Monday, September 5, 2011

September Eleven--I Remember

(This is a poem written by a little girl who lost her Father on 9-11.)
"In my garden, I will plant some of Daddy's things

The hat he wears for his favorite baseball team.
His special notes he wrote to me.
His favorite songs he likes to sing.
His special collect cars he bought last spring.

His favorite tie that has grease stains.
His favorite fishing pole, even though he has never   caught anything.

And I'm going to plant some of my tears, these come from 
Every night before I go to sleep, I will go out to my     special garden
and pray over Daddy's things."
         --Natasha Flowers, 2002

(The following words were written on the Sunday after September Eleventh. We were in Oregon visiting relatives. There was a knock at our bedroom door. "New York is on fire! Come look!" And so we got out of bed and stood in shock with the rest of the country. I preached this sermon the next Sunday to my Interim congregation in Huntsville, Alabama.)

Fred Craddock tells the story about a little town in Oklahoma called Kingfisher. They have a weekly paper there by the same name: The Kingfisher, Every Friday the paper came out. There was on old Kiawah Indian woman named Molly Shepherd that wrote a weekly column for the paper. She would write about the observations of the things in her town. Simply things—customs, events—people she had talked to in the grocery store. On the Friday following the assassination of President Kennedy Molly wrote a brief article. This is what she wrote:

Molly has no article today…Molly has no words today…Molly has nothing to say today…All week long Molly walks around in the house and says, “Ooooohh...Ooooohh.” (Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, Chalice Press: St. Louis, MO, 2001, pp. 90-91)

Sometimes the only thing that captures the unspeakables is something like: Ooooohh…Ooooohh.” I was sorry that I could not be with you Sunday. We were on the West Coast and couldn’t get a plane out. But I wanted to be here and be with you. Not that I had anything particularly to say—I just wanted to be among friends and pray with you and sing with you. It is good to be back.

We finally got a plane out on Tuesday morning and arrived back in Birmingham late that night. But what would you say if you stood here this morning? I feel like the physician who worked in the rubble of Manhattan last week. Some reporter asked him to describe his feelings. And he simply said: “Words fail.” Oh, do they ever, ever fail. Sometimes all we can say with Molly, “Ooooohhh.” It’s just too big to describe. Too many have died. Six weeks ago Gayle and I were at the World’s Trade Center. We know it well. And it is so hard to believe that this has really happened.

Interestingly enough I was reading Victor Klemperer’s, I Will Bear Witness when this terrible tragedy happened. This book is a two-volume diary written by a Jewish survivor of the holocaust. It tells, day after tedious day, of how he and his wife lived with indignity, constant house searches, arrests, seeing neighbors and friends driven off in cattle cars never to return. Watching his whole world go up in smoke. He lost his home and his job and they had to filch for good and places to stay. The book is a record of living with terror and fear and despair day after day—year after year.

The book put things in perspective. It is possible to live through terrible times—to have awful things happen to us. Bad things often happen to the best of people. Holy Scriptures help us. Slavery, bondage, wilderness wanderings, attacks from inside and outside. War and famine and pestilence and drought and death. And through it all, out of the depths, they wrote, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” “In you, O Lord I take refuge…” “May God be gracious to us and bless us and let us face shine upon us…””The river of God is full of water…” “His steadfast love endures forever.” So what we learn from the great voices in hard times is that we can go on and we will not be alone.

I have been thinking of what really matters. And what is that? Not bricks and mortar or stock markets or inconveniences. Not at all. What matters are relationships. When people on those planes knew they were in grave danger they called their loved ones and friends and said Goodbye. I love you. You don’t know how much you mean to me.

I don’t know why we get our priorities so tangled. Look at all those who lifted up pictures last week. Have you seen him or her or them? Husbands, wives, children—friends—colleagues. Every one was important and special to someone. Let’s make this a teachable moment for us all. Life is a precious gift and most of us handle it as if it will last forever. I read a poem lately about a man who spoke at a funeral of a friend. He told of the year she was born and the year she died and how in-between these on her tombstone there was always this dash. 1935-2001. And he said what mattered was not the birth nor the death day—but the dash. The dash. What happened in those in-between times? And maybe if we can just learned the importance of the dash—our dash—maybe life will be different for us all.

I hope we won’t make the mistakes we’ve made before. Remember after Pearl Harbor how we rounded up all the Japanese and put them in camps. It is one of the darkest pictures in our history. And we have read of the incidents where Mosques are pillaged and Arab-Americans are insulted and spat on in the streets. These people are no guiltier than we are. I saw a cartoon from one of our papers this week. It showed a collection of Americans: African-Americans, Women, Men, Oriental-Americans, Arab-Americans, Gay-Americans, blue-collar Americans, and Professional Americans. There was a line drawn—and then another picture of the same people. But the labels were changed. The date over the picture of 9-11-01 and under every picture was on word: American. The labels did not matter.

And I would also say we are after the people who did this. We must be careful of the innocents. All this talk of bombing Afghanistan may not be as wise as we think. It is already a bombed-out country. I am told the Taliban do not represent the people there. There are 500,000 disabled orphans in that country. There is little food and little civilization. We are not after these people. We are after whomever that group was that did these terrible things.

We can’t help but ask where was God during this terrible time? He was where he was when the children of Israel were in bondage. When they wandered in a terrible wilderness. When they finally got to the land they had to build with their own hands. And God was there when the land was torn to pieces and Jerusalem lay in rubble and the best and brightest were dragged off into exile 400 miles. And God was there when, years later they came back to bombed-out shells of houses and lands. And started over. And God was there when Christ died on the Cross and he has been there during every war and in every injustice and in all the tears and in all the pain. God is here. God does not will everything. But the wisest among us have found in the hard places of their lives they are not alone. And so they get up and begin again—not by themselves—but with the incredible help of a loving God.

Is there any word from the Lord this sad, sad day? Oh yes—he hears every “Ooooohhhh” that we utter. For we have reminded that we do have a high priest who really does sympathizes with our weaknesses, who in every respect has been tempted as we, though without sin. And so, one and all, we go boldly to this throne called grace with boldness, knowing full well that we will receive mercy and find grace in this time of our need. God takes the “Ooooohhhs” of our lives and hears them every one.

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