I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001 both nervous and excited. I had spent the last two months slowly proceeding through the application and interview process for an entry-level editorial position at Christianity Today to work with their Christian History and Christian Reader magazines. I'd had multiple interviews and had to write a few research heavy articles along the way. For someone with degrees in English and History and a graduate degree in Missions, it seemed like the perfect job. My final evaluation involved joining the staff at an all day off-campus retreat, where they would be evaluating potential articles for magazines. I was a bit nervous, but an insider in the company had told me the job was mine, so the excitement of finally landing my first real job after school prevailed.
So on the morning of September 11, I arrived at the country club where the retreat was being held and situated myself at the conference table in a room with a panoramic view of the far west Chicago suburbs. We dove right into discussing the submitted articles, but about an hour later when the waitress came in with more coffee and danishes, she mentioned that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. We all assumed it was another personal plane incident like the one that had flown into the Empire State Building a few years before and continued working. When we broke for lunch, the head editors called the office and then quickly left. The rest of us stayed on and even watched a Bibleman episode for possible review, fairly oblivious to the events of the day.
It wasn't until I left the country club in the late afternoon and turned on the car radio that I began to have an inkling of the magnitude of the day. I rushed home to my tiny basement apartment which had no TV reception and tried futilely to get online, but the dial-up lines were all busy for hours. I recall going out to get the special evening edition of the newspaper and crashing the Wheaton College student lounge (with their TV and cable hookup) just to get some idea of what was happening. The next day I was scheduled to host my church's table at the Wheaton College ministry fair, which meant I spent the day surrounded by not only college students but also by representatives of every church and parachurch ministry in the Wheaton area. It was a surreal day as people attempted to process the shock and openly share the subsequent anger and hatred that had started to develop. That evening my church held a prayer meeting, and I recall praying that this act of terror would not lead to people lashing out against the innocent as a form of revenge. I was informed afterward that my prayer was inappropriate. Three weeks later I heard back from Christianity Today, informing me of a hiring freeze and the position I was applying for was eliminated in favor of restructuring the department.
It's strange to reflect back on the day the world changed. And a bit eerie to recall that I spent the afternoon of September 11 watching the Bibleman episode about how good Christian students need to stop hanging out with their non-Christian peers because they can be a bad influence on their faith, and then spent the next day listening to Evangelical leaders responding to their enemy in hate. I couldn't have know it at the time, but within those first two days after the attack, I caught a glimpse of how the events of September 11 would shape the church over the next 10 years. The world has irrevocably changed -- despite the ongoing attempts to pretend that that the false security and pride of American exceptionalism is still a viable option in a globalized world. Over this past decade, this new world has forced me to abandon a naïve faith that cared only for the state of my own soul, and embrace the fact that I am connected to others as a child of God. Who I am is as much dependent on how I honor the image of God in others as it is on any acts of ritual or piety I engage in.
Perhaps it took 9/11 and the response of fear and hatred I found in the church to push me to finally realize that my faith had to be more about God than myself. I don't know if I will ever know for sure, but it has assuredly been a decade of change from which there is no going back. And sadly, constantly living in a culture of fear has prevented many in the church from wondering what sort of people we are being changed into. But the questions need to be asked: Are we more Christ-like now? Is the reign of God more visible 10 years later? Maybe simply asking these questions this September 11 can help us turn a day that could easily kindle new waves of hatred into one that pushes us outside of our all-consuming selves and back into the sort of people Jesus calls us to be.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.