Readers of this blog will know that I have a complicated relationship with the American Flag and the rampant forms of nationalism that are all too present in the church today (and have been for some time).
Part of the challenge stems from the non-existent separation of Church and State such that many American Christians consider themselves Americans first and Christians second. Which runs counter to the Pauline affirmation that our (that is, Christians’) truest citizenship is in heaven.
And yet, no matter how I may feel theologically about the state of American Christianity, today is a day when it feels like no matter what I might say, it will get interpreted the wrong way.
Which is just another way of saying: Americans aren’t allowed to speak ill of America on September 11th.
I was in the 8th grade and living in Alexandria, VA when 9/11 happened. I can remember my father taking me out of school before it went on lockdown. I can remember sitting on the carpet in our living room watching the towers fall over and over again on television. I can remember my father saying, “I bet Osama bin Laden had something to do with it” and I had no idea who Osama bin Laden was, or how my dad knew who he was. I can even remember realizing that nothing would ever be the same.
In the weeks that followed everything felt like a blur of red, white, and blue. The country had not experienced a wave of nationalism and patriotism to that degree since the end of World War II.
Everything about September 11th was discussed in a rigid binary: We are right, and they are wrong – we are innocent, and they are guilty – America is pure, the Middle East is wicked.
It was only later, after countless books and conversations with people from other parts of the world, that I discovered how much more of a complicated situation the whole thing was. My public school education, television diet, and conversations with my parents never taught me about what the US was up to in other nations across the planet. I assumed, as an 8th grader, that what was done to us on September 11th was without cause. But now, as an adult, I know that America is not as innocent as she portends to be.
My own transformation took place over time, but I can trace a lot of it back to a particular moment; when I came across a prayer written by Stanley Hauerwas 30 minutes after the destruction of the World Trade Center. For, rather than praying for God to strike down our enemies, or to bring swift justice, or whatever else filled so many prayers that day, he prayed with a sense of honesty that I had yet to encounter up to that point.
So, on this September 11th, as it becomes harder and harder to think theologically about what it means to be a Christian who happens to live in the US, I offer this prayer written 19 years ago today as a helpful reminder that we (Americans) are not as innocent as we might think we are.
A Prayer Written 30 Minutes After the Destruction Of The World Trade Center – Stanley Hauerwas
Vulnerable – we feel vulnerable, God, and we are not used to feeling vulnerable. We are Americans.
Nor are we used to anyone hating us this much. Such terrible acts. Killing civilians. We are dumbfounded. Lost.
We are good people. We are a nation of peace. We do not seek war. We do not seek violence.
Try to help us remember that how we feel may be how the people of Iraq have felt while we have been bombing them. It is hard for us to acknowledge the “we” in “we bombed them.”
What are we to do?
We not only feel vulnerable, but we also feel helpless. We are not sure what to feel except shock, which will quickly turn to anger and even more suddenly to vengeance.
We are Christians. What are we to do as Christians? We know that anger will come to us. It does us no good for us to tell ourselves not to be angry. To try not to be angry just makes us all the more furious.
You, however, have given us something to do. We can pray, but we wonder for what we can pray. To pray for peace, to pray for the end of hate, to pray for the end of war seems platitudinous in this time. Yet, of course, when we pray you make us your prayer to the world. So, Lord of peace, make us what you will. This may be one of the first times we have prayed that prayer with an inkling of how frightening prayer is. Help us.