August 4, 2020

iMonk Classic: My September 11, 2001

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Originally posted in September, 2001

Of course, it’s far from over, but it has been a week like no other in the memory of anyone who wasn’t old enough to be aware of what happened in November, 1963. Yes, our children will remember this week. They will measure their experience by where they were and what they felt when they first saw the towers fall, and our nation shaken, but still standing.

I want to remember the day. So I will write it for myself.

At 10:15 a.m., I was walking to the post office to get my mail, just two blocks from my home, when two of my co-workers pulled up and began to tell me what happened. I couldn’t picture the reality, the loss, the carnage, but I simply tried to conceptualize what this meant. I would have to tell the students at our school what had occurred. Plans would have to be made for finding out if any of our students, drawn from all over the world, including New York and D.C., had any connections to the WTC or the Pentagon. (As it turned out, we had one student with a relative in the WTC. One of our recent graduates was two corridors down from the Pentagon explosion, and e-mailed us a touching letter later in the week.)

It seems to be my place here at our school to bring the bad news to our students and staff, and on those days I have always felt the presence of the Spirit, giving me the right words and a good heart. This day I felt the same, but I felt something else: the weight of history. Our nation had been attacked in a way reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. As that event galvanized a generation and a country, I had a brooding sense that this tragedy marked the beginning of a certain inevitable sea change: cultural, political, financial, social, spiritual. It was a day that would be driven into our consciousness by the force of the events and the weight of their consequences and implications.

Our school gathers each day for worship, and I decided to have as much of a normal chapel service as possible, since events were still unfolding and it was unclear what was actually happening. Our scheduled speaker had no idea what was going on, and when I told him to cut it to ten minutes and drop any jokes, he didn’t understand, but he spoke on the twenty-third Psalm. The valley of the shadow of death seemed very near and, for a moment, the Good Shepherd seemed very far away. But the ancient words of assurance and guidance gathered us up and held us for those moments in a power far exceeding the words themselves, and the unknown was less frightening.

Watching the explosions on television, I was struck with how much they resembled Hollywood’s illusions of the apocalypse. It looked like an out-take from Independence Day. Except I was watching people die. More than five thousand. Over and over again. This was, I thought, the collision of our innocence, our entertainment and fantasies, with the cruel and unforgiving realities of the world we glibly tune into and out of every evening. But here was something so horrendous that to go back to the Soap Opera channel or QVC seemed blasphemy. Even MTV suddenly began broadcasting Dan Rather. (Liberal patriotism. So little. So late, but appropriate.)

Later in the day, we called a special assembly and our school president told our students, in detail, what was going on. There were tears of concern and fear, and tears of sympathy with strangers. Some wept because their families were traveling or they had relatives in the affected areas. Some wept for our army reserve faculty members, who we expect to leave us in the near future. Others wept because they were replaying their own private and unknown moments of terror and helplessness. Several of our students lived through the Liberian civil war and one of our students came from Bosnia, where he defended his family while yet a boy himself. These students knew the feeling of being vulnerable. Many of us wanted to weep, but were afraid to show our vulnerability. It was easier to give a hug than to ask for one.

I looked for my children. They would only understand the seriousness of these events by watching adults who understood them better. My sixteen year old daughter, so much like me emotionally, took in far more than she showed. My thirteen year old son, with his sensitivity like his mother, seemed amazed. Their innocence was being taken away before their very eyes and they did not know it. Only when they look at the names of their friends and teachers and neighbors, taken in the first war of the twenty-first century, will they genuinely understand the tragedy of 9-11-01. When their children ask how the world used to be, they will tell them of this day, this marker in steel and glass and blood.

Looking at my children, I realized that children all over America had lost fathers and mothers unexpectedly. Their lives forever altered by the accumulated policy decisions of leaders here and elsewhere that had birthed such hatred of our country that only an invasion of hell itself could provide an outlet. We act as if politics is a hobby of the detached, having nothing to do with the real world, yet it makes widows and orphans. Surely some of the planes had children on the passenger lists, perhaps dying with their parents or teachers. Do terrorists really rejoice believing that feeding our children to the monster of their anger somehow accomplishes a greater good? Such insanity can not be looked at for long without the righteous desire to wipe it cleanly and finally from the blackboard of history.

