Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering - 9/11/15

This year, in advance of the anniversary, I've been remembering that day and the aftermath. There is so much. Those attacks re-shaped my life, and have had an immense malign impact upon the world. The killings of thousands that day helped loose the dogs of war which have killed many hundreds of thousands since then.

There is lots to remember about that day and the immediate aftermath. For some reason, this year, I find it easier to be in touch with the strong feelings: the shock, the fear, the confusing uncertainty, the horror, the immense sadness... and even the hope, that in the midst of terror, there would be a way out.

I remember the shriek of fighter jets over Manhattan that afternoon, roaring out of nowhere, and not being sure if this was threat or protection. I remember the helpless feeling of wanting to do something to heal, to help, to fight back against this assault on humanity and on my city. I remember the smells: the burning which went on for months, the sweat, and yes, the decay. I remember the hard-worn places of respite, where there could be calm, and rest, and restoration in the midst of devastation.

I remember how deeply affecting the stories of escape were - and are - and how breathtakingly thankful I am for every person that found deliverance from death. And how just as affecting are the stories of those lives brought to an end, and those who walked in grief. The stories of heroism are inspiring and tragic and too numerous to count - and so many of those stories never made it out of the towers.

I always come back, though, to the people. Many heroes, some clunkers, and a great number of ordinary good people. I got to know the dead through the witness of the living: the stories they told, the pictures and posters they shared, the mementos they brought. And I got to see how people and a city and a nation under grave stress responded. Not always well. But more often than not I was honored and humbled and impressed and grateful.

Those attacks continue to take their toll. The 9/11 dust continues to end lives early, and some people who survived the day of 9/11 have never bounced back. The geopolitical effects echo at least from Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria to Libya. Lord, have mercy.

Today I pay honor to the people of 9/11: those killed, those who tried to help, and the millions throughout the world whose hearts went out to those in distress. If the human race can do that consistently, hope is not blind faith, but the reasonable response. May it be so today. God bless the people of 9/11, and may God lead us to the healing of a world in continued crisis.

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

The towers could be spectacular as the setting sun turned them to bronze, copper, and gold. I have been unable to find the proper attribution for this beautiful picture. Thanks to the artist who saw this moment and shared it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The 4th of July

The great patriotic holiday points back to the date the Continental Congress ratified the text of what is now called the Declaration of Independence. The Congress having two days before taken the decision to declare independence from Great Britain (i.e., to revolt), on the Fourth adopted a text written by Thomas Jefferson declaring that fact and enumerating the reasons. The document was rapidly printed and distributed, with public readings taking place in on July 8th in Philadelphia, PA, Trenton, NJ, and Easton, PA. On July 9th, General George Washington read it to his troops in New York City, while thousands of British troops were in New York Harbor. The first translation, into German, was published on July 9th. It quickly made its way throughout the colonies and was published in British newspapers by mid-August. (Please note in the picture to the left the strikethrough of "Forever" is an anti-counterfeiting device in this official image from the Postal Service.)

History does not record many successful revolts. The delegates who later put their names to the Declaration of Independence (it was only signed a month later) must have known they were risking their lives, as well as the future of this new land called "America." Like the Liberty Bell which was probably rung on July 8, 1776 to celebrate the reading of the Declaration, these leaders had their flaws.

But they made the case that their new, hoped-for union was necessary to redress some of the ills of the empire, and thus, like the inscription on the bell, they proclaimed "LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," (Leviticus 25:10).

This is a good day to remember not only those men who took a nation's life into their hands, but all American citizens and so many others throughout the world who have been inspired by the vision that all people are created equal, and that all should share equally in the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities this inclusive vision brings.

God bless America, and may our vision of a just society be renewed, strengthened, and made ever more real.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Come to Bethlehem and see

Often it happens that a particular carol or Christmas song will stick in your head and maybe your heart. This year I have been humming a particular verse from "Angels We Have Heard On High."

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
which inspire your heav'nly song?

The entire second verse is a question! And the answer: "Come to Bethlehem and see..."

If you go to Bethlehem, like any good tourist, you will see the Church of the Nativity, and the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born. It looks quite a bit different from the humble manger Luke described, or the cave in Matthew’s gospel. Over the centuries the various branches of the Church have enshrined it, decorated it, and (incredibly) fought over it. The witness of faith is that the place of Christ’s birth is important, worthy of veneration, and a testimony to the truth of God’s presence in the world.

I agree. As a born and raised Show Me state-er, I know it is important to “come to Bethlehem and see.”

It is critically important that each of us make our pilgrimage to the place where Christ is born. Not that you have to travel to Bethlehem, or any particular religious site, but you must go to that place where God’s love enters and redeems the world. Jesus came into the world not to condemn it, but to save the world, to save us. For God to be real to us, we must encounter God’s power at work.

When we see lepers healed (think Ebola, or think AA), when we see non-violent movements change governments and change hearts, when we see murderers transformed into teachers and people consumed by anger transformed by forgiveness, when we see people die in peace because they are living in love, we can say "God is here. Right here in this spot. God is doing something, something new, something powerful, something wonderful. Come to Bethlehem, or South Africa, or Ferguson or Syria or Sierra Leone or Afghanistan (we hope and pray). Come and see what God is up to."

And of course the prayer is that God is doing that mighty work in our nation, in our town, in our house, in our lives. Gloria in excelsis Deo. The adoration we give to this little baby Jesus is both a testimony to the power of what God has done AND a radical statement of our desperate hope in what God is doing.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Two sisters know
what priests and seers 
could not discern.
In Galilean hills 
far from Temple Mount 
and palace rule...
God's afoot 
when prophet babe 
kicks advent news.

"Blessed are you!" 
is the first word 
out her mouth - 
just as it would be 
for that heavenly voice 
speaking hope
to Jordan 
and to hungry people 
awaiting God on mount or plain 
(does it really matter if you read 
Matthew or Luke?).

Must the powerful tumble 
for the lowly to be magnified?
Yes, saith the Lord, 
who is in the business 
of exaltation 
without exploitation 
so that even 
a knocked-up peasant girl 
knows favor. 

Her little babe, 
born to trouble 
(so Psalmist sang) 
would drink deep of her hope, 
gulp down God's promise,
choke on power's cruel judgment - 
and still he rose.

Rose above the sickness 
by touching lepers.

Rose above sin 
by dining with sinners 
(the wine was just icing on that cake).

Rose above Rome and above Caesar 
and above his murderers 
simply by forgiving, 
and praying for deliverance. 
Not his. Theirs.

For he listened 
to his mama, 
who remembered 
that for all God's turn the world around 
lift up the lowly promises, 
he is still the Father 
of mercy.

November 21, 2014

"He Casts Down the Mighty From Their Thrones," linocut by SarahDFuller, available at