Fourteen years after 9/11, what has really changed?
I know this day will forever be remembered as a turning point in American history. I consider it a turning point in my own life and in my faith journey. For many it is a landmark. But what has really changed?
I look back on this day as the beginning of our permanent state of war, but did 9/11 inaugurate war, or merely bring it out of the shadows? According to a popular meme, the United States has been at war for 93% of its existence, or 222 out of 239 years of existence. And while the link details the major conflicts on a year-by-year basis, it overlooks economic warfare, covert operations, and other methods of empire-building through manipulation and violence throughout the world. If anything, the years following 9/11 have changed the way I and others understand the world, but largely by exposing the foundation of violence on which our world is built.
As a nation, the United States responded to 9/11 initially with a show of unity that may have seemed refreshing (after the bitter partisan division of the most contentious election in our history), but which was really as old as the beginning of human culture itself — a unity over and against the evil enemy who harmed us. Even that “unity” excluded some as Muslims and anyone who “looked” like a Muslim received distrust and hostility. By and large, we placed faith in vengeance, veiling our violence under shrouds of nationalism and patriotism and even a well-meaning but ill-executed desire to protect. We rushed to war and have been at war ever since. And as noted, we weren’t really at peace before.
Our nation wishes to maintain its identity as the superpower of a world structured on violence by being at the forefront of the violent world order. Our military dwarfs that of every other nation. We are the world’s leading arms exporter. We have bases in over 70 countries around the world. 9/11 did not fundamentally change the way the United States operates; it did not change us from a nation usually at peace (as I had naively imagined before the towers fell) into a nation called to be the protectors of the world through righteous military might. 9/11 rather accelerated our rush toward global dominance, which will be the destruction of the world and ourselves as well if we continue this trajectory. It undeniably changed lives. But it did not change the world order.
A real change, a true inauguration of a new world order, came about 2000 years ago. A new humanity was born in Christ as he hung dying on the cross when he took the world’s violence into himself and refused to return vengeance. In his cry for forgiveness for a world blind to it’s own path of self-destruction, love triumphed over hate, and love was vindicated in the resurrection. Jesus fulfilled the purpose of humanity by radiating, in his life and non retaliatory death, the fullness of God, in whose image we are all created. When we let the truth of his death reveal the depths of our own violence, the light from the cross shines onto all victims of human warfare, scapegoating, and sacrifice across all times and places. When we let his forgiveness into our hearts, we are blessed with a reorientation from self-preservation to outpouring love which heals us as well. A world structured on ever-expanding, out-reaching love, a security built on giving love, was inaugurated in the reconciliation — through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ — of humanity to the Love in which we were created. The kingdom is coming. But it is not yet fully realized.
And while the slow leavening of God’s mercy works upon our hearts, the old world of violence spirals ever out of control toward destruction. This divided house we call our earth cannot stand as long as wars destroy people and land. The forces of 9/11, both the attacks and our retaliation, were controlled by the powers of fear and greed and hate, the powers of a fallen world order that has yet to be healed by the grace that will usher in the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Imagine if the tragedy of 9/11 had awakened us to suffering felt all over the world. Imagine if we had responded with not only forgiveness, but with a love for our enemies, a refusal to let any of the suffering we experienced be waged in our name. Imagine if the outpouring of compassion we showed to the victims of violence on our soil had been extended to those who held grievances against us. Imagine if we had responded to questions of “Why do they hate us?” with introspection and honesty, and striven to return hate with compassion. Imagine if we had let ourselves be moved by the Spirit of Love rather than revenge.
I have to imagine that it is not too late. I have to imagine what this world would look like and keep this vision in my mind as I strive to do my part when I pray “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” With all my heart, I know that God’s will for all people is abundant life, a world order built on Love. What does that world look like?
Jesus promises such a world. And as I try to imagine this kingdom of Love, I also remember the vision of one who imagined it 44 years ago. John Lennon’s vision of peace during another time when the world was in the throes of war is not what many would consider a “Christian” vision. I know he himself would not consider it such. Yet it is a vision of a world ordered around the principal of Love, guided, I believe, by the Spirit who opens all of our hearts to the Love whose depths are only just beginning to realize. I invite you to imagine with John and me.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there are no permanent divisions between “us” and “them.” If we can imagine an eternity in which all are together, none destined to eternal bliss apart from others destined to eternal damnation, can we not live into that world now?
I admit, I do not want to live in a world where above us there is only sky. My vision includes God. I don’t think John Lennon would say the same. But the word “God” in any language comes from a human culture built in violence. “God” throughout the ages has been seen as all-powerful in a world where power has long been synonymous with violence. A world built on Love has no room for this god, who is an idol. I believe in a God above us who is Love. This God is also below us, within us and beyond us. “Around us only Love” is a vision I think John would share, a vision Jesus is fulfilling.
Imagine all the people, living for today. Imagine the fulfillment of Love here and now, no dreams of future rewards for us or vengeful fantasies of punishment for our enemies. Imagine never again hearing of the need to sacrifice today for tomorrow. Imagine finally realizing that violence can only make tomorrow more dangerous than today. Imagine reaching out in compassion to the needs of the world now, because now is all we have. Imagine the urgency and permanence of “Now” that is the fulfillment of Love everlasting, and begin to realize it now.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
Imagine the artificial boundaries between humans falling away. Imagine labels vanishing. Imagine freedom to move, freedom to love, freedom to come to know and relate to everyone beyond the fears that keep us insulated and isolated. Imagine coming to understand violence that we have exercised against each other in the name of God for the evil that it is, renouncing it, embracing others, and in their embrace finding dimensions of God’s love that we never knew existed. Imagine.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
Imagine holding no material possessions over and above the people who need them. Imagine the desire to meet these needs for others surpassing our desire to hoard things for ourselves. Imagine letting gratitude for our abundance pour out of us in sharing with others. It is hard to imagine no possessions, but those who are fleeing violence and destroyed lands need no longer imagine leaving their possessions behind. Imagine responding to them by sharing our space, our wealth, our friendship — knowing that everything we have is a gift to be shared. Imagine all the people sharing all the world.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.
I pray it may be so. In the name of Love, Amen.
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