Bless you for being
here this morning. Every one of you. We need one another now, more than
ever. We need to help one another not to turn away from the tragedy and
grief, but rather toward one another. To turn “from callousness to
sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, from envy
to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, [and] from fear to
There are at least four things that we can do
together, religiously, in response to these events and that none of us
alone can do adequately.
First of all, we can lament and mourn
together. Each of us in our aloneness deals with grief in our own very
personal way. But when we mourn, then we grieve together, and are
comforted. Note that Jesus is not quoted as saying, “Blessed are those who
grieve,” but rather “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be
comforted.” For when we grieve and lament together we admit before God and
one another a shared vulnerability, a shared loss.
This week in our country we not only lost
more than 5,000 of our fellow citizens. Women, children, men with whom
many many more lives were intertwined in manifold ways, both intimate and
distant. We also lost together any illusion of invulnerability based on
our nation’s wealth and power.
If we are wise, we will never again attempt
to measure America’s or our own success only in mere material terms, but
in spiritual terms. I think of the courage of the firefighters and the
rescue workers and the police, admonishing those fleeing the World Trade
Center in almost Biblical terms, “Don’t look back!” and then turning
themselves to go into the crippled buildings, to do try to save others.
In the weeks and months ahead, if we are to
save ourselves, we must look back, however. Not with the
firefighter’s physical courage, perhaps, but with their spiritual
strength. Only if we turn away do we give terror the power to harm not
only physically, but spiritually.
For make no mistake, my friends: terrorism is
a form of warfare not only against buildings, cities, nations, and the
bodies of vulnerable, innocent; it is also warfare against the soul. It
tries to use the weapon of fear to continue the damage even after the
initial attack has passed. And so the first thing we can do is gather
together in places of the spirit, to use the spiritual virtues of faith,
hope, and love, to cast out every fear. To follow ancient wisdom embodied
in the saying of Kaddish, to bring even into the house of mourning a song
of praise for the precious, fragile gift of life, and to do so in the
spirit of love.
On Wednesday night this week, at the
Unitarian Church of All Souls
in New York City – where I served seven
years as co-minister, and where Margot worked with me one year – over 800
people gathered for one of many candlelight vigils around the city and
country. Over 400 of them came forward to speak the name of a loved one,
neighbor, or co-worker who had died or was missing.
So a second thing we can do is to pray. With
such people. For them. For ourselves. For our nation as a whole. Because
our individual and collective character is being tested by this attack
upon our country.
We need to pray together because too often,
alone, the inarticulate longings of our hearts are just sighs too deep for
words -- and we may not know even how or what to pray for. Together our
common prayers can help the Spirit teach us not only how to pray, but what
to then work for. There is an impulse in many of us, for example, to pray
only for peace just now. This is understandable, and good, but it is not
enough. We must pray not only for peace, but also for justice. No peace
ever comes without justice. This, like hatred not ceasing by hatred, is an
old rule, as the Buddha said.
It is especially important for those of who
would make a religious witness for wise restraint by our government not to
speak out just for peace, or to leap too quickly to blame this crime
against our nation on America’s policies or actions. If we do so, we will
simply not be heard. We will not persuade. Our prayers will be in vain. We
will only seem to be “blaming the victim.”
We must make clear that we also want justice.
That we want those behind Tuesday’s acts of terror and murder brought to
justice -- as the criminals. War criminals, since indeed this attack does
have all the marks of an orchestrated declaration of war. And not just
against our country. Just as Slobodan Milosevic has been brought to trial
for mass murder by the whole international community, let us ask every
nation to join with us in bringing the criminals who did this to trial.
But when President Bush says that we will
“make no distinctions” between terrorists and those who harbor
them, I can only another fear in my heart. “Mr. President,” I wanted to
tell him, “in my theology, only God gets the privilege of making ‘no
distinctions.’ Of making the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just
and the unjust alike. Human beings are required to make
distinctions. Especially leaders. Doing justice, not mirroring the crime
by retributive actions in which civilians as simply treated as “collateral
So on Friday I joined with hundreds of other
American religious leaders – of all faiths and denominations – in signing
a statement entitled “DENY THEM THEIR VICTORY: A RELIGIOUS RESPONSE TO
Copies are available. It says, in part:
“The terrorists have offered us a stark view
of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance
and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge - even against the most
innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national
symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of
governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the
hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious.
“But we can deny them their victory by
refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts
not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further
its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the
people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community,
tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which
lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe
place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially
important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are,
themselves, protected among us.”
So that is a third thing we can do together,
religiously, in a time of terror. We can speak and act out of our deepest,
grief-tested, prayerful wisdom. We can turn to the democratic process of
helping our leaders discern how best to respond to this test of our
national character. We can turn toward them, and toward our fellow
citizens, in dialogue, not away in cheap and easy alienation. No doubt
some will disappoint us in their response.
Certainly every decent religious leader I
know was ashamed this week when Jerry Falwell said, on Pat Robertson’s TV
program, said that the attacks were God’s punishment of America for the
work of the ACLU, feminists, gays, lesbians, and supporters of abortion
rights. To them I say, “Shame! Shame on you! Your divisive, un-Christian
attempts to divide Americans against one another are no more religious
than are the distortions of Islam used to motivate murdering terrorists.”
The root of the word “religious” lies in a
Latin verb meaning to bind together again. Which is one reason I am proud
that my successor as President of the Unitarian Universalist Association,
Bill Sinkford, this week went to call on the leaders of America’s Sikh and
Muslim communities, to assure them of our friendship and concern.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council, by the
way, issued a statement saying that
“We feel that our country, the United States,
is under attack.
- All Americans should stand together to bring
the perpetrators to justice.
- We warn against any generalizations
that will only serve to help the criminals and incriminate the innocent.
We offer our resources and resolve to help
the victims of these intolerable acts, and we pray to God to protect and
Which brings us to the fourth and final thing
that we can do religiously. We can turn toward the Muslim community, not
away, seeking not only to understand better what has driven some – but
only some – of its members to such hatred of America. We can seek
understanding. We can study. We can do an examination of conscience, which
is religious work at any season, but especially in this one.
Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of Rosh
Hashanah. In Jewish tradition, the start of a New Year. The start of the
prayerful Days of Awe, a time of solemn repentance leading up to the
holiest day of the Year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Margot and John and I now ask you to join us
in three concluding prayers in the true spirit of Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam. You may find them at numbers 507, 508, and 509 in the back of
the hymnal. Please join us we pray: