It didnıt hit me until I saw the Towers collapse. The news out of New York and Washington seemed like an especially bad dream. Friends and co-workers kept calling, telling me about the latest developments in a story I steadfastly refused to follow.
Then I saw the Twin Towers collapse. Thatıs when I got mad. Real Mad. The kind of angry that makes you want to lash out. The kind of angry that agrees with the tee-shirt that says "Send em all to Hell and let God sort it out."
I thought of the role the World Trade Center had played in my life. Iıd worked there, and even when I worked in another building in Lower Manhattan, the Trade Center was where I got off the "A" train every morning. I bought my breakfast -- coffee in a blue and white paper cup that Iıve never seen outside of New York, and a bagel with butter -- everyday literally in the shadow of the Twin Towers. But those shadows are gone -- along with thousands of lives. So if this seems personal, you bet it is.
Although we have reason to be angry -- both at the people who did this and at the loss of life -- we canıt stop there. If we donıt take some lessons away from Tuesday's events, if we donıt learn from our mistakes and gain some perspective, then we can add pointlessness to the injuries inflicted by the terrorists.
The first lesson that jumps out is that beliefs and worldviews matter. There are churches and belief systems in America to suit every taste and inclination. But religion in America is, for the most part, private and very malleable. We cherish our pluralism. We rightly, in my opinion, consider the messiness associated with pluralism to be a small price for the freedom of thought and action it affords. We have become adept at the compromises and splitting of differences necessary to keep a pluralistic society going.
But, as yesterdayıs events reminded us, not everyone thinks the way we do. If, as is the suspicion, the culprits are Islamic extremists, Americans are facing a foe they canıt bargain with. There are no differences to split. We are facing a foe so sure of the rightness of his cause that he is willing to fly a plane into a building. In the aftermath of the attacks words like "senseless," and "madmen" were thrown around in a way that suggested we couldnıt get our minds around the fact that perfectly rational people could interpret the world differently from us. And how can you hope to defeat a foe you canıt begin to understand? Itıs clear: our beliefs, as well as other peopleıs, can hurt us.
The other thing we need to remember is that, pardon the cliché, thereıs no such thing as a free lunch. For the past three decades, America has reaped the benefits of globalization, in particular, greater prosperity. Now some of the costs are manifesting themselves: the mobility that allowed the terrorists to enter the country; and the communications technology, in particular, the Internet, that is thought to have enabled them to plan the attack. Youıve probably heard expressions like "global village" and "the world is getting smaller." Before yesterday, Americans were unacquainted with the downside of these ideas. The good news is that we can be anywhere in the world in less than a day. The bad news is that anyone in the world can be here in the same time.
And that means that Americans, who value convenience over almost everything, are going to have to learn to live with more inconvenience. To cite a small example, while Europeans are accustomed to arriving several hours before departure due to security requirements, Americans have perfected getting to the airport just before take-off. My only prediction is that this practice, along with curbside check-in, will soon be a thing of the past as the airlines take their cues from El AL, Israelıs national airline. And if the thought of tightened security at airports annoys you, well, youıve made my point: we may be so accustomed to that free lunch that weıre unprepared to pay even a highly subsidized price.
But even in the midst of suffering and evil, thereıs still hope. Itıs not based on confidence in our ability to catch and punish the perpetrators, or in our ability to rise to the challenge. No, our hope isnıt based on anything that men do. Itıs based on what we know about God and His goodness. Now, Godıs goodness might seem like an inappropriate and even cruel subject to raise at this time. Thousands of people are dead. But whose fault is that? Manıs, not Godıs.
We have trouble remembering the distinction. We like to stick God with responsibility for the actions of man. We call events like yesterdayıs "tragedies." Theyıre not. When a child is accidentally struck by a car, thatıs a tragedy. When the car deliberately runs down the child, itıs murder, an act whose author is human. Blaming God for what happened yesterday, while simultaneously clinging to our freedom of action, is an attempt to have it both ways.
The phrase that comes to my mind on a day like yesterday is "thy kingdom come," or as I learned it, vengase tu reino. I hope precisely because I know that the kingdom I yearn for looks nothing like what we see around us. Itıs a kingdom whose king suffered on behalf of others, and who forgave those who treated him unjustly. Itıs a kingdom whose subjects are called upon to suffer injustice rather than commit it. Itıs a kingdom whose outline you see every time man proves the aptness of the Roman phrase homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to his fellow men.
We see it because something in us knows we werenıt meant to prey on each other. Something has gone terribly wrong. However, Christians know that one day things will be set right. And this making things right began when God decided that the only answer to the wolf in each of us was a lamb -- a lamb who laid down his life, not only for Broadway, but for those who bombed it, as well. Thy Kingdom Come.
Copyright (c) 2001 Roberto Rivera. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. "The Lamb Lays Down for Broadway" reprinted by permission of Roberto Rivera and Boundless webzine (www.boundless.org).