Being in Struggle to be Human in Daily Life: A Reflection on 9/11
Someone once said that we are what we remember. Our memories of 9/11 testify to the influence of those who lost their life and those who survived the calamitous disaster on our personal and national life.
According to calendar, this 10th anniversary is only a measurement of days, not life. In experience, each anniversary is a long, somber reflection on the nature of evil, hope, faith, and finality in human existence. For those who have lost their dear ones, their careers, their hopes and dreams, this anniversary is only a milestone. Nothing will take away their grief and hurt or their loss and pain. Time can never fully heal. The passage of time will not lessen fully the sting of death. Moments and time will only help the survivors cope with the throbbing pain and aching tragedy.
Tools for a changing-time
Since we cannot speak on behalf of the dead, we can at least speakas part of the living. Since we cannot speak on behalf of the larger community, we can at least speak on behalf of the faith community. In his book The Gravedigger File: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church, Os Guinness warns us of engaging in tools of service that have pure material overtones, since this will be “like wearing someone else’s glasses or walking in someone else’s shoes. The tools shape the user.”
Trying times like this demand enduring values and lasting answers. They force us to make psychological and emotional migration. They expect us not to be caught in the moment of crises but to find lasting tangibles.
What kind of tools can we employ during challenging times? Sudhir Kakar, a Punjabi Sikh who studied Hindu-Muslim violence in India and other sectarian militancy, says that one attains tolerance and maturity through a bifold process: “I-am experiences” and “We-are experiences.” These processes embrace both the subject and the object, individual and community, and foster individual identity and communal solidarity.
9/11 has impacted all of us, as a nation, both directly and indirectly. We need to continue to work together to find healing and comfort as we move on. As a church, we need to accept responsibility for the sake of society, which the Bible calls kingdom, and for the future generations. We have to take responsibility for the problems and benefits of the broader community. We may not be held responsible for the current state of economy, ecology or ecclesiology, but we are responsible for what we do with what we have in our possessions, as stewards of the kin-dom of God.
From change to transformation
True mission engagement in any period is not glamorous. There is no glamor in wiping the tears of a suffering person or cleaning the wounds of an injured. There is no glory in comforting the lost or caring for the least. Everything is done without expecting anything in return. Jesus himself said, “Let not your left hand know what your right hand does.”
What we need during these emotionally charged times is move from change to transformation. In transformation, we wrestle with deeper issues involved. Too often we act on immediate cases at hand and do not use them to stimulate long-range reflection on the underlying issues. Events like 9/11 should motivate further reflection in biblical theologies and human studies that make possible well-grounded responses to the personal, social and cultural contexts at hand.
Transformational theology focuses on mission. It takes humans seriously in the particularity of their communities and cultures and their ever-changing histories. It is holistic and authentic.
We are part of history. We are history-making beings also. We, the survivors, are the miracles at the moment. We are God’s hands and feet in this critical situation. We cannot simply relegate our responsibilities to the next generation.
We live in the in-between time. Hence we need to seek to build bridges of understanding, mediate relationships, and negotiate partnerships in ministry with all those around us. All of us are vital in this role. “In each of us shines the whole,” says Nicholas of Cusa.
The heart of Christian mission has always been and remains the task of bridging the gulf between the gospel and the world. This is the kin-dom task for us. What Jesus meant by the kingdom of God is a community that welcomes people of all backgrounds without polarization. This community stands for justice and righteousness in a world enamored with selfishness and greed.
During this 10th anniversary of 9/11, let us do the following:
- Pledge ourselves to be mediators of peace, not only in terms of lifestyle and beliefs but at the deepest level of worldviews.
- Be multicultural and multicontextual in this era of globalization.
- Be transcultural mediators and develop transcultural identities and understand multiplicity of realities.
- Commit ourselves to develop a metacultural mental framework that enables us to live in different worlds while keeping our core identity secure.
- Commit ourselves to multifaith dialogue and to creating multifaith communities while being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A multicultural person is a person who is intellectually and emotionally committed to the fundamental unity of all human beings while at the same time recognizing, legitimizing, accepting and appreciating the fundamental differences that lie between people of different cultures. A person with a multicultural identity such as this will be a good transcultural mediator. A ministry of reconciliation calls for such persons.
The living and the dead
As for the dead ones, I would like to close with the words carved in the crematorium of the Dachau concentration camp: “and the souls of the righteous of all who suffered rest finally in the hands of God where no torment shall touch them.”
As for the living, the words of Bishop Bromley Oxnam still ring true: “Peace like bread must be made daily.” As a community of believers, we are who we are, in some measure because of the hope we have in Christ Jesus and the ministry of reconciliation that is entrusted in our hands. The church of Jesus Christ is Church for God and for others, not mutually exclusive. That is the ground of gratitude and the occasion of sadness on this 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is director of spiritual formation and mission theology for the Women ’s Division of The United Methodist Church.