September 11, 2017

After 9/11

One fall morning in 2001, I was up earlier than usual packing my bag, getting ready to leave for the
airport, heading out of town on a business trip. The phone rang. It was just before 6:00 am. Who could be calling at this hour? My wife’s aunt was on the other end. “Turn on the news. Right now,” she said. We turned on the TV and stared at the screen stunned at the images. Together, we sat down on the sofa together. My arm wrapped around my wife. I could feel her belly stretched tight, nearly nine months pregnant with our first child. And then we watched as Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

The world seemed to change in a moment that day. The divisions that rippled through our culture following the attacks on 9/11 were not so different than those felt throughout the last year or so. A sense of security, values, identity… these were rattled just as they have been in the recent weeks, months and years.

I did not experience 9/11 first hand but the aftermath marked an awakening of sorts for me. A couple years after 9/11 (if I remember correctly), Ed Stetzer was writing Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age. He asked a number of us what we saw as the greatest challenge to church planters in the West. I wrote what I did below. He did not use it so I thought today it might be appropriate to share it here:
CONSUMERISM. What frightened me most after September 11, 2001 was not what seemed inevitable reoccurring violence against our country but how our politicians and media voices addressed the nation. "Keep buying stuff. Keep being consumers," this seemed to be at the center of much of what was being said to the USA post 9-11. It chilled me to the core to realize that this what we have become: Beings of buying. The language used in such phrases as, "I'm just not getting fed enough at this church" or "We're shopping for a new church" prove how influenced by culture our church lives are. We've bought into this ideal that presents the Church as simply a dispenser of "religious goods and services" as George Hunsberger has put it.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were horrifying and tragic and I do not intend to minimize the deep loss experienced by so many. That said, what struck me after the violence was how poignant the appeal to the pocketbook was. Rather than process the trauma experienced and reinforce the bonds between us, we were reminded that the market could save us.

Having recently lived through a disaster in our region, I recognize that reinforcing local economies after a tragedy ensures that jobs are kept and rent gets paid. Yet, as I watch the recovery in our area continue, I am reminded that the marketplace tends to offer good news to some ... but not all. If you are an undocumented resident, if you could not afford flood insurance, if you lived paycheck to paycheck the market will not save you. It's important to remember that the good news of Christ's kingdom, as it was announced in first century Palestine, was quite attractive to these; the least, the last and the left out. Should not it be the same today? And if not, is there something wrong in how we are announcing it?

I am fond of this quote from a Fugazi song, "You are not what you own!" But I recognize that this is easily stated when one owns stuff, can continue to buy stuff and has not lost all earthly possessions. So, I am cautious that this may sound like I am saying that money doesn't matter simply because I have enough of it. And I do not intend to neglect the importance of the marketplace. Rather, I think what I was hoping to say over a decade ago after 9/11 and what I would hope to say even now is that in moments when all security appears swept awaywhether that be the loss of the illusion of safety from violence or the loss of one's possessions, we must remain focused on the fact that the market ought to exist for people rather than the other way around. And when this does get flipped in practice, locally to globally as it often does, weas Christiansought to be those that hold the marketplace accountable not defer to its authority. The gospel of capitalism can't cloud the gospel of the kingdom.

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