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Holding on to Hope 10 Years After 9/11

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The 10 years since 9/11 -- a decade of horror and hardship -- have increasingly become known as The Lost Decade. Our nation moved from a time of progress and prosperity to a time of unending war and economic chaos where moments of hope have been hard to find or maintain. For the planet as a whole, the situation has been the same. But hope must be maintained for the world to recover what was lost over the course of the last 10 years.

Like an old broken record, the words of William Sloane Coffin keep ringing in my head over and over again: "It is hope that helps us keep the faith, despite the evidence, knowing that only in doing so has the evidence any chance of changing."

The evidence of our times is harsh. We divide up this period as pre-9/11 and post-9/11. That awful September day brought the ugly reality of war and terrorism home to the United States. The crimes committed were crimes against humanity and were particularly grievous because they were undertaken, falsely, in the name of the Almighty. Still we mourn the dead.

Thousands of U.S. religious leaders, led by Sojourners, issued a statement in the days after attacks that stated:

"We face deep and profound questions of what this attack on America will do to us as a nation. The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge -- even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious. But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us."

History will record that the United States launched an unjust war against Iraq in response to 9/11 under the false pretense that Iraq was part of the plot and that their leaders planned attacks against the United States with weapons of mass destruction that it turned out Iraq did not have.

The war, along with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans enacted just before 9/11, would eventually bring about the Great Recession. Poverty and hunger would explode and pressing international issues, such as the impact of human caused climate change, would go largely unchecked.

Our government turned a blind eye to bedrock Constitutional principles. We began to wiretap citizens and torture captives. Still, we are at war in Afghanistan, from where the terrorists launched their attack, and the tricky question of how to end that conflict is complicated by concerns over human rights for women and others once U.S. forces leave and on-going civilian deaths in combat while they remain.

The elections of 2006 and 2008 were attempts to correct our national course and right our ship of state. America, we knew, was better than what we had allowed the events of 9/11 to shape us into. But the fear and anxiety that came with all the chaos also produced a racist, xenophobic backlash that gave rise to the Tea Party movement and the reactionary elections of 2010.

Still, I have hope. It is hope not born out of an innocent understanding of how the world works but one born out of my faith and from the experience of living through the last decade.

It is hope that comes from watching Muslim Americans work to build bridges out of the ruble of 9/11 with Christians, Jews and other people of faith across the nation. It is hope that comes from watching the Mayor of New York City and the President of the United States defend the rights of all people to worship freely. It is hope that comes from seeing the Governor of New Jersey stand up against bigotry and demand that his judicial appointments be considered not by a religious test but by their judicial temperament.

In a world where so much has gone wrong, we are tempted to forget the moments where much has gone right.

Truth be told, we are still reeling from the events of a decade ago. The wounds have not yet healed and there is a long way to go before the world recovers. That is simply the reality of our time. We are all called by God to face these moments head on with steadfastness, justice, compassion and mercy. We are called to change the evidence of our times when our times are bad.

It helps for me to know that walking that path with us is a God who never leaves us, even during times when we abandon God.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. --Psalm 46-13 (NRSV)

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