Area spiritual leaders share some of their planned sermons for today for the 9/11 anniversary
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Center for Jewish Life: A great darkness has been released in the world on this date ten years ago, a series of coldly planned actions unprecedented in their wanton and random destruction. If we allow this darkness to engulf us, all of those people will continue to suffer, as will we all. But, we don’t have to give in. We have the ability, hard as it may be, to fight back: to build out of the ashes, and to create light out of the darkness. We can choose to add in acts of goodness and kindness, and to do random wanton acts of good in memory of, and counter-balance to, the horrors that have been perpetrated.
Jill Jarvis, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence: We have to talk about this. And we don’t very much. So listen: “God” is a powerful force in the world. Whether or not we believe in God – God is still out there operating in the world, for good – and for evil. We can ignore that God, refuse to talk about that God – or we can take responsibility for what that God does in the world. It’s up to us as humans – and this is one conversation we religious liberals may want to rethink opting out of.
Kent Winters-Hazelton, First Presbyterian Church of Lawrence: Here is where we find ourselves challenged by Jesus’ words to pray for those who are our enemies, for those who persecute us. We are called to understand that God’s image lies with those who differ and disagree with us, that they, too, share our courage and our fear, as well as our hopes and dreams. To see our opponents as God’s children requires a humility of admitting that God is only One, that the fullness of the Creator lies beyond our wisdom, experience and comprehension; that we see only in a mirror dimly.
Lew Hinshaw's 9/11 sermon
To read or listen to the Rev. Lew Hinshaw's sermon from Sept. 16, 2001, go here.
On Sept. 16, 2001, crowds of people streamed into Plymouth Congregational Church looking for answers. It was less than a week since the foundation of our sturdy lives as a nation unaffected by home turf carnage crumbled right along with one of the world’s greatest symbols of free trade and democracy: the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
The crowd not only wanted answers, it wanted a message.
The Rev. Peter Luckey would normally be the man to give that message, but as a senior pastor on sabbatical, he sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a pew right there with the masses at 925 Vt. Luckey had flown home from a Chicago conference on Monday night, just hours before the towers were brought down by airplanes hijacked by men with ties to Al-Qaida. Instead, Luckey’s stand-in, the Rev. Lew Hinshaw, delivered a sermon that ended with a standing ovation.
Hinshaw’s answer to those lost in the haze of shock and fear — some hurting for retaliation? “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Again, today, faith leaders around Lawrence are expecting a packed house, pews full of those seeking a bit of faith on the 10th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history.
What to say? What message to share? It’s a question faith leaders both in Lawrence and around the world have been working on for weeks and even months. Some leaders started Friday night — the Jewish Sabbath — others started Saturday, and still, today, many are stepping up to the pulpit with the attacks weighing heavily on their minds. The messages each of the faith leaders give might have one common origin, but the themes are across the board, at least in Lawrence.
Message of kindness
On Sept. 11, 2001, Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel was just over the Brooklyn Bridge from the World Trade Center. A rabbinical student at the time, he had been in morning services when the news trickled in. The towers he’d seen every morning from the fourth floor of the school he’d attended as a child had vanished into dust. On Sept. 13, 2001, he made his way near Ground Zero to check on friends.
“I clearly remember the fear ...” Tiechtel says. “I was just a few blocks away, and the air was thick, physically from all the debris and dust, the whole city was ... was ... people were walking around like zombies. It didn’t register.”
Ten years later, he’s asking those in his congregation at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, 1203 W. 19th St., to remember the victims of 9/11 as part of an annual goodness and kindness campaign. Starting Friday before the Sabbath, Tiechtel and members of his community went up to Wescoe Beach on the Kansas University campus asking for pledges of good deeds done in the name of specific 9/11 victims.
“We hand out cards with a photo of one of the victims and we ask each person to pledge to take it upon themselves the good deeds in the name of one of those victims. And by doing that, instead of retreating into grief, we’re transforming the sadness into triumph, and we’re rebuilding these souls into existence through these kindnesses,” Tiechtel says of the annual campaign, which always happens around 9/11. “It sounds like a contradiction, but that’s the unique paradox of human existence.”
Message of understanding
Half a country away from New York on Sept. 11, 2001, Bassam Helwani, a computer consultant, was gearing up for a long day of client training in Kansas City. When word came, he was as stunned as every other American.
