When Towers Fell – Remembering 9-11 – Greg Albrecht
The images are etched in our minds—a commercial airplane, in slow motion, on a collision course with, and then finally crashing into the World Trade Center in New York. Then in what may have seemed at first to be a replay, a second plane. Glued to our televisions, we saw smoke and explosions and people jumping, out of desperation, from inconceivable heights.
Many of us remember exactly where we were when we first heard and saw the unspeakable and unbelievable events of 9-11-01. As Christ-followers how shall we remember and observe the anniversary of the horrific, abominable events of 9-11-01?
• Shall our military rattle its sabers on 9-11 by flooding the skies with the most advanced weapons of war, to assure thosewe believe to be our enemies as well as ourselves of our awesome superiority?
• Shall our churches and temples and synagogues remember 9-11 with the singing of patriotic songs, flag waving and video presentations encouraging us to ultimately trust in the power of our “emperor” to wage war?
• Shall we vigorously join those who will remember 9-11 with new resolutions about vengeance and retaliation?
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet
only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.—Matthew 5:38-48.
In this and other passages in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus articulated a way of life that for the past two thousand years has astounded and confused those who seek to follow him.
The non-violent teaching of the Jesus Way makes little if any sense to a world dominated (as it was in Jesus’ day) by a lethal, oppressive combination of warfare and violence by governments and by the tyranny of fear-based religion. The non-violent teaching of Jesus, modeled in and through his own life and death, is part of the revolutionary manifesto of the kingdom of heaven—a truly different kind of a kingdom.
Many twist the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount so that they interpret his teachings as intending an even more strict observance of the law than had been the case in the old covenant. But the force of what Jesus is saying is that since it is impossible to become perfect by observing the law or any law, he is proclaiming and introducing a better way, the Jesus Way.
The truly perfect, impossible-for-any-human- to-ever-dream-of Jesus Way illustrates the impossibility of pleasing and appeasing God via efforts and deeds, and that “now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known…This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
In these immortal teachings of non-violence taught in Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus is pointing to the new way, the Jesus Way, to which the entire world is invited through his Cross. The Jesus Way offers the life of Jesus, our risen Lord, in those who believe and trust in him. The non-violent Jesus Way does not return violence for violence, but rather, the Jesus Way is the mind and heart of Jesus loving its enemies and turning the other cheek.
Remembering 9-11…From Which Side of the Cross?
From which side of the Cross will we commemorate and observe 9-11? Shall we observe 9-11 from the violent side of the Cross that poured out hatred and venom resulting in the torture and crucifixion of Jesus? Or, shall we observe 9-11 from a Christ-centered perspective, from his non-violent side of the Cross, by turning the other cheek and returning good for evil? Will the followers of Jesus join with him and ask “Father, forgive them”?
Sadly, much of institutionalized Christendom today is on the violent side of the Cross—the wrong side for a Christ-follower. Early Christians were devoted to non-violence:
What man can serve as the executioner of his brother when God refused to execute those guilty of the death of his Son? After that acquittal, there is no crime on earth, no form of aggression, that can justify a person deliberately taking the life of another.
Pacifism was such a characteristic of the early church that a pagan prince, the Roman Celsus, warned that if everybody became Christian, it would spell disaster for Rome—for the empire would be without military defense! According to church historian Will Bausch, there is no clear evidence of Christians serving for the first century and a half of our faith. If they had been in the army, they left after baptism. A partial reason was that a Christian soldier might be forced to engage in emperor worship, but the spilling of blood was predominant. Tertullian notes that a Christian would rather be killed than kill. Cyprian, Arnobius, Hippolytus and other church fathers insisted that a soldier must refuse to kill (Brennan Manning, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus pages 93-94).
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Everybody knows what Jesus taught except, it seems, Christians. Is it possible,” said Gandhi, “to read through the Sermon on the Mount and not come away believing in non- violent resistance?”
Most of the major denominations of Christendom teach that there are “just wars” when it is preferable to kill others rather than be killed. On its face, this seems to be the precise wisdom encouraged by the tongue-in-cheek maxim, “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
Here are the words of Walter Wink, in his book titled Engaging the Powers:
Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of our modern world…. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts…. The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors…. We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace…. It, and not Christianity, is the real religion of America (page 13).
