Tag Archives: 9/11

Remedy for A Killer Disease

They call it Potomac Fever. Named after the river that borders half of Washington, like a moat around a castle, this disease is prevalent: affecting both political parties, many (though not all) lobbyists, and even faith-based groups headquartered in our nation’s capital. A lack of consistent physical symptoms make it difficult to diagnose, as all indicators are moral and ethical: Deception, manipulation, hidden agendas.

It’s a cancer that eats away at the soul, a hunger for power, control, money and recognition that decays one’s character and decision-making ability. Its spread is rampant, its damage deep … and the Cure little-known.

Reality looks bleak. “What can men do against such reckless hate?” as King Theoden mourned in The Lord of the Rings. Is there no place for people of conviction and courage in the halls of power?

Unbeknownst to them, a group of Washingtonians were recently introduced to Potomac Fever’s antidote by a former White House staffer named Tim Goeglein. Though advertised as a premiere for his book The Man in the Middle, they were in for much more. Tim spent his half-hour in front of these experts and government officials (plus a few stragglers like me) sharing what few had ever heard in a public speech: A confession without excuses.

Tim had worked for eight years in the White House, serving at the pleasure of President George W. Bush. Those years teemed with God’s work in and through his life. Tim saw firsthand a friendship develop between the President and Pope John Paul II, directly influencing our nation’s shunning of embryonic stem cell research and partial-birth abortion. When two Supreme Court vacancies came up, Tim had a hand in ensuring these two new justices would be leaders who upheld the original intent of our Constitution.

And in America’s darkest hour, the president called on Tim to plan a remembrance service at National Cathedral. On Sept. 14, 2001, a truly red-letter day, Rev. Billy Graham consoled the grieving with God’s Word and preached the Gospel to hundreds of millions worldwide via every major TV news network.

Yet a decade later here was Tim, speaking not of these great deeds but revealing his own dark night of the soul.

In 2008, during the heightened political tension of an election year, a reporter sent Tim a simple e-mail on a Friday. He asked about a column Tim wrote for his hometown newspaper: had he taken the work of other writers and passed it off as his own? Yes, he had. Tim knew his own pride and self-interest had caught up to him. He knelt at his desk and prayed. His life was about to change.

Tim resigned from the White House after nearly eight years of working for President Bush, a tenure stretching back to campaign days in Austin, Texas, and the election recount debacle in Florida. Now the media sharks smelled blood in the water. Evidence of their feeding frenzy can still be seen on Google.

That weekend he grieved, both the shame he caused the president and his loss — as he expected the plagiarism scandal meant an end to any connection with the Bush family. But that’s not what happened.

Going back to his old office to retrieve personal items the next Monday, Tim was stopped by the Chief of Staff: “Could you come to my office in the West Wing?” Surely this would be the woodshed moment.

Not long after, Tim found himself standing once again before President Bush in the Oval Office.

“Mr. President, I owe you a …” he began.

The president stopped him. “Tim, I want you to know I forgive you.”

He pressed on: “But, Mr. President, you should take me by the lapels and toss me into Pennsylvania Avenue. I embarrassed you and the team; I am so sorry.”

“Tim, you are forgiven,” President Bush said again, “and mercy is real. Now we can talk about this, or we can spend some time together talking about the last eight years.” They did. And before his former staffer left, the president had only one request: For Tim to come back with his wife and sons, so they could hear personally how he felt about Tim’s years of service.

A hush fell over the Washington crowd as Tim recounted his story of forgiveness. It wasn’t political maneuvering, clever marketing or anything he did that gave him that glorious moment of redemption. It was undeserved, only received in a place of humility. Once again, the Gospel was preached by an unlikely mouthpiece in unexpected circumstances.

No one is immune from Potomac Fever. Thankfully, God gives us forerunners who’ve gone ahead to tell their stories, make us aware when we’re susceptible to the disease and identify certain mindsets as “quarantine” for His sons and daughters.

Salvation is the only Cure. And it’s a process, not an event.

Cross-posted at Crosswalk.com

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Presidents Obama and Bush Invoke America’s Religious Heritage at Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial

Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City made headlines when he expressly excluded clergy-led prayer from the planned 10th anniversary 9/11 Memorial Service at Ground Zero. It troubled many Americans that a prominent public official would ignore the profound role the faith community played in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet, thanks to the intervention of two American Presidents who were invited, the memorial service ultimately did reflect our nation’s religious heritage.

Following remarks by Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama stood to offer solace to the families of 9/11 victims who were gathered. His entire speech was taken straight from Psalm 46, a passage cited in difficult times by courageous leaders from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Reverend Billy Graham used this text in his memorable sermon at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001.

Former President George W. Bush briefly spoke at the Ground Zero memorial service as well. He pointedly acknowledged the American tradition of faith, as he echoed the words of Abraham Lincoln: “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost.”

