Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Remembering 9-11, ten years later

I’m pacing back and forth in front of the church. I have opened the church but I need someone  who can open the heavy main doors. Can’t do it by myself right now.  Hope arrives and we wait together.Finally Jeremy arrives and serves as my doorman once again.
Jeremy and I go into run through Not by might..I’m getting concerend. Its near eleven and neither Andre or Caleb is here. Jeremy and I decide that if they don’t come, we’ll go ahead by ourseves. 
As he begins on the piano, Andre walks in. Jeremy whispers that he will do Caleb’s part and we’ll do it just as we rehearsed. And we do. And the congregation applauds. But the mervousness in my stomach remains.  
We do the early parts of the service, singing Sanctuary slowly. Reflectively. The scriptures are read and Andre improvises the words of the 23rd Psalm as we chant our responce. Then I begin my sermon.
First thing this morning, the first thing that happened, was a phone call from my friend Uli in Germany,(you may remember him, he’s been here many times.) He’s wanting us to know that he was holding us, our church,our parish, in his prayers. He spoke to me of  how his church in Berlin had prayed for us this morning. And of a large commemoration at the Brandenberg Gate.  His call was moving , just because of the solidarity expressed. But more so as a reminder that 9-11 was something that happened here, but also something that happened in the world. 
On the other hand, I understand the feelings posted on facebook by one of our members that as this date approached, she found herself once again feeling posessive about this experience, that others had no right to this anger, ths grief, that it hapenned here. It happened to us. 
Some people make  things. Our work as Pastors is to help people make sense. So our work as pastors is to help make sense of all this, as if we could. But I want to ask three questions: where were we, where are we, where are we going?
It;s easy to get lost in memory. Those days stand out as if time  out of time. Easy to get lost in memory....Where were we? Some NFL players petitioned the league to wear gloves in their games today  that say, never forget, as if anyone could. We all remember where we were on that day.  I was right here, in this church. In a staff meeting with Katherine, Holly,Angela...waiting for Regi. We got a phone call from him. It didn’t sound right. I thought he must have heard something wrong. By the time Katherine received a phone call from John at work telling her the Pentagon had been hit, I knew it was not a mistake.
We ran home to check on our immediate families. My son Micah was home from school.  When I got there, I watched with him over and over again the loop of the plane flying intto the second tower. 
Our Session gathered. Called all our members to make sure that they were all rght...just like we did before the hurricane, only not just homebound members, everybody. Some used the occasion to vent feelings re. longtime hurts. First lesson: folks wouldn’t necessarily set evreything aside in light of such a horror. For some, feelings  are magnified. Some couples came together, while others split. No real paradigm or patttern. 
Yes, these days were time out of time. We had no idea what was to come, if another shoe would drop. Remember the anthrax scare?  I will always be proud of how this congregation swung into action....we were in every way what a church is supposed to be...(see the recent Presbyterian News Service article on West-Park and 9-11  ) Our night at Ground Zero, our 18 months as a hub church working with people whose needs fell between the cracks, how we hosted volunteer work groups from around the country, how we received from Presbytery an Angel of 9-11 award. 
Let me share some thoughts on where we were...
We were wounded, vulnerable. For once the rest of the country could look at us wirh a sense of connection.  The cards, letters, thoughts and prayers that came in from all over the country.
We came together, as New Yorkers at our best always do. To live in this city takes the giving and receiving of a 1000 graces a day. We exist as an act of collective will, no force government or other power keeps this thing called New York City together, we choose it. That quality saved us from chaos. 
We were given the opportunity to understand our connectedness to others who have suffered, who do suffer around the world. To connect with Berlin and Beirut, Gaza and Guernica. We had that opportunity.
Where was God? Many people ask. But it’s not a hard question for us. In the planes, in the  towers, in the streets,inside these walls, wherever we were, God was. 
Where are we?  We didn’t use that opportunity to live into that connectedness. We allowed our rulers to use the moment as an excuse to pursue their own agendas of power, dominance and control. To launch wars. Wars that couldn’t even qualify as legitmate revenge. Wars that continue to this day, with no great sense of public outrage, or even awareness. A daily Guernica.
Hugo sent me a good article about the NFL and its commemoration. Some aspects of commercialism creeping in.  But ironically, it is in the stadia of this country that the awareness is regularly lifted up. As annoying as the 7th inning God Bless America is at Yankee Stadium, there is no other daily recognition of the reality of  Americans fighting in wars overseas. The reality of that for them and their families. (As well as the people who live where they are fighting.) Perhaps we need at least a weekly reminder in church that we are still in two active wars.
Our gospel lesson today focues on forgiveness. At least one of my colleagues is focusing her sermon on that. Some of my colleagues tried to go to forgiveness that first Sunday after. I couldn’t. It was important to just let ourselves experince the moment as it was before trying to go anywhere. However the issue is still important. For that reason we are gong to do a series on the recent PBS film called Forgiveness. Our former intern Eleanor Harrison is going to lead this series. 
Forgiveness remains a challenge. It is not reconciliation. It is a letting go. As one friend said, giving up for all time the hope for a different past.  We do it for ourselves. To give oursleves a chance to own our own lives. So that are lives are not consumed by the hurt that was done. 
In plannning today’s service, my first impulse was to recreate as much as I  could. To reexperince the service from the first Sunfday after. Then  I realized we could not. We were where we were, are where we are. We’ve recreated some of the music, at least to remind us of who we have been, and are. I continue to be amazed that in the late 1880’s a mainline Protestant church would choose Not by might, nor by power  as its Biblical slogan. ... I wish I could talk to them about that choice. Over the years, it has defined us. 
Where are we going? First, we must keep caring, especially for one another. That caring  kept us, will keep us.
After that, transformation..The vision of the Center grows directly out of my experience of 9-11, witnessing the power of destruction, of deconstrucion and denial of life. The power of evil. From this grew my idea of creation as resistance, as partnership with God. Later in October, when Jane and I begin our study series, we chose Genesis as our subject and  as our title  In the Beginning, because its all about creation, how we continue to create oursleves, our community.
So we must seek to continue to be a community of caring, of resistance, of creation.... that is our path. That is the path from memory to the place we are moving towards, to truly being who we ae called to be.
Jane has graciously agreed to come and back me up due to my uncertainty of how much I could do. So after I finish the sermon I sit down and ask her to lead the prayers of remembrance and of intercession. 
Andre sings his Here’s to Life, just as he did that first Sunday. And in our Bridge Concert series. Even more than Old Man River, this is his signature song. 
We collect our offering and then sing Pues Si Vivimos/ When We Are Living, beautiful Spanish song based on Romans14: 1-12. Living or dying, we belong to God. We make our circle,announce the benediction, pass the peace.  I realize that even when things aren't  exactly what you wanted, it i still  possible to do something, to worship, with integrity and authenticity.
We stay with each orher awhile, then slowly begin to leave. Jane has invirted us as a group, to join in her congregation’s interfaith service at 2 PM. Several of our members want to go there. I need a rest.
Walking up Amsterdam, I feel I’m walking easier than before the surgery.

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