No Sins But Our Own

More and more I become convinced that the biggest problem we have in American culture is our obsession with any sin that isn’t our own.

Cecil the Lion. Planned Parenthood. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. The entire GOP presidential field.

I get caught up in the hysteria. I’ve tweeted out things about certain cultural phenomena in an haughty, contemptuous way that only serves to reveal my self-ignorance. It’s a human reflex to see clearly the issue in someone else’s life while ignoring the massive dysfunction in your own.

But lately I’ve come to feel disgusted with myself when I point out the fallibility in others. I think of funny things all the time and normally don’t hesitate to share them; but lately, I find myself thinking more and more about the targets of my jokes. I think about their humanity. I think about what made them the way they are. I think about the burden some of them experience, of living under the never-ending spotlight.

That gets me thinking about myself. How would I hold up under scrutiny?

Truth is, I’m not sure. I know there would be plenty of people happy to take shots at the way I spend my time or my money, plenty of folks happy to pick apart everything from my choice of wardrobe to my choice of restaurants. I know there would be plenty of people just waiting for their chance to point out my stumbles and shout their disagreement with venomous glee.

I know this because it happens in everyday life anyway.

“You let your kids eat a McDonald’s?”

“Personally, I think anyone who buys non-organic milk is just abusing their children.”

“I would never allow my children to play in a public pool. Too many germs.”

Once upon a time we were a society that focused more on personal development within ourselves. We honored self-improvement. We praised folks who worked hard and overcame obstacles. We held people up for achieving things we had not yet attempted because they inspired us to want more.

Now we just tear folks down to our level. We don’t celebrate successes, we celebrate sins, because if there’s one thing we all know how to do equally well it’s screw things up. So we watch others. We wait. And when they succumb to being human, we pounce and pull down the rafters.

It’s easier to tear down someone else’s home than build our own.

And in a perverse way, we end up taking responsibility for the sins of others. We end up enabling the very destruction we celebrate, all because we get a kick out of the whole cycle. It sounds trite, but it’s true: if we would quit watching the Kardashians, the Duggers, the whomevers, they would fade away.

The same is true of the people around you. If we’ll quit looking for the sins of others, those sins will fade from our awareness. That’s not to say those folks will stop screwing up (they are human, after all), but we will stop looking for it.

And it’s a funny thing: when you quit looking for other people’s mistakes, when you quit obsessing over other people’s sins, two things happen. One, you start noticing things in your own life that need work, and two, you start developing a sense of compassion for others.

And that’s the key: we can’t have compassion for others if all we look for are their mistakes. And we can’t live our own lives to the fullest if we are too busy obsessing over someone else’s issues.

We are responsible for no sins but our own. That’s not to say we ignore evil when we see, or don’t confront sin when it bursts into our lives; we should be outraged at things like Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted children or a sudden resurgence in the KKK.

But that outrage will only mean something, will only have resonance, if it doesn’t flow from our mouths and keyboards in a constant stream. Think of it this way: my kids know when I’m upset because I don’t talk and act upset all the time. In fact, I spend most of my words encouraging them, loving them, asking them questions and letting them know how much I truly love them.

Thus, it is the rarity of my anger that provides it power.

Jesus was the same way. He didn’t hesitate to call out sin, and there’s only one instance of him flipping tables. Christ spent the majority of his ministry speaking truthfully in love, calling people to God’s best by living it out himself.

His, it would seem, is a much better way.

Independence Everyday


This made me laugh.

Today is the Fourth of July, the annual day when America stops to celebrate itself. And we’ve much to celebrate – one of the youngest and yet most influential nations on the planet, we are pretty much the geopolitical equivalent of the Millennials: we came into the game early, believed we belonged, proved ourselves despite some mistakes, and now we’re sitting in the catbird seat wondering, “What next?”

