A reflection on the 20th anniversary of 9/11

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Twenty years ago today we experienced a moment of national tragedy that changed us forever. As the hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, those violent and destructive acts shook us to our core; they terrified us and made us feel vulnerable in new ways. That concussive moment was succeeded by a whole range of response — from an immediate flood of care and compassion extended from around the world, to a military response that entangled us in the longest war of our history.

I will never forget one particular reaction to 9/11. It occurred during the State of the Union speech of January 2002, when then-President Bush coined a memorable term, referring to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil.” It gained immediate traction, and I was glad for a quick counter-response from a number of religious leaders, pointing out that the axis of evil is not ethnic or geographic, but runs through the center of every human heart.

Twenty years on, I’m glad that coined term has fallen out of use, but I find myself wondering what its corollary, an Axis of Good, might look like. That, too, runs through every human heart. How do we find and map to that spiritual magnetic north?

For me, community has always been the key. And by community I do not mean a club or an affinity group of like-minded individuals, but rather a porous, generous, inclusive gathering around shared values, prioritizing right relationship (love) with all. (As fuzzy as that might sound, it gets gritty really fast, as soon as it’s actually practiced!)

This past week, in preparation for our All Parish Gathering on September 18th, I dusted off the catechism of the Episcopal Church to ask What is the mission of the church? “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (Book of Common Prayer p.855).  That’s a pretty straightforward answer. Paired with the apostle Paul’s understanding of the church’s work as “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), it gives a pretty clear bearing on our work.

Unity, Restoration and Reconciliation. This feels like an axis. For Good; for God. It’s less of a template and more like a compass bearing. It doesn’t tell us how to get there, or what we will encounter along the way, or if we will even make it, but it eliminates a lot of other directions we could go. It centers the one thing that Jesus taught really mattered: “Love God; love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:37). It’s essentially community-building work — a community as wide as the world.

A week from today we will gather as a parish to talk about our shared values and our hoped-for direction for the future. From the fruit of that gathering, the vestry will meet to discern several key areas of focus where we may more fully align ourselves to what we sense is God’s mission for us, for now.

Please use the week to come, and even use today’s poignant pause for remembrance of 9/11, to reflect on what you are feeling called to be and to do along this axis of reconciliation and restoration — how might the compass needle of your life be aligning in new ways? As we each bring our small piece of prayer and experience to the table next week, a collective sense of purpose may emerge.

God is building the world from love; and God is upholding us as we uphold one another and join in!

We remember today, so we may create tomorrow. On this day, God bless all who have been lost to us, all who remember those they have lost, and all who inherit the world we will pass on to them.  Let us build the world from love!

Daniel +

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