Church Council Meeting: Wednesday Sept. 19th, 2001
An item not on the agenda: "Can we put the flag back in the
Pastor (17 months in ministry):
"I would counsel against that, but I don't think we should discuss
 In my now-29 months in ministry I have been surprised at the
power of my words to hurt. Statements that seemed balanced to me
are reported back as dogmatic. Maybe they are reading a body
language that I forget. And then there are the statements that I
must admit were obviously wrong. Things that once didn't much hurt
anyone are now the pastor's words of judgment. A happy encounter on
the street begins with apologies and excuses for missing church;
just my presence speaks an accusation. Is this what ordination did?
When has anyone felt that degree of power in a healing word from
me? It's hard to recall. I've been told that they have but somehow
it doesn't stick with me as strongly. There is more faith needed in
seeing the power of the "precious" words (Ezekiel).
 "...I would counsel against that, but I don't think we
should discuss it now." "You're the one who wants us to discuss the
hard issues!" came the reply. "Why not now?!" How often has my
advice taken such hold, my exhortations directed anyone's actions?
I guess time tells if the words have integrity and gives them their
weight, but the suspicion of authority is there on day one. Does he
mean what he says? Does he practice what he preaches? To me it
feels like I am presumed intolerant until proven grace-led.
 "I don't think everyone here would be in agreement on this."
Pastor's words are true enough but this is probably an effort on my
part to switch attention off what I think about the issue when I
was the one who jumped in with my opinion.
 The first council meting after September 11, 2001 was a low
point, but there were other uncomfortable moments. Other
congregations faced these questions, hopefully with more trusting
and open-minded pastors. At the very least it could have been
tabled or referred to the worship committee.
 The question came back to me "Why don't you think we should
discuss it?" My shoulders drooped and all words left me.
Defensiveness stiffened the air in all our lungs.
 Eventually the flag went up in a quiet corner in the back
next to a large memorial display made by pastor and the
confirmation students. Now wasn't the easiest time to start to
explore the relationship between citizenship and faith but when
could it be more important? A confirmation student wants to title
our memorial wall "God Bless America." "How about 'God Bless Us?'
That way we don't leave out our families in the Dominican Republic
or Jamaica." I found an old 48- star flag in the closet which
didn't seem in good enough condition to hang but I had the thought
of folding it as it would be folded at a funeral and then
displaying it in a small glass case with a photo of the destruction
and Psalm 46. This display stayed (along with another small framed
photo of the firemen raising the flag which someone brought in)
when the flag and the rest gave way to Advent.
 As the anniversary approached, the question arose as to what
we would do this time. The words of a wise woman about the larger
tragedies going on in Africa echoed in me. Could we put September
11th in a historical context without seeming to desecrate an
overpowering civil religion?
 A local justice & peace group sprung up in response
to the national mood after the attacks. They asked if they could
use our space and I welcomed them happily. A few of our members
helped bring the group together. A local community organization
brought the neighborhood's Christians, Jews and Muslims together
for a candlelight vigil. A clergy conference began their Interfaith
Thanksgiving service in the local firehouse. These events brought
together people who had not come together before. When I think of
"United We Stand" I will think of these times but I will also see
them as isolated events. As Heidi Neumark pointed out in her sermon
at Bishop Hanson's installation, we are united and yet we're not.
Isaiah 58 tells us justice makes for true community. Too often we
have heard mere jingoism as flag-waving from a noisy bandwagon
rumbles by, leaving the needy in its dust.
 In marking the anniversary, we needed something that was
broad in its appeal, but also provided a contrast to so much of the
prevailing order of the day. Comfort needed to come from our faith
rather than our patriotism. I signed up for young Laura Hermann's
traveling peace crane memorial display. The story of a young girl
and the children of her Wisconsin town reaching out to New York was
universal in its appeal. The display was impressive in its size,
matching the scale of the event with 5,500 handmade origami birds.
(Five thousand reflected an early estimate of the death toll.) It
was also eye-catching in its color and shape and movement and it
was a moving story. More importantly it was an opening to putting
the date September 11, 2001 into a global context of military
attacks on civilians, which I took advantage of when the display
arrived in late August. The story of the origin of the peace cranes
in Hiroshima helped put us in a place where Sept 11 would fit into
a larger history, even as our younger members watched the brilliant
birds sway in each gentle breeze.
 There were times when I took great comfort in the work of
peace activists. How people felt in a very physical sense, about
September 11 had a great deal to do with how broad their vision of
the world was before that day. People who assumed that the U.S. was
a uniquely benign presence in the community of nations were shocked
at the incomprehensible idea that we were a target. Others saw
events going on around the world and were jaded by our government's
excuses when the perpetrators were allies and even our own agents,
soldiers and officials. Still others were familiar with a sad
history here at home. Vernon Jordan remarked that African Americans
"know terrorism" well and Rev. Herbert Daughtry greeted white
colleagues with "Welcome to Black America."
 I'm not saying that people who were not as shocked were
unaffected by the event. If anything, they had to deal with being
conflicted. Everyone was shocked and saddened. Many people also
know, however, that over two million people died in South East Asia
during the Vietnam war. Many people followed the military
repression in Central American in the 1980's. For people who were
unaware of or uninterested in such history, September 11 came out
of nowhere. These would tend to be the people who speak of the
WORLD being changed. All of us see changes in our own lives. We see
the National Guard every morning in our commute. We look at a
diminished skyline. Even without the visual reminders, the image
plays over in our heads. While we live this we all need to strive
to remember the words of Martin Luther King, "An injustice anywhere
is a threat to justice everywhere." Churches need to include such a
global sensibility in their yearly observances, remembering Latin
American martyrs, remembering Yom haShoah or Holy Innocents' day as
they remember the innocent people who died September 11.
 All this seeped into a sermon which talked about how we use
the morality of scripture as a hammer against others rather than a
mirror for ourselves. The law is meant to capture the heart in
loving repentance, not embolden the finger in pointing. I spoke of
Nathan provoking David's indignation the only way he could, by
looking without. I asked "Is the TV Commentator who heats up our
anger at Israel's excessive force going to spin around Nathan-like
and say 'You are that nation!'?" Lord send your prophet. How
fortunate we are to have their words. The need to keep the focus on
ourselves and not focus primarily on the sins of others was
expressed eloquently by the great leader in the struggle for
justice and peace Mohandas Gandhi when he said, "If you love peace,
then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed -- but hate those
things in yourself, not in another." The sermon was strong but
there was much I thought best to skip over. Softer words proved to
have a sufficient impact. The words spoken from the pulpit or at
the council table are amplified with the power to hurt and
 If we believe in our power to heal we need to control our
power to hurt. Our claims to truth do not have to be sacrificed for
us to be humble and open-minded. Above all we remember we do not
speak our own words, rather we always search and listen for God's
words. God's words can bring weal and they can bring woe, and God
knows best when and who and where.