It’s been a rollicking ride, to say the least. I’m no historian, but we’ve undergone quite the transformation. Once a backwater repository for people who didn’t want to be picked on anymore, we’re now the Ritz-Carlton of refugees. For nearly three centuries we’ve been the rewrite of Shangri-La; our national anthem might as well be New York, New York  because if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. And yet we find ourselves at a crossroads. Things have changed. We still believe certain things are true about our country, but we are also increasingly aware that the nation we live in isn’t built entirely on sunshine and big brass ones.

If America were a shiny Jeep Liberty (cause, really – what else would we be?), then we’d have to admit there’s a good bit of dirt on the undercarriage. The same is true of almost any nation.

But we feel it more than most, I think. Our mythology has always been that we were the nation that wasn’t a carbon-copy of the despotic and tyrannical days of yore; we were the nation that gave rise to the voice of the people, the nation that proved that power was not best when concentrated in the hands of a few. We stop and celebrate our independence every July 4th, we sing the song for the people, by the people, of the people, but the reality is that we have drifted far, far away from that narrative.

And it bugs us.

Some folks break out the tea bags and stockpile the ammo, waiting for the day that history repeats itself. Others push for reforms that will never come. Some just embrace it as the manifest destiny of all nations – that at some point the safety and security of all we’ve become is paramount over the rights and liberties that made us what we are. Others adopt that most modern American of attitudes: “Dude, as long as I still get wifi, who cares?”

Two hundred and thirty seven years after we told the British Empire to step off, we’re still trying to figure out what it means to be American.

And maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe the most daring of political experiments should never come to a tidy conclusion, where certain ideas and beliefs become ruts that trap us. Maybe it’s right that we continue wrestling with the soul of our nation in order not to fall into the trap of other former powers who lost their souls and then lost themselves. Maybe our greatest gift to ourselves is the permanence of uncertainty, that we rise and fall on our ability as a nation to never settle on a “right way”.

It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if our stability as a nation rested on our instability as a culture?

I’m not a fan of everything that’s changed about our country. I look back on previous generations and lament the loss of certain of their characteristics in this day and age. But I’m also quite pleased that we now have a country where you can’t own another person legally, you can’t get away with abuse in private, and you can’t claim superiority to another person simply because you were born into privilege. Yeah, we’ve lost a lot of who we used to be, but you know what? A bunch of it needed to be lost.

That’s what makes us America – we’re constantly examining who we are in order to become who we want to be.

There will always be people who deny this, of course. They’ll insist that what makes us great is what made us great in the past, those values and behaviors that gave rise to power and prestige on the world stage. But if you look at the thread weaving our history together, if you look at the central characteristic of the American story, you see that it’s always been our propensity for change that’s made us great. We are a nation built on thrown off ideals.

Our independence is what defines us, for better or worse. Usually for the better.

So today as Americans, wherever you may be, celebrate the country that gives you the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Celebrate the nation that believes at its core to be human is to change. Light a firework or fifty in honor of our independence, not just from Britain, but from the shackles of history; not just 237 years ago, but everyday.

Happy Fourth of July, America. Hope it’s a good one.

Fear Is Our Native Tongue

ImageYesterday, someone blew up the finish line of the Boston Marathon. What once was a foreign thought – the idea that anyone would dare attack our country and its citizens – has become commonplace. Once again we turn on the news, or log on to our favorite website, and we see images of horror, bloodshed, chaos and fear. People rush to speculate; people rush to pontificate; people rush to say something about the events of the day because that’s what we’re trained to do. And amid all of this rushing and saying and thinking and debating, one thing becomes as crystal clear:

Fear is our native tongue.

We speak fear fluently. We are well-versed in the hushed tones of terror. We flawlessly recite the levels of warning, the various ethereal connections that may or may not be behind this bombing or that shooting. We can converse the existence and depth of human depravity and violence with the best of them. It is as natural to us now as breathing, and it’s been this way a long time.

Sure, the outpouring of violence over the past two decades seems staggering, but the vocabulary of fear was ingrained long before Oklahoma City, long before Columbine, long before the towers fell. We began speaking fear when someone realized it was a great way to sell products. We began speaking fear when someone realized it was a great way to get someone to walk an aisle. We began speaking fear when we realized that the single greatest weapon in the hands of fallen men is the uncertainty of this life and our place it.