I brought my classes into my office and let them watch the news coverage all afternoon. They watched in silence, with only a few acknowledgments of the horror. In nearly every class were young men enlisting in the military. Now that promise of college money seemed to fade next to the prospect of going to war in a country you couldn’t find on a map, against an enemy you couldn’t name or find. The yearning to know “who did it?” was tangible among my students, but I couldn’t tell them any more than the name of man about who none of us really knew anything, and who surely could not be the sole perpetrator of these acts. Americans need an enemy on which to focus their anger, but these events did not provide Japanese or Germans or Iraqis, only shadowy figures with names we could not pronounce and motives we could not understand. Why do those who hate us not stand and say so? Such is the nature of this evil, that it has no pride, only appetite.

At home that afternoon, I became angry. Such a scenario for disaster had been making the rounds for years in scripts and novels, and now it burst out of the pages of pulp fiction into the real world. The cumulative stupidity of it all sickens me. Our ridiculous courting of Arafat. The false promises of retribution. The flippant attitude towards airport and airplane security. The Kafkaesque reinvention of the military into “peacekeepers.” The desertion of American spine exemplified in the abandonment of Desert Storm and the ridiculous posturing of Clinton’s limp foreign policy. (Please, please, PLEASE don’t let the media follow him on his certain “grief tour.” The thought of this amoral oaf hugging the families of victims and spouting inane platitudes to a grateful press when his dereliction of leadership weakened us to this point is simply more than I can bear.)

Driving home I stopped at our community market. There were almost thirty cars lined up in a gas panic. Ignorant Americans, living on rumors, believing the refineries would be shut down and they might not make it to the lake or to the doctor or to church. I found myself amused, then saddened. We must not panic. We must not live on rumors, or we will not be strong. It is patience and perseverance, not ignorance and panic, that will serve us in the days ahead.

That evening, the President seemed angry, yet it was anger tempered with the decency, sensitivity and emotion that anyone can see in President Bush. He is the kind of man we need at the helm right now. If our young men and women must go fight, this is the man who I want to say the word. I think everyone respected him more after his tuesday night speech, because he was clear. If you harbor this, finance this or cooperate in this, you will pay. I believe I was not alone in tending to believe this was not posturing, but prediction. I do not want the calculating ambition of Al Gore or the legacy-chasing of Bill Clinton. I want Barbara and George’s oldest boy, who knows how to cry, who believes in Jesus, who became a sober man for the sake of others and who embraces the virtue of humility. I trust his anger because it is not distorted by arrogance, but seasoned with humanity.

Later, as I lay in bed, listening to the radio reports late into the night, I wondered if, when my son is 18, this will still be going on? Will he fear the draft as I did at eighteen? Will I hear the names of our students called out in mourning, gone to war and never returning? Would I pay $5 a gallon for gas? And would I care? How were my nephew John and his new wife Alicia, living and working in Manhattan? Were there really people alive under all that rubble? So many police and firemen and rescue workers dead. What did it feel like to die? What would I say if I had a thirty-second phone call before dying? Was it all a dream? Would sleep bring any relief? Or would it bring nightmares of worse things to come? Eventually, sleep triumphed and my questions surrendered.

Our high school principal teaches our students to say “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” We say it so much, it has sometimes become unconscious and empty of its fundamental meaning. Each day is a gift of a God, a day that need not exist, but does exist because God wills it so. And each day contains its share of our own responses. To do good, to do evil, to do nothing. Or to praise God for the gift of a day and the life to enjoy it. For five thousand, it was their last day. They flew in perfectly blue skies, on the most beautiful day of an approaching fall, and they died. Leaving me to live this day and others as I choose. As we choose together.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice. And be glad in it.