The God whom Jesus reveals refrains from all forms of reprisal and demands no victims. God does not endorse holy wars or just wars or religions of violence (page 149).
The fact that many major Christian denominations allow for warfare, and beyond that some even seem to encourage and glorify warfare, is no surprise, because violence is and always has been one of the primary products of Christ-less religion.
But, as he did with so many of our human values, Jesus flipped that value didn’t he? Jesus voluntarily allowed himself to be killed rather than to kill.
Jesus didn’t seek to intimidate those who would express hatred and violence toward him by arming the disciples with the best weapons available at that time. In Matthew 26:51, Jesus told one of his disciples, companions and followers, who drew his sword to prevent the arrest of Jesus: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Jesus didn’t believe in peace produced by intimidation via a display of force that would cause his enemies to fear doing harm to him. There is no question that Jesus taught and modeled peace through non- violence.
Gulf Between the Kingdoms of Our World and God’s Kingdom
In what is certainly one of the greatest mysteries of God’s love and grace, Jesus, revealing the love and grace of the Father, extended and offered forgiveness instead of retribution and retaliation.
Indeed, the mere idea of turning the other cheek appears to most humans to be one of the most ridiculous and illogical teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The knee-jerk response to God’s grace and love is that it is impractical and perhaps even impossible. The immediate response to Jesus’ teaching that we pray for our enemies and stop the endless cycle of returning evil for evil is that God’s grace does not work.
Pragmatism, one of the guiding philosophies of our Western world, insists that any belief or practice be held to the ultimate test of truth—the test of practical consequences.
Pragmatism is the standard that rejects any belief whose results do not “work” as we would like them to. Because it doesn’t make sense God’s grace is either rejected outright or tolerated as a hopelessly idealistic dream.
What is logical and what is practical? It makes perfect sense to realize and reason that our world is indeed a matter of the survival of the fittest. Survival on the macro scale means that nations with the biggest armies and most sophisticated weapons will be able to “keep the peace” in such a way that they survive. Pragmatism, as a branch of human wisdom, concludes that peace, as a matter of survival in our world, is only realized and enjoyed when no one, individually or nationally, thinks they can defeat you.
Our pragmatic human kingdom debates the grace and love of God’s kingdom, depicting non-violence as akin to suicide. The human kingdom cries out, “We can’t be doormats in the jungle—if we are to survive, we must understand that there is a law in the jungle in which we live.”
Survival of the fittest means ensuring that any potential prey is impressed and perhaps intimidated by easily perceiving just how fit a potential adversary is. Survival of the fittest sounds reasonable. Survival of the fittest makes sense.
However, the logical train of thought of survival of the fittest is followed by two inevitable, polar-opposite conclusions. The person or nation who accumulates and possesses the biggest, fastest and most powerful weapons will either:
1) be moral and ethical and not use them to brutally subdue others, or
2) give little or no thought to morals and ethics, for the only way to survive is to be the “biggest and baddest.”
Of course, history provides many examples of bloodthirsty tyrants who were more powerful that any of their potential adversaries and while they enjoyed peace, all those they subjugated lived in constant fear.
History in fact proves that the vast majority of empires were not benevolent, but tyrannical and brutal.
When we consider peace, we are left with one of two options, both of which involve trust:
1) We trust in our own abilities, and the abilities of our country, to provide security, safety and survival so that we might prolong and maximize our lives on this earth. It sounds nice to be concerned about others, but unless we survive we will never be able to be concerned for others. Trust therefore is about human ability to provide security, or…
2) We trust in God to give us life eternal, life of the age to come which transcends the here-and-now suffering and pain that are inevitable as we live out our lives.
Which of the two has actually proven more logical and practical—to trust in human abilities or to trust in God?
The Nexus of Human Power and Divine Grace
The great mystery of non- violence as a way of life is that it is humanly impossible, but in Christ, those things that are humanly impossible are made possible.
• As Christ-followers we are left to ponder the statements
of Jesus about those who would be willing to lose their lives and in so doing find, discover and be given life.
• As Christ-followers we are left to struggle with the massive gulf between the unworkable, impractical and nonsensical grace of God, his peace and true rest in Christ, and our own survival.
