September 11, 2004: Where Do We Go from Here?
The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, D.D. Bishop of Washington and Dean of Washington National Cathedral
September 11, 2004
We are gathered in this hallowed and sacred space, a cathedral not only
dedicated as the crossing place of the sacred and secular for this great nation...Episcopal by denomination and yet ecumenical and inter-faith by necessity...to be present and attentive to the presence of the Holy One in our midst. We also gather as ecumenical and inter-faith pilgrims who marvel at the magnificence of this great cathedral, the sixth largest in the world, dedicated to the glory of the Holy One, standing on the highest point of land in the District of Columbia and constructed from the living stones of an ever present and compassionate God.
We have come together, much smaller in numbers than the millions who
gathered in churches, temples, mosques and other houses of worship throughout the United States immediately after the horrors of September 11, 2001, to remember the almost 3,000 souls who lost their lives in New York City, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon and to support surviving loved ones who will never be able to forget the pain of that day.
We have come together also to give thanks for the thousands of police
officers, fire-fighters and civilians who gave succor to the victims, and unselfishly risked and often gave their own lives in an effort to protect and to serve. May we all take a few moments to shut out the busy-ness of this day and in our own distinct ways pray for all souls—the living and the dead—of September 11.
My remarks this afternoon will be brief, as they should be on such a
solemn occasion. For in truth each of us, because of September 11, 2001, continues to reflect in our own ways about the meaning of such words as hate, violence, death and religion.
It does us no good to spend time asking questions like how could any human
being do such violence to other human beings? For in truth, hate has been a part of the human condition from the beginning of human existence. For those who study the ancient texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, hate is a common and recurring theme. Bible stories from our own Christian perspective are filled with stories of how hate deforms the human soul. The Jewish Bible likewise tells epic stories of how hate can cause brothers to kill brothers and other family members, and how others can sell their own families into slavery. The Prophet Mohammed as the intermediary between between God and humanity speaks of the need to get beyond the human condition of hate.
The religious texts of the three great Monotheistic world religions,
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam bring the readers of such ancient texts to confront the violence that too often consumes the human heart, soul and mind and which empowers human beings to do the unthinkable to those who are different, who are marginalized, who worship in different ways, and who view the God of all creation through different prisms of reality. It does us no good to ask the questions, “where was God when the Twin Towers were falling...where was God when a jet airliner, thwarted on its mission of destruction to the nation’s capital crashed in Pennsylvania and where was God when innocent victims died horrible deaths at the Pentagon?”
To ask these questions reveals our own ignorance of theology and our own
understanding of the living presence of God in our everyday lives. For God did not desert his people. Those who carried out the attacks and killed so many innocent victims had deserted God and had, out of their own ignorance, fear and hatred chosen to desert the God of compassion, unconditional love and peace and follow a God they had created in their own minds...a graven image...an idol...a misrepresentation of the true God who is at the center of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They deserted the God of life and created a God of death.
Today we are surrounded by those who would create once again idols and
graven images of God that suit their own needs, aspirations and intentions. And this is not a phenomenon unique to any one religion or any one region of the global community, but in truth rests within the recesses of each one of our hearts. We create such idols and images when things don’t seem to work out for us, when we feel isolated, repressed, and alone, lost in our journey, humiliated, angry, and wanting to get even for what seems to be the unfair hand that life has dealt us. And so we create a God in our minds and hearts who vindicates our own hateful, demeaning stereotypes of others and the world around us. We create a God with whom we can work and manipulate by our incantations and prayers, and we place ourselves at the apex of a theology where God works for us, rather than we being the servants and stewards of the most Holy One.
God did not desert us on September 11, 2001. God was there in the ashes,
and horror of it all and in the hearts, minds and souls of those who came to the aid of their fellow workers, friends and citizens. God was there during the New York floodlit nights of gruesome recovery and heartache. God was there in the hearts of millions of mourners from around the world who reached out to America and said we are sorry. What can we do to help? God was there in the hundreds of thousands of houses of worship throughout this great land when people of all colors, races and creeds stood or knelt in prayer on or immediately after September 11 and re-defined their frailty as human beings and creatures of God.
And today, make no mistake about it, God is with us even now, poking and
prodding us to think beyond revenge, war, and getting even and reminding us that in the traditions of the world’s great religions, the only hope for all of humanity is to love one another as the God of all creation loves each and every one of us.
As helpful as it may seem to be, the war on terrorism cannot be won if we
see it as a war. For war is the ultimate definition of human failure. We can only reverse the course of the violence of our times if we respond by using the precepts of universal law that responds effectively to those globally who are responsible for crimes of violence against other human beings. We can only reverse the course of the violence of our times by remembering that we are not the ones who have created the image and idols of God, but rather we are the ones who have been created in the image of God, and as such, each one of us is precious in the sight of God; every one of us! Even those who hate us and would wish to do us harm!
We can only reverse the course of the violence of our times by addressing
the fact that disease, illiteracy, poverty and the unequal distribution of global wealth and the unbelievably bad theology currently espoused within all three great monotheistic world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the root causes that have led us to this cathedral this afternoon, when we come to remember the horrors of September 11, 2001.
May this new memorial day be for each one of us, our nation and the world,
a time of new beginnings, not old, unforgivable memories. For if we cannot forgive as our own Christian God through Jesus Christ has forgiven each and every one of us for all of our trespasses, what hope is there for a currently unforgiving world?