Comments

  1. Wow, this is probably the worst thing I’ve ever read from Michael Spencer. Agood reminder that even the most respectablee and wise among us can turn ugly when we’re afraid.

    I was 18 when the towers came down, and just a few weeks into my first year at an out of state university. I remember feeling vaguely unsafe in a way I had never experienced before. I was wondering how I was going to be able to live my life with this new sense of vulnerability when it hit me that thousands of non-Americans deal with this sense of vulnerability every day, then I felt a little silly for being so spoiled.

    9/11 was a tragedy, but the bigger tragedy was what the U.S. did in response to 9/11. American lives are not the only lives with value.

    • I’m afraid I don’t understand. You seem to be saying that we should not have freed the Afghans and Iraqis from the same kind of monsters that flew planes into the WTC and Pentagon, who blow up buses of Iraqi civilians, and stone women to death.

      And that somehow by sacrificing our soldiers for them, we consider Americans better than others?

    • Michael seems to contradicting Jesus’ own admonition to Peter that those who live by the sword die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). It is clear which political leaders have chosen to approach the world with the sword and those with the olive branch and Michael seems to be supporting the sword. Of course, at the time patriotism was dangerously acceptable, so it is forgivable.

      • Jesus talked to individuals, not nations. A person who repays violence with violence will fall the same way. A nation that does not wield the sword will have its people slaughtered. We are not called to be pacifists, we are called to defend the weak and the powerless. Or are we to simply watch as innocents are killed by evil men?

        • Maybe I’m overly idealistic, but I want to think defense of the weak requires dying for them, not killing for them

          • I wish the world worked like that, but it doesn’t. Our world is too broken by sin. Dying to save a civilian from a terrorist doesn’t mean much if the terrorist just steps over your corpse to kill the innocent. The kind of pacifism that refuses to confront and stop evil simply results in more people dying.

    • Marie, and others,

      Let’s remember that Michael wrote this in September 2001. George W. Bush, whatever we now think of his performance, was a brand-new president then, and this was his very first challenge in office.

      Whatever we think in 2010 has been colored by eight years of Bush-Cheney, for better or for worse; by two wars; and by the establishment of the USA Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. None of this knowledge was available then.

      For some reason Michael took cheap shots at the former president Clinton and at the defeated candidate Gore, even though the attacks had nothing to do with them. Bad idea. But we were all in shock that week and for a long time afterward. Michael was expressing hope that Bush, as a believing Christian, would be the right man in the trying times to come. Whether Bush passed or failed that test is still being argued, but none of this could be known at the time.

      • Jonathanblake says

        I agree. The feelings and opinions I have towards Bush were nonexistent at the time because our opinions changed over the eventful course of 8 years. With all the exuberant patriotism that flowed from this tragedy I probably might have written the same post at that time in life and spiritual growth.

    • Marie,
      What exactly n this essay do you find ugly ?

      • “Even MTV suddenly began broadcasting Dan Rather. (Liberal patriotism. So little. So late, but appropriate.)”

        1) This is the first of many cheap shots against liberals. After spending years in the church as a liberal, it just always puts a bad taste in my mouth when I hear it again. His low blows against Clinton and Gore were also uncalled for.

        2) I also find the focus on patriotism offputting. I think patriotism and following Jesus often conflict. I understand that many disagree with me, but I felt like the overall message that Christians must be patriotic or they are a disgrace was oozing out of Michael’s post.

        “Such insanity can not be looked at for long without the righteous desire to wipe it cleanly and finally from the blackboard of history.”

        1) While you could read this as Michael saying that he wants evil wiped from the blackboard of history, it’s hard to deny that he was also speaking of human beings. I’m not sure how much I’d consider this a “righteous” desire.

