Monthly Archives: September 2011

Discover Buried Treasure In Your Own Backyard!

By Michael J. Klassen

On February 17, 1941, the SS Gairsoppa was torpedoed about 300 miles off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine. The 1919 British cargo ship was carrying tea, pig iron, and 219 tons of silver ingots. Why a steamship would be transporting so much silver in time of war is unknown.

But four days ago, Odyssey Marine Exploration announced the discovery of the SS Gairsoppa under more than 14,000 feet of water. If you followed the remedial math track in school, that amounts to over two-and-a-half miles of water.

Recovery operations will begin next summer, with Odyssey Marine keeping 80% of the spoils and the British government keeping 20%. The silver alone is worth $210 million. That means Odyssey Marine walks away with a cool $168 million in silver. Talk about a great stimulus package!

Few professions carry as much fascination among the general public as searching for buried treasure. The epic motion picture Titanic began its story with the discovery of the legendary vessel off the coast of Newfoundland.

Growing up, I relished searching for buried treasure whenever our family made excursions into the mountains or to the beach.

What we consider our treasure reveals a great deal about our hearts. Jesus said,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NIV)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Ouch!

If you want to take a quick inventory of your heart, just look for where you keep your treasure. Which begs the question, How do I spend my time and my money? As a recovering workaholic, this hits a little close to home.

Lawrence of Rome (c. 225 – 258) was an early martyr of the Christian church. Legend tells us that the Roman Emperor Valerian believed that the Christian church was fabulously wealthy. Seeking to confiscate their assets, he commanded the respected deacon to return to him in three days with the treasures of the Church.

When the Roman Emperor demanded to see the treasure, Lawrence led him to a courtyard where there was assembled a great crowd of poor, blind and crippled people. Lawrence gestured toward the crowd and announced, “Behold, the treasure of the church.”

For this act, Lawrence was burned to death.

What if the real treasure we have in heaven is not money or our “good deeds” but each other? What if the greatest investment we can make resides in people—not just the people who make us feel good about ourselves, but everyone?

While searching for buried treasure in the sea appeals to our more romantic and adventurous interests, it’s a waste of time and energy compared to the investment we can make in people and relationships.

Not everyone can afford to spend their lives searching for buried treasure, but everyone can invest their time and energy in building relationships.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He enjoys spending his spare time with his beautiful wife Kelley and his equally beautiful daughters Anna, Allie, and Marina.

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Life is Funny

By Eugene C. Scott

My 2001 Pathfinder on a good day

As of today, my 11 year-old Nissan Pathfinder with only 267,000 miles on it won’t go into reverse. It could be worse. It might have been the other way around and I would have had to drive around backwards all day.Some people say reverse is a totally optional gear. That’s only true if you have someone nice enough and strong enough to push your car backwards.

That’s why I went to pick up my six-foot-something, couple hundred pound, ex-football player, friend and fellow blogger, Michael Gallup, from work at Chick-fil-A . He’s good at pushing.

But I told him we were going to a hospital in downtown Denver to visit a family in our church who had just experienced the miracle of the birth of their third child. A miracle it was. Not the birth, but that the wife let the husband live after her labor and delivery.

At The Chick, I parked head in–forgetting about my faulty transmission–and went inside. Michael looked professional wearing his name tag and neat blue fil-A shirt and bow-tie as he put his shoulder into the grill of my truck and pushed it out of the parking space as all his customers watched. I learned something just then. Chick-fil-A really is a full service fast food place.

On the way downtown, we lost ourselves in a conversation about systematic theology and the nature of God. Yes, real people do talk about such things, if you consider a pastor and a seminary student real people.

The conversation was so engaging we got a little distracted. I stopped at a light too far out, just a smidgen into the pedestrian cross walk. A woman had to walk around the nose of my car. I shrugged at her trying to say, “Sorry, I would back up but my reverse is broken.” I think she understood. At least she waved. But only with one finger.

