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196. Where were you on 9/11? And where are you now?

Where were you on September 11, 2001 when you heard the news?

I was driving south on Main Street in McAllen, Texas, toward my church office with a mug of hot tea in my hand listening to the radio.  Just after 8 o’clock (Central Time), they reported that a small plane had crashed into a building in New York.  Several minutes later I made out that it was the World Trade Center they were talking about.  When I walked into the church office, the secretary told me that a second plane had hit the Twin Towers.  This changed the whole perception of the experience.  Our District Superintendent had scheduled a day-long pastors meeting about thirty miles away, and I called to urge him to cancel the meeting and send the pastors to their churches.  News came to us in bits and pieces—the Pentagon, Pennsylvania, planes grounded everywhere.  I gathered the staff to pray and to begin to shape our response.  We opened the sanctuary for prayer and offered a prayer service late in the evening.  We worked on how to get word out to our members and to the community through email, radio, and television.

I didn’t see the video clips of the buildings collapsing until sometime in the afternoon, the searing images of violence, destruction, and death.  The emotions at the evening prayer service ran deep, of shock and fear and anger and grief.  I remember being deeply moved by the number of direct connections people had to the events.  People spoke of sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and friends in New York, at the Pentagon, serving in the military and in the Secret Service, working for the airlines.  The events were not far away, but close, intimate, and personal.

Images emerged of hope, courage, and heroism, of ordinary unknown people who sacrificed everything to save lives, of the hundreds of fire fighters and police officers and rescue workers who climbed stairs against their own instincts of fear to help strangers.  The wounds of the day ran deep, and the ripples and consequences continue to current times.  It was a day none of us who were old enough to see it will ever forget.  Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Perhaps the more important question is, “Where are you now because of 9/11?” Are you a different person at a different place in your perspective about the world than before that date?  If so, how are you different?  What have we learned?  How have we grown?  How have we let 9/11 shape us?  For better, or for worse?

The meaning of an event is determined by what follows from it.  For instance, a friend’s unexpected death may mark the point in our lives when we give up on God, discard the notion that life has any meaning, give in to despair, and decide that forming close friendships is not worth the risk.  In this case, the friend’s death takes us to a new place, a place of hopelessness, brokenness, and aloneness.  Or a friend’s unexpected death may stimulate us to draw closer to God, to explore for the first time the depth of life’s meaning, to become more acutely aware of the enduring quality of love and the importance of friendship.  Our response either makes our friend’s death a witness to emptiness and despair or a witness to hope and resurrection.

Where have the events of 9/11 taken us in the ten years since that day?  Have we arrived at a place where we live more fearful lives, dominated by greater suspicion and isolation from people who are different from us?  Has it made us more hateful, less tolerant, more inclined to violence, less inclined to distinguish between just and unjust causes? Has it taken away a sense of hopefulness about the future or robbed us of the sense of God’s persistent love?  If this is the case, then September 11 has been a victory for despair, emptiness, and death.  The terrorists have achieved their purpose in us.

On the other hand, perhaps September 11 has caused us to delve more deeply into the meaning of living in a global community and to look more carefully at the core values we seek to fulfill as a people—freedom, equality, justice, responsibility, serving, sacrifice.  Perhaps the tragedy has caused us to rethink how we connect to our families, our communities, and even to strangers.  Whom are we willing to help, and at what cost?  How does our embracing the love of Christ as a way of life shape our sense of connection, responsibility, and serving in a hurting world?  Perhaps 9/11 has become a sign of the resilience of community, a testament to the truth that while the thread of life is fragile, the fabric of life is eternal.  Perhaps 9/11 has caused us to explore more deeply the depth of human brokenness and the profound vision and call of God’s reign nevertheless.   Perhaps it has redoubled our longing for peace and our passion for reconciliation.

Following Jesus’ horrible death on the cross, his followers walked through a period of anguish trying to understand what happened.  Then they began to discern that this experience was not evidence of the victory of death, despair, and violence; rather, in this experience a new opportunity was opened in their relationship with God.  They began to see that hope is more pervasive than despair, that love is more powerful than hate, that life is victorious over death.  They experienced the absolute and unchanging hope that is at the core of life:  that life is worth living, even when there are times of extraordinary loss; that people are worth loving, even when they can be taken from us so unexpectedly; and that God is worth trusting, even when the meaning of events seem beyond our comprehension.

In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Where were you on September 11?  Where are you now?  Where are you in relationship to your family, your community, your world?  Are you closer to where you need to be, or further away?  Where are you in your regard to your calling from Christ to love and serve neighbor and stranger?  Where are you in your relationship to God and to your own highest and best self as a follower of Christ?  Have we allowed the events of the last ten years to move us backward or forward?  Upward, or downward?  Inward, or toward the love of God in Christ?

