The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Our attention has been riveted to the events surrounding “9-11” these past few weeks. The anniversary of the alarming tragedy has been approaching incrementally. It’s been hard to avoid.
I cannot think of anyone who has not felt the effects of the collapse of the World Trade Centre. The dust has settled now for a year and the debris has been hauled away, but the fallout continues and takes with it victims ill prepared.
The abstraction of war waged against our terror and our fear, has left us scarred and diminished. We raise a comic arm of defiance frozen in time, numbering ourselves in the collateral damage of the frae.
The collateral damage has taken many forms: presumably “acceptable” losses, or “expected” losses. Each diminishment – physical and fiscal – has been considered unavoidable and the cost of doing business. These insults have been suffered both by the enemy as well as ourselves. By times I have found it becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the perpetrators of the losses. Frightened men and women, and children too, have counted losses on the battlefield as well as the towns and villages of a distant land embracing hard terrain and even harder climate. Having waged war – and war it is, make no mistake – civil liberties have fallen at home, in jurisdictions that remain aloof and distant and scared of an enemy that threatens and terrorizes with breaking news, daily.
Our fear is ratcheted up with the evaporation of our financial security and the failure of the golden calves of Wall Street and Bay Street. Our faith has been challenged, and the dawning of insecurity has made us angry and fearful.
Events commemorating the anniversary are more likely to galvanize our anger and our fear, making us deaf to the subversive instruction of Jesus.
We have become a less tolerant society over the past year. As a church we have blended our voices with those who call for revenge. Our phrasing has been perhaps more righteous. We have sought God’s blessing on us to the exclusion of those on whom we would rain havoc and damnation. Our intolerance has been assisted by racial distinctions, linguistic distinctions and yes, even religious distinctions. We have presumed that God is on our side. We have not examined ourselves to determine if we are found on God’s side!
Unlike anything else we have ever entered into, this war comes conveniently packaged in distinctions that encourage our xenophobia, daily. Names difficult to pronounce – and do we pronounce them? – help us identify the enemy. Accents and language confirm suspicions. And Islam! Enemies of Jesus are surely enemies of ours, we are quick to say!
Our intolerance has only been outstripped by our failure to know others better. Few of us know a Jew, any Jew. Fewer of us know a Muslim. The wounds of our tongue in smug humour have been replaced with other scars, more physical than but as painful as we try to defend ourselves from our fear.
Abraham fathered three faiths and characteristic of children, whenever strife has arisen between us – Jew or Christian or Muslim – we have been quick to blame. In laying the blame we attempt to justify ourselves.
We are justified by faith – you and I. Have we so constricted the nature of our faith that its application is found only in the most narrow and exclusive sense of our salvation? Does our faith not encourage, indeed enable us to live a life fully amongst one another and with God? Joshua asked that of Israel in the closing verses of the Torah Book bearing his name. He admonished Israel to choose whether they would serve God or choose death.
He didn’t wait for their reply. He didn’t predicate his conviction on their possible rejection of life over death. What is our answer? What have we chosen? Are we more secure with our exclusion of others? Is our confidence more secure with our fear of others? Are we a more loving and God-reflecting community with our hatred of others? Tell me we haven’t chosen death! Tell me that our fear of not being contrite for our North American exploitation of creation has not left us with a paralysis leading to death! Tell me that blame and revenge has not blinded us to our greed and brokenness!
I don’t know what Jesus – Mary knew her son by the name Joshua – wrote in the sand that had accusers drift away. If I knew what he had written I might retrace them in the sand at Ground Zero as dust yet settles… or I might find a sandy stretch in Afghanistan.
I hope that I would write it. And in writing it, choose life!
Copyright © 2002 James T. Irvine