        “Why do those who hate us not stand and say so? Such is the nature of this evil, that it has no pride, only appetite”

        1) This just shows a complete lack of understanding about terrorism and the actions of America that brought about this hatred. I understand that this was written in ’01 before most Americans understood terrorism or had even thought about what U.S. troop presence in the Middle East and our hand in the mass killings of Iraqi civilians (look into what our sanctions did there. We didn’t have to think about it, but we essentially starved them to death and prevented medicine from being delivered. Many in the Middle East called it genocide and that’s not much of a stretch)

        “Our ridiculous courting of Arafat.”

        1) This reeks of the whole Christians support Israel no matter what. I’ll try to stop myself before I say more, because I can get pretty worked up about this attitude, but I think if more people actually understood the Israeli-Palistinian conflict they would see this as ugly too.

        “The Kafkaesque reinvention of the military into “peacekeepers.”

        1) See Stuart’s comments below

        “The desertion of American spine exemplified in the abandonment of Desert Storm and the ridiculous posturing of Clinton’s limp foreign policy. ”

        1) This is a missunderstanding of what makes effective war policy. While U.S. atrocities were dispicable during Desert Storm, I assume that is not what Michael was taking issue with. It sounds like he was complaining that we didn’t take Baghdad and kill Hussein. I think now that we’re almost 8 years into the current war in Iraq, we might be able to understand more why that was actually good policy. Further study could have showed him that, but he chose the knee-jerk war-happy reaction instead.

        2) The “desertion of American spine” comment makes my skin crawl. A sense of righteousness in your anger mixed with an insistance on strong military and “spine” makes for very bad religion. I think often we don’t even recognize this as a problem in America. It’s one of the worst marks on American Christianity that we don’t.

        Finally, the complete disregard for any life other than American makes me sad. He lamented the loss of innocent lives from the 9/11 attacks and the projected loss of U.S. military lives, but never once did he lament the projected loss of non-American lives. This is still a problem among many U.S. Christians and it depresses me.

        I get that Michael was angry, and scared, and that he was writing from a September 2001 mindset and understanding. I still respect him very much (and know there’s a good chance he eventually regretted writing this), but it just makes me sad that this is the first reaction from someone who knows Jesus (and it was always clear to me that Michael did know Jesus, very well).

        There were many Christians who did not react in anger wanting blood for what happened. And many who mourned for the non-Americans who would suffer in the coming months and years. I guess I just hoped Michael would be one of them. But we all have our weaknesses and I do think it is good to look back and remember how easy it is to think this way.

        • Marie,

          In order to not repost your entire comment I will just quote the start and end of the section that is being referred to with some …tossed in the middle. It is not my intention to misrepresent what you said by doing so. If it is unclear, please let me know.

          “Even MTV… His low blows against Clinton and Gore were also uncalled for.”

          This is a disagreement about politics between you and what Michael Spencer expressed in this essay. When people don’t agree with your politics, is it “ugly”?

          “I also find the focus on patriotism…. oozing out of Michael’s post.”

          I didn’t see any claim that Christians should be patriotic in this essay. What I saw was one man’s expression of his feelings. You are jumping to a conclusion.

          “‘Such insanity can not be looked at for long without the righteous desire to wipe it cleanly and finally from the blackboard of history.”…I’m not sure how much I’d consider this a “righteous” desire.”

          Again, you are jumping to a conclusion that ignores the actual text. “It” that he expressed his desire to wipe from the blackboard of history is the “insanity” he described in the previous sentences. He is clearly referring to a belief system (no, I don’t mean Islam, I mean the belief that killing children accomplishes a greater good), not human beings. To infer that he is referring to wiping out human beings is to jump to a conclusion, and a rather judgemental one at that..

          ““Why do those who hate us not stand and say so? …Many in the Middle East called it genocide and that’s not much of a stretch)”

          The 9th paragraph in the essay addresses the role of political policy in terrorism. Also, I don’t see where Michael was advocating sanctions, or actually any other action, in this essay. Perhaps you are conflating what he has said here with something else?

          “Our ridiculous courting of Arafat.” …. See Stuart’s comments below”

          This is also political disagreement.

          “The desertion of American spine exemplified….. Further study could have showed him that, but he chose the knee-jerk war-happy reaction instead.”

