Tuesday, September 11, 2012

American Exceptionalism, U.S. History, and Jesus

One of my favorite musicians is Bob Dylan. In 1999, Rolling Stones Magazine rated his 1962 hit, “Blowin’ in the Wind” as one of the world’s top 500 songs. The third verse of that song reads: 
“Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky? 
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry? 
Yes, how many deaths will take till he knows
That too many people have died? 
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” 

On my way to a pastoral visit this afternoon I popped in a CD, into the CD player in my car and this song was the first to come on. I’ve always found this song very compelling. Dylan never gives a definitive answer to the questions, like many songs of the same genre. Rather, the questions are rhetorical and instead he merely sings, “The answer is blowin’ in the wind,” saying--the answer to the questions are as intangible as the wind. 

As I write this, it is the eve of September 11. Eleven years ago, I was sitting in my bedroom studying for an Algebra exam and finishing up other homework for the next day. When the first tower was hit, I was sitting in the third row of Mr. Ford’s History class. I remember well the immediate fear of what was going to happen next. I remember the terror I felt, knowing that my father worked for a company that designed war ships for the Navy. I remember the fear of everybody around me as they the schools shut down and they sent us home. Despite the fear mongering that went on, the lock-downs, bomb dogs, random searches I also remembered Jesus‘ words from the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” (Matthew 5:9) as we gathered at churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, and community events. It seems like everywhere I turned, Jesus’ words were plastered everywhere. Archbishop Elias Chacour points out that the way that English speakers translate these words is to passive--instead of ‘blessed,‘ implying God is blessing people who are peacemakers, the Aramaic (the language which Jesus would have spoken) should be translated to “get up and move, do something.” “Get up and do something you peacemakers, for you will be called children of God.” 

On the eleventh anniversary of when a plane was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center, in New York, we have two choices: dwell on the terror and fear mongering from that day in 2001 or hang onto Jesus‘ words and work for the peace that passes all understanding. We can allow the fear and suspicion that leads to hatred to rule our lives or we can seek deeper understandings and come together as a global community, allowing God to release us from the bonds of American Exceptionalism, acknowledging the humanity of people who are different than we are, and working for world peace. 

The path to peace is not easy, it’s hard work that requires patient listening and the strength to not be hardened by the disappointments of failed attempts. It requires that we, above all else, desire nothing but God and to do God’s work. The pain that we felt on that day, eleven years ago, is still very real but Jesus is calling us to work through the pain and seek common understandings. 

Jesus is calling us, shall we walk together?