After that, we got a little lost again and not just in conversation. So I pulled over to check my Google Map–making sure I would not have to back up to pull out. As I was working with my iPhone, a woman parked in front of me–ON A COMPLETELY EMPTY STREET WITH TONS OF OTHER PARKING SPACES–and got out of her car and walked away. I don’t think I hit her bumper pulling out.

Finally we arrived at the hospital. By now I had learned my lesson. Don’t trust Google Maps.

We drove around a bit looking for the perfect spot. This was handy because it also allowed us to finish our conversation about systematic theology, the true nature of preaching, and if there is life on other planets (just kidding about that last one).

Just then a space opened where no one could park in front of me. I whipped to the curb not thinking I would still have to back up to get into the spot. Without a word Michael jumped out and shouldered my truck back into the spot.

By then he had taken off his name tag and bow-tie. That was a shame because now all the people watching from the sidewalk didn’t know he was affiliated with Chick-fi-A.

I don’t want to diminish the reality that sometimes life is filled with tragedy. These are tough times-world over. Les Avery, a pastor I worked with years ago, would often say, “Scratch beneath the surface of any life and you will find pain unimaginable.” He was right.

But sometimes life is just funny. Reverse breaks. You discover your fly unzipped. You fart in a somber public place.

C. S. Lewis, of all people, noticed that only humans laughed and made jokes about passing gas. He believed this to be unlikely evidence humans were made in the image of God. (Try that one in your next apologetic debate with an atheist.) Not that God passes gas too. But our ability to laugh at ourselves–and especially in the face of tragedy–shows we are more than mere animals. We have some sense of objectivity–an ability to see ourselves as we really are–and laugh, or cry.

Life is not only tragedy. It is also a comedy. And laughter, fun, a good joke are gifts from God. Sometimes it just depends on your perspective.

By the way, the baby is healthy and beautiful. But its father was sitting a safe distance from its mother.

Eugene C. Scott loves to laugh and has driven around backwards and is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Beautiful People and Empty Churches

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By Brendan Scott

The Catholic Church in Antigua was built at the height of colonial power.  From the outside it looks grand.  It was first constructed in the 1500’s and then rebuilt in the mid 1600’s.  However it was completely destroyed when a volcano erupted just outside of Antigua in the 1700’s. If you visit the beautifully rebuilt city, you will see the front edifice of a grand old cathedral.  It’s the focal point of Antigua’s central park; its steeples still scraping the sky. For a few cents you can tour the insides of the old church.  As I walked into the ruins, the first thought that popped into my head was, I hope the people of the church, God’s church, aren’t in shambles on the inside like this old cathedral.

God calls the people who believe in him his church and as a community of believes we are the body of Christ.  A body doesn’t function well if it’s insides are all messed up.  I know this from experience.  Over the three years in Guatemala I was sick numerous times, and it sure is difficult to work when you have a fungus growing on the inside of your body.

The wrecked inside of the church was a beautiful sight.  The roof had collapsed ages ago and all the old pillars lay in piles.  It was like walking through a building that had been bombed.  While the ruins were a beautiful sight, I hope that no one ever walks into a functioning church and thinks, “wow this looks like a fall out zone.”

While these pictures show the Cathedral’s beauty, I’m sure this wasn’t how the building’s architect envisioned it looking 400 years after it was built.  And as beautiful as the people of the church may look at times I’m sure God envisions more for us each day.

Brendan lived in Guatemala for three years.  He now is living in Denver looking for education/writing jobs and is enjoying being involved in the Neighborhood Church, which is a church full of life and not empty.

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The Secret To God’s Name

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote. That probably sums up what most of us can quote from the great playwright. Still, it’s a great question.

What’s in your name?

Growing up we owned a beautiful Dalmatian dog whom my dad affectionately named “Rahab.” It was an unusual name that hearkens back to a story in the book of Joshua about a woman who was most likely a prostitute. Despite her shady past, she conspired with the Israelites to conquer her home city of Jericho in Canaan, giving them their initial foothold in the Promised Land. The meaning of Rahab’s name probably wouldn’t be very popular among most women today, seeing that it means “wide.”

Insert joke here.

(awkward silence)

Actually, I know better than that…

Nevertheless, every person’s name has a meaning hiding behind it. For example, my name “Michael” means “one who is like God.” My wife Kelley’s name means “bright-headed” and “warrior”, which is entirely appropriate because she’s bright and she definitely a warrior.

In the English language, every person’s name is classified as a noun. If you’re a little rusty on your grammar, a noun is a person, place, or thing.

But God doesn’t fit so neatly into this category.

When God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, Moses asked a sensible question.

“When I tell the people of Israel that the God of our fathers has sent me, and they ask me ‘What is his name?’ What should I say?”

It’s a fair question. And you know what God said?

“I am who I am.”

I can imagine the consternation on Moses’ face. “Ummm, God, I really was listening…but could you repeat yourself?”

“I am who I am.”

Huh?

Moses was probably expecting a noun, like Levi or Elimelech, but instead, God answered with a verb. “I am” is the translation of Yahweh or Jehovah.

I can imagine that when Moses returned to Egypt, his conversation with his fellow Israelites went something like this:

“Who did you say sent you?”

“I am.”

“I am who?”

“I am.”

“You?”

“No…him. ‘I am’ him.”

Sounds like the old Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on first?”

Over time, the Hebrew name Yahweh became so revered that people in Bible times weren’t allowed to say it. They used the name Adonai instead. Even when reading the torah out loud and Yahweh’s name appeared in the text, they said Adonai in its place.

But think about it: God’s name—“I am”—is a verb, not a boring noun. And what verb describes him? The “to be” verb: I am. You are. He is. She is. They are. It’s the most common, most flexible verb in every language. Any other verb would limit his power and capabilities. He isn’t defined by what he does, he’s defined by who he is.

The verb is where the action is. From a grammatical perspective, the “to be” verb is considered present and active.

He’s present in even the ordinary details of our lives. Our ever-present help in times of trouble.

He’s an active God, and not passive. Always working. Always moving. Always doing something, even when we can’t see him. He doesn’t react to our poor choices because he knows what we’re going to do ahead of time–and he’s already prepared for it.

He isn’t the God of the past, he’s the God of the now. The same, yesterday, today, and forever. The “I am” for anything and everything you need.

God is.

And he’s the great “I am” for you.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. In his spare time he works as a freelance writer.

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Noxious Weeds: The Real Contagion

By Eugene C. Scott

The silence settled on me like an old friendship. I let go of pieces of my worry, fear, self-doubt, and tiredness with every breath. Though I had never hunted this section of the mountain before, I was home. Not just a place I called home or felt at home, but the place God birthed me, the dirt God held in his fist and blew my life into.

“Ahhh!”

Shredded mist, gray and translucent, drifted up from the dark timber, looking like the prayers and groans of creation Saint Paul spoke of in his letter to the church in ancient Rome. I offered a prayer and groan of my own.

“Thanks, God, for this piece of almost-Eden. Oh, that I could reflect your beauty like this.”

The morning felt as if this was how God intended the world to be, how the world might have looked the day before the gate to the Garden was flung open from the inside and those two naive but no longer innocent humans stumbled out. This felt like the world in which I could be who I was originally invented to be.

As the morning slid by, however, I noticed dark stalks sticking up above the native grasses and fading wildflowers. I didn’t notice them at first because they had a dark, contrasting beauty of their own. My eyes had painted the scene with an unreal perfection. These stalks, however, represented noxious weeds. Its Latin name “carduus tenuifloris” sounds lovely but actually is an ugly, natty, thorny, invasive thistle. Weeds.

Thistles

Except thistles and other noxious weeds are not just garden variety weeds. In America, sate and federal governments use the term “noxious weed” to describe a non-native plant that will–if left unchecked–destroy native plants and wildlife. Somehow these plants have been transported into an environment not prepared to resist them. Once there, noxious weeds take over and strangle the native plants and the animals that depend on those native plants.

Because of a few small weeds that could double their footprint each year, every flower and native grass, and thus the elk I love, the hawk wheeling in the morning mist, the mouse climbing flower stalks and knocking them over for seeds, was in danger. I was thankful for organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk foundations that spends thousands of dollars and volunteer hours fighting noxious weeds.

Still an old weight and realization settled on me. This one an old unwanted friend. You see, I too am infested with non-native noxious weeds. We–all of us humans–were once pristine, unmarred, golden, perfect. Now, however, we too are being strangled by noxious weeds with beautiful sounding Latin names, “invidialuxuriasuperbiaacedia, gula,avaritia, and ira.”

If invidia (envy) or luxuria (lust) grow unchecked in my life, my beautiful wife, my fantastic children and grandchildren, my ministry, even this moment hunting this pristine meadow will be lost. Meanwhile non-native superbia (pride) will destroy my friendships and acedia (sloth) would swallow my material possessions. Gula (gluttony) will outright but sweetly kill me. Avaritia (greed) will gladly deceive me. And ira (wrath) will rot my soul.

These seven non-native noxious weeds and their thousands of sub-species have taken root in every person God ever breathed his pure, cool breath into. They invade and destroy our God-given beauty and purpose. I’ve seen some of these weeds in your life and you have seen them in mine.

It is tragic. I look closely into the faces of my two tender, gorgeous, funny, intelligent, delightful grandchildren, their eyes sparkling, hair awry, and see the dark stalks pushing up from the seeds of my unchecked noxious weeds.

But there is hope.

A woman, like you and me, over-taken by noxious weeds: prostitution, lust, self-debasement, fear, and only God knows what else, knelt and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and long hair.

“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus told her. Your weeds are on the endangered species list.

When Jesus died on the cross, his pure, sacrificial blood drenched her noxious weeds and began to drown them out. Just then Jesus began to restore her to her natural, pristine state. This is true for you and me too.

But killing these weeds is not about being religious, powerful, smart, right, or watching how-to TV shows, mumbling miracle mantras or whatever else we use to try to control our imperfections and sins.

Jesus’ sacrificial gift to us is about restoring creation, this nearly perfect mountain meadow surrounded by aspens turning gold, and us not-so-perfect humans as well, to its original state. No matter the state of our weedy gardens, we can be forgiven and restored. It is a gift of love.

Saint Paul again,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Eugene C. Scott is proud to be a member of one of the finest conservation organizations around, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a writer who has written for Bugle Magazine. When he is not hunting, he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church

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All of Your Chains

by Michael Gallup

As Cliff and I turned East into a little box canyon nestled among the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado, we found ourselves transported and perhaps transformed. The glowing groves of aspen trees lined the snow-capped peaks around us with a green bed-skirt and drew us into the town of Telluride, a bastion of beauty seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Our favortite phase soon became, “look!” We were like three year olds going to the zoo for the first time, bewildered by the scenery.

There are a few times when you forget about all the pain and suffering that dominate not only our lives but all of creation itself, when you see or experience something so beautiful that it hides all the ugly. Jesus spoke about such things as the light and that the light shines in the darkenss and the darkness is compeltely overwhelmed by the light. This weekend I saw glimpses of that light and for a few moments the darkenss trembled and ran.

I don’t want to over sentimentalize my experience, but my life like so many others I know has been filled with little but darkness and even the beautiful things around me have been hard to see. I have begun to doubt that the light will actually overcome and yet it often finds me in the strangest places. When my faith is dragging God has a way of showing up at just the right time although He often seems late or out of place. So in a sea of hippies, missing a shoe, listening to something akin to bluegrass music, I found God again and it was beautiful.

This trip to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival was just a chance to get away and have some fun but I found my expectations lacking. Absent were my girls, my wife and daughter, and consequently my sanity. I struggled to survive camping on a baseball field in the town of Telluride. Not only had I lost my shoe, but added to the lost and unfound list was a sock, my hat, my cash, and one lens from a pair of sunglasses. Yet somehow, I barely managed to stay alive. But the real battle had less to do with physical survival but spiritual. I battled inwardly about whether I deserved to celebrate life when so many in the world were deprived of the very basics of life. But the reality is that life will not die, the light will overcome and when it breaks through we must dance.

In a weekend full of highlights and special moments, one stands out clearest. At a side stage in the midst of what amounts to a yard off of main street Telluride we saw one of my favorite acts, Abigail Washburn, perform an impromptu acoustic set five feet from me. As I sat on the grass and soaked up the surreal moment, tears welled up in my eyes as Abigail sang “Chains.” As the wind gushed through the park, the band delivered a cry for freedom, a cry that my heart longed to utter. Devoid of amplification, stripped to their rawest, I saw my soul reflected in the honesty of that moment. Life was passing me by. I was chained to darkness by my fears and for a split second the light of hope burst the chains off me and my soul lept to its feet to dance.

I could hardly wait to return home, both literally and figuratively, to start living life instead of merely watching it pass by. Below is a video of the actual performance detailed here captured by the guy sitting beside me, a stranger, but forever a friend for grasping this spark of light.

I pray for the light to shine, for beauty to grasp us and free us. I pray that we breathe in deeply the aroma of life and give ear to the melody of God. I pray we dance.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. His favorite “bluegrass” band is the Punch Brothers.

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What Our Kids Teach Us About God

by Michael J. Klassen

“The moment your kids discover that they don’t have to do what you say, you’re done raising them.”

Kelley and I were talking to a counselor who was sharing some of his horror stories about raising his son. By the time his son man graduated from high school, this father was on a first-name basis with the police officers in his area. Out of his experience, the counselor shared with us this tidbit of wisdom.

Recently, his words replayed through my mind after a frustrating experience with one of my daughters. Despite our warnings, she still defiantly disobeyed us, knowing that consequences would follow. To be honest, I wanted to throw the book at her. Kelley says as a child, she was grounded for life quite a few times. I was trying to figure out how to ground my daughter for life and follow through with it!

Then the thought occurred to me, How does God respond when we disobey him?

Does he immediately ground us?

Does he strike us with lightening?

Does he take away our car keys for a week?

No.

When I lose my temper, gossip about someone, lust, or think only of myself, how does God respond?

If my heart is soft, I might feel the Holy Spirit beckoning me to confess my sin and be reconciled. But quite often—like my unnamed daughter—I don’t want to be told what to do. So what does God do then?

Nothing.

He lets me disobey. Think about it: God watches our every move. He knows every errant thought. He sees what we’re doing when no one else is around. He even detects our deepest selfish motivations. And he doesn’t stop us! It’s a wonder that humanity still exists because we all defy him. Regularly.

Proverbs 3:12 tells us, “The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” The writer of Hebrews quotes this proverb and further explains “If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all”(Hebrews 12:8).

So how does God discipline us?

If God didn’t love us, he’d either rescue us so he wouldn’t have to mess with us or he’d hurl a bolt of lightening whenever we sin.

Instead, he allows us to suffer the consequences of our choices. Then, when we’re at the end of ourselves, when our hearts are soft enough to listen, he whispers deep inside us, Why do you run from me? Why do you think you know better than me? Don’t you know that I love you and I only want what’s best for you?

Last week at church, my co-pastor and co-blogger Eugene Scott told our congregation, “God isn’t a controller, he’s a redeemer.” To redeem means to pay off, buy back, or recover.

When we disobey God, he doesn’t try to control our future actions by beating us up—at a minimum that’s called “condemnation”(see what Romans 8:1 says about it). First, he pays for our sin—actually he already paid for our sin—by sending Jesus to bear the punishment for our sin through his death on the cross. But then he helps us pick up the pieces and put them back together, if we let him do it. He redeems us by restoring us and making us better.