          First, this is a disagreement in political opinion. Secondly, where in this essay did he advocate for a war?

          “The “desertion of American spine” comment makes my skin crawl…. It’s one of the worst marks on American Christianity that we don’t”

          Where is the insistence on a strong military in this essay? You are making another assumption.

          “Finally, the complete disregard for any life other than American… and it depresses me.”

          Okay, he did not mention any projected loss of life that might occur in whatever may follow. But, complete disregard for any life other than American? That is not exactly true. What about “Several of our students lived through the Liberian civil war and one of our students came from Bosnia, where he defended his family while yet a boy himself.”? How about the fact that there were many people killed on 9/11 who were not Americans?

          “I get that Michael was angry…. I do think it is good to look back and remember how easy it is to think this way.”

          Where did Michael advocate “wanting blood” in this essay? You seem to be reading a lot of meanings into the text of this essay that are not clearly present and then using those conclusions to express your sadness that he did not react in a manner that you think he should have. This strikes me as odd, especially considering what you had to say about linking certain political ideas with Christianity making your “skin crawl”.

          For what it is worth I agree that patriotism should not be tied to Christianity. But, I also think that other political ideologies should not be tied to Christianity either.

  2. It’s too easy to overlook the humanity and be blinded by the politics or anger. 

    I was a middle schooler in 2001, bullied daily and learning how to love those who bullied me. When the towers fell, I remember being confused; why is it wrong to hate someone who bullies me, but right to hate and even kill those who kill my people? Why must I turn my other cheek to people I know, but I can hate those I don’t?

    But now, I think they were just as confused as I was. My father had to wrestle with pacifist convictions, for the first time in his life having a enemy he could neither understand or reason with. My mother had to deal with friends and pastors giving her the a-ok to feelings she would otherwise have rationalized away.

    All I’m saying is, I recoiled just as strongly as you, then as now, to the anger and calls for war and retribution. But imonk gave us a starkly honest way for many to remember just how they felt that day, and I am glad for that

  3. Reading this post made me wince, just for the political ill will. It convicts me that I should befriend those I disagree with. In good times and in times of trouble.

  4. You can only survive as a pacifist if others are willing to die for you.

    • Why is survival so important that you feel justified in killing for it?

      • so go ahead and die, what have you proved? We survive to carry the message of Jesus sacrifice for us. That is important. You live in a fantasy world, I live in the real world where actions have consequences and terrorists kill people without a qualm. You are dead and the evil goes on.

      • Ask that to the descendants of the slaves freed by the Civil War.
        Ask that to the South Koreans who are free instead of living in a gulag because of the Korean War.
        Ask that to the Europeans who were only able to be rid of Nazism because of World War II.
        Ask that to the millions killed by Communism that could have been saved had others acted.

        Survival is important because people are important. Important enough to even kill for, if the need arises.

  5. Turning the other cheek when facing horrific acts of terrorism is quite possibly the truest test of a Christian? We would be kidding ourselves if we think that terrorism will only get better or go away. So now I ask you, WWJD? Let this be your guide.

    Would Jesus turn the other cheek, or have nasty thoughts of seeking revenge? WWJD?

    • WWJD may be a cliche that most Christians are used to hearing, but applying it by turning the other cheek is not.

  6. Unfortunately, I never knew of this site nor Michael while he was alive.

    “I had a brooding sense that this tragedy marked the beginning of a certain inevitable sea change: cultural, political, financial, social, spiritual.”

    I find this statement to be nearly prophetic. The reason I use the word “nearly” is that I think the changes Michael was referring to had begun years earlier.

    911 just made those changes more obvious.

    The “inevitable” will happen.

    “…in the last days difficult times will come.” “Men will be…”

    Maybe you are familiar with the description of man Paul gives in 2 Timothy 3. It is a good description of those who flew planes into buildings in 2001.

    Michael used a verse in this post that is very personal to me.

    My mother begins each day with the “This is the day that the Lord has made” verse.

