Thoughts on the 13th Anniversary of 9/11

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Just another day in September…almost…
As we took the train into New York City for the annual September 11th observance I reflected on how different the trip is thirteen years later. For several years after 9/11/2001 it was a silent trip in to the city. There were tears, flowers in hand, people were nervous. Now people are traveling into the city as they do every other day—laughing with friends, catching up on emails, getting a few more moments of naptime. Many seem not to be thinking of the anniversary. It’s just another September day…almost. And then, you see on the face of someone that they are remembering. You catch a glimpse of bagpipers in a station going on to a memorial service. In the stations and around the city security is heightened with military guards in evidence. You realize it is not just another day in September.
It will never be just another day in September. That becomes evident when you scratch beneath the veneer of what looks like normality. At some point during the day people will remember what they were doing, survivors will remember the chaos and their senses will be assaulted by what was happening as their world came crashing down around them, families will remember the loss of loved ones. Pain is still deeply etched on faces as we all remember the fear and terror and horror of the events that unfolded on 9/11.
The reality that this will never be just another day spills into all our days. We can never go back to a 9/10 world. The question is, going forward how we will work to make this a better world…how will we transform the way we live and work in the world so that violence and terror no longer define anyone anywhere in the world. Children are often part of the name reading ceremony in New York City. I am amazed at the poise with which they stand before the world to read the names of those lost. I also find myself thinking of an 8 year old girl I met in Afghanistan. Amina was the only member of her family left after a bombing raid went astray and hit her home. One night in our Kabul guest house, she stood and read the names of her dead family members with great poise. I grieve that children anywhere have to go through such an experience.
On our refrigerator there are pictures of my brother next to pictures of Amina and another Afghani woman who lost her children. They are a daily reminder for me that God calls us together to work so that evil does not have the last word and that when all is said and done, love wins. In the words of Desmond Tutu: “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.” May our lives be a reflection of this truth we know in God’s love!

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Of Pine Needles and Alleluias

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It is a Lenten tradition in our congregation that on the first Sunday of Lent, the children hide papers with the Alleluia printed on them. We symbolically bury the alleluias for the Lenten season, reminding us of the somber tones of Lent. Then on Easter Sunday the children find them and we bring the alleluias back to our worship. As we were getting the last of the Advent/Christmas decorating finished right before Christmas and moving things around in the chancel, I came across a folded sheet of paper—one of the alleluias that had not been found on Easter last year. Fast forward a few weeks to putting away the decorations and moving the Christmas trees out. Even if you have an artificial tree you end up vacuuming the needles. It seems that for the rest of the year you will find a needle here and there. They are never completely gone.
The church is between times right now…we call it ordinary time. Ordinary time is the seasons outside of the major observances of the Christian year; namely Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. It doesn’t mean this is an unexceptional time of year, rather it takes its name from the fact that ordinal numbers are used to describe the sequence of Sundays. Extraordinary things happen during ordinary time, but I always think we have to pay extra attention because we aren’t in the big, exciting seasons such as Christmas and Easter. Ordinary time gives us a chance to figure out what it means to live out the message of the Christ child…and then the message of the Risen Christ. It’s a time when we aren’t facing the frenzy of preparing for the major holidays, so we have the space to do that.
As we observe ordinary time, I love the fact that you can almost always find an alleluia tucked away somewhere in our sanctuary…and in our homes and at church there’s always a pine needle to vacuum up. The pine needles and alleluias break into our everyday, just as God surprises us and breaks into our lives. Such reminders help us to remember what the love of God has done, and continues to do for us. They are the signs of the mystery of God’s love found in the cross and the cradle. May pine needles and alleluias break into your every day to remind you of the awesome mystery of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ.

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Advent Day 16-Strong

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This is a picture of my niece celebrating after she had just made her first journey out on the “big rocks” at the Manasquan Inlet. It’s about a half mile out…there are some steep drops between the rocks, and some daunting jumps; especially if you are Madison’s size! I think of strong in remembering her journey. She approached the task with appropriate caution, reached out for a helping hand when needed, and wasn’t afraid to get down on her hands and knees when necessary. Isn’t that what true strength is all about? Not a show of bravado and “I can do it alone” mentality…but the willingness to journey with others, reaching out for help…and perhaps even having to risk being awkward and clumsy along the way.

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Advent Day 15-Rejoice

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This picture reminds me of the text from Isaiah: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” That is a day of rejoicing!

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Advent Day 14-Gather

There is a lovely hymn called “Gather Us In.” One of the lines reads: “Gather us in and hold us forever, gather us in and make us your own; gather us in–all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone. What a beautiful reality that is! A reality that God calls us to work towards and a reality that God longs for. In Luke’s gospel Jesus expresses that hope as he looks over Jerusalem and says: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” May we know the peace of God’s gathering us in! Then, in that peace find those seeking the shelter of God’s love.

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Advent Day 13-Justice

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This picture of the balancing rock in Bar Harbor, Maine reminds me of Lady Justice. Lady Justice is often depicted as holding scales and she is blindfolded. It demonstrates the idea that justice is a balancing act and that justice shows no partiality. That being said, when I think about the justice that Jesus came to bring to us I don’t think of a blindfolded, impartial sorting out of issues. Instead I think of the Jesus who came to disrupt…the Jesus who threw tables around in the temple because the money takers were stealing from those with the least resources…the Jesus who helped us remove blindfolds so that we could see others with the love of God. That is God’s justice!

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Advent Day 12-Hope

Last night the Sr. Hi’s, aka the God Squad gathered around my fireplace to talk about their hopes and fears. We wrote them on flying prayer paper. We set the paper on fire and watched as the “prayers” gently wafted up in the air. After each person we paraphrased a line from O Little Town of Bethlehem: “our hopes and fears are met in you O God.” As we continue in this season of Advent what hopes and fears do you lift to God. We have the assurance that God will gently keep those hopes and dispel our fears as we live into the love of God.

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