Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/11 : When We Were One

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

In the days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, as people speculated as to the U.S. response, an unorthodox thought crossed my mind. “What if we did nothing?” I wondered. “What if we just took the brunt of their hatred and did not respond in kind?” We had gained the world’s empathy; why squander it on violent action?

It was an idealistic thought. Certainly easy to say for someone who only experienced the terrorism on live television; who had lost no one directly. And not pragmatic, as I pride myself at being. Probably would be interpreted as weakness, inviting more attacks. My experience with church bullies has taught me that not responding to attacks is an ineffective way to stop bullying. And I must admit I was glad to see the Taliban driven from power in Afghanistan—those who had blown up the giant stone Buddhas, those who wouldn’t let girls go to school, those who banned children from flying kites.

In a presentation in Chicago a week after 9/11 and in Dayton three weeks after, I pointed out that our immediate response to the attacks was heartening:

Categories seemed to disappear; divisive walls came down. We were no longer Democrats or Republicans, no longer black or white, no longer gay or straight. We were humbled, but not by the terrorists. We were humbled by recognizing our need for one another; that we do not, that we can not stand alone. Look how quickly Jerry Falwell was slapped down for his divisive comments that blamed gays, feminists, pro-choice advocates, and God! Remember how rapidly we sought to defend Arab-Americans and Muslims that some would separate out for retribution. And notice how we resisted those few who would divide us by blaming the victim, the U.S., in a way they would never blame the victims of any other form of violence, such as rape or spousal or child abuse. We are rallying around each other, symbolized politically by the flag, symbolized spiritually by our prayers. 

And then I cautioned:

Eventually, Americans and the world will move beyond the tragedies in New York City, Washington, D.C., and the Pennsylvania countryside. Walls and differences and partisanship will be reconstructed.

I paralleled our experience as a nation in that moment of kairos—that moment of spiritual crisis and opportunity—to a conversion experience, an encounter with an awesome God that is humbling, prompting us to come together “no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female,” remembering that we are ALL beloved children of God:

An encounter with God transforms us, and we are ready to love everybody. But then we return to building our walls, divisions, categories—reminding us that we have not yet recognized the kingdom of God in our midst, the commonwealth of God in which we share a common spiritual wealth.


  1. alas, we have gone so far from that time of unity in crisis. I have never seen so much 'us vs. them' and the vitriol of it all. It makes me think 9/11 was for naught; we have indeed lost.

  2. Your writing about building walls reminded me of one of my all time favorite Pink Floyd songs:
    What shall we use
    To fill the empty spaces
    Where we used to talk?
    How shall I fill
    The final places?
    How should I complete the wall

    Wish we as a nation had built bridges instead!