    When I was young, I would roll my eyeballs at times when she said it.

    I now understand what a blessing it is to have a mom that does this.

  7. I loved reading this for reminding me of how I felt at the time. We were hot! And I think this was understandably human. Two painful wars and nine years have given us some perspective (I hope). I would give the Imonk a pass on this one.
    DSY

  8. “The Kafkaesque reinvention of the military into ‘peacekeepers’.” Hmmm….

    I would grade Michael a D- on this one but graciously attribute his observations, as a one-off, written in the heat of a very trying moment.

    I was a peacekeeper in Bosnia on that day. Bill Clinton sent me there. I cannot tell you the heartfelt outpouring of sympathy extended to me by the Muslims that I lived among. It was truly touching and a door opener to discussing the relevance of a faith that matters and sustains without the usual facades and mutual trading of religious stereotypes. I lived with Muslims, I prayed with Muslims, I loved them. One may say European Bosnians do not follow true Islam. By which they imply something sinister. But I’ve seen the same tolerance while in a handful of other predominantly Muslim countries as well.

    Several things strike me here as appropriate reactions, although I could have many to this piece. First, I have the utmost respect for the Canadian Armed Forces, whom I’ve served alongside. These soldiers are indeed peacemakers and are not somehow ashamed to be identified such. They have learned to adapt their fighting skills to actually work for good around the world. They were willing to stand in the way of fire to do so. Blessed be these peacemakers……

    Finally, some questions put generally and somewhat rhetorically. I’ve been reading Eusebius lately and am struck with the overwhelming joy so many thousands of 1st Century Christian martyrs went to their deaths with. We all know the party line about how important it is to build a Chinese Wall around our American Christianity to protect us from that horrid Islamic threat, blah, blah. Does God need that help, thank you very much? How many of the shouters and the cowerers have actually reached out Jesus’ hands to Muslims, even in our own communities let alone the world at large? How many of us willing to stand in the way of fire to do so? What if it meant hardship, rejection, or even pain. “They” had their 911 martyrs. Do we?

    • Great perspective. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

      Your last paragraph is a challenge to every Christian.

      We need that challenge.

      Again thanks.

    • Cedric Klein says

      First, thank you for your service in Bosnia & wherever else you’ve been stationed. You are more qualified than I am to speak. Tho I gotta say…

      Do we have our 9/11 martyrs?

      Ten medical missionaries were murdered by the Taliban in the past month because they were SUSPECTED of Evangelizing.

      Also, perhaps the people on the hijacked aircraft & at the WTC & the Pentagon count?

      Christians are being martyred everyday in the Islamic world. Love our enemies, pray for our enemies, bless our enemies, try to reach out to our enemies with the Love and Truth of the Gospel- yes. But do not be under any illusion that our those who seek to do us harm are still our enemies.

      I’m going to say something heretical about the willing, joyous martyrs of the early Church & today & the 2000 years of history in between…. some may have been Divinely called to stay & stand & die for the Faith, some may have been captured by surprise, but Christ did give general permission to flee for your lives in times of persecution. It could well be that many of history’s martyrs could well have fled & been entirely in God’s will but stayed to be martyred in a totally misguided idea that commitment to Christ is a suicide pact.

      • A great reminder. Things are pretty cozy for Christians in the U.S.A.

        Your last paragraph reminds me of one of my heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

        He was out of Germany and safe; and chose to go back.

        I could never question what he did. Yes, he could have had a great ministry during and after the war. I believe he did what he knew he had to do.

        I think you made a great point about today’s martyrs, but your last sentence is strange.

        Suicide pact? I don’t think any Christians view it that way.

        • He was also involved in a plot to murder Hitler. Should he have turned the other cheek instead?

        • Cedric Klein says

          I know plenty of politically liberal Christians who view the Sermon on the Mount as some sort of command for us to enable any parasite or predator to loot, rape, torture & kill us. Heck, I know plenty of conservative Christians who kinda view it that way but rationalize around it.

          Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a hero of yours & you didn’t know he was involved in the Hitler assassination (not murder) plot?

          A reference to such-
          http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4906502.stm

          • Dear Cedric,

            The reason I’ve considered Bonhoeffer a hero is because of his work inside of the prison and concentration camps.

            That’s the only part of his life I had heard of and, to me, it defines the man.

            Your question has a condescending tone but I thank you for the information.

            Now that I know about Mr. Bonhoeffer’s internal struggle with such a plot, he stays in my hero category.

            The article you referred me to stated:

            “In Ethics, he wrestles with the essential problem: how can a Christian, essentially a pacifist, justify murder?”

            It’s obvious Mr. Bonhoeffer saw the evils that lay ahead and had a hand in trying to stop it.

            I can’t say that I would do differently.

            Do you know what you would do?

          • Cedric Klein says

            I didn’t mean to be condescending but it just seems like such a significant bit of info which should be known by anyone who knows who Bonhoeffer was.

            His participation in the Hitler assassination plot just adds to his hero status for me.

            If I were in his position, I only hope that I could do the same as he did. I consider myself a peaceful person, but philosophically an almost anti-pacifist. However I’ve never been in the physical condition to even consider the military. So I’m pretty inconsistent there.

  9. All criticizing aside, the keepers from this are Michael’s last two paragraphs. One of which is only 2 sentences long.

  10. Christopher Lake says

    As many others here, on September 11, 2001, I wasn’t yet aware of Michael and his writings. I wasn’t even living any kind of a Christian life at that point in time. If I had read this essay then though, I would have agreed with Michael wholeheartedly. Now? I can only say that things are so much more, and less, clear to me.

    I do believe that George W. Bush, Jr. is a Christian. However, especially after seeing the devastating, yet fearlessly bi-partisan (check the interviews throughout), documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” I fear that, as other Christians have done at times throughout history, Bush allowed power to “persuade” him into giving the green light to reprehensible actions. (I feel worse about Cheney than I do about Bush.)

    I voted for Bush, Jr. twice. I’m not sure what I would do now, if I had those choices to make again. With what I know now, I might not vote at all.

    I still grieve for the innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001. In a way, I have tried not to think about it too much today. It still hurts. At the time of the attacks, I was living in Silver Spring, Maryland, approximately thirty minutes outside of Washington, D.C. When I saw the news that morning, I called my girlfriend at the time. She lived in Australia, where it was still the middle of the night. We cried and talked together. Now, she lives in England, and from the little that I know, we are far apart, in many more ways than geographically. (The year after we broke up, I returned to following Christ. She had never been a Christian) Today though, just on a human level, I miss her and wonder how she is doing.

    I know that so many others are missing people today too, for much more traumatic reasons. I miss those people too, though I never knew them. May God comfort us all.

  11. All of you want toi dump on Pres. Bush, could you have done better? I find this kind of comments unChristian and condescending. Political correctness at it’s coldest. I will pray for all of you

    • Christopher Lake says

      Vern,

      Out of curiosity, exactly why is thinking carefully and critically about the actions that President Bush authorized, as part of the Iraq War, unChristian? I voted for him twice, and even I’m not sure that I made the right decision anymore (especially the second time).

      Just speaking for myself, I’m not “politically correct” at all. I don’t know many people with disabilities who make jokes about their condition that cause able-bodied people to cringe in discomfort and uneasiness. 🙂

    • ‘. . .could “you” have done better?’

      That question could easily be turned back on you in regards to anyone you’ve ever criticized, so perhaps when you’re engaging in criticism of anyone else, you should first ask yourself that question.

      Or is only people who criticize President Bush and his performance as president who can be asked that question?

  12. True theology is lived-out in the heat of the moment when flashes of heaven and hell shock us from our complacency and NOT looking through the clear lense of hindsight. As you hotly argue the pros and cons of Just War theology and the like remember to offer the grace of Christ to the author courageous enough to put “pen to paper” during the emotional maelstrom of this horrific tragedy.

