9 11

On September 11, 2001 I was on a tour bus heading to Wichita Falls, Texas.  Bebo Norman’s road manager, Kirk, woke me up.  “You need to see something,” he said and walked to the front of the bus with me dragging behind him.

There in the front lounge sat my tour mates, speechless, staring at CNN’s coverage.  “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center,” someone explained.  I called home, woke Becky, and we sat watching, 700 miles apart, in shared silence.  Then the second plane hit.  Becky worried about her little sister who lives in Manhattan and hung up to call her.  I sat there dumbfounded, thinking about my little girl that had just been born a few months before.  What kind of world did we bring her into?  What will it be like when she’s my age?

That day not much was said among those on the tour.  Some of us laid in our bunks hiding from the sorrow and shock inside our dreams.  Some talked politics and revenge.  Others cursed, letting words fueled by anger slip out, words none of us would want our fans or mothers to hear us say.

We played to four people that night.  In the days after 9/11 some shows canceled from fear of creating a target by gathering too many people together in one place.  The shows that didn’t cancel were half attended.  We watched the news together every day, for most of the day.  Politicians from both sides of the aisle spoke of military action as an increasingly viable option. Celebrities held telethons raising over a billion dollars to do something about 9/11 – though no one had a clue what that could be.

3000 people who looked just like us died on 9/11.  And we, as Americans, rushed to fight anyone responsible and fund anyone who could bring hope out of our sorrow.

In the months that followed I became increasingly uneasy with what we were calling “patriotism.” Country stars sang about putting boots in the asses of our enemies.  Politicians spoke of Saddam Husein and Bin Laden as if they were subhuman.  My church sang “God Bless America” with more gusto than “Amazing Grace” and my pastor preached on why God wanted us to war with our enemies.

Our mourning the loss of friends fueled our love of country above most if not all.  We vowed to bomb terrorists nations into the stone age and our president declared war by walking into a cabinet meeting and announcing, “Let’s kick some ass.” And all God’s people said “Amen.”

We forgot the Garden, the bile and devastation that spilled from it eons ago when man and woman sought to become like God – avenger of evil, defender of the good.  Abortion, child abuse, divorce, greed, selfishness, murder, rape, arrogance, theft and terrorism seethed through the trees and past the Garden gates and into the heart of every one of us in every land and every time.  The root of the evil we mourn and fight against is in the human heart, in all of us.  It’s not in Hollywood and it can’t be destroyed with a petition.  It’s not in Orlando and it can’t be defeated with a boycott. It’s not in Bagdad and it can’t be bombed into oblivion.  We wrestle not against flesh and bone.  We wage a war of another kind against an enemy far more sinister than those holed up in the mountains of Pakistan or underground bunkers beneath Iraq.

We American Christians forgot all this after 9/11.  We began boasting in chariots and not in our Lord and often confused the two.  We forgot what “Lord” meant as well.  Maybe we never knew and the tragedy of 9/11 only revealed this to us.

“Lord.” King.  President.  As in the head of a nation.  A nation we Christians are citizens of.  Philippians 3 says as much:

“…Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Only one translation of this verse doesn’t use the word “citizenship” or something similar in English.  That translation was commissioned by a king named James.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Or maybe kings have always benefitted from Christians forgetting where home is, where their allegiance lies, where their hope comes from. Ours did.

3000 Americans died and we fell in line behind the flag ready to war, or, more accurately in my case, send others off to war against our flesh and blood enemies.  3000 Americans died and we opened our hearts and our bank accounts and flooded their families and countless non-profits with our compassion.  This is what American patriots do.

But what do Christians do? What do citizens of Heaven do? I’ve struggled with that question ever since Wichita Falls.  I owe that day in history for years of wrestling with such questions.  What does Jesus say about violence and war?  What is the Church’s response to violence and evil?  What are our weapons?  Why do I tend to care less about the 30,000 children who die every day of poverty related causes than I do about the 3000 who died in the towers? If the answers to these questions required me to change my life radically, to be strange or hated or uncomfortable could I do it?

Today is the anniversary, for me, not just of a national tragedy but of my awakening to my own mixed allegiance, my own dual citizenship, my own inability to follow Jesus without flinching when evil knocks on my door or knocks over a piece of the skyline.  9/11 toppled my theology and politics and forced me to rebuild on firmer foundations.

What did 9/11 do to you?  How will you never be the same?