My parents hadn’t met when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I was in first grade when the teacher gathered us around in our reading circle to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot and did not grasp the historical import of the moment. I was watching when Reagan was shot and went outside my Florida home to peruse the weird cloud in the sky caused by the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. All of these were major moments in our modern history.
None of them compare to the shock and awe that gripped us the day America came under attack – September 11, 2001. It is hard to believe it is 20 years ago today, that there are kids in college who weren’t even born yet or who were toddlers in diapers when that day occurred.
I was hosting an associational pastors meeting in my home that morning – we met regularly for encouragement and accountability. I was ready and flipped on the TV while awaiting the arrival of our DOM and the other men. The first thing I saw was an airplane flying into a building (the second airplane). We spent the morning watching the towers burn, then fall, seeing the Pentagon attacked, and then hearing an assortment of wild rumors until finally United 93 was taken down in Pennsylvania. I walked through the rest of my day in a fog.
It is not hyperbole to say that America came together in the days after 9/11. Democrats and Republicans cheered the unusually erudite George Bush who stood on the ruins of the towers and warned those who had brought them down that we would bring them down.
The years since have seen our nation fracture worse than ever in my memory. We are more partisan, angrier – hostility has become the order of the day. The unity of that day was ephemeral and short-lived. We can all point fingers and say it was “them” who broke the peace. The fact is that our politicians have chosen schism over the good of the country and we have cheered “our side” as they engaged the war.
For those of us who lived through this experience, life has never been the same. Here are some observations about 9/11, twenty years later.
1. It brought terror to our shores.
We knew that the war on terror was real, but on September 10, it was something that happened over there. Yeah, there’d been a few things that took place here, but we did not live our lives with the sense of danger we do now. They hit us here, on our shores – it was now a daily reality for us.
2. It opened the door to xenophobia.
We were attacked by radical Islamists and we struck back. This author believes that however badly our wars in response to 9/11 were conducted (and recently concluded), it was just for this nation to bring its force to bear against those who killed thousands and shook our nation to the core on that day. We were justified to use our nation’s military might to answer their evil act.
Unfortunately, we have all too often confused Muslim terrorists with Muslims. We have used terrorism as an excuse for xenophobic reactions to immigrants, to refugees, and to people of Middle Eastern descent.
In a fallen world, is it surprising that a tragedy such as this would activate both our nobility and our baseness? Should we be surprised that patriotism and heroism have flourished as a result of 9/11 but that the ugliness of xenophobia and injustice toward people who are “other” has also risen?
3. It revealed our divide.
The crisis brought us together but the aftermath has shown just how diverse and schismatic Americans have become. Is America the world’s hero or the bully of the nations? Should we seek to use our might to bring law and order to the nations or should we pull back and deal with our own issues? Is America unique, “the greatest nation on earth” or are we a villain?
Reactions to 9/11 and the aftermath have revealed the divergent attitudes that exist among us – even among American Evangelical Christians.
4. It fanned the flames of nationalistic religion.
I am a loyal and patriotic American, but my first loyalty is to the Kingdom of Heaven and I believe my passions for those two must be kept separate. America is not God’s chosen people and we hold no special place in God’s heart. God loves the people of Senegal just as much as he loves Americans. He loves the Taliban like he loves you and me. To believe differently is to deny the Scriptures.
If I see another “Jesus draped in the American flag” meme, I’m gonna puke. Folks, that stuff is blasphemy and we have to stop with the idea that God’s primary focus in this world is restoring a bygone era in America. God is saving souls and building a kingdom from EVERY TRIBE AND LANGUAGE on earth.
Is America exceptional? I think so, in many ways. Our governmental system is unique and great. Has there ever been a country that held power as we do and sought to do good (imperfectly, of course) as we have done. After defeating Germany and Japan, we helped to rebuild them and make them allies. We are exceptional. In the eyes of God and in the kingdom of Heaven, we hold NO PLACE greater than China or Iran or Brazil or Germany or Lichtenstein. Christ is here to build a church, not to make America great again.
5. It reminded us not to assume.
On the 10th, it was business as usual. By the 12th, the world was shut down, markets were crashing, people were terrified, and everything had changed.
We must never assume that life is going to continue as it is. I was talking to someone at a funeral yesterday about something that happened to me in January of 2020. I said, “That was when I’d never heard of COVID.” Two months later, the world closed down again and now with Delta and Lambda (and Mu?) we have no idea when normalcy will return.
We cannot live for this world and the things in this world. It isn’t our home and it isn’t our home. It can all change so quickly. Of all the lessons we can learn, that one matters most.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Remember the old saw. “Only one life twill soon be past…”