Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11: A Memoir and a Reminder

Today is my first day of an "all day class" that will meet three times this semester. I put it in my calendar and wondered if anyone would mention the anniversary of 9/11; would people remember in Texas, or are we too far removed from the trauma that rocked the East years ago?  However, the man teaching our class was a pastor in New York City for many years, and he shared the story from his own life of seeing the twin tours fall. 

It was in the context of telling us how and when he first came to New York City, being a Georgia boy originally. He said that he and his wife arrived on September 10, 2001 to look at apartments. In the middle of their tour, their real-estate agent took them up to the top floor of their apartment building to watch the planes hit and the frantic crowds pour into the street. And that was their first day in NYC. 

Naturally, when he and his wife went back home to pack up their things, a lot of their friends asked, "Are you sure you want to move to that place? Maybe this disaster was a sign that you ought to rethink your decision to move." But another friend of theirs said, "Maybe the Lord allowed you to be there when it actually happened so that you can connect with your new church in NYC about this traumatic experience not as an outsider, but as one of them. You were there when it happened, not safe and isolated in some other part of the country. You will be able to engage with New Yorkers not as a distant observer, but as a New Yorker yourself." 

As I listened to his story, I remembered my own friends who experienced 9/11
not as detached bystanders, hearing about it in passing or on the news, but as people whose lives were completely turned upside down. Whose homes were destroyed, whose jobs were lost, whose parents, children, and friends were taken. I remembered the sense of personal tragedy connected to this day for them that I, who experienced 9/11 as an 8th grader in South Carolina, couldn't quite understand. I was sympathetic to their loss, but very much on the outside. 

My professor's story moved me because I understood what he meant about experiencing the pain of his people as one of them, and the difference that makes. And I was moved because his story gave me a new picture for understanding Jesus' story. In the gospel, God did not choose to minister to us from His place of safety and comfort while we scrambled frantically in the aftermath of tragedy. He didn't use rubber gloves or sterile instruments; He didn't remain at a distance; He didn't issue a proclamation from Heaven's "loud speaker."  Instead, He ministered to us by entering in. By taking off His safety gloves and taking on flesh; by experiencing the pain of His people as one of them. He chose to leave His home of beauty and move here and experience all the chaos and turmoil and brokenness that have caused our suffering. And it is from that place of lowliness and identification with us that He rescues and calls us to identify with Him

So whether today is painful for you because of what it calls to mind or whether a different date is one that changed everything for you, I pray that you are comforted along with me by the good news that there is a God who enters into the pain with you.

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