We began speaking fear in Eden. And we’ve not stopped since.

It sounds hyperbolic, doesn’t it? I’m taking things over the top to make a point, aren’t I? No. This is the human experience – we live in fear. Fear that our lives will be too short. Fear that our lives will be too long. Fear that our lives will be meaningless. Fear that our shampoo isn’t doing its job, fear that our car says the wrong thing about us, fear that our jeans make us look fat, fear that our ice cream is made from hormonally charged milk. We worry about everything from our choice in toothpaste to our choice in partners; from where we live to where we vacation; we are afraid, either consciously or subconsciously, for almost every waking moment of our lives.

And when things blow up, when bad things happen, we no longer truly sense that they are aberrations; we no longer believe that the good guys will find the bad guys and the good guys will win; we’ve been conditioned by fear to believe that there’s more to the story, that the rabbit hole runs deeper, that sometimes the bad guys not only win, they win big. We feel that way because that’s what we think of the world. We live in fear, and we follow it blindly.

But what about the people who courageously ran into the face of danger yesterday? What of the brave men and women, both in and out of uniform, who put themselves in harm’s way to bring order into the chaos, to shine the light of hope in the midst of the smoke and rubble? We point to them and say, “They weren’t afraid! They refute your point!”, only they don’t; they actually make us more keenly aware of how steeped we are in fear, because their bravery is seen as exceptional – which means that it’s against the grain. Which means that the grain is to run away in fear, which is exactly what I’m suggesting we’re conditioned to do.

I mean, look at the lives we’ve willingly surrendered to: we have less freedom now than ever before, and we’re okay with it because we’re afraid of the alternative. We’re okay with a government that can tap our phones and search our homes and send unmanned drones over our heads because they protect us. We’re afraid of what’s out there so we’ll take the devil we do know over the devil we don’t, and we’ll hope that things don’t go south. The illusion of protection is now our greatest security, despite the fact that the world keeps rupturing that illusion with evidence that it doesn’t exist.

Fear owns us. Lock, stock, and double-barreled shotgun.

What’s the alternative, you ask? What choice do we have but to live in – embrace – our fears and do what we can to mitigate them?

We choose to be free. We choose to let go of the things of this world, the things that are temporary and always passing away from us, and grab hold of the one thing that is eternal and never changes. We choose Christ and His Kingdom. We choose the infinite, immutable God and we rest in Him. We commit ourselves to His character, His goodness, His love, His mercy, and we drive out the fears that consume us and we learn a new language.

Hope. Not the stuff of dreams, not the wishful musings of an uncertain people, but the confident assurance that what He says is, and always will be.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Because fear has to do with punishment, with punitive measures, with loss. We fear losing the things around us because those things are temporary – our fear is not meant to the posture of our lives, but the signpost that points us to the existence of the Perfect Love that gives us the certainty, the security, we all crave. We are not meant to embrace fear; it is not meant to be native to our souls; it was and is always meant to be foreign to us, a discomfort that we shed when we turn to God and Christ.

So let’s shed it. Let’s lay aside our fears. I’m not suggesting we live as Pollyannas, but we cannot live as cowards. If we wish to conquer evil, then we begin by recognizing it has already been defeated. If we wish to slay fear, then we begin by embracing the One who has already slain it. 

Today, as our nation continues to exhort its citizens to pray for Boston, let us really do so. Only let us stop to consider exactly to whom we’re praying, and let us not stop with mere platitudes for healing and restoration, but instead let us be bold and pray for the final eradication of the fear and evil that surrounds us. Let us pray that His “kingdom come, [His] will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

And let us agree with the Apostle John: “Even so Lord Jesus, come.”


A Pre-Election Sermon

The following post is my sermon manuscript from yesterday. I delivered this message to the people of my church as a reminder that this election, while significant for many reasons, is not the end-all be-all of our existence. While I didn’t read the manuscript verbatim, I did read the majority of it; I was that scared.

