I've been thinking all week of a meaningful response to the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.
Certainly, there will be no shortage of fist-pumping Facebook posts, excoriating Muslims and liberals and Pepsi, which allegedly wants to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance on soda cans. (A persistent urban myth that invades my inbox regularly.)
We can also expect a healthy number of challenges to "repost" some belligerent defense of Jesus in honor of 9/11. The failure to do so, people say, proves an obvious unwillingness to acknowledge your faith. Really?
It is said that the United States is the third largest "mission field" in the world, after India and China. That means Christian missionaries travel from all over, to the US, to teach Americans about Jesus. The Barna Group, a Christian research firm, puts the number of "unchurched" at one in three Americans. They define the term as an adult who has not attended a religious service of any type in six months. I think that number is conservative.
I've been reading the bible and studying it every day for the last 18 months. I've actually read the entire book, which is something, studies say, only ten percent of professed Christians have done.
So with that tiny bit of street cred, here's something I've learned. I hope this isn't news, but here goes:
The Jesus of the bible is different from the Jesus of Facebook.
There was a guy on tv this morning, who was born in Calcutta but naturalized to the US, who calls himself a missionary to America. He was in the North Tower when the first plane hit. His pregnant wife was in the South Tower. Both of them survived. Five minutes prior to the first crash, he sent an email to a friend asking for prayer because he felt like his life wasn't adding up to much. He hoped God could do something with him.
Sujo John is an ordinary guy, who on September 11th 2001, got caught up in an extraordinary story, which he tells with articulate thoughtfulness. His website says "We exist to be a vibrant and passionate expression of Jesus to a broken humanity." After 9/11, he quit his corporate gig and took up telling people about the love of God full time.
There are lots of reasons people reject religion. Some of them aren't the church's fault. People can be lazy and getting to know anybody - especially Jesus - takes effort. Religion makes it easy to rationalize that choice because many churches fail the message of Christ by, among other things, attempting to codify behavior before cultivating love.
But Jesus' message was about love, and His life on earth was a complete and perfect expression of it. If you read the actual Bible, like you read To Kill a Mockingbird in High School, that becomes plain.
"Clean it up so I can love and accept you," was not Jesus' message, but for a number of reasons, that's often what people hear. That message is super easy to reject.
So in honor of 9/11, I plan to do what Jesus told us to do.
Love God. Love Others. Especially your enemies.
You've heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy; but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. -Jesus. Matthew 5:43-44
I, myself, have miles to go.