Believe me, I’m still an advocate for disciplining my teenage children, but my perspective about her changes a great deal when I realize how much we share in common.

Thank God for a loving, merciful God!

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. In his spare time he works as a freelance writer.

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Is Life About the Journey or the Destination?

By Eugene C. Scott

Jack Kerouac

Is life about the journey or the destination?

According to Jack Kerouac, neither.

At least that’s what I read into Kerouac’s novelOn the Road. Published in 1957 On the Road is a fictionalized account of Kerouac, “Sal Paridise,” and “mad” beat generation buddy Neal Cassidy,  “Dean Moriarty,” criss-crossing the U.S.A. in the years following WWII.

On the Road was hailed as “an authentic work of art” by the “New York Times” and brought Kerouac instant fame. It has since been named a classic that created a movement and influenced Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, and many others.

Thus I picked up the fifty-five year-old literary classic expecting a story spilling over with insights and observations of a people and nation just lifting itself out of the morass of the second war to end all wars.

What I discovered instead is a crazy, stream-of-consciousness (what Kerouac called “spontaneous prose”) story that was at times well-written, inventive, funny, shocking, and beautiful but at other times corny, dated, repetitive, shallow, immoral, and non-sensical. In the end, On the Road is not a narrative of a journey across America or even how that journey ended at a physical or even meta-physical destination but rather how the road from New York City to Denver to San Francisco and back impacted Kerouac’s jazz and drug addled search for not even he knew what.

Each of Kerouac’s five trips across the country is progressively more frenetic and yet interior. In his first trip, hitchhiking, he describes the country and characters in rich detail. Early in the book I reveled in his description of Denver, my home town, in the late ‘40s.

But soon Kerouac seems to only describe people and places based on what they do–or don’t do–for Sal and Dean. The road becomes a strip they race over to get here or there.  But even the here or there don’t really matter.

Hitchhikers they pick up only provide much needed gas money, and–if Sal and Dean are lucky–drugs, sex, and a place to stay. Women are there to cook or provide sex. Kerouac spends pages deftly describing the sounds of jazz bands who have “it.” But “it” is never defined beyond how “it” makes Sal and Dean feel right then and there. Dean drags Sal into a tighter and tighter narcissistic spiral. Each time Kerouac hints at something deeper such as how a once innocent country is changing, the discussion fizzles in a rush of alcohol or Dean saying something senseless like, “Yaas, yaas, yaas.”

Yes, On the Road defined, even invented, the “beat generation” and fathered the hippie movement. Both of which were vaunted for their supposed philosophical depth and questioning of the meaning of life.

But it seems to me that an extremely narcissistic Kerouac also gave what later became the “me generation” its voice.On the Road elevated narcissism to an art. Is it possible that Kerouac unwittingly played a big part in granting an entire generation permission to ask nothing more than what’s in it for me?

I suppose every generation has struggled with living for something bigger than itself. And that is why our best stories–the true classics, works of art–usually contain a narrative describing both a journey and a destination that is about both the hero and the world he or she traverses. While stories such as Kerouac’s may be well-written, novel, artistic and even groundbreaking, they do little to challenge us to see beyond our own puny lives. They give us and our short-comings comfort. Unlike the Odyssey of Ulysses or the quest of Frodo or the pilgrimage of Harry Potter or the ultimate journey of Jesus to the cross to save us all, stories about neither journey nor destination may entertain but they fail to challenge, fail to call us, as C. S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle, “Further up and further in.”

Is life about the journey or the destination? Both! But according to On the Road that much asked much debated question doesn’t even seem to dawn on Kerouac. Too bad.

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Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

By Brendan Scott

If time heals all wounds, do you think all the wounds have been healed?  This, the morning after, a decade later.

Many of the students I taught at the Inter-American School in Xela have never known a world with the Twin Towers.  One student, Sebastian, a squirrely little boy who would rather make his classmates laugh than kick in the winning run in kickball, was born in Canada on the day of the 9-11 attacks.  His life will always be strangely connected to the attacks.  He came into the world as so many were taken away.

