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The Day After 9-11

Texas Christian University

Noon Chapel September 12, 2001
[Danny André Dixon, Christian Students Fellowship Campus Minister,
Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas]

The majority of you saw the repeated TV programs that showed the devastation
and carnage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or maybe
even the wreckage of the airplane that went down near Pittsburgh. Except for two
or three still photographs that I saw on AOL this morning, my connection with the
events of September 11, 2001 have come from hearing National Public Radio
throughout the day and the commentary of one or two Christian radio programs. I
haven’t seen any of the images that our real time technology has, laser-like, burned
into your memories forever.

Yesterday afternoon, four teenagers dropped by at the administrative offices of the

West Berry Church of Christ building. They came in off the street with skateboards
in hand, just out of school over at Paschal High School. And they wanted to know
if we had a place for them to go pray for the people who had lost family members
and other loved ones in the attacks. They were quiet, reflective and sober, quite
unlike the relatively harmless excitement that comes from watching similar
fictional depictions of carnage as in, say, the last scenes of movies like Arlington
Road or Fight Club that one can walk away from breathing a sigh of relief because
it isn’t real. This time, however, for the first time in their lives they knew this was
absolutely real, and completely shocking. Maybe some of you feel the truth
expressed by the young lady in the AOL image I saw when I turned on my
computer this morning. She said, “I don’t feel safe anymore.” Ours is a dangerous
world filled with dangerous people, skilled and competent in the terror of yesterday
morning or any other time and place. We have only a moment, it seems, to get over
the travesty of a Columbine a couple of states away, or a Wedgwood Church three
or four miles away, or some new report of a mail clerk gone postal. Then in the
deceptive hiatus of the beginning a beautiful sunny day, as one rolls out of bed and
heads off to breakfast or to class or to breakfast or the sleepy-coffee TV humor of
Regis-and-Kathy-Lee-like early morning talk show, we again experience the
reality of evil in our world as we see the World Trade Center towers, symbols of
the progress and commercial power of one of the greatest nations to ever exist on
the earth, holding, at its normal capacity, over fifty thousand souls, literally
collapse before our very eyes. And we don’t feel safe anymore.

So we gather here the day after and try to look for some semblance of meaning to it
all. And I have to admit that there isn’t a lot to be understood about it. One thing is
certain: the world is always going to be an unsafe place in the grand scheme of
things. It will always, in the words of the apostle Paul, find itself “groaning as in
the pains of childbirth right up until the present time” (Romans 8:22). But there are
some things we can think about profitably right now, shocked as we are at the
travesty of a day ago. There are some spiritual conclusions that ought to give some
perspective to those who have a relationship with God, who want a relationship
with God, and who need a relationship with God whether they want it or not.

First, and probably most practically, is the fact that life is uncertain. James the
brother of Jesus wrote these words:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city,
spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not
even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist
that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say,
“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast
and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then who knows the good he
ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (James 4:13-17).

We live in a great country. But great as it is, it is not greater than God is. And
sometimes it takes an event, the likes of which we experienced yesterday, to give
us pause and perspective regarding the fact that as powerful as we are, there are
some things that can pull us up short, like a bit in the mouth of a horse, or like the
screech of a braked car that had been traveling at high speed. And while God
didn’t cause yesterday’s destruction, he certainly can use it to instruct the insightful
that we need to make sure that in the midst of all the running about that we do, the
degrees we earn, the jobs we get, the marriages we seal, the babies we have, the
houses we build, and the security that we think is ours, it is only at his good
pleasure that we retain it. Since death entered into the world with the sin of Adam,
accomplished in any number of a variety of Satan-ordained ways, it is clear that
life is short, and we need to have a spiritual perspective.

I know a guy, who had Christian moorings but who has over the last ten to fifteen
years has lost his spiritual moorings. Two weeks ago he met a homeless 18-year
old, and, intent on pursuing a quick sexual encounter he had even planned, over a
meal he provided to the unfortunate boy who had not eaten in two days, to
manipulate this young man and take advantage of him until the boy asked him a
simple question, “Would you tell me about Jesus Christ.” This stopped my friend
short. He reversed his intentions, taught the young man the gospel on the spot,
baptized him in a lake a few hours later, and seven days later, the young man died
after being stabbed to death in a homeless shelter. His time was up. But in the
grand scheme of things his soul is secure.

Second, and closely related, we should not be lulled again into spiritual
complacency just because we are a resilient people. It is true that no matter what
befalls us nationally, or locally, and perhaps any one of you individually would
admit, we seem to have the ability to get over it. Life will go on, and we’ll bounce
back into the hustle-bustle of existence as students, teachers, lovers, and citizens.
And we’ll weather the hurly-burly times that will come to us from day to day
because we know how to grow a thick skin especially in the midst of tragedy. Do
not let your ability to recover cause you to lose your spiritual perspective. There
are things we can do in our own strength, and with the counsel and support of
friends and neighbors, ministers and priests, and therapists. But it is our
responsibility as those who are the created to remember who we are and who we
are not in the presence of the one who says to us, as we read earlier in the
responsive reading, “Be still and know that I am God.” Our perspective of what
this world is all about, about who we are, and regarding how we are to approach
life, must be enlightened by knowledge of the fact that ultimately we need God,
and we need to live the way he wants us to live.

Third, this is not a time to lose our sense of level headedness, particularly in the
midst of this a multi-cultural, and international, community. I remember when I
felt my lowest. I was a sophomore and a junior at Abilene Christian University.
For 444 days in 1979 and 1980 the Iranians held 52 American hostages during the
Carter Administration. Operation Eagle Claw, a top-secret mission to free the
hostages, ended in disaster. The United States was embarrassed and finally,
through negotiations, on the day Reagan was Inaugurated, January 20, 1981, the
United States released $8 billion in frozen assets and lifted trade sanctions in
exchange for the release of the hostages. That was embarrassing to this country,
and we felt very, very helpless and used and abused. But more embarrassing
should have been the askance and suspicious looks that American students gave to
the Iranian students, most of whom were Islamic, who were attending that
Christian University. As of this moment, no one knows who masterminded the
hijackings, and the attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon. From somewhere
in Afghanistan, however, Osama bin Laden has applauded those who did. And the
potential exists, even at this Christian university, for abuse and suspicion, both
inappropriate and completely unchristian attitudes. Those specifically responsible
will be found out. Now is not the time, and it is never the time, to hold your fellow
students with suspicion or to make any associations of terror because of someone’s
nationality or religious heritage.

Finally, this is a time for comfort and reassurance for us all. Things will eventually
get back to normal. It may take time. Sit around, talk to one another, and talk it out
for as long as you need to. There are ministers of various denominations who are
on campus who can help you understand matters from particular spiritual
perspectives. Several of them are here today and are always reachable through
University Ministries and John Butler, Minister to the University who coordinates
student-religious matters. As a Christian minister, I can tell you that it is a healthy
thing to approach all of the current tragic events from a spiritual standpoint. Now is
a time to reach out to your friends and to appeal to the God of all comfort as we
work through this unfortunate time.

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