Today, September 9, 2011, two of our campus clubs, the Sunbird Conservatives and FPU Veteran’s Society, conducted a memorial service for 9/11. The president of each club, Alan Hagen and Ray Manglesdorf, each spoke thoughtfully and eloquently–this was not a time for debate, not a time for politics, they said, but a memorial time, to remember and honor those who have served, been wounded and died. About 50 students, faculty and staff were in attendance. Prof. Bruce Boeckel spoke of his experience in Germany in September 2001. Our university pastor, Rev. Angulus Wilson gave a beautiful benediction, as only he can do. My words to the gathering focused on our, or at least my, experience at FPU over the last ten years. This is my memorial offering.
We are here two days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Thank you to the Sunbird Conservatives for the flag tribute you have prepared the last four years, and also to them and the FPU Veterans Society for this memorial time.
Let’s take a cue from the word memorial and remember where we were on 9/11 2001, and then how that event has changed our lives.
Remember with me.
You probably remember where you were when the planes struck the twin towers. I was stunned when the first struck. How could such a freak accident have happened? When the second hit I remember saying to my wife the simple words “this can’t be an accident.” I remember the shock, confusion and anger. The flags here remind us of the nearly 3000 who died, including the almost 300 fire fighters, police officers, and emergency medical responders who sacrificed themselves to save others.
Remember with me.
I remember speaking to a friend who lived in New Jersey within sight of Manhattan a few days later and hearing him describe the smoke he could see, the friends he had there, the communication he had finally gotten from his son studying in the City. We delayed his trip to FPU to present a report he had prepared for us. There were no flights; we could not plan; all we could do was delay. Many of you can tell similar stories of families and friends who were there. I have heard some of them.
Remember with me.
I remember over the next couple of years helping professors work with students who were in the reserves as they were called up for duty in Afghanistan and Iraq to find ways to finish their course work and lose as little as possible. And I remember authorizing complete refunds for those who simply had to leave. Maybe you were one whose plans and life were altered, radically and quickly.
Keep remembering with me.
I remember watching those students leave and return, and family members leave and return. I remember providing care packages for soldiers, and hearing of projects by local doctors to establish medical clinics in Afghanistan. I remember prayer sessions on campus for peace, for safety, some planned and some spontaneous. I imagine you had similar experiences.
I also remember 9/12, 2001.
I was teaching Mid-Mod (“Medieval and Early Modern Civilizations”) at the time. I looked at the syllabus and the topic for the day was Jihad. The term had been all over the airwaves for about 30 hours by the time class started. I had no idea what to do or say, so I simply asked if anyone had questions? We spent the next hour and several more periods over the next couple of months in intense discussions of war, holy war, just war, traditions of war and peace in Islam and Christendom and what happens when we think we can bring in God’s kingdom by force, whether Christian or Moslem. Within one day medieval history became a current event. This started an ongoing work for me reading and thinking and teaching about these subjects, plus on the history of Islamic conquest, of the Crusades, war between Christians, and war between Moslems, as well as the religious teaching that lay behind both medieval and modern versions of holy war, crusade, jihad, limited and just wars, terrorism, and non-violence and pacifism. These are subjects I had not intended to tackle, but the times and students demanded it. Maybe your work over the last ten years has been given to you by attack of 9/11 and the subsequent wars. For many of you, the work that has become yours has been much more direct and demanding than mine.
Are you still remembering with me?
Our lives have been altered, some more than others, especially those of you who have served in the military, spent time in Afghanistan or Iraq, and those whose loved ones were taken on 9/11 or in military service. This is a solemn weekend for all of us. We remember and pray with gratitude for the safe return of those students and friends who left us, for courage in the act of duty and the safety of this land, for decreasing hostilities, and for those whose lives have been shattered and unalterably changed.
But we also have work ahead. The studies that I have outlined as my task and the teaching about them are not done. We don’t know what the next year will bring. The Arab Spring which we have watched in which tyrants across the Northern Africa and Middle East have fallen, some of whom have been partners of the US, is not over. That Spring is part of the ongoing reconstruction of that region and has some continuity with the fall of the Taliban and Saddam, and the establishment of forms of more just and representative governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The final outcomes of none of these changes are secure. We still have not fully grasped the terrorist acts we continue to witness, and that were in our newspaper today. We don’t know what we will witness and be called to do in the coming years.
And so we continue to remember, and to pray, perhaps with anger or grief like the Psalmist, but also with hopefulness, with gratitude, and with watchfulness. We try to find the way of Christ through it all, remembering too that our Lord experienced and understood sacrifice and cost, and yet called upon us to love even those who would harm us. We remember and maintain a very difficult balancing act, being wary of what might happen next, making attempts to understand, find mutual ground and establish friendships with those of other faiths here and abroad, recognizing the cost, the sacrifice represented by these flags, and the sacrifice of those veterans who are part of this community.
Let us continue to remember.