On most Sunday nights, Maureen and I watch, Once Upon a Time, now an ABC classic which tells the untold stories of our childhood fairytales. Every time an evil spell is cast on Storybrook, a cloud of colorful smoke either descends on the town, or comes up from the sewer pipes. When I reflect on 9/11 and think about how drastically our lives and our perception of the world has changed it is as if the smoke from the burning rubble has cast a spell of darkness on this world. I mourn the days when we lived without the fear we feel today. When our politicians spoke of lofty dreams for this country instead of how they plan to protect us from our enemy. I mourn the days when Christian faith led us towards loving our neighbor and our enemies and believing other faiths by and large were a variation on the same theme.
Yes, I miss that time of innocence before we were cast from the Eden of what we believed was a great and growing American way of life. What saddens me even more is that we have chosen to live our lives in fear. (Yes, we can sit here and blame the terrorists for the world we live in today. After all they caused the problem, and continue to reinforce our fears with every new attack.)
I won’t deny the argument. But let’s be honest, we as individuals and as a country choose to live the fear. This is the goal of terrorism, to make small, isolated attacks of violence in order to change the psyche of the greater population. Statistically, when we look at the carnage of terrorist attacks over the past fifteen years and compare it to the damage and causalities of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the carnage is significantly lower. The psychological damage, however, is much higher because unlike traditional warfare, the sense of not knowing when or where the next attack will occur, leaves the greater population in a state of constant anxiety.
Psychologists tell us we are designed with a fight/flight mechanism which kicks in whenever we perceive danger. As the level of danger increases, our adrenaline increases and our ability to reason shuts down. This allows us the ability to respond quickly to the danger at hand. It seems we have lived in this fight or flight mode as a country since 9/11.
Fifteen years is a long time to live this way and I wonder how much longer we will choose to let our fear determine our lives. How much longer will we choose to live in fear of our neighbor, to continue to build walls, real or emotional, to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world? How much longer will we choose to live in the shadow of 9/11. Yes, the world was changed that day, and yes we now need to live more vigilant lives, we need to live in greater awareness of what is happening in the shadows half a world away. What we don’t need to do, is to live without hope, compassion or love. What we don’t need to do, is take the lessons of the Gospels and tuck them away until the world feels safe again.
Only hope can conquer fear, only love can conquer evil. The message is simple, The way to lasting peace is to literally love and to welcome our enemy, not to conquer the enemy. In an odd way, this is part of what Jesus is trying to teach the Pharisees in the Gospel passages the past few weeks.
The Pharisees are every Christians favorite bad guys. To call them judgmental and rigid is an understatement and to be fair, the Pharisees did not see themselves as intentionally bad or hateful towards others. They really had the best interests of their people at heart.
The Pharisees were the lawyers of their day. They lived and breathed the laws of Torah . They also believed that a faithful Israel, an Israel that lived by the letter of Torah, was a righteous Israel and an Israel God would redeem by freeing their land of foreign occupation. The Pharisees didn’t understand that living, what later became known as a kosher life,was predicated upon privilege and wealth. The Pharisees also lived in constant fear, they feared if there was social unrest among the Jews, Rome would deny them the right to practice their faith unimpeded. This proved out in 70 AD when Rome destroyed the temple. The Pharisees believed it was their job to keep their people in line by enforcing the law in order to preserve their beloved Judaism..
Jesus of Nazareth was, for a lack of a better term, literally their anti-Christ. He didn’t seem to care much for the rules, or worry about who he dined with. In fact, he seemed more interested in being among the marginalized, the trouble makers, and the sick than he was about endearing himself to the ruling class. He was the disorder to the Pharisee’s need for order. He told the unrighteous that they, despite their inability to keep the Law, were righteous. And he wasn’t much about changing or saving the world as he was about accepting others as they were.
Jesus offered an alternative way of saving Israel from Rome. Instead of worrying about changing, saving or converting those he met to a more righteous life, he simply welcomed them to the banquet. Instead of fighting for freedom from Roman occupation, he offered an alternative kingdom to strive for. Jesus showed no fear of authority nor did he show any indication of bowing down to it. Instead, he chose to live free of the traditional constraints of the law and without the pervasive fear of Rome. This allowed him to welcome and to dine with the unclean, to accept water from a Samaritan woman, and to dine with the turncoat tax collectors while offering them the transforming experience of the Divine’s unconditional love.
I recently read, the need to save another is about the desire to conquer and control the other person, to be willing to simply welcome, in the way Jesus did, is about the desire to invite the other into greater intimacy with ourselves and with God. Jesus was more about inviting and welcoming others to the banquet than conquering his enemy. Jesus was more about developing intimate relationships and offering divine forgiveness as a means to change the hearts of others than controlling the outcome.
When can we as a people return these ideals? When can we as a people once again strive to forgive? When can we as a people choose to live as if the Kingdom is truly near and not the violence and destruction we so greatly fear? When will we choose to live in the hope of the Kingdom again and enjoy the freedom to welcome and to invite those we fear into an intimate and transforming relationship with God?
It is when and only when we can strive to be about forgiveness again, when we are willing to risk loving our enemy again and to live in the hope and the assurance of the Kingdom again that we will regain all that we lost on 9/11.