September 11, 2001 has become the “Where were you the day that…” moment for my generation. For previous generations, life-changing days were Black Tuesday, 1929. Pearl Harbor, 1941. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, 1963. Then the assassination of MLK, Jr., 1968. They are moments frozen in time. Moments when life as we knew it would never be the same. Continental Divides in history where the direction of our world’s flow was irrevocably changed.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists flew planes into the two towers that comprised the World Trade Center, and the towers came crashing down. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon. Brave passengers crashed Flight 93 into a field in Pennsylvania, choosing to sacrifice their own lives so the madmen who’d hijacked the plane couldn’t kill any more.
In total, we lost 2,977 innocent Americans that day.
When the shock of the attack wore off, Americans jumped into action, beginning military efforts in Iraq (even though none of the terrorists who were involved in the attacks were Iraqi) and Afghanistan (where Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the attacks, was hiding).
Out of anger, grief, fear, retribution and who knows what other motivations, we went to war on two fronts. And we did catastrophic, exponentially horrific damage. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people lost their lives at our hands.
In the Iraqi war, 4,486 U.S. soldiers died. In Afghanistan, 2, 345 soldiers died. More than 1 million soldiers were wounded.
The wars cost the U.S. more than 6 TRILLION dollars.
And it cost more than half a million innocent Iraqi civilians their lives.
On 9/11 we lost 2,977 Americans. And somehow that justified taking the lives of half a million innocents in Iraq?
Today, my heart is heavy.
It’s heavy at the memory of the horrific attacks that happened on our soil 17 years ago. I’m heartsick for the loved ones who got the devastating phone call that their son or daughter or dad or mom or husband or wife or friend was….not ever coming home again.
I’m grieved by the soldiers who lost their lives in the wars that ensued. Grieved by the physical and emotional and mental toll the violence they both experienced and perpetrated took on these now wounded warriors.
I’m grieved that we spent 6 TRILLION dollars on violent pursuits that made the world more dangerous, not less. Imagine if we’d spent that obscene amount of money on education instead of IED’s, on building infrastructure instead of bombing it, on books instead of bullets, on schools instead of morgues, on food instead of hand grenades, on reconciliation instead of retaliation.
What have we done to confess the damage we’ve done in the world over the past 17 years because we were so blinded by our desire for retaliation?
What have we done to confess that our actions cost half a million of our Iraqi brothers and sisters their lives? That we were the reason that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis got the news that their son or daughter or dad or mom or husband or wife or friend was….not ever coming home again?
What have we done to repent that we spent so much money — money that we say we are to be wise, responsible stewards of because it all belongs to God — orchestrating attacks that led to so many innocent people’s deaths? Is that what it means to be a steward of all that belongs to God? To invest it in death machines that kill kids whose only “crime” was taking an unfortunate route to school that morning?
My friends, today is a day for mourning. Mourning for U.S. lives we lost 17 years ago, mourning for the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives we’ve taken since, and mourning for the state of our souls even now.
It’s a day to remember that when we act out of anger and fear, we make the world less safe, not more.
When we act out of retaliation, we do exponential damage to ourselves and the world around us.
When we act like American lives matter more than anyone else’s, we end up with the blood of millions of our innocent brothers and sisters around the world dripping from our “praying” hands.
Today is a day to repent of unjust things we’ve done, and continue to do, in the name of God.
It’s a day to repent that we haven’t recognized the image of God in the faces of Iraqis, Afghanis, Muslims, immigrants, refugees and people of color. Instead, we’ve seen them as acceptable collateral damage in our conquest to feel safe at any cost. Or maybe, blinded by false gods of patriotism, nationalism and revenge, we haven’t seen our innocent brothers and sisters at all.
Today is a day to choose who we’ll serve: a golden calf formed by politics, corruption, greed, selfishness, anger, fear and hate. Or the God of Love who calls us to drop our weapons, love our neighbors, bless our enemies, carry our crosses, and stretch out our arms in an all-encompassing, never-ending embrace.