• As Christ-followers we are left once again at the foot of the Cross, looking upwards in wonderment and in mystery about Jesus, God in the flesh, who allowed himself to be tortured, brutalized, impaled on a cross and crucified—at the time that didn’t seem practical, did it?
“The War Prayer” is, in my opinion, one of the greatest of all the writings of Mark Twain—it was actually withheld from publication until after his death. This essay illustrates the folly of trying to get God to see it our way—the absurdity of thinking that God will support violence of any kind.
Mark Twain of course was the master of satire, sarcasm and irony and “The War Prayer” is no exception. Depicting soldiers gathering for prayer in a church before going out to battle, Twain imagines a white-robed messenger coming down and, by repeating and rephrasing their requests, illustrating the idiocy of what the soldiers were actually asking God to do. Here is “The War Prayer”:
O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander through wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst; sport of the sun-flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it—for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask of one who is the Spirit of love and who is the ever-faithful refuge of all those who are sore beset, and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord, and thine shall be the praise and honor and glory now and ever, A-men.
Cited from Upton Sinclair, The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Social Protest Literature of All Time.
An Impractical, Strange Dream
Up until 1989, the Berlin Wall divided the city of Berlin and in the aftermath of World War 2 it stood as a stark symbol of the cold war acrimony between Communism and the democracies of the West—in particular that of West Berlin and, as it was then called, West Germany.
As Tom Brokaw stood on top of the Berlin Wall, describing the historic event as the wall was in the process of being torn down, his camera crew recorded school children on the East German side of the Berlin wall, whose families had long been subjected to brutal Communist oppression, as they sang “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.”
“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” was written by Ed McCurdy in 1950, just a few years after 59 million lost their lives during World War 2.
It quickly became an anti- war song, but beyond that, it is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” is a dream of the end of hatred and violence —it speaks of a time when mercy trumps judgment, when forgiveness conquers retaliation, when reconciliation overcomes retribution, when God’s love conquers all.
“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” has attracted many famous recording artists over the last 60 plus years to “cover” it (when an original song is “covered” it is recorded again by a later artist). Covers of “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” include Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks and Joan Baez.
I’ve listened to many of these “covers” but “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” by Johnny Cash, recorded in 2002, when he 70 years old, only one year away from his death, is by far and away the most memorable version of all.
His voice, no doubt affected by his age and failing health, was hoarse and raspy—the message of his cover of “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” is the tired, haunting and compelling reflection of a man who has been around the block in this sad old world many times, a man who has seen his share of heartache, pain, violence and recrimination.
Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed Toputanendtowar
I dreamed I saw a mighty room The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said They’d never fight again
And when the papers were all signed And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed And the people in the streets below Were dancing round and round And guns and swords and uniforms Were scattered on the ground
Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an end to war.
• I believe that there is a direct correlation to Christ-less, legalistic religion and warfare, and that relationship can be traced down through history. Holy wars are woven into the fabric of history—big business religion is often a collaborator with government and the military in massive bloodshed.
• I believe that the grace and love of God, which produce his peace, will eventually put an end to the business of war, to the industry of war and to the glorification of war.
• I believe that a real Christian, one in whom Jesus lives, finds warfare and violence repugnant to the name of Jesus, to the reality of Jesus and the dynamic way of life that one leads when one follows Jesus.
Finally, let us consider the words of another vision of the end of war, when God’s love stands supreme…these words are part the revelation of Jesus Christ given to the Apostle John, recorded in the 21st chapter of the book of Revelation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
A Prayer for Peace
Our loving heavenly Father, as we remember 9-11 we remember Jesus, who came to stop endless recrimination and revenge of an “eye for an eye.”
As we remember 9-11 we realize that apart from your love and grace any and all human attempts to put an end to war and to bring about a lasting peace are, as recorded in the pages of history, illogical, impractical and fail the very test of pragmatism that so fervently denies and forcibly opposes your grace and peace.
As we remember 9-11 we pray for your peace, your peace that transcends all human knowledge, understanding, technology and implements of warfare. We pray for your peace that enables us to rest in Christ, now and forever more.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. A-men.