Friday, September 09, 2011

Love Our Enemies? Are You Kidding?

Does Sept. 11, 2001, make any more sense today than it did 10 years ago?

The Daily News-Record archives is a faithful record of the local aftermath of that tragic day in our nation’s history. I look back through the stories—the newspaper put out a special edition on the evening of Sept. 11—and the memories awaken like a sleeping dragon.

“Valley Airport Closes Operations.” For the remainder of that week, my daily walk was eerily quiet. I live near the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, and there’s not much noise from air traffic. But when there was no air traffic at all, it was dead quiet.

As I walked down the dirt road, by the pastures, along the Middle River, I felt far removed from the tragedy and devastation in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. It’s easy, when you live out in the country, to be lulled into complacency about what’s going on down those other roads.

Of course, the Valley has had its share of violence, not far from my home at the Battle of Piedmont. Sometimes, when I pass Civil War sites, I imagine our peaceful pastures as battlefields. I can almost see the soldiers, a soldier, a Yankee perhaps, a teenaged boy far from home, wounded, bleeding, dying alone as the fighting wages around him.

But this is just my imagination, based on scenes from movies like “Braveheart” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Both had gory battles, but neither could give a realistic impression of the true horror of those events. Neither could watching the jets bash into the towers on 9-11.

“For Media, It Was A Day Everything Else Stopped.” I don’t know why I wasn’t at work that day. I usually worked on Tuesday. It sure would have been exciting to be part of that special edition. As it was, I sat glued to the TV set, watching the reports, trying to make sense of what happened. Mostly, we saw the jets hit the towers, over and over and over.

The newspaper’s special edition came out at 4 p.m., the first since President John Kennedy was shot on Nov. 11, 1963.

“Couple’s Friends Were Supposed To Fly Into NYC.” As the local connection emerged, it seems everyone had a story, everyone knew someone who knew someone who was somehow connected. I have a friend who was booked for the American Airlines flight 77 out of Dulles International Airport, the one that crashed into the Pentagon. On Monday, however, his Tuesday meeting was postponed to Wednesday, so he changed his flight to the following day.

“The Valley Grieves.” That night, I went to the wrong prayer meeting. While other congregations lit candles and prayed for victims, the service I attended went beyond intercession to focus on songs and prayers of victory and overcoming the enemy. After a few minutes of this, I stopped participating. My grief had not yet turned to anger.

“Valley Muslims Deplore Violence.” Local Muslims were quick to disassociate themselves from the Islamists who engineered the 9-11 attacks. As religion reporter, I followed up this story with a series in Saturday’s religion section on Islam and local Muslims. I researched the origins and history of the Muslim faith, interviewed longtime members of the Islamic Center of the Shenandoah Valley, attended Friday prayer for several weeks, wrote about JMU student who had converted to Islam.

I hoped the stories would replace our ignorance of this Eastern faith with knowledge and our suspicions with understanding and a desire to know our Muslim neighbors.

In the weeks and months that followed, American flags appeared in new places, on barns and fences and factories. Signs everywhere admonished us to pray for the troops that had been deployed to Iraq in the wake of the attacks. These were natural responses. I wondered, what is the supernatural response?

Jesus said, “You have heard that they were told, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors …” (Matt. 5:43-44). Crazy. But you can pretty much bet every time that our natural response is not the one advocated by Jesus.

Jesus was speaking to individuals when he said this, not the Jewish leadership council or the Roman Senate. As an individual, when I examine my heart, I find that what he commands is impossible.

But, later on, in Matt. 19:26, Jesus says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

And once again, I realize why it’s called faith.

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