09/15/2011 12:19 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2011

9/12: What Now?

We have made it through the commemorations of the last 10 years and perhaps we can now say that we will never forget, that we will turn in a new direction of hope to sing a new song. But first, let's start with a traffic light to guide us as we become a 9/12 community.

I saw the light on my first visit to ground zero 10 years ago. I was with a group of clergy -- Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindu -- called the Partnership of Faith in the City of New York. We had gathered at an intersection where I noticed that the traffic light had been shattered. I turned to Rabbi Sobel and said, "Rabbi, we're going to have to repair the traffic light before we can get started again."

In all of our ceremonies we remember those who died on that day, both those innocently present and the heroes who sought to do what they could to lengthen life. But it occurred to me that arrows that pierced their hearts were aimed for all of us, the American people, and therefore we feel diminished, made more vulnerable, by the events of that day.

Repairing our hearts and minds will be like repairing the colors of that signal. Red: there are things that we must STOP! Yellow: things that we must be cautious about as we go forth as a nation. And Green: the things that say, "Let's go."

First, things to stop: Let's stop the violence. Let's stop the victimization of people because they are different from who we are. Let us stop the bigotry. Let's stop this ethnic and religious division. Let's have a red light against that.

For caution: let us remember that most virtues that outlive their destined meaning turn less than virtuous. Let's be cautious about narrow nationalism. Let's be cautious about an exceptionalism that makes us think that our exceptionalism leaves no room for the growth, the development and the fulfillment of others who are different from ourselves. Let's be cautious about relying so much on material things that we have no energy left for the spiritual aspects of our lives. Now that's the caution light.

But green is for GO: How will we create a new New York and a new nation on the way to a new world? I think the first thing: let's go for balance. Let's be materially prosperous but also spiritually strong. Let's leave behind that old language of greed. Let's not be like in "Avatar": "If we want it, we'll take it by any means necessary." No, let us go for a world in which we remember that the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, and we all have an opportunity to share. There's enough for all, there's enough for everyone. If we share, we will indeed fulfill the dream of the Creator.

You remember Dr. King saying, "We shall overcome." New York, America, nations around the world: We shall overcome, but remember that "we shall overcome" has got to be more than a freedom song and more than a memory. It has to reflect a new resolve to build community.

And we're already building. Shortly after 9/11, I wrote these words:

There are towers rising, pointing our eyes to the sky.

Majestic freedom towers rising to tell the world why.

Our heroes lived and died for a land that's free--

We promise with pride that it shall ever be

A nation strong and secure for justice and liberty.

One Sunday morning at ground zero, after it had been determined that nothing could survive that long beneath the rubble, a white pigeon flew up. What could this mean? Remember, all over the city we had started singing "God Bless America": "land that I love, stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light from above." Heaven heard our prayer. That pigeon was heaven's answer. In the Biblical tradition, more frequently a dove is the symbol of the Spirit, but in a crisis situation, a pigeon will do. It reminds us that the Spirit will help us build a new New York and nation and world. It inspired in me this song:

The Spirit is the key to community

where love and justice flow like streams

Where the people work together

for the common good

to make our city safe for dreams.

The Spirit sets us free from anxiety

about our neighbors far and near;

When we learn to welcome strangers,

greeting them as friends,

no longer are we bound by fear.

The Spirit sees the world as a neighborhood.

The Spirit yearns for wars to cease.

So the Spirit forms a circle of freedom-loving friends

to claim the world for joy and peace.


Spirit of community, draw us close to thee.

Help us see the beauty within diversity.

Begin with me, my family, each neighborhood and nation--

Fulfill the dream you had in mind

The first day of creation.

I am a person who sings. I know not everyone is, but that won't keep the Spirit from putting a song in your heart. Freedom songs have brought people together. They remind us of to what and to whom we belong. It is time to sing a new song in a new day. We the people, building a 9/12 community of hope.

We are building for the future

may the Spirit fill each heart

then we will not let our differences

tear our souls apart.

For we know that we are family

all God's children great and small.

Let's become that new community--

we've heard the Spirit's call.