When I saw news reports about bus ads protesting the "Ground Zero" mosque, my mind flashed back to my experiences as a volunteer at the former World Trade Center site. Almost as soon as the Twin Towers came down, interfaith organizations around the world sprang into action. They mobilized as a collective unit to provide pastoral care and practical assistance all around New York City, as well as assisting those whose lives were irrevocably altered in Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania on that tragic day.
For the first time in my life I saw how the church could operate horizontally -- rather than in the traditional vertical hierarchy -- as laity and clergy worked side by side, each contributing their individual talents towards a common goal. Throughout the site, volunteers from various relief organizations practiced the art of radical hospitality, responding to the needs of the rescue workers, without expecting anything in return. Private and public expressions of faith fused together as people worked to feed the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger into their midst.
Unfortunately, some "Christian" organizations were able to wander the site praying that hopefully those who died on 9/11 without knowing Jesus were able to accept him as their Lord and Savior before they drew their last breath. I recall one particularly odious pamphlet I found that was adorned with a picture of the burning towers and the question, "Why?." I presume this tract was left prominently on the dinner tables so that rescue workers could be saved during supper. I discretely removed them from the tables when no one was looking.
Likewise, the Freedom Defense Initiative seems to be equally clueless in their decision to sponsor an inflammatory ad during the holy month of Ramadan.
While a number of New York City area religious leaders have issued responses denouncing such hateful rhetoric, I wonder why these same leaders are noticeably absent at other post-9/11 events pertaining to the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, health concerns, the lack of a memorial, the proper handling of human remains, and other concerns relating to the aftermath of this attack.
In particular, I shake my head when I see how select Christians who garnered considerable media attention, book deals, humanitarian awards, and other accolades for their holy heroics during the recovery effort are now either silent or running around the world trying to promote their latest nonprofit, CD/book or other venture. Lord knows, we need that communal spirit that I experienced working at the site now more than ever.
Perhaps as we approach the 9th anniversary of this horrible day, we can remember the insightful words of Stanley Hauwerwas. In his memoir Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, he reminds Christians that "when people say 'The world changed on Sept. 11, 2001,' we have to say, 'No, the world changed on 33 AD.' The question is how to narrate what happened on September 11 in light of what happened in 33 AD."
What would happen if we responded to the religious fanaticism that brought down these towers and continues to dominate the cable airwaves with the transformative powers of the resurrection? What would it look like if Christians put their talk into action by putting the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7) into practice? What prevents us from working together to usher in a new kingdom not only at Ground Zero but throughout the world?
Becky Garrison searches for signs of the gospel in action in her latest book Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ.