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[I think this is actually my first post about 9-11, but, yaknow, other people blog about it all of the time.]

I usually listen to NPR on the way in to work. I wasn’t listening to the radio 11 years ago today. I think I was in the middle of a media fast.

Of course everyone was talking about it when I got in to work.

I was content to not see any of the now-famous images for weeks.

But it affected me. In particular the man who had been my best male friend up to that point in my life was working in one of the towers. We looked for him frantically for a while. He’s fine and has a beautiful family now.

I won’t walk you through the process of arriving at my current emotional response to 9-11. Much of it was immediate. Some of it evolved slowly over time.

Obviously it’s tragic that so many lives were lost. My friend might have died that day.

Ultimately it’s that feeling of personal loss that makes the most sense to me. I’m sad for those who lost someone–many lost multiple someones. Death is always, in many ways, difficult and wrong. Whatever else I say, I want to be clear about that.

But other than the numbers, and aside from the horrible personal reality that many experienced (which, again, I don’t at all mean to dismiss or diminish), I don’t find the incident particularly tragic or unjust.

It was unjust and tragic, no question. 9-11 reminds me that the world is a wicked place, full of death and meaningless destruction.

And here’s where I start to have problems with–and depart from–the national response. Honestly I don’t think our nation or our people have suffered particularly. People talked about feeling violated that day. Maybe that’s true. Maybe we were violated. But our innocence was already lost.

Typically we don’t even think of the tens of thousands across the planet who die daily, not just of famine and disease, but from bullets and bombs–children and other innocents among them. We especially don’t want to think of the part that we play in that, both directly and, in multiple ways, indirectly.

We spend more on death in the name of defense than any other nation by far, more than several of the next biggest spenders combined. And we export weapons to our friends, however unfriendly they might be to their neighbors.

We’re at war right now. There’s national outrage over the soldiers killed in those battles–as there should be. But there’s noticeably less outrage over the children and other foreign civilians who get caught in the crossfire, let alone the soldiers we kill. Those foreign soldiers have families too. They believe they’re fighting for their loved ones, for their country, for their God; they believe that they’re fighting to survive, fighting because they have to. You’re sure that we’re right and they’re wrong just as they’re sure that they’re right and we’re wrong.

Then there’s the fact that we feel entitled to more of the planet’s resources, energy and prosperity than anyone else. And we don’t even think about how that affects everyone else, how much more difficult it makes their “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” I wonder if we truly believe that those endowments are for them too or just for us.

Some folks stirred controversy by saying that 9-11 was God’s judgment. I’m not going to join them. But I will say that if you look at the death and tragedy across the globe and either ignore it, rationalize it or, indeed, claim in any way that it is God’s judgment, you have no right protesting when others speculate the same about 9-11.

I don’t know for sure what God’s judgment looks like. I don’t claim to be able to distinguish which deaths are divinely sanctioned and which are not. I’m pretty sure that one way or another they all are. So then it becomes a matter of which ones He really means. Yeah, you can think about that if you want. When I think about it, it just pisses me off.

I don’t begrudge folks their grieving over 9-11. It’s totally appropriate to grieve. In some way I think we all lost something that day.

What I don’t approve is the need for blood. It’s bad enough that we started a war in the name of vengeance. We can argue about whether the war in Afghanistan and the broader “war on terror” actually improve our national security or accomplish some other meaningful thing. Lots of folks seem to think (or seem to have thought) that they do. And their position is at least understandable.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not also motivated out of the “need,” as even its supporters have put it, to go kick someone’s ass. I don’t consider that patriotic. And if you want to call it patriotism, I don’t mind saying that I see no nobility in that kind of patriotism.

But we started another war in the wake of 9-11 on pretext and because we could put a villain’s face on it.

And though many Americans, I’m proud to say, have learned and/or exercised tolerance in the last eleven years and have grown in their appreciation for those different from them, far too many others have used 9-11 as an excuse to hate Muslims, Arabs, people of color, foreigners of any kind, anyone who’s different.

I started to say that that’s the thing that disgusts me most. It’s close.

Probably what disgusts me most is the upsurge of folks crying out “God Bless America.” Don’t get me wrong, I long for God’s blessing and grace upon us. But I notice that He’s blessed us plenty and we’re not much thankful for it. One of my favorite bumper stickers suggests what’s long overdue: “America Bless God.”

I also notice that we’re more than happy to sing “God Bless America” even as we’re whispering under our breath, “and to hell with those other bastards.”

We didn’t want God after 9-11; we wanted protection, we wanted to add His might to our acts of violence, we wanted to feel better about ourselves.

