The Cross at Ground Zero

Although I did not want to dwell too much on the 9/11 ten year anniversary, the occasion brought out some fascinating stories that are worth our reflection, even though the anniversary is behind us.  Like this one, on the Cross at Ground Zero:

The shape was oddly identifiable in the blasted wreckage of the World Trade Center, standing upright amid beams bent like fork tines and jagged, pagan-seeming tridents. A grief-exhausted excavator named Frank Silecchia found it on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks. A few days later, he spoke to a Franciscan priest named Father Brian Jordan, who was blessing remains at Ground Zero.

“Father, you want to see God’s House?” he asked. “Look over there.”

Father Brian peered through the fields of shredded metal. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Silecchia replied, “Just keep looking, Father, and see what you see.”

“Oh my God,” Father Brian said. “I see it.”

As Father Brian stared, other rescue workers gathered around him. There was a long moment of silence as he beheld what he considered to be a sign. Against seeming insuperable odds, a 17-foot-long crossbeam, weighing at least two tons, was thrust at a vertical angle in the hellish wasteland. Like a cross. . . .

Shortly after its discovery, Father Brian persuaded city officials to allow a crew of volunteer union laborers to lift it out of the wreckage by crane and mount it on a concrete pedestal. They placed it in a quiet part of the site, on Church Street, where on Oct. 3, 2001, Father Brian blessed it with the prayer of St. Bonaventure. “May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee . . . ” When he finished, the crane operators sounded their horns, a choral blast.

Each week, Father Brian held services there. He became the chaplain of the hard hats. Whenever crews working to find the dead needed a blessing or a prayer or absolution, Father Brian would offer it. Sometimes victims’ families came to pray. The congregations grew from 25 or 35 to 200 and 300. . . .

In July, the nonprofit group American Atheists sued to remove it [from the National September 11 Memorial and Museum], calling it an unlawful and “repugnant” attempt to promote religion on public land. One group member told ABC News that it was “an ugly piece of wreckage” that connoted only “horror and death.”

via 9/11 memorials: The story of the cross at Ground Zero – The Washington Post.

It’s not necessary to accept this cross as a miraculous relic to appreciate what it means:  In the midst of the horrors of 9/11 and in the midst of all horrors, Christ–who took them all into Himself on His Cross–is there.

 

 

The Cross at Ground Zero

 

 

Cross at Ground Zero

 

The would-be kamikaze of 9/11

The passengers on Flight 93 rose up against the hijackers, who crashed the plane in a Pennsylvania field rather than the White House or whatever their target was.  We now know that if that hadn’t happened, the military was prepared to take down the airliner, passengers at all.  But it was even worse than that.  Incredibly, the available jet fighters were not armed.  Two pilots scrambled to take down the airliner in a kamikaze attack.  One of the suicide pilots was a woman.  She told her story, after a decade of silence, to the WashingtonPost:

Late in the morning of the Tuesday that changed everything, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was on a runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The one thing she didn’t have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.

Except her own plane. So that was the plan.

Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age, faster than they could arm war planes, Penney and her commanding officer went up to fly their jets straight into a Boeing 757.

“We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,” Penney recalls of her charge that day. “I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.”

For years, Penney, one of the first generation of female combat pilots in the country, gave no interviews about her experiences on Sept. 11 (which included, eventually, escorting Air Force One back into Washington’s suddenly highly restricted airspace).

But 10 years later, she is reflecting on one of the lesser-told tales of that endlessly examined morning: how the first counterpunch the U.S. military prepared to throw at the attackers was effectively a suicide mission. . . .

On that Tuesday, they had just finished two weeks of air combat training in Nevada. They were sitting around a briefing table when someone looked in to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. When it happened once, they assumed it was some yahoo in a Cesna. When it happened again, they knew it was war.

But the surprise was complete. In the monumental confusion of those first hours, it was impossible to get clear orders. Nothing was ready. The jets were still equipped with dummy bullets from the training mission.

As remarkable as it seems now, there were no armed aircraft standing by and no system in place to scramble them over Washington. Before that morning, all eyes were looking outward, still scanning the old Cold War threat paths for planes and missiles coming over the polar ice cap.“There was no perceived threat at the time, especially one coming from the homeland like that,” says Col. George Degnon, vice commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews. “It was a little bit of a helpless feeling, but we did everything humanly possible to get the aircraft armed and in the air. It was amazing to see people react.”