Last year, as he celebrated his birthday at IAS, I asked his mom what it was like for her on that day.  She told me the doctors didn’t let her know what was going on and that for her the day had been a true blessing.  Sebastian, is a true blessing.  His laugh and the myriad of nicknames he dumped on me always made teaching him PE enjoyable.  Life has gone on.  But I know many of us cannot forget what happened.

10 years later and many of us are still wondering how we move forward from here.

September 11th, 2001 started like any Tuesday for me.  I was a month in to my new school at Battle Mountain High School, my new life in Vail, Colorado.  I was lonely but I didn’t want to make friends, because I figured I would just move off in a year for college.  I had built up a hard shell of isolationism.  The move from Tulsa to Vail hurt me deeply.  The loss I felt when I left the friends I had known almost my whole life redefined who I was.  I was no longer the leader at my church.  I felt like a nobody.  I felt weak.  The move took away my confidence and sadly I didn’t want to find it again.  I felt I was just okay floating along until college.

As the day unfolded on the televisions, which were tuned in to the news in all of my classes, our identity as a nation changed.  We were once independent and indestructible. As the towers crumbled, I knew we’d never be the same.  I knew I needed people, sadly a knowledge I didn’t act on right away.  And as the months passed I believe the entire nation realized it needed one another as well.  The hard shell of our nation was cracked, if only just a little, that day.  As we mourned the loss of so many people, we came together.  We were hurt.  And we changed.

September 12th, 2001 was the day we all picked ourselves up and began to move forward.  We started to change, but what change has really occurred?

Maybe you were one of the first responders.  Maybe September 12, 2001 was your second day digging through the rubble of the collapsed buildings.  Maybe you were one of the first to enlist in our nations armed forces.  Maybe you were one of the first to be deployed overseas to Afghanistan.  Maybe you were one of the first to march into Bagdad and liberate an oppressed people.  Maybe you were one of the pastors who comforted those who lost loved ones.  Maybe you were, like me, just a student who stared at the television and watched the world change.  I watched and watched and watched.  I was drawn in by the stories of loss, horror, and hope.  By nightfall on the 12th, 82 people had been confirmed dead and 11 people had been rescued.  I believe we’d realized that sometimes you can’t make it on your own.

U2’s lead singer, Bono, wrote the song Sometimes You can’t Make It On Your Own while dealing with the loss of his father, but as it seems to happen the words speak to a deeper truth.

Tough, you think you’ve got the stuff
You’re telling me and anyone
You’re hard enough

You don’t have to put up a fight
You don’t have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches
For you tonight

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go in alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

We fight all the time
You and I… that’s alright
We’re the same soul
I don’t need… I don’t need to hear you say
That if we weren’t so alike
You’d like me a whole lot more

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

I know that we don’t talk
I’m sick of it all
Can, you, hear, me, when, I, sing
You’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me

Hey now, still gotta let ya know
A house doesn’t make a home
Don’t leave me here alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you that makes it hard to let go
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own
Sometimes you can’t make it
Best you can do is to fake it
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

If time really does heal all wounds, I think 10 years later we would all be fine.  But people still hurt.  People still see today, ten years after the first day after, as if September 11th, 2001 was yesterday.  10 years later I hope we all know that we are not alone.  And together, unified, is the only way to move forward.

But is being united truly enough?

Over the last ten years I moved forward.  I broke out of my shell, graduated from both high school and college, and then moved to Guatemala.  For me Guatemala has been and will be the most definitive time in my life.  As I lived outside of my home country, away from every comfort I’d grown up with, I realized how much I needed God in my life.  And I found out that God has something for me.

