Thursday Reflection: You’re Covered

At 10:03 AM on September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight #93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA.

There’s trouble at “Ground Zero”. The seven minute video tourists will see as they enter the 9/11 Memorial has people of faith riled up. The perpetrators of the  9/11 tragedy are referred to as “Islamists”. The film is intended to provide some historical context for the enduring pain that is associated with September 11. Scholars vetted the film for accuracy and appropriateness. But an interfaith “Advisory Group” doesn’t buy it. The lone imam in the group resigned in March in protest. “The screening of this film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum,” Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, wrote in a letter to the museum’s director. (NY Times, April 23.)

The interfaith panel suggests using the phrase Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and leaving “Islamist” out of it.

We have moved into the era of “micro-aggression”. These are phrases, questions, comments made – always in innocence – but which betray assumptions at best, prejudice at worst. A recent conversation with some people of color who live in Burlington serves to underscore the daily assault of assumptions people make about them. Things like the assumption that because they are not “white”, they must not be from around here. Assumptions about academic prowess based on race – things seemingly couched in positive ways can actually serve to demean an individual.

I guess the question is this: How do we remember the pain we cause one another without implicating innocent people? The answer is: We can’t. There is something in the Christian Faith that points to a stark, inescapable truth: All have sinned. All fall short of the glory of God … and we all fall short of the glory of our own human potential as well. There is no shortage of victims in our world. It therefore stands to reason there is no shortage of perpetrators of violence, or prejudice, or pain.

How can we possibly “remember” 9/11 and not offend anyone? Jew-haters kill Christians. We command that the Soviet Union “take down the wall”, while we construct our own. Unholy alliances are made (Hamas and the PLO?). Enemies become allies when new enemies emerge.

God, we have sinned. We are sinning still. And it is killing us.

“We all travel the same road, carry the same load, and reap what we have sowed.” So the song goes. If we can’t stop sinning, perhaps we can at least start owning up to it. We are reaping the world we have sowed.

On Sunday mornings at First UMC Burlington we invite people to anonymously jot down joys, concerns, and more recently, confessions. These are read aloud later in the service. The number of Prayer Cards being filled out each week has increased ten-fold since we added “confessions”. I’ve noticed some of the “joys” have a note of confession to them – sentiments like: “I rejoice that I’ve been sober for two months.” Perhaps more cards are filled out each week because we are intentionally giving people time to do it. Maybe it has to do with the atmosphere of anonymity we have created. I also think it has to do with the invitation to honesty – the acknowledgement that we have joys to celebrate and concerns to share; but we also have sins to confess – to our Higher Power, and to each other.

At 10:03 AM on September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight #93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA. Based on conversations with people on board the plane, it is believed the passengers took things into their own hands. They overcame the terrorists and as a result, the plane came down in a field rather than in the White House or the US Capitol. Because of the actions of the passengers, lives were saved. And another way to look at it is those we brand the “terrorists” were prevented from committing an even more deadly and grievous sin than they already had.

Sometimes that’s the best we can hope for – that someone will prevent us from committing even greater sins. That might not be the way we remember that sad day; but “heroes” are willing to take the heat so that some semblance of hope in – and hope for – all of humanity can endure.

How do we honor the memory of the 9/11 tragedy without demonizing or canonizing people? We enter the prayer shawl of the 9/11 Memorial, whispering our collective mea culpa, and trusting that there is a love, a forgiveness, a grace that has us – all of us – covered. It’s called “atonement” … And sometimes we actually get to see it at work.


Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.