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Two weekends ago, our nation paused to remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Here in our community, a group of citizens from across the spectrum of life gathered outside of town hall to reflect and remember, and more importantly, to pray together. I want to publicly thank Dr. Jeff Fuller, pastor of the Rockford Baptist Church, for spearheading that prayer gathering.
During that time together Sunday evening, September 11, community members were allowed to reflect and remember the impact of that tragedy on their personal lives, particularly by recalling where they were when they received or saw the news of this attack on our nation’s soil.
I believe it is necessary and important to occasionally take these moments of reflection. One of the responses that especially captured my attention recalled not only the moment of the attack, but the subsequent response of so many Americans; church buildings were open and flooded with people praying and seeking God for comfort and consolation.
Many of these houses of worship had probably not been filled for some time like they were on the days following those dreadful attacks on this country’s soil. In our current day, I yearn for similar moments where houses of worship are filled with those expressing their need and dependence on God in believing prayer.
As I paused to reflect on that day and remember those whose lives were lost then and the many lives that were given in the subsequent military conflicts that occurred following 9/11, I was reminded of the fact that tragedy, while by its very nature is tragic, can also reveal some of the best characteristics of communities and people. It is often through shared tragedy that we’re reminded of our shared humanity.
Shared difficulty reminds us of the frailty and fragility of life and how all life should be treasured as precious. The children’s church song rings true, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.”
During moments of shared grief and tragedy, we are reminded that while there are many characteristics that make us unique, underneath our wealth of diversity we share a common humanity. Scripture speaks to this. Genesis 1:27 reminds us that all of humanity shares in our creation from God’s image.
The Latin phrase “Imago Dei” highlights this thought. All of humanity, even with our diverse characteristics, originates in God’s unique essence. Differences are often cast aside in shared tragedy because we all share in this humanity.
Another revelation from tragedy is the decency of people. One of the best characteristics of people is our capacity to be compassionate, caring and gracious toward one another. The unfortunate reality is that too often it takes a tragedy like the attacks on September 11 for us to see that on a broad scale.
In our current culture, we could use a good healthy dose of decency. When we seem to be polarized by politics, inflamed or insensitive to issues of social injustice, or we are grossly self-absorbed in our own success and achievement at the expense of our neighbors in need, we need people who, without the backdrop of calamity and catastrophe, simply express kindness and decency toward other people.
Immediately after the attacks on 9/11, at least for a small moment, politics were lowered in priority. And because of our shared grief and mourning, we had genuine compassion and grace toward others. That compassion and grace shouldn’t be missing in action during times of relative calm for believers, though. Jesus conveys the necessity for believers to be known by love as He shares with His disciples before his arrest and crucifixion.
John 13:34-35 records this pivotal powerful principle: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In those few moments, it didn’t matter if you were Republican or Democrat, what your ethnicity or cultural heritage was, or any of the many dividing lines that make up the many political and social camps of this nation; we just genuinely cared for one another in this time of shared grief.
That care shouldn’t just be seen in moments of grief for believers but should be the primary identifying marker that you are a follower of Christ. Before political affiliation or social or economic status, believers should be known by their love.
The tragedy of 9/11 revealed that decency. I pray that it doesn’t take a tragedy for believers to value the intrinsic value of all of humanity or to live out Christ-defining love for others.
Christopher M. Todd is a Coosa County resident and the pastor of The New Home Missionary Baptist Church near Rockford.