Yours in Christ,

Robert Schnase

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5 Responses to 196. Where were you on 9/11? And where are you now?

  1. Roger Cary says:

    on 9/11/2001 I was working out of the Bechtel office in Dallas, Texas. My job as a telecommunications construction supervisor for the upgrade of existing cellular phone sites required that I travel around the DFW area all the way to Sulfur Springs. This also happened to be my birthday. As I was driving, I heard the news of the first crash on the radio. I received a call from our office and was told that all personnel were to return to their residences. I got back to our apartment in Plano in time to watch as a plane flew into the second tower. As I watched stunned, the towers collapsed. Over the past few years I have taken a serious look at my life and the lives of those from that day. I can only wonder how many of those had expressed the thought that there would be plenty of time to make a decision to accept Christ? In the midst of the destruction and the attempts to escape these towers it brings to mind how quickly our minds will move to thoughts of personal salvation (reaching the stairs and escaping the flames) but will never have time in the midst of all of this turmoil to ask for eternal salvation. This fact becomes clear even today, almost 10 years later, when I think of those who will die in accidents and tragedies that pull their mind away from God and onto them self. I think the two best messages from this tragedy are that:
    1. We truly do not know when our earthly time is up
    2. Our response became one fo hate and retribution rather than one of love and reconciliation. Christ was not in our response.

    I spent many years in the Army (16-1/2) and have a love for this country, but have become very cognizant of our response to so many actions. Even after a lifetime of history shows how easy it is to respond with retribution, Christ never did. In the end his response was “Father forgive them, for they don’t realize what they are doing.” (my paraphrase). Our (human and United States) response was nothing of this sort. I am a fairly new Methodist and an even newer pastor. As I attend seminary these are some of the ways I am being led in my own spiritual growth and am hoping to shepherd others into this Christ-like heartburst of thought. It is my prayer that one day we will all realize that this continued misuse of the word Christian will cease and instead we will live into the word so that the world begins to see a new hope and a new light.

  2. I’ll get to where I was (near Dulles Airport in DC-area) etc. after this:

    You, dear reader, are invited to “A Healing Perspective on 9/11″ in Washington, DC, on 9/8/2011

    Thursday, September 8 · 7:30pm – 9:30pm
    Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

    On September 8, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m., Mark Swinney will speak on the topic, “A Healing Perspective on 9/11,” at the Navy Memorial Theater in downtown Washington, D.C. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. with a panel discussion on the topic: “9/11: Past Experiences, Present and Future Challenges,” moderated by Mr. Swinney. Flyers will more details are available from

    Here is some more info on the panelists, who will speak preceding the free talk:

    – Col (Ret) Chaplain Janet Horton–Christian Science Military Chaplain at the Pentagon on 9/11/2001
    – Torkel Patterson–Former National Security Council Staff who was in the Situation Room during 9/11
    – Janessa Gans Wilder– Founder and CEO, Euphrates Institute, which aims to heal divides between the Middle East and the West in the wake of 9/11


    To answer your question, I was a newly wed. (Today – 9/2/2011 is our 10 year anniversary.) It took me a long time to find my husband; I did not get married at a young age. It was my first and only marriage. He was in downtown DC. I worked out near Dulles Airport. I had just arrived at work, was in the parking garage not far from the airport. (Remember, the other local DC airport, National, had been where one of the planes took off before it crashed into the Pentagon.) And the radio was telling what turned out to be rumors… the first thing I heard was there was a fire at The White House, and people were pouring out the door. And everyone could see smoke. I went up to my office, and went to CNN to see what happened. From that point on, I heard everything about The Pentagon and the Twin Towers. I was in such shock. And our office then dismissed everyone (because we were so close to the airport). So we all went home. And I paced in my living room yelling at God, “GOD!! I just found him!! Don’t take him away from me now!” And I just waited and waited for the phone to ring. He got home later with 2 co-workers he then had to drive home.

    Where am I now? It has made me immensely grateful for my husband. Whenever I am frustrated or miffed or sad about something in our marriage, I remember that day – pacing in the living room, just loving my husband, and wanting to have hope in the God I’d grown up with, that God wouldn’t take him away from me. And God answered my desperate prayer. At that time in my life, I didn’t really pray much to God, by the way, and I attended church regularly, but not with my heart. Just with my habit. Since that day, I have grown closer and closer to God. I now serve God every moment to the best of my ability. The early apostles prayed to be bold. I pray to be bold. It takes gumption, but I still pray and ask for the courage to be bold. Pastor Schnase, your books have inspired me to make changes at my church and I pray to be bold to keep on pushing the good message of change and keep on keeping on. Thank you for your bold message.

  3. Michael Pope says:

    Thanks, Bishop Schnase! This reflection is one of your best, in my opinion. I have been reading eye witness accounts of 9/11/2001 in Guideposts and the History magazine. I wasn’t in New York at the World Trade Centers or anywhere near New York City when the terrorists attacked us. In fact, I was an ocean away in California and living near San Jose. However, the images on the television of that fateful day are forever etched in my memory. I can only imagine how much the eye witnesses and survivors of the tragedy have been indelibly marked by this event. I can honestly say that I have grown deeper in my faith and in my belief in the power of God’s love since 9/11, and I have been changed forever for good as a result of the witness of those who experienced this awful moment in our country’s history and yet decided to act heroically and valiantly in the face of destruction, death and despair. They decided not to allow themselves to become victims of fear or to become cynics about the state of humankind or the future. Instead these survivors believed in a better world and a better life, and many of those most deeply affected by those life-changing events, are now living examples of faith, hope and love–the things that last forever, which also may be our greatest legacy from 9/11.

  4. Carol Caylor says:

    I was in a meeting at the hospital where I was an ER chaplain. Instead of beginning the meeting, a television was brought in and we all watched the Towers come down. I had such a totally different internal experience from any I’ve read or heard. All I could think was, “Well, now we’ve joined the rest of the world.” Terrorism is everywhere, why should we be the exception? I thought, “Now there will be no more finger shaking at those “other kind” of people, no more restraint of sympathy for those who don’t know if they will see the next day. I was wrong.
    Those who suffered and continue to suffer from 9/11 will be lifted in fervent prayer for their peace and healing in my church this Sunday. It should never have happened, just as it should never have happened in Ireland, the Basque country, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Laos, Nepal, Iran or Iraq or any of the other places people have been ravaged by powers and principalities. So now we know how they feel, but compassion hasn’t emerged. God help us.

  5. With time to think back on that day ten years ago, I remember working here in my home office of the Mozambique Initiative. The quiet of morning is a time to be online with colleagues in Mozambique and get a lot of work done. My husband was visiting a customer in Nashville, TN and scheduled to fly back that day. He called and said, “Carol, you need to turn on the television and see what is happening – a plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” Startled I ran to the living room and turned on the TV. Sure enough, there was the video of the plane crashing into one of the twin towers. Further, he told me that all flights in the US were grounded. “So the sales rep from Illinois and I are renting a car to get home. Can you pick me up in Mount Vernon, Illinois where the two interstates meet? Here is when we will be there.” Of course.

    I moved my laptop and work notebooks out into the living room and worked from there, keeping in touch with colleagues in Mozambique. With an 8-hour time difference, these were the few hours of the day that we shared online. They too could not believe what was happening here in the US. We prayed and prayed for those who were in the towers. And then it happened – the 2nd plane struck the other tower. I remember watching in horror as the scene of terror unfolded, relating each new story to friends in Mozambique, who prayed with us.

    Glued to the TV as I worked, I watched as suddenly each tower collapsed, knowing that workers and rescuers alike were inside – thousands probably. I knew people in New York and wondered if any were there – what they were experiencing at that very moment.

    Finally I had to leave home to drive to Mount Vernon to pick up Bill. Coming from different directions we both arrived at the same point within 2 minutes of each other. When I got out of the car and greeted him and his colleague I said, “They are gone.” I remember them talking on and then saying, “What do you mean?” “The towers collapsed. They are gone.” Bill and his colleague were in shock – unbelievable. We drove back home with a great deal of silence – so many lives lost in an instant. So many families affected. Indeed, our perception of the entire world that we knew had changed on that day.

    As colleagues in Mozambique came into their offices the next day, the prayers started rolling in. Prayers for all the families – for all those in the US. And things changed. Small things that affected MI. With the collapse of the financial sector, GBGM staff who had been scheduled to attend the October 2001 Mozambique Initiative consultation were grounded. Funds were reduced. Flying was reduced to only those events approved by ASG’s. Some of our colleagues scheduled to attend from Mozambique could not get to London for the last leg of their flights. But those were just the simple things.

    As the US responded over the next years, the world changed more. The view of the US changed. The view of us as American citizens working outside of the country changed.

    Where is God in this? I think that God is where God always was – offering the Christ as hope for a better world. But how do we here in the US live out Christ’s compassion for the world?

    I remember one of our colleagues at the State Department in Mozambique emailing that his budget was being cut – and how few people in State even spoke an Arabic language. Working in a cross-cultural setting, one is ever cognizant of the view of Americans by the rest of the world. That changed when our country responded to 9/11. Good? Bad? Different – some of each, depending on who was judging.

    I simply ask that we keep focused on how we are Christ’s body in this often hurting world. And while we sometimes feel hopeless, Christ brings hope. While we sometimes feel small and insignificant, Christ gives meaning and depth. While we sometimes have absolutely no earthly idea of what families and communities, and countries even, are going through, Christ gives us the ability to learn and connect and have real empathy. If only our eyes are they eyes that look out upon the world with Christ’s compassion.

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