ten years gone

Fully knowing that they were only between 4 and 8 at the time, I asked a group of high school students where they were on 9/11.   The response was probably what you would expect.  They sort of remember it, but it didn’t really seem like it was a part of who they were. They didn’t comprehend the sadness, the fear the anxiety of the day and of the weeks following.  The anthrax scare that followed 9/11 didn’t even get on their radar.  To people who fully remember the events of the day, it is hard not to watch a remembrance video without tearing up.  It is difficult for your stomach to not sink a little when the vivid images of people jumping out of the towers roll across the screen.  In the weeks following 9/11 it was hard to step on an airplane and not profile someone (as guilty as I feel about this)…Airport security was always, “that way.” Osama Bin Laden was a household name.

I grieved a little that they did not share in the suffering of the day.  There is something about sharing in suffering that changes your perspective.  There is something that unites, that gives people a view of what’s really important.  Mostly I grieved because I realized that there is an entire generation that will never feel what I felt as I sat paralyzed in horror in front of my TV that day on September 11th.

I’ve learned that remembering is more than knowing facts.  Remembering involves feeling the pain of those whom we have a common connection with.  I’ve never felt people’s pain more clearly than I did on 9/11.  I’ve never felt more united with my fellow Americans than I did on that day.

The coming generation may never remember watching people in other countries burn American flags in the days following that horrific day.  Although some of the videos that the news was showing were shot months prior to September 11th, there was still some celebrating.  I remember how sickening that was.  I wasn’t angry but simply disgusted.  It was obvious that the up and coming generation didn’t get this because a few months ago when Osama Bin Laden was killed, we saw people celebrating in the streets.  Although there is a legitimate cause for relief in people’s mind that Bin Laden is no longer with us, it highlighted that we didn’t remember the suffering that plagued that day.  When we celebrated the death of Bin Laden we just created a cycle of vengeance.  To some Islamic extremist 9/11 was a taste of victory, for many who were hurt the death of Bin Laden was the same taste.  If we keep going down this same road, it makes me anxious to ask, what will the extremist celebrate next?  Then, what will we celebrate after that?

I learned that de-escalation of conflict is difficult when you have a people full of pain.  I also learned that genuine love conquers that pain.  I learned that loving my neighbor means protecting them.  I also learned my neighbor serves Allah.  I learned that cycles do exist and we can encourage them or discourage them.  I’ve learned that the world is smaller than I thought.  I learned that my kids who were born 8 and 10 years after 9/11 would somehow need to know the story.  They will somehow need to feel my pain.  They will somehow need to engage the world in a loving way as to not perpetuate the cycle of destruction in a world that is already devoid of love.  The will need to remember the suffering of a people who were gone before they arrived.

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good church: smyrna

Smyrna was an affluent town just up the road from Ephesus.  They were blessed to be at the mouth of a river and near a sea, which translates into economically prosperous town.  It was a town that understood second chances.  The town itself had been rebuilt after hundreds of years of being in ruins.

The church in Smyrna spawned out of a Synagogue because in the ancient world that is how the gospel was spread.  The Jews in the town enjoyed a special immunity.  They did not have to pay the annual tribute to Cesar and participate in Imperial worship.  So when the newly converted Christians were kicked out of the Synagogue they were no longer afforded the protection that the Jews had to offer.  Because of this, Smyrna became a town of persecution.  Yet this and another church are the only two that Jesus doesn’t rebuke.

In this context, what is a good church?  Jesus already praised this church, so what were its characteristics.  In our American culture when asked what does a good church look like we would probably hear a lot of things.  A children’s department like the McDonalds play area, a youth ministry of hundreds that goes from one trip to the next that is highly visible on school campuses, we might say a lead pastor who can preach with style and poise, who wears the right combination of skinny jeans, deep-v’s and caries an iPhone.  Our cultural response to this question might be one that offers a ton to the community; the worship experience is like going to one of the best shows.  But if you were to read Revelation 2:8-11 you might get the sense that a good church doesn’t actually have much to offer at all.  You would probably get the sense that a good church is faithful through much, offers little but is willing to give everything.

When we think of Smyrna the martyrdom of the bishop Polycarp comes to mind.  He was arrested on the charge of being a Christian — a member of a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be stopped.

Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, “Caesar is Lord”. If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar’s statue he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake.  Before he died he prayed that he would be an acceptable sacrifice.  When he was thrown into the fire the account of his death was that there was an aroma of bread baking or of gold and silver being refined.

Does the materialism of our day stifle the witness of our churches?  Or are our churches willing to give it all and offer little?

 

Some historical information taken from, Daniels, T. Scott, Seven Deadly Spirits: The Message of Revelations Letters for Today’s Church.

 

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stories of belonging

My wife and I had dinner with some new neighbors the other day.  They are missionaries of a different faith.  They are super nice people; we just don’t believe the same things.  After dinner the conversation turned to religion.  They asked me if I had any questions for them.  I did have questions but they weren’t technical, they were narrative.  I asked them to tell me the story of their religion.  How did it come about?  What was their god like?  Why do they believe what they believed?

The sad thing was that for people who are so passionate about their religion that they would give up a few years of their life to spread their religion, they didn’t know where to start.  I was kind of shocked that they couldn’t answer the question.  It wasn’t my intent to trick these people or to be duplicitous in any way.  I simply wanted to hear more about them.  I believe that embedded within our story are the keys to our being.  Our story speaks of our love, our suffering, the good and the bad.  Our stories are who we are.

I was really hoping that these missionaries would tell me a good story because I really wanted to understand them.  Sometimes it is difficult to understand others.  Sometimes when others speak we give them a strange look because it is difficult to understand why they said what they just said.  I think stories are powerful.

What if simply by telling stories in your family you could all of the sudden have a more connected family?  You could tell stories of life, death, baptisms, weddings, vacations, funny moments, hard times, and God’s provision.  I think families are beginning to lose their narrative, and when that is lost their sense of belonging is lost with it.  As humans we have a basic need to belong to something.  Your family story helps you belong to your family, just like your faith story helps you belong to a religion.

I think it would be sweet if a dad of a 17 year old girl walked into her room and told her the story of the day she was born and how excited he was.  How loved would she feel? Even though it might be cheesy she would feel even more deeply connected with who she is as a part of her family.

If you’re a parent I hope you will spend time with your kids telling them their family story.  If you follow Jesus, I hope you’ll tell God’s story to your kids.  If you love someone I’d challenge you to help them belong by telling them a story today.

 

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