    • Christopher Lake says

      Jonathan J.,

      I’m happy to offer the grace of Christ to Michael, even though he is already on the other side of this life, and either in purgatory, on his way to see Christ (I’m Catholic) or with Christ in Heaven. As I wrote above, at the time that Michael wrote this piece, if I had been reading IM, I would have agreed with him. It is only in hindsight that I question his (and my) perspective of that time. Maybe we were both wrong, maybe not.

  13. I remember thinking, even at the time, that we (that is, the church) had a great opportunity to share the love of Christ in a time of crisis. Instead we jumped on the same “God and country” bandwagon of patriotism that everyone else did.

    Yes, church attendance was up for what, all of about 6 weeks? But because we didn’t offer anything any different that tapered off quickly, and within 10-12 weeks church attendance was back to normal, almost as if nothing had ever happened.

    As for Michael? I’ve been hanging out here maybe 3 years, but I seem to recall someone saying that Michael’s views had changed over time, and that quoting his early stuff could be problematic. I suspect that if he was still around he might sing a somewhat different song today than he did 9 years ago. But then again, hindsight, by definition, is 20/20, and even if 9/11 had happened later in Michael’s journey his initial reaction might well have been the same.

  14. I became a follower and admirer of the IMonk sometime during the middle of this decade. When I read this post and came across the section where he went into an ad hominem political diatribe, I was shocked. Could this possibly be the same Michael Spencer whose blog I started following a few years later?

    I get it that Michael was angry – we all were. The thing that I remember, though, is that Americans were not angry with each other, but at the perpetrators of this act. During the weeks that followed, I do not remember a single friend or acquaintance, either Republican or Democrat, using 9/11 as an opportunity to go off on the other side. Even the talking heads on TV who are paid a lot of money to say bad things about the other side shut their mouths for awhile. So, I was surprised that Michael’s response to 9/11 was to go into a political screed instead of making his usual thoughtful observations.

    As someone else noted, though, perhaps its best not to use hindsight to judge Michael’s thoughts at the time. Since Michael was a fan of Luther, I’ll bring his theology that we are simultaneously saints and sinners into the discussion. In the aftermath of such an emotionally charged event as 9/11, perhaps both sides of ourselves are magnified – our saintliness seems more saintly, and our sinfulness seems more sinful.

    • Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell reacted similarly, blaming America’s tolerance for gays for having aroused God’s wrath.

  15. I didn’t start to read Michael’s posts or hear his podcasts until several years after this was written. I’m not saying this post is so bad, but the Michael Spencer I came to know (through his writings & podcasts: It’s a testimony to how good these were that those of us who had no other connection with Michael still feel we knew him — in many cases, better than folks we see every day) would not have written this post like this. (I’m thinking of the political aspects.) Those who knew him longer & personally trump anything I might say, of course, but I don’t think this is just a matter of his getting worked up in the immediate wake of the events of 9/11 — b/c Michael as I came to know him wouldn’t write this in this way even when worked up. I suspect it’s more a matter of some subtle but somewhat important personal development on Michael’s part. “Subtle” b/c I’m not thinking his politics really changed [I have no reason for thinking that], but because he came to have a more developed sensibility about when & how to bring such things up.

  16. This is great stuff. Remembering our reactions to 9/11. It seemed so much clearer then, but now…. I agree with both sides of the comment thread. WWJD in the Gospel vs how we live out the Gospel in the modern world. Of course we got it wrong, but then what exactly was the right way?

    However, I think the questions to ask now are: How will we react to the next attack and what will we do to try to prevent it? Taliban commanders in Pakistan have stated (to Al Jazeera) their intent to use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to attack the West. So maybe we should start thinking about WWJD right now, when some kind of nuclear weapon goes off in D.C. or NYC, rather than 9 years ago.

    This is not fear mongering; this is WWJD in the present tense. This is not about a political party or some politician, this is about how we think we, the body of Christ, ought to be dealing with this threat.