A few weeks from now, about 3000 students will return to Malibu to begin a new school year. Within a few weeks of that, around the same number of individual flags will appear overnight on our front lawn, as Pepperdine observes 9/11 with a recent tradition honoring the lives lost that day, each designated by a flag representing the country of their nationality.
The display is, of course, overwhelmingly a vision of red, white, and blue. But those 236 others create a significant reminder.
There is a lot of buzz leading up to this tenth anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11/2001. Many are concerned that some observances positioned as prayer services will turn nationalistic, or that some advertised as patriotic will turn partisan. No doubt some will; it is a politically charged anniversary on on the verge of an election year.
Ten years in, what is the Christian response? What kind of observance or memorial would honor the memory, comfort the grieved, and witness to the Gospel of peace?
When I think of the competing agendas at stake here, in this context and others, I think of our currency stamped “In God We Trust.” I’ve often thought it enormously ironic that money, perhaps the opposite of faith, would bear this confession of trust.
These chips of metal and crumpled bills represent something beyond themselves, or used to. We rarely think of these as “treasurer’s notes,” but they are obviously valuable for what they represent, rather than for what they are worth in and of themselves.
What they represent is dynamic, as well. To one person it is a meal, to another it is an iPhone; to one it is survival of a family, to another it is power over strangers; and many things in-between.
I think of Jesus pointing out that while Caesar’s stamp is on our currency, God’s image is on our selves. We are meant to represent something beyond ourselves, as well. Sometimes we fail to recognize how great a value that image suggests.
These flags remind us of the enormity of loss, and, in a small way, the fact that, for many, this was more than the loss of national security. It was a sister, brother, parent, friend, spouse – another who shared not only geographic circumstance but held together the personal, spiritual network of family and community. These people, even if in unrealized ways, were made in the image of God, and meant to create loving relationship around them that reflected God’s glory. We, and they, bear this image to display the promise we represent, and we struggle when the hope within us is unfulfilled.
How do we commemorate this? How will the nature of our observances, and not just the symbols we stamp upon them, reveal where we place our trust?
In the chapter following Jesus’ teaching about the coin in Luke, he takes bread and a cup, and turns them into symbols of God’s provision, of Jesus’ self-offering love, and of our lives for the world. May we find ways to give meaning to the everyday things of our lives that says our lives are God’s gift, and we are given for the world God loves. May what we are and what we have point beyond every limited view of what we might stand for, and may we together witness to love for which we were made.
What events are you aware of that are working redemptively as our nation remembers a tragedy so prone to misuse? How can we respond in a way that channels grace to those events and people around us whose wounds are reopened by this event?