I don’t think Americans are especially evil; I just don’t think we’re especially good. I think we’re human. And I am sick to death of all of the talk of late about American Exceptionalism. I mind it a lot less when it’s a call to action, to sacrifice and hard work. I mind it more when it justifies our arrogance, indifference and sense of entitlement.

So, I’ve really been missing Deb lately.  Again.  Still.  And I was reminded of this goofy little song that makes me laugh but also helps me access my feelings.  If you don’t already think I’m a sick pup, perhaps this will change your mind.

WARNING: Some of you may consider the following blasphemous and all sorts of other ways inappropriate.  I don’t.  Pray for me if you will.  But if this messes with your christology or otherwise offends your world view, I’m praying right back.  🙂

This one goes out to all of the widowers.

The convoluted thing about it is that the song (which I first heard on “Fresh Air,” while I was at the gym a couple of months ago, fwiw) is actually the second major revelation of how I’ve been feeling.  In fact, it was more a reinforcement than a revelation.  The first came through a scene in a movie, of which I plan to write later.  And the third was a segment on “This American Life,” which I listened to today.  The bit on TAL is what got me thinking of the song and made me decide I should go ahead and post it.

Of course, I don’t consider this a completely accurate depiction of who Jesus is or how I relate to Him.  And there are lots of other ways that it doesn’t fit.  But there are some important ways in which it does.  Probably, too, the song without the video might be a little easier to relate to and to relate to my situation, but the video is too funny not to share.  I don’t think I should have to say all of that, but there I did.  Relax already.

Oh, and this isn’t the kind of music I usually listen to, but somehow the genre fits the feeling.  Maybe I can appreciate down-and-out, I-need-another-drink country music . . . sort of.

Most especially, please consider this a response to that “comforting” thought that our departed loved ones have been called up by the Lord because “He needs them” there more than we need them here.  I do love the people who have shared that notion, but it’s unbiblical and it doesn’t help.  Idunno, maybe there are folks who do find it helpful or who can ignore it like so much white noise.  FYI, I’m not one of ’em.  No harm, no foul; now you know.

I have many other thoughtish things to say about this and I may say them later and link back.

Enjoy.  And ponder if you dare.

Update: they yanked the video from Youtube, but I found it on FunnyOrDie. Then it showed up on YouTube again.

I have some saddish stuff to say–not necessarily immediately, but eventually, and not continually, but at least occasionally.

And you will perhaps feel the urge to, in those timeless words of Mr. T., “pity da fool.”

Please don’t.  Or please, at least, don’t feel any obligation to do so.

I’ve come up with literally (the literal “literally”, not the figurative “literally”) dozens of arguments against your pity (and may share some later), but for now I’m going to share just a few and, I hope, concisely.

It’s not that I’m opposed to pity per se.  Pity, in its purest form is truly divine.  Indeed–and especially within the last 18 months–I’ve gladly given and received it, a lot.  And to those who have been the source of what I’ve received: thank you, deeply and sincerely.

And maybe that’s part of my aversion.  I’ve received so much and I’m not sure I’m worthy of any more–certainly not any more than anyone else.  Yeah, just the thought of it makes me feel guilty.

Pity can also be a bit oppressive.  In some sense it implies a response of further sadness.  It can be a sick cycle, really.  You pity, the one pitied is further immersed in sadness, provoking more pity and so on; and if we’re not careful, we all end up depressed and suicidal.  Well, okay, it’s maybe not so bad; it can be, but, thankfully, someone usually eventually gets the point and jumps the loop (which, unfortunately, still sounds like a euphemism for offing oneself).  And I do hasten to clarify that the proper response isn’t to carefully tiptoe around the sadness.  The pitied know they are sad and your careful avoidance only accentuates what a mess they’re in.  As best you can–for what it’s worth, IMO, take it or leave it, et al.–don’t shower the pitiable with obligatory pity but don’t pretend there’s nothing wrong or that it can’t be talked about; just be and be honest.  I know that’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Yaknow, come to think of it, that’s my main point.  I want to probe this stuff, walk through it, unpack it.  I want to dig into it like it’s a clearance rack of genuinely underpriced, actually valuable stuff (we all have stuff that matters to us; pick yours–it need not be material stuff–and the metaphor will work).  Not the crap that’s usually–brightly and hopefully, in large, friendly uppercase letters on a field of obnoxious orange–emblazened with that invitation.  There’s something good amidst the crap, buried perhaps, but still present.

It’s not so much a clearance sale, but more like an unwanted shopping spree.  You didn’t buy it–at least you didn’t mean to.  But they took your money–took more than your money, took most of what mattered or made any sense or had any value, at least most everything that you could hold and call, however imprecisely, your own.  However unwillingly, you’ve paid the price.  And, now goddamnit, you’re going to get something out of the exchange (though even calling it an “exchange” is the kind of affront that makes you want to throw up and punch somebody simultaneously–which would be a neat trick and, I imagine, potentially both satisfying and uniquely effective).

