I helped one train for his first marathon. I have the utmost respect for their courage, honor, and loyalty. I have come to understand that even if I don’t agree with a war at a philosophical level, I can still honor those in uniform who have placed themselves in harm’s way to protect others.
Finally, the aftermath of 9/11 has solidified my commitment NOT to live by fear. Traveling to various places in the world during the past two decades has confirmed my sense that if we live by fear, the terrorists have already won. Most importantly, living by fear is not the appropriate posture for a disciple of Jesus Christ. Living by faith instead of fear may allow us to do a better job of loving our Muslim neighbors as ourselves, of refusing to scapegoat immigrant populations for American problems, and of engaging constructively with the challenges of our day.