September 11, 2001 began for me with a late morning phone call from my mother, who informed me that my brother and his wife were okay. Having been woken up by her call, I rather sleepily inquired as to what on earth she was talking about.

“You’d better turn the TV on,” she said, and I — like a lot of people that day — got quite a shock when I saw two iconic New York buildings belching smoke and flame. On 9/11 I was in the midst of tour with a music/drama/evangelism team, and happened to be in a Salt Lake City hotel room that the church we had last presented at had paid for. I spent the rest of that day mostly in the lobby of the hotel, watching the images with a few of my teammates and more importantly, a crowd of complete strangers. I had the opportunity to pray with some of those strangers. Over the course of that very long day I found them to be simply men and women, stranded travelers, husbands and wives who were worried about friends and relatives like the rest of us.

My team didn’t do a normal presentation the following Sunday. The pastor of the church cancelled the presentation, making the decision to guide his people through their shock and grief. Our team was there with them despite not presenting, for that one Sunday becoming simply a part of their faith community,  seeking to understand what had happened. In the weeks that followed, being on a tour bus spared me from having to see the images of people jumping from  burning buildings and the towers coming down being replayed over and over and over — images which to this day traumatize some (my wife among them).

Because our tour took us to a different city each day, I witnessed first hand the initial surge of church attendance that followed. I also watched as the increase in attendance diminished after a few weeks. As author Anne Graham Lotz put it,

“We went to church, we burned candles, we got religious. And then it faded.”

She’s put it quite aptly. It faded, and I believe it faded for a reason. That reason is because the increase in church attendance (which was mirrored by an increase in both synagogue and mosque attendance) was caused by crisis. Like the seed which fell on stony soil in the parable of the sower, there was no deep-rooted faith. UMC Bishop Will Willimon has addressed the sad truth behind this:

“The silence of most Christians and the giddy enthusiasm of a few, as well as the ubiquity of flags and patriotic extravaganzas in allegedly evangelical churches, says to me that American Christians may look back upon our response to 9/11 as our greatest Christological defeat. It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross.”

We should never forget those who died in the attack, or the evil men that murdered them. To do so would be an affront to their memory on this day. But we must also remember that our security does not lie in armed might — it lies in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We must consider some more of  Willimon’s words as we remember the past and look to the future.

“September 11 has changed me. I’m going to preach as never before about Christ crucified as the answer to the question of what’s wrong with the world. I have also resolved to relentlessly reiterate from the pulpit that the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on our own terms by crucifying God’s own Son.”

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