Things are different today, ­Degnon says. At least two “hot-cocked” planes are ready at all times, their pilots never more than yards from the cockpit.

A third plane hit the Pentagon, and almost at once came word that a fourth plane could be on the way, maybe more. The jets would be armed within an hour, but somebody had to fly now, weapons or no weapons.

“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” barked Col. Marc Sasseville.

They were gearing up in the pre-flight life-support area when Sasseville, struggling into his flight suit, met her eye.

“I’m going to go for the cockpit,” Sasseville said.

She replied without hesitating.

“I’ll take the tail.”

It was a plan. And a pact.

Penney had never scrambled a jet before. Normally the pre-flight is a half-hour or so of methodical checks. She automatically started going down the list.

“Lucky, what are you doing? Get your butt up there and let’s go!” Sasseville shouted.

She climbed in, rushed to power up the engines, screamed for her ground crew to pull the chocks. The crew chief still had his headphones plugged into the fuselage as she nudged the throttle forward. He ran along pulling safety pins from the jet as it moved forward.

She muttered a fighter pilot’s prayer — “God, don’t let me [expletive] up” — and followed Sasse­ville into the sky.

They screamed over the smoldering Pentagon, heading northwest at more than 400 mph, flying low and scanning the clear horizon. Her commander had time to think about the best place to hit the enemy.

“We don’t train to bring down airliners,” said Sasseville, now stationed at the Pentagon. “If you just hit the engine, it could still glide and you could guide it to a target. My thought was the cockpit or the wing.”

He also thought about his ejection seat. Would there be an instant just before impact?

“I was hoping to do both at the same time,” he says. “It probably wasn’t going to work, but that’s what I was hoping.”

Penney worried about missing the target if she tried to bail out.

“If you eject and your jet soars through without impact . . .” she trails off, the thought of failing more dreadful than the thought of dying.

But she didn’t have to die. She didn’t have to knock down an airliner full of kids and salesmen and girlfriends. They did that themselves.

It would be hours before Penney and Sasseville learned that United 93 had already gone down in Pennsylvania, an insurrection by hostages willing to do just what the two Guard pilots had been willing to do: Anything. And everything.

via F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11 – The Washington Post.

This is disturbing in SO many ways! Like what?

The 9/11 attacks ten years later

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. So we need to observe the occasion. And yet I find myself experiencing grief fatigue, outrage fatigue, war fatigue. I wish we could get beyond 9/11, put it behind us. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, could we downgrade from threat level orange and keep our shoes on in the airport? I do realize we must remain ever vigilant because the threat remains. And I do agree that we should never forget what happened, honoring those who died, those who helped the victims, and the soldiers that enacted our national retribution. Still, I can’t help my post 9/11 exhaustion.

So where do we stand 10 years after the attacks?

Has “everything changed,” as was widely said at the time?

Does it take an attack like that to give us a sense of national unity? Why didn’t that last longer than it did?

What is the big picture, historical, and cultural impact of those plane crashes?

Provisions of Obama’s jobs plan

The president unveiled his jobs package last night to a joint session of Congress.  Here are the main provisions of the $447 billion plan:

-EMPLOYEE TAX CUTS. A deeper payroll tax cut for all workers. Congress in December cut the payroll tax, which raises money for Social Security, from 6.2 percent for every worker to 4.2 percent, for all of 2011. Obama’s proposals would cut that tax even further – to 3.1 percent – for all workers in 2012. The tax applies to earnings up to $106,800. The estimated cost is $175 billion.

- EMPLOYER TAX CUTS. A payroll tax cuts for all business with payrolls up to $5 million. Obama’s proposal would cut the current 6.2 percent share of the payroll tax that employers pay to 3.1 percent. As with employees, that tax applies to annual employee earnings of $106,800. The White House says 98 percent of businesses have payrolls below the $5 million threshold. In addition, Obama proposes that businesses get a full payroll tax holiday for additional wages resulting from new hires or increased payrolls. The estimated cost is $65 billion.

- PUBLIC WORKS. The president proposes spending $30 billion to modernize schools and $50 billion on road and bridge projects. He also calls for an “infrastructure bank” to help raise private sector money to pay for infrastructure improvements and for a program to rehabilitate vacant properties as part of a neighborhood stabilization plan. The estimated total cost of all those programs is $105 billion.

-UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. If approved by Congress, the proposal would continue assistance to millions of people who are receiving extended benefits under emergency unemployment insurance set up during the recession. That program expired in November but Congress renewed it for 2011. If not renewed again, it would expire at the end of this year, leaving about 6 million jobless people at risk of losing benefits. The president also wants to spend extra money on states that help long-term unemployed workers though training programs. One model cited is a Georgia program that lets people receiving unemployment benefits obtain job training at a company at no cost to the employer. The estimated cost is $49 billion.

-LOCAL GOVERNMENT AID. The ailing economy has forced state and local governments to lay off workers. Money that states and municipalities received in the 2009 stimulus package has been running out. Obama proposes spending to guard against layoffs of emergency personnel and teachers. The estimated cost is $35 billion.

-EMPLOYER TAX CREDITS. The president proposes a tax credit of up to $4,000 for businesses that hire workers who have been looking for a job for more than six months. The estimated cost is $8 billion.

-EQUIPMENT DEDUCTION. Wary of imposing a burden on business, Obama wants to continue for one year a tax break for businesses, allowing them to deduct the full value of new equipment. Previously, companies could only deduct 50 percent of the value. The president and Congress in December negotiated that provision into law for 2011, but it is set to expire at the end of this year. The estimated cost is $5 billion.

via Highlights of Obama’s jobs plan – Sacramento News – Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee.

Lots of reliance on tax cuts.  I thought that was a Republican tactic that  Democrats scorn in their crusade for new revenue.  Isn’t all this help for business  what Democrats usually mock as “trickle down economics” and help for the rich?  There is, of course, lots of government spending of money that we do not have.

Do you think this will get Americans working again?

One legacy of 9/11: More interfaith services

Ecumenical News International reports that the number of interfaith worship services–that is, those in which people of different religions worshipped together (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.)–have doubled since the 9/11 attacks:

Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since the 11 September attacks, according to a new study released 7 September, even as more than seven in 10 U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.

The survey by an interfaith group of researchers found that about 14 percent of U.S. congregations surveyed in 2010 engaged in a joint religious celebration with another faith tradition, up from 6.8 percent in 2000, Religion News Service reports.

Interfaith community service grew nearly threefold, with 20.4 percent of congregations reporting participation in 2010, up from 7.7 percent in 2000, according to the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership. After the attacks, “Islam and Islamics’ presence in the United States (became) visible in a way that you couldn’t ignore,” said David A. Roozen, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

National Muslim groups tried to build bridges to other faiths, who in turn “reached out in new ways to be neighborly,” he said. Reform Jewish congregations led the way, with two-thirds participating in interfaith worship and three-quarters involved in interfaith community service.

The largest percentage of interfaith-worshipping congregations (20.6 percent) was in the Northeast, which is home to a disproportionate percentage of more liberal mainline Protestant churches. About 17 percent of interfaith-worshipping congregations are in a big city or older suburb, where greater diversity makes interfaith activity more likely.

The study implies that the more liberal a congregation, the greater likelihood for interfaith activity. Approximately half of Unitarian Universalist congregations held interfaith worship services, and three in four participated in interfaith community service. By contrast, among more conservative Southern Baptist churches, only 10 percent participated in interfaith community service, and five percent in interfaith worship.

The study shows most of the 11,077 congregations surveyed reported no interfaith activity, a finding that troubled the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Washington-based Interfaith Alliance. “The reality in our nation now is we have a major problem with Islamophobia, and that fear is being fed by people in large enough numbers that we need probably ten times as many people involved in interfaith discussions and actions,” Gaddy said.

via Paul McCain: Interfaith Worship on the Rise Since 9/11 | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

But if we have a major problem with Islamophobia, why the growing popularity of Christians worshipping with Muslims?  The bigger question is surely, why the vogue of interfaith, syncretistic worship in the aftermath of 9/11?  Do any of you have an explanation?

Happy birthday, Star Trek

Thursday was the 45th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek on NBC.

Are you or have you ever been a Trekkie?  Have you gotten a life, and if so, do you still like Star Trek? What is it about this series that we still talk about it 45 years later?

Which series is your favorite?  Can we agree that the original series with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, et al. was by far the best?

45 Years Ago Today: Star Trek Debuted on NBC | Strange Herring.


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