Friday, September 10, 2010

What We Don't Remember on 9/11

On this eve of 9/11, I am overcome with sadness.  Not only because this day, 9 years ago, was so painful for my country, but because 9/11's anniversary sparks an overwhelming wave of patriotism... and patriotism can be very frightening.  

The simple definition of patriotism is love of one's country - and there's absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating your national identity and heritage.  But why don't we see a surge of this type of patriotism on July 2?  It's the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a monumental piece of legislation that proved democracy works when people band together to boycott unjust systems and march peacefully to our nation's capital.  Why don't we wave our flags proudly every August 18th?  On that day in 1920, women in this country were given the right to cast their ballots alongside their husbands, fathers, and brothers.  These are the moments in our country's history where we see American ideals like equality and freedom truly triumph over oppression and ignorance.

But, despite the fact that these dates ought to make us "proud to be an American", they mean nothing to the majority of our citizens.  We would rather wave our flags on the 4th of July or D-Day or, as of late, 9/11.  In my opinion, this is where we need to be careful.  When the days that define us are days characterized by bloodshed, war, and terror... who does that say that we are as a people?  Our national memory, like all nation's, is skewed: we are always, always the good guys.  Unfortunately, the facts of history do not always align with our perception of it.

When we think of the 4th of July, we envision a small group of determined colonists who, against all odds, overthrew an empire.  This is partially true... but we conveniently forget that, in the eyes of the Native Americans who already inhabited our "colonies", we were the empire.  The US government put the Native American death toll conservatively between 1 and 4 million during those years.  Other experts describe a genocide of greater magnitude than the Holocaust.  We look to Hollywood films starring attractive actors for our perspective on the 2,500 or so Americans killed at Pearl Harbor, yet I doubt we would pay to see high-definition footage of the over 200,000 charred bodies that blanketed the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after we dropped not one, but two atomic bombs.  We also conveniently forget the 110,000 Japanese Americans that we forced to live in internment camps following the attack.  

And then there's 9/11 - a day when 2,996 Americans were suddenly and tragically killed.  I remember watching the news footage in my high school classroom and seeing the streets of New York coated with ash and tears and death.  It was traumatic.  Psychologists have even done studies on the effect that 9/11 had on my entire generation.  This is why I can't even conceive what it would be like to live in Iraq and watch as 100,000 of your civilians are killed - not in one tragic day, but over the course of many tragic days and years.  The majority of these men, women, and children do not receive news footage or memorials built in their honor.  They are merely collateral damage.  They are the "price of freedom"... or so we say.

I do love my fellow Americans, including quite a few soldiers.  They are in my family, in my neighborhood, and among my facebook friends.  But we're supposed to be honest with the people we love.  Maybe, just maybe, instead of blindly supporting our troops on this day, we should gently question them.  Maybe we should grab our young engineers by the shoulders and say, "Don't work for Lockheed Martin and devote your talents to building smarter bombs!  Design devices that make dirty water drinkable!  Show us how to make strong and safe houses that the poor can afford!"  Maybe we should go into our churches and say, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!   When evil men come to destroy you, put your hope in God - not horses or chariots!  You may be fed to a lion, you may be thrown in jail, but you'll be in good company!"  In light of all the "God Bless America" stickers I see, I can't help but think of the Amish school shooting a few years back.  Within a few hours of that soul-destroying event, members of the community reached out to the shooter's family and extended forgiveness to them.  They even set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.  Can you imagine?  How would the world react to that foreign policy?  If Jesus was a radical, and we are a self-proclaimed "Christian" nation, why do we continue to follow the worn tracks of anger and violence?  Even the "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" mandate was intended to keep justice restrained so that we do not respond to a few thousand murders by committing a few hundred thousand more.  

And, so, on this day, I remember.  I remember the brokenness of humanity and the wounds we inflict on each other.  I remember my own capacity for hatred and violence.  I remember my nation's history, both the noble and the obscene, so that I do not repeat its mistakes.  I remember that a willingness to die for something does not require a willingness to kill for it.  I remember the 1 in 8 American soldiers who have returned from war with PTSD.  I remember all of this on this day... and I pray for peace.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." - Martin Luther King, Jr

Amish response to hatred and violence

Monday, September 6, 2010

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast

"Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion." -Brennan Manning

I hate feeling useless.  My best days are days when I climb into bed at night and know, unquestionably, that I offered something unique and valuable to the world.  In turn, my worst days are when I can't seem to justify why I matter... why I'm still worthy of love when I didn't fill a niche or "pull my weight."  My life is like a series of Survivor episodes, and I end each day before a panel of skeptical judges who must decide whether or not I'm worth keeping around.

In our "tit-for-tat-I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine" culture, I've grown used to grounding my security in my competency.  I'm usually not the smartest person in the room - but I'm rarely the dumbest.  I'm not an expert at anything - but I'm at least average at almost everything.  And, on most days, in most situations, that's enough to convince the imaginary tribal council in my head that I deserve to stay a little longer before I'm kicked to the outskirts of society where the worthless and the marginalized go.  

And that's where my problems with God begin.  When dealing with an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-complete entity, there's not much you can bring to the table.  My ability to "talk a good game" is useless in the presence of the One who created speech.  So how can I be secure in a relationship where I hold no power?  How can I be loved by someone who doesn't need me?  What do I have to have to offer when I have nothing to offer?

I've yet to figure out how this plays out in community.  On one hand, community has to be transactional on some level.  After all, somebody has to pay the bills, cook the meals, mop the floor.  If you are doing these things, you can still curl up in bed at night and say, "I matter because of XYZ."  The tribal council in your brain will be appeased for the time being.  However, I truly believe that God knows how much we struggle to grasp His non-transactional style of love and gives us community to serve as a model.  If, over time, I can see what it is to be loved collectively and indiscriminately by a group of people who still know my individual shortcomings, maybe I can begin to grasp the "furious longing of God" for His children whom he loves both personally and en masse.  Maybe I'll begin to rest in the security that, no matter what I do or how little I offer, He's not going to vote me off or cast me away.

"We unwittingly project onto God our own attitudes and feelings toward ourselves... But we cannot assume that He feels about us the way we feel about ourselves -- unless we love ourselves compassionately, intensely, and freely." -Brennan Manning