Some people will find the content offensive. Others might find it reason to never read the blog again. After yesterday, I’m okay with that. But regardless of how you feel when you finish reading, and no matter who wins tomorrow–Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney–God will still be the only One in whom we can find salvation, deliverance, and peace.


Back in September, President Obama framed the coming election for the delegates to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. During his acceptance speech for the party’s nomination, he said:

“But when all is said and done – when you pick up that ballot to vote – you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation. Over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs and the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace – decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and our children’s lives for decades to come.

“On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties…It will be a choice between two different paths for America…A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.

The last few weeks have reinforced that notion for us: that what we will decide at the polls on Tuesday will not just determine the outcome for the next four years, but realistically set the table for the next 10 or 20. With multiple Supreme Court positions likely to open up in the near term, the ongoing issue with American solvency, a world economy on the brink of utter chaos, and the multiple challenges we face in an increasingly changing culture, the stakes would seem to be highest.

It’s been reflected in the passion people have put into this election. Whether for Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan, the amount of heat and urgency seen in this election is different from even the last 20 years. If you’re Red State, you’re really Red State; if you’re Blue State, then you’re really Blue State. Both sides are equally committed to the fundamental notion that their candidate is the one who can lead America out of the great morass, and into a future of great change and hope.

Well over one-third of Georgia’s eligible voters have already cast their ballot in this election; with over 1.5 million votes already in the ballot box, our citizenry has mobilized to make sure that their voice is heard, their candidate supported, their vision of the future registered and agreed upon. We may very well see numbers greater than the historic turnout in 2008, and if so, we’ll witness one of the greatest displays of non-wartime citizenship in our nation’s history.

Whatever the outcome, we will be able to say on Wednesday, November 7th, that the people of this great country, man and woman, conservative and liberal, religious and non-religious, were moved to exercise their rights and duties as citizens in order to guide this great nation into its future. We will be able to say that we who ran for office, campaigned for a candidate, volunteered for the polls, and cast our ballots were the very embodiment of what it means to be a patriot and member of the United States of America.

And we will be immensely proud of that fact.

In fact, one of the key components of being an American is pride in our citizenship. It may be expressed variously – either in the flag-toting, anthem-singing fervor of some or the self-examining, finger-pointing words of another – but we are at heart closely connected with the idea of not just living in this country, but being a piece of it. Being an American is not just residing within its boundaries, but placing yourself into the very fabric via your vote, your voice and your life’s work. As such, we see ourselves not merely as boarders in this wonderful land; we see ourselves as folks given a birth-right.

We are smart to understand and appreciate the power and privilege of being an American. We would be smarter to also believe that it is, at best, a worthless privilege.

Philippians 3:1-21 reads like this:

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of Godand glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Now, I realize I left you hanging on a statement that might be charitably considered horrible, if not borderline blasphemous. I intentionally did so because I wanted you to feel as intensely about the subject of citizenship as the Apostle Paul did. In writing this letter to the Philippian church from a Roman jail cell, Paul was most concerned about reminding the saints in Philippi of the joy we have in Christ. And in the culmination of his argument, chapter 3, Paul outlines why, exactly, such joy can be found: because we are citizens destined for something greater. A better place. Another land.

We are, as the adopted sons and daughters of God, citizens of His Kingdom.

Now, Paul was a citizen of Rome. He was a citizen of Israel. He lived in this world, in this space and time, and as such he was under the rule of temporal authorities (and, interestingly enough, considered them as agents of God not to be disrespected – see Romans 13, Titus 3). But he lived his life as a citizen of Heaven; that meant that while he participated in the governments of this world, he did not find his fulfillment in them. He found that in Christ alone.

