september 12th: on the morning after


Yesterday my Facebook page blew up with hundreds of tributes and remembrances for the 15th anniversary of 9/11. This morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. and, as I write this, I'm sitting in the terminal at San Francisco International Airport, waiting to board a flight to Indiana, where I'm speaking tomorrow.  Before I went through security, I had to empty my glass bottle (which was filled with rose tea -- not exactly explosive), show my ID, take off my jacket and put my backpack and roller board suitcase on a conveyor belt to be screened.  And then I had to walk through a body scanner.  An acute reminder of how airports have changed screening processes in the post-9/11, post-contact-lens-solution-bombing-attempt world.

I woke up this morning with the same question on my heart that I had 15 years ago.

What's a follower of Jesus to do the morning after 9/11?

I moved to San Francisco recently, and yesterday was the first Sunday I was in town for church.  I went to the closest church to me, which was an Episcopal church called St. Gregory's.

My first impression was that instead of looking like a spire, the steeple looked more like a lighthouse -- a symbol fitting for a neighborhood afflicted by homelessness, hunger and high eviction rates.


I stepped inside, where there was a table with name tags and markers for guests, and permanent name tags for members.

A woman in white clergy robes came gliding across the lobby to greet me.  I glanced at her name tag -- Sara Miles -- and realized that she was the woman whose books I'd read.  Take This Bread and City of God deeply influenced my understanding of how faith communities can care for people who live on the streets around them.

I was at the early service, the informal one, which was held in a large space at the bottom of the "light house."  We sang together.  The presiding rector gave a touching homily about Luke 15, about how lost things and lost people get found, and how we rejoice when that happens.

And then.....

The music director stood and invited us to the communion table.

But it wasn't a "walk-this-way" kind of invitation.

It was an invitation to dance to the table.

He stood, lifted his robes a bit, and demonstrated a simple dance step.

He invited us to stand, form a line, and put our hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us.

A child played the tambourine, and another child beat a drum.

Together, to the beat of the children's percussion, we danced and sang our way to the communion table.

Sara placed a morsel of bread in my open hands.

The Body of Christ, she said.

Amen, I said as I received it.

The child who had been playing the drums handed me a ceramic goblet of wine.

The Blood of Christ, he said, as he looked up and smiled at me.

Amen, I said, as I took a sip and handed it to the woman standing next to me.

After communion, we danced and sang some more, and greeted each other with the Peace of Christ.

Then Sara gave the benediction, inviting us to take the grace and love we had experienced that morning and share it with the world.

This morning as I contemplate life in a post-9/11 world, the first images that come to mind are not of crumbling towers or smoldering buildings -- as tragic as those events were.  I don't think primarily of the men who hijacked planes and crashed them into buildings -- as evil and unthinkable as their actions were.

Because when has being paralyzed by the actions of evil men ever gotten us far?


Instead, when I think of September 12th, and when I think of how to move forward in a post-9/11 world, I think of the grace of communion, the bread and the wine, the symbol of the man who sacrificed everything to bring us healing and peace.

I think of children playing the drums and the tambourine, leading us closer to God.

I think of a stranger's hand placed on my shoulder as my feet danced me to the table.

I think of standing in a circle with my brothers and sisters, our open hands cupped, ready to be forgiven, and ready to forgive.

I think of the admonition to take the love, the grace, the joy we had experienced into the world around us.

This morning as I sit at the airport, having just navigated the TSA security check point, freshly reminded of how our world has been changed by the actions of evil men, I think the way forward is not to exchange hate for hate, evil for evil, pain for pain or anger for anger.

I think that healing brokenness, eradicating evil and repairing damage starts not with armies but with individuals.

I think it starts with me.   I think it starts with you.

I think it's incited by joy.

I think it's fueled by hope.

I think it's infused with grace.

I think it is encompassed by Love.

And I think it starts today, September 12th, on the morning after.....