President Obama’s policy record on supporting religious liberty, including freedom of conscience for chaplains and health care professionals, has been lacking. His decision to invoke our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage in the public square, when organizers insisted on a nonreligious program, is a recognition of the continuing significance of religious practice for the common good—and should be followed up in policy deed.

Cross-posted at The Foundry

How 9/11 Changed Our World Forever

I was late. In only my third week as a freshman at ORU, here I was in a mad rush from my dorm room on Michael 12 to make it to American History. A strange sight in the fishbowl commons area slowed my speed-walking: a dozen students gathered around the big-screen TV watching images of a burning New York skyscraper.

My frame of reference led me to one thought: Why is everyone watching Armageddon so early in the morning? Arriving at class, I learned the images on TV were real. Classes were called off, the Chapel hosted an intense prayer and worship service a few hours later… and by day’s end, that American history textbook we discussed on September 11, 2001 was outdated.

Be Alert, not Afraid

A homemaker I met recently introduced me to her “9/11 TV” as she called it. “Oh, after 9/11 happened, I realized I knew almost nothing about what was happening in the world. So I installed a large TV in my bathroom – my 9/11 TV – and watch the news every morning as I put on my face.”

She reflects a much larger trend: we’ve become more aware of how complex and interconnected our world is. In the process, we’ve become more fearful at times. 24/7 media is complicit; thanks to much larger potential audiences following 9/11, cable news networks ratchet up the drama—with Red Alerts often interrupted by sirens-blazing Breaking News.

In the wake of 9/11, the clips on repeat were indeed scary. These terrorists could legitimately be feared. Their methods flipped Washington’s accepted security doctrines on their head: a group not acting officially under a state government launched a suicide mission that killed three thousand Americans. Even with overwhelming military might, that’s a difficult threat to overcome.

Discretion and Debate

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” states Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. While it provides Congress an important role in approving all funds spent in military action, our nation’s guiding charter gives the President discretion in waging war to ensure our nation’s safety.

How President George W. Bush and his administration exercised this discretion following that fateful day remains a topic of intense debate. Launching an aggressive attack against Afghanistan, where the terrorists were trained and organized, as well as later Iraq, continues to involve trillions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, overwhelming amounts of data gathered by intelligence agents, millions of foreign nationals affected overseas, and the personal sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of military families.

Then there’s the results. Reasonable evidence exists on both sides; some friends of mine point to how average wages in Iraq have actually decreased since before the conflict, while others emphasize Iraq and Afghanistan’s unprecendented free elections and human rights improvements. “Unmitigated disaster” or “The liberation of oppressed peoples”: the truth likely lies somewhere between these two extremes.

What’s indisputable is the Bush administration’s good sense to reorganize our intelligence programs to stop another large-scale strike from happening. This effort has been a great success. Over 40 attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted since 9/11. Opening secure channels between CIA, FBI, NSA, OSD and other acronym agencies surely involved a lot of boring internal politics. Yet it’s exactly what was needed to save lives.

United We Stand… Divided We Fall

Of the movies and TV specials produced to date, United 93 gets closest to the heart of 9/11. Telling one story well, it becomes a microcosm of our national decade-long struggle.

Confusion reigns as stewardess and control tower alike have no idea what’s happening. Then shock when we realize what is happening. Followed by impatience when we hatch our own plan but cannot take action right away.

Ultimately, the pivotal moment comes when Todd Beamer rallies other passengers to storm the cockpit and stop United Flight 93 from reaching the U.S. Capitol. Race, income, religious background, occupation: none of this mattered. Pulling together is how these everyday heroes stopped the madness.

America learned from their courage. According to The Economist reporting on a string of recent in-air incidents, “After 9/11, the vast majority of airline passengers are now inclined to resist any attempts to hijack a plane.”

Their example carries through to the larger struggle. Those serving in the US Armed Forces have learned and sacrificed most in this fight. (Full disclosure: my brother Tim, also a former ORU student, is currently deployed to Afghanistan.) Early on in the war, Defense and State Departments alike faced a steep learning curve. Where do we engage this unknown enemy? How do we ensure safety and sanity of people on both sides? And when the fighting stops, how do we spark a national culture shift?

Maybe answers are not so far from our grasp. Imagine a future business graduate in dialogue with social workers, crafting a plan for all to benefit from oil discoveries. Engineering and psych experts have safety and sanity questions to tackle. Teaching children drama and music opens up new directions in their culture. Yes, we even need philosophy majors: Just War Theory may once again be at the forefront of discussion.

This strategy of synergy—pardon the marketing buzzwords—isn’t fantasy. A friend of mine here in DC, who happens to have a theology degree, embeds Old Testament history in his briefing reports to top-ranking officers at the Pentagon. (Like all theologians, he says his greatest struggle is keeping his insights to the standard one page.) Thank God he didn’t dismiss it as a useless degree.

Everyone was late in grasping the enormity of 9/11. How we think and interact must continue to change. Rather than fear and lethargy getting the better of us, let’s roll.

Originally published in The Oracle, Sept. 9 2011 edition