Fifteen years ago this weekend, I began my work as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Asheville. Far more significantly, our nation sustained the worst-ever terrorist attacks on United States’ soil.
Those attacks left ongoing grief, anger, and anxiety in their wake. It also plunged the nation into the edgy vigilance and bleak violence of a more or less constant state of war.
Immediately after September 11, 2011, our country came together in astonishing ways. Since then, sadly, the fears which terror surfaced have driven wedges among us. Fear of “the other” has grown. The search for scapegoats among immigrants or LGBTQ people or Muslims or other minority communities has grown fevered and frantic. Xenophobia, racism, and classism have surged.
During my years with First Baptist Church, we sojourned together through the terror attacks, the economic downturn which followed them, the Southeast Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession, and the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We also faced together the joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, of life: births and deaths, jobs lost and found, opportunities squandered and pursued, dreams dashed and come-true.
The resilience, resourcefulness and faithfulness of the people with whom I traveled during those years inspired, challenged, and showed me the face of Jesus. In tearful night-seasons, they were sources of light and hope. And, in the days of dawning, they were companions in celebration and laughter.
On the Sunday after 9-11, I said:
Add September 11, 2001 to that list of dreadful days we shall never be able to forget. Like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy, we shall always remember where we were when we got the shocking news. We will never be able to erase from our minds the horrifying images of hijacked passenger planes’ crashing into the World Trade Center Towers, a Pennsylvania field, and the Pentagon.
At a deep level, deeper than we yet know, we have been shaken and damaged.
God does not cause the crises we experience, but God will not waste any event of life which God can use to make us more like Jesus. Not everything is good, but everything can be pressed into the service of God’s good purposes.
Every moment has its own urgency. Each moment is an eternal now of God’s work: now is the time to live rather than simply to prepare to live. Now is the time to make things right with those whom we have wronged and who have wronged us. Now is the time to weep, laugh pray, and play together. Now is the time to invest in God’s dream of a world made whole again.
The years since 9-11 have taught me about what Dr. King called, in his “I Have a Dream Speech,” the “fierce urgency of now.” The troubles have caused me repeatedly to ask: Why wait when it’s possible to heal, to help, to love, to serve, to grow, to do justice, to show mercy and to love kindness now?