It was the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, my first day of orientation at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. Emmy and I placed Anyssa in her car seat and began the short drive from our new apartment to Iliff, where I would begin my graduate studies. If all went well, in three years I would complete a Master of Divinity degree, with a concentration in Justice and Peace Studies. I was both excited and nervous, but glad my first day had finally arrived.
Emmy turned on the radio. We often listened to NPR in the car. We weren’t paying much attention at first—it was almost background noise—but then we heard sentences like, “We can now confirm that a commercial airliner has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.” We turned to each other, each expressing a look of confusion that asked, “Did I just hear what I think I heard?”
Like most of the nation, we didn’t know exactly what was happening or what it meant. Not knowing what else to do, Emmy dropped me off at the entrance, and I went inside to begin orientation. During breaks, other students and I watched news coverage on a television someone had brought into the lobby.
I remember that as soon as people realized we had been attacked, a surge of high-powered patriotism began to well up from almost everywhere. That worried me. Of course, I couldn’t know enough then to predict the next thirteen years of demoralizing conflict in which our nation would engaged as a result of 9/11, but on a gut level, I knew we were in trouble.
I knew it more certainly when I walked into chapel and the first song played was “America the Beautiful.” I turned and walked out the door. This is not where I want to be, I thought. Not the message I need to hear. Instead, I went home to my wife and daughter. A sense of hopelessness set in, and when it comes to our nation’s engagement in the Middle East, that feeling persists to this day.
Last night, our President, who I voted for partly because of his promise to withdraw from Iraq, addressed the nation in order to lay out his battle plan in response to the horrors perpetuated by the so-called “Islamic State”.
While I do believe President Obama has tried to be thoughtful and nuanced in his approach to the quagmire of conflict in the Middle East, I am once again fearful for our nation. I am not afraid of physical attack. I am confident that the United States has the capacity to weather whatever a group like ISIS or Al Qaeda could ever throw at us.
Instead, I’m worried about our nation’s collective soul. We seem to know no response to violence other than the assertion of our own superior strength, our more deadly retaliation. Rather than an eye for an eye, we’ll take one hundred of their eyes for every one we lose.*
No doubt the American response to attack has worked to secure our dominance. We have indeed more-or-less protected ourselves, but at what cost? As a follower of Jesus, I cannot forget that question he asks in Matthew 16:26: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Couldn’t we ask the same of our nation?Like this? Click to subscribe!
*See www.costofwar.org. Since losing nearly 3,000 civilians in the 9/11 attacks, U.S. military actions have caused at least 300,000 deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.