Saturday, September 17, 2011

Teaching Our Children and Our Children's Children

I really resonated with a recent blog post by Adam Copeland, Young adults are amoral heathens, but what’s new? | The Christian Century.

The Book of Deuteronomy (and one might even argue the entire Pentateuch) is given for "the sake of the children." (See, for example, Deuteronomy 4:9 and 6:7). The lessons learned in covenantal relationship with YHWH are lessons that need to be passed along. As someone who spends some time with undergraduate students (and as the father of a 21 year-old and a 17 year-old) I know that parents cannot do this alone; it really does "take a village." But the village is in trouble.
Blaming young people for the mess(es) in which we find ourselves seems rather ridiculous, as I think Copeland rightly points out. It is in truth we parents and grandparents who have failed our childrens' generation; not the other way around.  When we who teach college students complain that they cannot think or write, we do well to remember that such skills are not innate.This is not to point fingers in the other direction to do more blaming; it is to rightly accept responsibility, which is step one if we mean to tackle the problem. Copeland writes:
What I will do, however, is refuse to blame young adults themselves for not having been given the resources to take on moral questions — it’s not their fault that faith communities, schools, and parents failed them. Let me repeat that: it doesn’t do us any good to blame 20 year-olds for not having the moral sensibilities we wish they had.
To which I say,amen! The issue he raises at the end points out why it matters so much and why faith communities, schools, and parents so need to get our acts together.
Is it that young adults truly have fewer moral resources with which to deal with moral questions than previous generations, or is it that today’s questions are so much more complex that young adults need more skills and understanding to just tread water in our consumeristic pluralized technologically-advanced globalized world? After all, it’s much easier to teach and theologize that “murder is wrong” than it is to discuss unmanned drone strikes in remote border areas of Afghanistan/Pakistan during an unfunded “war on terror” lasting over ten years. 
 To which I say, "amen and amen!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Spirit of 9/12 (and 9/13)

It really is too bad that Glenn Beck has claimed the metaphor of 9/12 to further his own ideological agenda. (See the core values of The 9/12 Project.) What I remember about 9-12-01 is that ideology seemed at least momentarily trumped by the values of compassion and decency as people came together to grieve, to care for each other, and to seek a higher purpose. Values like number seven ("I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable") was, I can honestly say, the furthest thing from my mind on 9-12-01. Beck's vision skews what I think makes America a truly great nation, and what made us a particularly great nation on 9/12: that we care for our neighbors, and that it is not all about me, me, me. I do remember what was happening at St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel; that, for me, captures the true spirit of 9/12.

If one is to claim the metaphor of 9/12 for what it is we are called to live into ten years later, then I commend to you the superb recent piece written by Arianna Huffington, "Honoring the Memory of 9/11 by Honoring the Memory of 9/12". In that piece, she writes:
Ten years ago today, we resolved not to remain sitting stunned in front of our TV screens, but to get out and do something for our nation. On that day, such a throng of people showed up to help at Ground Zero that many had to be turned away, and tens of millions of dollars poured in to charities. People were driven to connect - to the country, to their communities, to their friends and families... Faced with a world that at times felt like it was collapsing around them, people suddenly found themselves filled with a very different perspective, no longer worried about whether their jeans made them look fat or obsessed with the latest meaningless celebrity scandal. Our navel-gazing culture collectively glanced up. Instead of numbing ourselves with escapism we connected - with ourselves and with each other.
We connected. That is how I remember it, too. We held each other close, knowing that neighbors are precious, and that the neighborhood matters.

I've been listening to Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" the past two days with new ears. The album is centered around Springsteen's reflections on the 9/11 attacks and one might argue that it presents his vision of what life on 9/12 (and 9/13) might look like. Of course there is the title track, in which Springsteen invites his listeners, with the passion of a preacher, to "come on up for the rising." But I've also been listening to "Into the Fire" - a song in which Bruce honors a first responder who went "up the stairs, into the fire." And then these words:
May your strength give us strength/ May your faith give us faith/ May your hope give us hope/ May your love bring us love. 
Indeed. If the lessons learned from 9/11 can be strength, faith, hope, and love then all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Illumination from the Bible de Souvigny (about 1100 AD), showing Muslims, Christians and Jews in Abraham's lap. All are enclosed in the initial letter A of Adam, at the beginning of the Book of Chronicles. 

There has been a lot of remembering of 9/11 going on this past week both on television and in the print media. All of that press triggers for me some very vivid memories of where I was ten years ago: who I was with and what I was doing when I first heard... 

I read in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette this past week that on December 7, 1951—the tenth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor—there was very little public remembering. No mention at all in Life Magazine, for example, where all the news was focused on the Korean War. 

Now maybe that says more about how much the world has changed in sixty years and the impact of cable news on our lives. Perhaps earlier generations wanted to forget and move on; and maybe we are still grieving and can’t yet move on. In any event, we are where we are on this September 11, 2011 - ten years later - and 9/11 is on all of our minds. 

Memories are tricky things. Always, our memories of what happened are filtered through what has since unfolded. So there is never a return to the event—to what happened, even when we can go to the tape. Memories are selective, and are at best about what we think we remember. They can get skewed. Anyone who has ever been at a family gathering and discussed an important event, something that happened in that family ten or twenty or thirty years ago, knows what I am talking about and how this works. No one has access anymore to the event itself. So as each person tells her story, there are likely to be comments like, “that isn’t at all what happened!”  So it is important for us to try to be reflective and open and self-aware by doing the best we can to remember rightly. This is not a terribly controversial or profound insight, but I think it is worth being clear about from time to time, especially on a day like this. 

If we aren’t careful, memories can re-traumatize us and it would probably be better to forget than to do that. As a nation, I do think we were traumatized in those weeks of September 2001 as we watched those images of the towers coming down over and over and over again. Whatever our own memories may be, first and foremost it seems appropriate to me that we remember those who died ten years ago at Ground Zero, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania. I hope we will remember their families for whom this weekend must still be so raw. You never completely get over such loss. We also remember the first responders, many of whom are now dealing with serious health issues, and the men and women of our Armed Forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the subsequent “War on Terror.” We should also remember the countless civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, mindful that there is no bomb smart enough to protect innocent men and women and children from the ravages of modern warfare. As we remember all the saints who “from their labors rest” we are called back to the heart of our faith: for we are a people who even at the grave dare to make our Easter song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
I remember driving up north with my wife a week or two after 9/11—I am no longer certain if it was to New Hampshire or Vermont. We saw a father and son who looked to be of Middle Eastern descent, sitting by the side of the road next to an enormous American flag and waving to the cars that were passing by. It seemed to us as if they wanted to be very clear that they were a part of “us” and not a part of “them;” that they, too, were grieving and that they, too, loved this country. I didn’t agree with President Bush very often in the eight years he was in the Oval Office, but I thought he was steadfast, and correct, when in his address to a joint session of Congress he made a very clear distinction between the vast majority of faithful Muslims and a few radical terrorists who committed an atrocity in the name of religion. 

The President was clear, but as you may recall, incidents of violence against Arab Americans and fear of mosques escalated in the months after 9/11. Those incidents were based in fear and ignorance, and the gospel has something to say about both. I thought it was important for the Church to speak clearly then and now: to bring light where there is darkness and to allow love to cast out fear. 

I made a promise to myself and to God to learn more about Islam, and I began to live into that by taking a class at Georgetown University which brought imams and pastors together to read and discuss texts from both The Holy Bible and The Holy Qur’an. I attended The Trinity Institute in New York City, at Ground Zero, when they offered a program on Christian-Jewish-Muslim relationships. A decade later, we’ve made it part of our Confirmation program to engage our Islamic neighbors on Mountain Road at their mosque, to learn and to grow and to live more faithfully into the promises that we made at Baptism “to respect the dignity of every person” and “to strive for justice and peace among all people.” I’m committed to staying engaged in the conversation for the long haul.

In one of the remembrances I saw this past week, a piece on CBS’"The Early Show" caught my eye: a story about the Heartsong Church just outside of Memphis, Tennessee had a mosque built right across the street from them. Instead of reacting in fear and ignorance, that congregation put up a sign that said “welcome neighbors.” The pastor challenged his congregation and told them that in his view Jesus really did mean it when he commanded his followers to “love your neighbor.” He lost more than twenty members of his congregation for taking that stand. 

But then they went further. As the mosque was being built, that Christian congregation opened their doors and invited their Muslim neighbors in to use their space for prayers during Ramadan. Today those two congregations have a picnic together on Labor Day weekend and they celebrate Thanksgiving together and they support various outreach projects to help the poor and downtrodden in their community. The kicker for me came at the end of the story, as the imam and the pastor were standing together and the pastor revealed that the imam also happens to be his cardiologist. This, of course, is the world we live in and it is the sort of story that makes me proud to be both a Christian and an American (in that order.)
I remember how full my congregation was on the weekend after 9/11. People came out of the woodwork; people I’d never met before (or have seen since.) I think they were looking for a word of comfort and hope, or maybe just a place to be with other confused people. The uptick in church attendance didn’t last long, but it served as a reminder to me that in a crisis, people really do still look to the Church for guidance, if not answers, and for a place to pray even when they aren’t sure whether or not they believe in God or are ready to commit their lives to the Way of Jesus. 

For me this tenth anniversary reminds me that we really do have a calling to be the Church in good times and in hard times—that we have a mission. Or more accurately, God has a mission, and asks the Church to be a part of that work by continuing to proclaim the good news - on our vocation to be Easter people and light that shines in the darkness.

This weekend our minds are on the events of September 11. But next month marks another anniversary, the fifth anniversary of the terrible shootings at the West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006, where Charles Carl Roberts IV shot ten school girls, killing five of them. As you may recall, the Amish community made national headlines when they sought to forgive that murderer and offered reconciliation to his family, a story chronicled by John Ruth in Forgiveness: A Legacy of the Nickel Mines School. Some of the Amish community attended the calling hours of Roberts and extended a hand to his wife and mother. They bore witness to the power of forgiveness to heal and in so doing to reveal a way forward. They tore down that old schoolhouse and built a new one called “New Hope School.” For me, that is a very powerful witness to the Gospel. 

If this day is only about remembering the past, then we are destined to remain stuck there in a kind of vicious circle. We are called, as an Easter people, to find our way toward the dawn of a new day: to the new hope and the new life that Christ offers to us and the world when we move through pain and suffering and loss to forgiveness and healing and reconciliation. That is the way to the new hope that comes at the dawn of that Sunday morning at the empty tomb.  Even at the grave, we dare to keep making our song…alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.