“I rushed back home, and just like everybody, tried to make sense of what was happening live on TV,” Helwani says. “The media didn’t know how to make sense of it. We, of course, didn’t know how to make sense of it. And it was after the Oklahoma bombing that the media first ... thought that this was an extremist Islamic or Arabic group, but it was not like that. So, first thing that came to mind with 9/11 was, ‘I hope it isn’t an Islamic group’ ...
“It was really a tragedy on all accounts.”
Ten years later, Helwani is the associate director of the Islamic Center of Lawrence, 1917 Naismith Drive. A nondescript building just across from the KU campus, the center and its members have made a concerted effort since the attacks of helping non-Muslims understand the faith. They’ll be working hard on that message on the 10th anniversary — taking part in an interfaith remembrance that the center’s students helped organize. The event, called “From Fear to Hope: Commemorating 9-11,” will be from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Dole Institute, 2350 Petefish Drive.
“When the unfortunate tragedy of 9/11 happened 10 years ago, not many people were aware of Muslims and Arabs. They didn’t know lots about our culture,” says Helwani, who is originally from Syria and is married to a Kansas native. “We’re trying to educate the public. We were not very proactive in really engaging with the general public with activities and interfaith (events). We have lots of activities happening now with the general public about how we can learn from each other and how (in) the mosaic of American society, of many faiths and many cultures, Islam and Arabs are one of them.”
Messages of looking forward
At the New Life in Christ Church, 916 Vt., the Rev. Paul Gray will be asking his congregation on the 10th anniversary to explore the idea of the grace. In other words — if God loves us all, how can he love us at our worst?
“I want to talk about grace ... Not harboring bitterness. Not prejudging. Not lumping everybody in a group together. Not all Muslims are extremists. And realizing this amazing thing — that God loves us all, no matter how ‘bad’ we’ve been,” Gray says. “Now, I haven’t hijacked a plane and flown it into a tower, but in my ‘thought life,’ I have done things I wouldn’t want anyone to know about. I think if any of us had our worst sins, our worst secrets put up on a screen in front of a group at church, we’d be running for the doors as quickly as we could. What happened was obviously bad in taking innocent lives, but rather than focus on that, we’re focusing on how much God loves all of us and the fact that Jesus died for everybody and because God wants to have a relationship with us, and none of us, no matter how ‘good’ we might be on earth, can’t earn a right relationship with God. So, really, we’re all in the same boat.”
Down the street at First United Methodist, 946 Vt. (and its West Campus, 867 Highway 40) a special message has been in the works for months. The Rev. Tom Brady says the church felt the 10th anniversary of the attacks would be an appropriate time to begin a four-part series simply called, “Why?” The first lesson: “Why do the innocent suffer?”
“I don’t believe that God causes destructive things to happen. But that God allows things to happen. There’s a difference between cause and allow,” Brady says. “I don’t compare what happened on 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina. One, human intent caused a disaster. The other is the natural order of things. But in both cases, innocent people suffered.”
Some miles south, on the edge of Lawrence, the Rev. Jill Jarvis of the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road, will also be working on the question of “Why?” In this case — why do some people believe their God commands them to eliminate others? And, importantly, why is that thought still being thought by people of all ideologies?
“One of the things in our tradition ... is for preachers to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And, in this particular sermon, I do not want to comfort the afflicted,” Jarvis says. “It’s an uncomfortable situation. I want all of us to be shaken and disturbed by what is still going on and encourage everyone to change that. This will not be a pastoral sermon. Ten years later is not the time for that. If it’s 10 years later and it’s still going on 10 years later, I do not want to say, ‘It’ll be all right.’ That’s not the message I want to send.”
And what will Luckey discuss 10 years after Hinshaw’s moving sermon? Something that’s an important takeaway in the shadow of this day, no matter your creed or opinions.
“The best way to remember and honor these people, is for our country to live up to and aspire to what I call the ‘better angels of our nature,’” Luckey says. “And by that I mean, to live up to our principles, which are principles primarily about taking care of the common good and belief that what made this country so great is the spirit of compassion and generosity and willingness to not to look at the self but to look to one another and seek the welfare of all of us.”