Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Reflections - The Kingdom of America or the Kingdom of God?

Yesterday seemed to have a "feel" to it. Every year, on this solemn anniversary, it's as if a cloud descends upon my world, and the events seem to be happening in real time. Similar to Christmas Eve, the day seems to be magically alive, but not with expectation and joy, but with heavy meditation and sadness. The anniversary of 9/11 has always been a very reflective day for me. I always find time to meditate, pray, and talk with others about what we've learned from such a culture-altering event. I remember that Tuesday morning as if it happened yesterday. I remember exactly what I was doing, as I sat at my desk. I remember how the sun looked as it crept through the trees outside my office and through the window. I remember thinking that it looked and felt like Fall, although it was still very hot and humid in typical South Texas style. I remember receiving the first email about the first plane that hit the World Trade Center, and not paying much attention. And I remember the feeling of darkness I felt as I began to realize what was happening when the second plane hit. 

I also have memories that leave me feeling a little empty, saddened and a little angry. Looking back, I remember the "pep rally" atmosphere that seemed to develop almost overnight, including in the Church. Churches of all denominations began pumping their fist, chanting, "USA! USA!, wearing red, white and blue and covering the cross with the flag. When I heard the news of the first attacks on Afghanistan, I spoke to a pastor friend of mine to discuss what was going on. His reaction, "Light 'em up, baby! Light 'em up!" My heart sank, I sheepishly said, "Yeah! Right!", and quickly made an excuse to leave. But I'll admit, part of me was sharing his emotions at that time.

"Light 'em up, baby!" Think about that for a second. Like most people at that time, my friend was excited that America was retaliating. It's somewhat natural to take joy in the vindication of the evil that had been inflicted on so many innocent people. But what he was not considering was that at that very second, people were dying. His first reaction to the bombing of human beings, and what would become the beginning of a long period of war and death, was excitement. Yes, at that time, many of these people were our enemy, but whether we want to admit it or not, innocent children were dying, women were screaming and holding their babies, and men who had nothing to do with their country's politics, were doing their best to protect their families. That's the reality of war. That's the reality of a fallen world.  The same fallen world that saw the death of thousands of innocent Americans.  

Now, don't get me wrong. The events on 9/11 were tragic, and unfortunately, America had to react in some form of retaliation. I'm not advocating pacifism. I feel the same pain and sadness as any American at the loss we suffered.  What I am questioning is our "reaction"; reactions to war as Americans, specifically those of us that call ourselves followers of Christ. The Church. The Body of Christ. Should we react to war as if it is a football game? Should we cheer on the sidelines, hoping that our opponents get their skulls crushed as we rush down the field of enemy territory to victory? Or should our reaction be more solemn? Should we pump our fists in the air, chanting, "USA! USA!", or should our fists be folded in prayer, asking God to protect the innocent and allow peace to return to His kingdom quickly? Should we be so quick to wave the flag before we lift up the cross? Should our reaction be hatred for our enemies, or a nation, or should we consider the words of Jesus Himself who said, "But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:44)  Those are radical words.  Difficult words.  Ridiculous words.  But that's what Jesus' Kingdom is all about.  Foolishness. 

You see, for Christians of this nation, America is not our kingdom. America did not invent Christianity and Jesus was not from the Heartland. War should not be a sporting event and we should not be so quick to pray for our team to win. Instead, should we not pray for an end to war? Should we not pray for not only the safety and protection of our country, but also the safety and protection of the world? Because whether we want to admit it or not, the entire earth belongs to the Kingdom of God. Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans are all human beings that God created. He wants ALL to be saved, not only Americans. (See 1 Timothy 2:3-7) And guess what? Even terrorists are in need of redemption.

After things settled down on 9/11, I left work and made my way to a prayer meeting at a friends house. I stopped in HEB to grab a drink and an energy bar for lunch. As I walked out, an old woman was walking toward me, weeping hysterically. She could have been my grandmother and I felt tears in my own eyes forming. As I got closer to her, she grabbed my arm and through her sobs, she began to say, "Did you see what they're doing in New York?! Did you see what their doing to us!?" I was in tears at this point and I just nodded my head. Then she said something that sums up my feelings this morning. "Just pray. OK? Please, son. Just pray."

Pray. Just pray.  This is the first year that i can honestly say that I forgive those that attacked our nation.  I can honestly say that I love them; not because of what they've done or haven't done, but because of who they were.  I love them because I see hopeless lives that came to a tragic end leaves behind a legacy of evil.  I'm saddened because I have a glimpse from God's eyes and see people that He wanted to follow Him, but drifted about as far as a human can from the true God.  

1 comment:

Cheryl Harrison said...

Jake - You are right. We need to remember that everyone need redemption, including our enemies. America was forever changed on September 11, 2001. Thankfully, if we focus on God's promises, we find the hope we need to sustain us.

Just this past Sunday, I taught my Sunday school class that we need ask the Lord to help us see things through His eyes. Today, it seems that fear and uncertainty is driving our nation. We need to remember that "even if" the things we fear the most happen, God is still God. His promises do not change. And yes, we must pray!