Healing Time

Twenty years ago today I walked into the refectory at Nashotah House after morning mass and wondered why the television was on.  Normally people had their own theological issues to hash out over breakfast, so this was unusual.   When I saw what was happening, I skipped breakfast and went home to my family.  I remember the feeling of shock and terror of those days.  America, I knew, wasn’t the innocent nation it projects itself as being.  We had provoked, but none of that mattered as the isolationism of over two centuries on a mostly friendly continent crumbled.  We were vulnerable.  Living in the woods of Wisconsin there was no immediate danger, but the sense of confusion—and certainly the feeling that a less-than-bright president wasn’t up to handle this—made us all feel weak, even with the most powerful military in the world.

Yesterday the New York Times headlines ran a consideration on whether we’ve emerged better in the ensuing two decades.  Looking at where we are—a deeply divided nation because a narcissistic president that the majority of voters voted against put (and still puts) his ego ahead of the good of the country—the answer seems obvious.  It will take years, if not decades, to heal the damage that one man did.  His putative party (really his only party is himself), seeing his popularity as their means to power, refuse to distance themselves.  We simply cannot move forward.  Not in the midst of a pandemic where Trump followers won’t get vaccinated causing new waves of the virus to surface and thrive.  I’d like to think that on September 11 we might reflect—yes, I know it’s hard work—on how we all need each other.

Photo by Jesse Mills on Unsplash

Little could I have guessed in 2001 that a mere ten years later I would find myself working in Manhattan.  Somewhere in my mind on every day of that long commute I wondered if something might again go wrong.  On the bus I was thrown together with people of every description—well paid and just getting by, women and men, gay and straight, from all around the world—and we knew our fates were linked together.  Differences had to be put aside.  Selfishness has no room on a crowded bus.  That was my introduction to life in New York City.  Those who hear only the poison rhetoric of 2016 through 2020 should try commuting with an open mind.  If we all took the bus, life after 9-11 might’ve turned out very differently.

Remembrance Day

September 11, 2001 is on America’s collective consciousness. A decade ago thousands lost their lives in a religiously motivated and misguided attack on what some see as a wicked culture. Those who hate America have never come to know it. What a sad commentary it is that religious belief lends its strength of conviction to those whom it has convinced that evil is righteousness and that terror is divine. It is somber to experience this tenth anniversary so close to New York City. When I ride in to work now every day I see the new World Trade Center rising, literally, from the ashes. It is a monument to what America tries to embody.

Twin towers, 13 years old.

Our nation is not perfect. None is. Too easily we accept the casual relegation of various minority groups to poverty. Too easily we allow the obscenely wealthy to escape all sense of social obligation. Too easily we focus on our selves rather than our community. No, we cannot claim to be perfect. Nevertheless, we strive for an ideal that will not die.

Some have boldly claimed twentieth century notables as “the greatest generation.” I believe that praise, although deserved in a sense, to be misplaced. The greatest generation was that rag-tag group of colonial citizens who’d fled from cesspools of oppression to find freedom in a new world. They were not perfect. They oppressed and displaced Native Americans who still suffer under repressive policies that ensure the great embarrassment of their treatment will remain out of sight. The greatest generation I envision is those who, at the risk of their own lives, decreed that the world should, must contain a haven for those who cannot live without a free conscience. A place where religion, or even the very words you say or write, cannot be dictated by the government. A place where people could go on to become the putative “greatest generation”s of the future.

When I first heard about the attacks on 9/11 I was at Nashotah House. Those first moments of confusion were terrifying—our daughter had just started school and was not close enough to hold. My wife and I watched the television in sheer unbelief, tears on our faces, our lives being forever wrenched and twisted in new directions. In was a day that sobered up an entire country.

(Please read the remainder at Full Essays.)

Quran 451?

One of the saddest books I remember is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Any society that burns books has whip-lashed far beyond Fascism into the enemyhood of humanity. Much of ancient culture has been lost through the natural or premeditated destruction of misunderstood “inflammatory” writings and we are much the poorer for it today.

According to an Associated Press story, the ironically named Rev. Terry Jones of the even more ironically named Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, is agitating for a “burn the Quran” day on September 11. Other than momentary, self-righteous catharsis, nothing is to be gained by burning books. The contradictory impulses here lie thick and deep: a Christian clergyman feels insulted by an extremist attack that killed indiscriminately (Muslims and well as Christians, Jews, and Atheists died in the September 11 attacks), bearing the symbol of peace he wishes to declare his personal war, and the follower of the willing victim of Nazareth wears a gun.

Burning books does not solve any problems. Surely Rev. Jones knows that plenty of copies of the Quran abound throughout the world. His action is calculated as a poignant symbol. Is such a symbol anything more than a base expression of outright hatred? When, apart from medieval Christendom, has Christianity insisted that violence is the way forward? All you need is hate? For although the burning of books may not physically harm anyone, the violence in this hatefully symbolic act is the very antithesis of tolerance and understanding that the religious world so desperately needs. Islam has given much to world culture, and we reap the benefits of Muslim scholars and thinkers each day, without any conscious consideration. Rev. Jones needs to read more than just Fahrenheit 451. He must learn truly to read and, like Montag, weep.

Jones' theological comrades