Sunday, September 11, 2011
Forgiving 77 Times...Especially on 9-11
When I got to the EOC, I came upon the St. Petersburg Times reporter standing outside the door, her face ashen.
"Another plane has crashed in a field in Pennsylvania."
All of us were baffled. And I'll say that I was scared. Even though these events were unfolding several hundred miles away, it felt dangerously close. And I was worried about friends and family in New York City and the surrounding areas. I breathed a sigh of relief to know that my mom's flight out west for a PFLAG meeting was scheduled for a different date. And I was chilled when I learned a family friend, on his way to Los Angeles, had opted to take his flight from Manchester, NH, instead of Boston's Logan Airport. He'd considered one of the doomed flights, but was instead on a plane that had to be grounded in Indianapolis in the wake of the chaos.
I also remember the sinking feeling in my gut that the United States would not respond well to this attack. I worried about misplaced anger and unleashing unbridled hatred toward all Muslims. Even though I was part of the "unchurched" at the time, I felt that our supposedly "Christian nation" would show itself to be less than what Jesus commanded. The God that I yearned for at this time would have had us grapple with our pain... made worse by images beamed to us from the Middle East where Arabs danced in the streets celebrating our misery... and try to arrive at a new place.
I believe that is part of the underlying message in the readings that happened to be assigned for today's lectionary in the Episcopal Church.
Paul's letter to the Romans asks a question that I think dogs us in our culture: "Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God."
We, the United States, took the attack on 9-11 as the opportunity to start the ball rolling toward war on Iraq, even though there was no evidence that the Iraqi government had had anything to do with 9-11. We launched a major crackdown on lots of Muslims in our midst, whether they were suspect or not. Mosques were defaced. Arab-Americans found themselves scrutinized more closely. And some of the truly lunatic fringe decided to burn the Quran. We also began to let go of many of our freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constituion in favor of allowing for more of a police state. And anyone--anyone!--who questioned our government was labeled as unpatriotic. Whether we want to believe it or not, the terrorists were winning.
And Paul's question echoes, "Why? Why? WHY?" Because the actions of an extremist group led us into the rut of divisiveness. In the days after the attack, there was a panel discussion at one of the downtown churches with a Muslim Imam, the Rabbi from Temple Israel, and a couple of Christian pastors. The aim was something of a teach-in on the Abrahamic religions. And to try to answer Paul's question to the Romans with a determination that we, in Tallahassee, would not succumb to scapegoating Muslims, but instead see them as another limb on the tree of life-affirming faith in God. In at least this one cell, there would be hope that might spread to the rest of the body. But that cell didn't split and reproduce itself fast enough.
Matthew's gospel lesson takes Paul's instruction a step further. Paul advises us to get out of the business of judging others and allow God to take care of that. Jesus hammers home that it's not enough to stop judging others, but to forgive those who judge you. And not just the requisite seven times; seventy-seven times! In other words, if we have been so graced by God's forgiveness of our sins, we must be prepared to pass along the Love to others likewise.
Given how much replay has been done this week on the events of 9-11, it may seem a daunting task to think of forgiveness for an act so cruel, so hateful, and so targeted as to be random. All in the Middle East today who say they are sorry for the massive loss of life that occured on that day also talk of their anger at our government which often props up the meanest leaders of foreign nations. The anger is understandable from where they sit. Our tight ties to Israel, ones forged at the end of WW II, muddy the waters as well. So many ancient wounds have never healed in that region, and the USA is a part of that quagmire.
And while I believe we have a moral obligation to stick with Israel, I think we have an additional responsibility to be like the older sibling to our friend and push for better relations between Israel and all the inhabitants within its borders.
But back to the main lesson: forgiveness. Are we, 10 years later, able to find forgiveness? In a way, I think the young people I was listening to from Egypt were moving in that direction. Before forgiveness, there needs to be a recognition that someone has been wronged. And, as far-fetched as it might seem, I continue to hope that all of us can acknowledge that our governments have not always acted in ways becoming of God... YHWH... or Allah. My continued hope for humanity is that we could have the same kind of calm, reasoned exchange as was exhibited one night in Tallahassee amongst our city's Abrahamic religious leaders.
None of us will ever forget 9-11. None of us should ever accept such violence as an answer. But we can move toward a place of pausing, and forgiving that we will never be able to control the actions of extremists, but we don't have to become like them.