So now the price has been paid and all that’s left is to pick through the cheap baubles and find something worth salvaging.  And what I’d really like, if you don’t mind my asking, is someone at my elbow to say, “Yes, Joel, that’s a keeper” or “Please, no.  You don’t want that worthless sh**; just let it go.”  This is a blog. Blogging is about open expression and dialog.  Let’s dialog.

And here’s the other thing.  I’m sometimes sad, but I’ve no interest in being morose and I will in one moment weep but even in the apparently same instant laugh–perhaps, you might think, inappropriately.  I want to have fun and be amused and, frankly, whether you like it or not, I’m going to.  I also want to be ruthless with the truth, want to beat it to a bloody pulp if I have to, and if either of us is tentative or inhibited, that kinda gets in the way.  My point: if you want to laugh, please do; if you want to confront my intellectual dishonesty or sloppiness, please do.  Don’t worry that the protocol of pity forbids it.

Well, that’s probably plenty of mixed metaphors for now (I have more and will pull them out later, lest you feel it is not).

I’m asking you not to pity or at least not to excessively express pity.  More precisely what I’m asking is that you feel no need to pity.  It is a favor; I don’t deny it.  And you may deem me unworthy of such a favor and presumptuous to request it.  But, there, I asked.

More transparently, I confess to you that this whole business of pity and obligations and expectations ends up functioning as Resistance.  I will say more of Resistance but for now know that it is essentially this: not writing.  Which brings us back to the beginning: I have some things to say–some things I feel I should and must say.  Perhaps my request will deflect a few distractions.  If nothing else, this public declaration is cathartic and helps me step around them.  Come up they will, but I said I didn’t want them, so, no offense, I’m stepping past them.  In truth, I’m still quite open to pity; I’d just rather not be bogged down by it here (ha: blogged down), if that makes any sense . . . and even if it doesn’t.

In homage to his T-ness, with an obtuse allusion to Adobe, I’m considering marking the most ostensibly pitiable posts with the category “PDF,” yaknow, so you’ll be warned.  And I admit, I think it mildly clever.  Very mildly.  Almost unnoticeably.  Don’t pity that I’m cleverness challenged; that’ll really piss me off.

A lot actually, but maybe mostly by extension and it’s not much to look at. Rather, it’s too too much to look at.

And a few other scattered thoughts on this day:

I have been troubled–deeply troubled–by the Crucifixion from when I first perceived it. I am, I confess, still puzzled and disturbed to think that Justice and Wrath and a Father God could require it. At some level, faith compels me to understand the Father’s love in this awful, ugly moment–this cruel silence at the center of history–but it is a thin strand of faith, blind, indeed, and confused and frustrated. But nothing so consistently moves me as Christ’s sacrifice and, I suppose, in the final analysis, that the willing Son convinces me of His Father’s goodness.

I remember when I was a student and custodian at a Christian college that we all wondered why we, of all people, should attend classes, clean toilets and mop floors on what one could argue is the most holy of all days (rivaled, perhaps, by celebration of the Resurrection but certainly surpassing it in sobriety). Even the philistines take a day off from their trading and pursuit of Mammon to honor our Lord. And there we were at work. Then it occurred to me that Jesus worked on this day, perhaps harder than He ever had. And my complaints seemed more than a little silly.

That’s probably plenty from me. I’ll let Donne finish this post and, I hope, inspire a Godward reflection or two–or, truly, even if you don’t believe or serve a transcendent God, behold and consider the Man.

by John Donne

Let man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th’ intelligence that moves, devotion is;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl’d by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul’s form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul’s, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They’re present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and Thou look’st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.

As I’ve thought about coming back to this, it’s occurred to me repeatedly how unfortunately fitting, how ironic, how sickly sadistically portentous it was to have launched off in the direction I did.

If only I’d known.

God knew.

Isn’t that what we say? Isn’t that what we believe? If it were a different kind of thing, we’d call it a joke. But to call it that–it being what it is–might make it sound like God’s a cruel bastard.

Maybe it is a joke. I don’t think I think that God’s a cruel bastard.

But consider that the Father is fatherless and the Son, well, they always wondered about Him, didn’t they? And, if you’re a believer, you’d have to say His Daddy wasn’t the man His mama married, wouldn’t you? I’m just sayin’.

As for the cruel part, again, ultimately I don’t believe He is. At least not most of the time. Sometimes I wonder. Maybe there’s a part of me that always wonders. It would be dishonest (and maybe a little melodramatic) to say that it’s what I believe; but it’s equally dishonest to deny that I often–especially lately–feel it.

O me of little faith.