Take a quick look at what Paul so casually calls rubbish in the first eleven verses:

  1. His citizenship: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews”. Never forget that Paul was first a Jew. His entire life, prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, revolved around being a Jew. He committed himself to his people, his religion, his law, and his God. He gave himself completely to the ways and ideals of his people, and became a model of what it meant to be Jew, which dovetailed into the next item:
  2. His religion: “as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Being a Jew meant embracing their faith, and Paul embraced the Jewish religion that he devoted his life to the study of its Law. He was a student of Gamaliel, a Pharisee of the highest order, so consumed with the perfection of God’s people that he willingly hunted down and murdered those who stepped beyond its prescribed boundaries. His race, his country, his people came before anything else, even his own personal life; it’s hard to be married to a woman when you’re so committed to God.
  3. His reputation: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The book of Acts tells us that people bowed down to Paul – whether he was giving approval for the stoning of Stephen or securing court documents granting him expansive powers to hunt down, try and execute heretics, people knew him, knew his drive, and gave him what he wanted. Paul had power, and the early church shook at the mention of his name.

And yet he gave up all of it because of Christ. Not because he wanted to follow Christ, but because Christ showed Himself to be so much greater than all of those things combined. Paul looked at the essence of what it meant to be a Jew – one of the chosen of God! – and called it “dung” compared to being a servant of Christ.

Think about that for a minute – the magnificence of Christ outweighed what it meant for Paul to be Paul. Everything that defined Paul – his race, his religion, his reputation – was meaningless, worthless garbage compared to the person of Jesus Christ. Paul did not to commit to Jesus because Jesus promised him something; he did not commit to Jesus as an extra on top of his already impressive resume. He committed to Jesus because when he saw the face of the Risen Savior, he immediately knew Him for who He is: God made flesh.

And Paul knew nothing else mattered. Nothing.

Paul was like the man who found a pearl in a field, re-buried it, and then sold everything he had to buy the field. Compared to the pearl, everything else was meaningless.

Now contrast that with the rich young ruler, who had kept the entire law without failure. Jesus said, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and come follow me.” And the young man went away very sad because he had great wealth.

You want to be a citizen of Heaven? Then you must be a citizen of Heaven.

It’s not a matter of trading this world for that one; there are plenty of us here today who have tried that exchange and found it lacking. We’ve given up things we find pleasurable in the hopes of gaining things eternal. That’s not what Paul did. Paul gained Christ and because of His surpassing greatness, Paul gave up the things of this world. Too many of us attempt to hold on to the things of this world while hoping to earn heaven in the meantime.

And far too many of us feel like we’ve already accomplished the feat.

But look at what Paul said: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

Paul is saying, “Look, I don’t consider that I’ve earned my trip to Heaven. I consider myself in the process of getting there, chasing after Christ with my very life, straining towards the day when I am finally made complete in Him.”

But then he goes on. “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

Do you hear those words? To borrow an oft-referenced line from Star Wars, as Admiral Ackbar says, “It’s a trap!” This world, the things you desire, what you hunger for, they are your undoing! We want things that end up killing us, instead of submitting to the One who will give us life.

Tell me you don’t feel this tension lately. That niggling sense that no matter how you vote, things are only going to get marginally better. That no matter who is in office, the challenges that face this country and this world are going to be beyond their ability to truly fix. Tell me you honestly believe that Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is somehow going to change the hearts and minds of millions of people in a way that makes this world measurably better.

You don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be here.

In the end, we are like Paul. We feel that who we are is good and important, and often we strive to be our best selves because we think it is what we are supposed to do. But the reality is that our best selves are garbage compared to Jesus. Our home-brewed righteousness is filthy swill compared to the pure Living Water. We can hope and change and restore all we want, but the fact is we’re not going to make things better. We’re not going to move forward.

We’re going to remain stuck in our sin.

The only answer for the tension you feel, the angst you have about the future is to acknowledge there is NO future apart from Christ. He alone is the answer. He alone is our hope. We do not turn to Him because we need help; we turn to Him because there is nothing but Him “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

The psalmist warned us not to put our hopes in horses or chariots or men, because such things will surely fail. But the hand of the Lord, the power of God and the work of His Spirit, will always bring about what is necessary for the Kingdom to come. For God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

We are here today on the precipice of history, not because we will elect a president in two days, same as we have for 200 years, but because we have the opportunity to kneel before the God of all creation, and in obedience to His Holy Spirit, by the grace offered to us through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, say to Him, “Not my will, but Yours be done. Take me, Oh, God, and make me Your servant.

Today, there are two futures, both mutually assured: one is a future in the Kingdom of God, an established and unshakeable Kingdom that is fulfilled and will be consummated without question. The other is a future outside of that Kingdom, separated, cut off. The Holy Spirit is moving, calling out for those who will hear and receive the gift of salvation, will you submit?

Can you so clearly see the beauty and majesty of Jesus that you hold your life as rubbish compared to Him? Can you see His life, His death, His burial, His resurrection and His return as so precious that everything from your American citizenship to your membership in a church to your very blood relations are as nothing when compared to that grace? If so, the altar is open for you. Obey. Come. Receive.

But for those of you to whom such a transaction sounds too extreme, who find offense that the cross of Christ calls us to lay everything else aside, may I leave you with a thought? As grand and wonderful as our lives here can be, C.S. Lewis said it best:

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

“We are far too easily pleased.”

Let us pray, and may God’s will be fulfilled in our lives.



It started last night.

I was on Twitter when, around 11:00 PM, things started turning somber. One hour to midnight, and the collective thoughts of the Twitterverse turned towards our national pain. It was like hearing the voices of people in support group, each one crying out from our haunted past.

I was visiting my in-laws…

I was on active duty in North Carolina…

I was at home from work, sick…

I was waiting for my husband’s flight to land…

I was pregnant…

I was frightened…

I was shocked…

I was…

I was twenty-four, barely married, sitting behind a desk that was way to big for me, symbolic of the position and responsibility I held at the time. I had the radio in my office on and the sudden break in programming – “The World Trade Center buildings have been hit!” – made long-forgotten pages in my history books suddenly spark with life.

Panic. Fear. Armaggeddon. Planes were crashing from the sky and into buildings. Planes were falling from the sky into fields. How many planes were compromised? Were our skies littered with flying missles under enemy control? Who was responsible? Why would they do this?

How many would die?

For a nation with a penchant for taking certain days and making them memorials, the sad irony of September 11th becoming a memorial against our will was powerful.

We watched the news footage, only it seemed like something from a movie, except that it happened in real life. We learned, truly learned, that there are people who despise us – not just in some figurative sense, but literally, enough so that they would willingly strap themselves inside a plane and kill innocents who were guilty of nothing more than drinking coffee and being one of us. We saw heroes run into the mouth of damnation – into the mouth of Hell – to save whom they could. Many of them perished.

Their names, along with the names of those who could not be saved, are now carved into stone, set into the ground upon which they died.

Set into the hearts of their countrymen.

My friend, Kevin Bachman, posted something on Facebook this morning that made me nod my head and tear up. It rang so true to me, because of all the things that arose out of 9/11, the most amazing thing was our national strength, our bond.

Kevin says it better:

It’s not the day itself I choose to remember but that brief window of time that followed it. Before war and division of opinion. The small time of unity when we were ‘The People’. Together. Because we grow stronger when we have to. Because the American spirit defends and helps its brothers when they are too weak. And if there is one thing to never forget, it isn’t the tragedy of our buildings crumbling at our feet, but the resolve we carry within us to lock arms and rebuild.

Of all the national holidays, today is the one with the most resonance. Unlike Hanoi, or Pearl Harbor, or Gettysburg, or Lexington, we saw this not through the eyes of history or through the lens of a camera, but in flesh-and-blood and in real time. And so today is personal. It’s painful. It’s fresh. We cannot look at our lives today without seeing the residue from those collapsed towers. The cloud of dust that swallowed Manhattan as the Towers fell has left a subtle film all over our airports, technology and politics today.

Normally, we celebrate history as being just that – history. But today our history is our present, reminding us that we might be a city on a hill, but we are not above the turmoil of this Earth.

It is the beauty of our country and our people that when we fall, we rise.

And we will continue, rising.