I believe God has something for the United States as well.  On September 12th, 2001 he began the healing.  While we were all in mourning, while we were all being led away from whatever was normal just 48 hours before, God was busy working.  Over the past ten years, while we came together as a nation, we have all been in a form of exile.  Being an American has been something different, our indestructible identity is gone.  We are still proud, as we should be, but the pain of being attacked still lingers, maybe in a way no one thought it would.  I believe the biggest change we have undergone as Americans is not knowing how to be who we are, Americans.

Do we love?  Do we realize we need each other?  Or do we stand apart?  Do we mourn alone-wrapped up in our own fear?  Do we stay in exile, confused about who we are and what God has for us?  Or do we come back to our foundations?  It is a new decade.  It is time for us to realize that God has a plan for us all.  As he said to the exiled Israelites through the profit Jeremiah, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Whenever seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.”

Are we going to be a nation that finally turns its eyes to God?

We have fought to defend ourselves.  We have strengthened our defenses.  Can we lay our weapons down when it matters?  Can we love when love is what is needed most?  On September 11th we were all hurt badly.  It has been ten years and one day.  Let this be the first day we love first instead of hardening our hearts toward everything that might hurt us.  How long must we sing this song of hurt and pain?  Not another ten years.  Not another day.

We must wait on God and seek him out with our whole hearts the way King David did when he wrote Psalm 40 because he will bless us with something new.

I waited patently for the Lord;

He inclined and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

He set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand,

He put a new song in my mouth,

A hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

Brendan regularly blogs at guatspot.worrdress.com

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9/11: In Memoriam

by Michael J. Klassen

I had woken up early to work on a writing project. At the time I was self-employed as a freelance writer. Walking to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal, I picked up the remote to help my daughter Allie find SpongeBob SquarePants on TV.

While scrolling from station to station, I spotted a burning building on one of the channels. I paused for minute to watch, but moved on because I determined the scene was much ado about nothing.

Was I ever wrong.

About an hour later, I checked the news sites on my computer and discovered that the burning building was the World Trade Center. But now a second one was engulfed in flames.

For the rest of the day, I couldn’t tear myself away from the television. When the first tower collapsed, I remember losing my breath. This can’t be happening, I kept telling myself. Despite my disdain for the arrogance New York City often effuses, I couldn’t help feeling overwhelming grief for the people effected by the terrorist attack.

At the same time, news broadcasts then reported that the Pentagon had come under attack as well as a plane that crashed in Pennsylvania?

What is this world coming to? I wondered.

Soon, every airport in America was closed, leaving the skies eerily silent.

Nothing has done more to undermine America’s sense of self-assuredness than the tragic events of September 11, 2001. We were insulated from the rest of the world. We assumed we were safe from outside attack. Catastrophes common in other countries didn’t happen here.

But they did.

In those dark days, the words of a verse in Scripture echoed inside me. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

The answer to that question is, nothing.

The psalmist continues:

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them. The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.

When the foundations are being destroyed, where is God? He’s still on the throne. He’s still the powerful God that he’s always been. He still sees what is happening. He sees the victim and feels their pain. He hates the violence. The psalmist says God hates those who love violence. That’s a hard pill to swallow in light of the many Scripture passages that extol the unremitting love of God.

This we know: God loves justice and he hates violence. At some point, all the past evils will be righted, atoned for. And fortunately he forgives, because if he didn’t, all of us would be grouped with the wicked.

Actually, the psalmist does offer us something we can do when the foundations are being destroyed: “In the Lord I take refuge” he writes at the beginning of the psalm. The Hebrew word for “refuge” appears 24 times in the Psalms. Hebrew scholars say that the word can also be translated “take cover”–like when bombs are showering down on you.

“In the Lord I take cover.” I like that.

When the foundations are being destroyed, we’re reminded how fragile life is. How petty everyday offenses really are. How trivial our pursuits can be.

When the foundations are being destroyed, we discover that we can take cover and find peace in the God who loves us and made us.

This weekend we remember the 2,819 people who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on United Airlines flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We also remember the families and friends of those people whose lives were affected as a result of the tragedy. May we live with the understanding that life is fragile and in God we can find refuge.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

 

 

 

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