REVISITED: A LETTER TO MY CHILDREN 3 DAYS AFTER 9/11
SIX YEARS AGO AND TODAY. Six years ago, on September 14, I wrote this letter to our four children (with Becky in this autumn 2001 photo taken in Brown County State Park). I came across it this afternoon. I see in it the seeds of my developing thoughts, feelings, words and actions over the past six years regarding the Islamic terrorism and the numerous destructive reactions the American government has made. While this letter is clearly a dissent against overwhelming political power, it is also an honest declaration of confidence and hope in faith-based alternatives to violent retaliation as a way forward in our world. Here's the letter:
Friday, September 14, 2001
Abby, Jared, Molly, and Sam:
I want to tell you my feelings and responses to the World Trade Center tragedy, the terrorism that caused it, and our nation’s responses. So much has happened so quickly, things too big for rational minds and hearts to handle alone and in so short a time.
This is the most grave and awesome thing that has occurred in my lifetime. Nothing compares to it. It stretches my senses and challenges what I believe about humanity, evil, good, God, hope, our nation, and the world. It tests my faith and causes me to search my heart. Someday you will better understand what I am trying to express.
In one sense, the scenes and replays on TV are distant. They seem like an unreal video game. Our family was not harmed, our community was not attacked; we know no one whose life was taken in New York City or Washington, D.C. The events occurred in other parts of our country and it appears that we are safe.
In another sense, this tragedy comes very close to home. It makes many Americans feel vulnerable to terrorism here in our own land. Because of it, a lot of safety and security measures will begin. And, because of it, the United States may likely take military action intended to try to prevent it from happening again.
I have felt fragile since the tragedy, many times this week at the point of tears. I tell myself it is over, that it is distant, and that we need to get on with our normal lives. But I have this lump in my throat and pain in my heart. I hurt for those people who lost loved ones and friends. It is so sad and so senseless.
I am also feeling anger about the tragedy. I feel anger at the terrorists and people who provide a place for them to plan and train for their destructive schemes. Anger is a natural and powerful emotion at such terrible acts that snuff out life—whether one or many. Anger, however, need not be vented as aggression or rage or destruction.
It may sound strange, but at the same time I am also feeling love for the terrorists. For all their meanness and despicable actions, I believe they are still loved by God. My faith leads me to this feeling. These must be desperately hurting and angry people to have done something like this. Perhaps it is their own outrage at their own losses, or the loss of people whom they love, that has driven and twisted them.
I do not know why they did this, or why they hate as it appears they do. But I believe that God loves them as God loves each of us. And I know that the Scriptures speak of a Spirit of love that overcomes hate and makes possible a love for one’s enemies. Romans 12:17-21 challenges me: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not take revenge…but leave room for God’s wrath. On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
You have seen and heard President Bush and our national leaders call for war against terrorism and vow to retaliate against these terrorists and the governments that harbor them. I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, to act to prevent further acts of terrorism on our soil seems reasonable. So does seeking out and bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice. On the other hand, to lash out broadly in vengeance with the destruction of lives is contrary to my sense of the Scriptures and of Christianity. And I have reminded myself this week that I am a Christian first and an American second.
I do not believe war is justified simply because leaders call for it or because such a crime has been committed. There are other strong but peaceful ways to see justice prevail. “Seek peace and pursue it” is the prevailing guidance of the Scriptures. Perhaps there are rare situations in which peaceful methods cannot bring resolution to international conflicts. But most often peaceful measures—including sincerely seeking to understand our enemies’ pain and changing our own agitating behaviors—are not given a fair chance.
I am also feeling somewhat afraid in the wake of the tragedies in New York City and Washington, D.C. Fear, too, is a natural response to such attacks. But I am taking my fear to God in prayer. I am reminding myself of the constant call of the Word of God: “Do not be afraid. I am with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.” I have found comfort and hope in Psalm 46 this week. Also in hymns like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” In your times of fear, I hope you will find these helpful to you, too.
I just wanted you to know my feelings and responses to this tragedy. It is sometimes hard to talk about these things and our feelings about them, but it is important to me to try to convey my feelings and thoughts to you. I do so because I love you very much. I hope for the very best for you and for your futures.