Tag Archives: tragedy

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

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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

Trauma Care: Thoughts after LASIK Surgery and a Close-to-home Tragedy

Trauma isn’t the same as physical pain. In two very different events of late, I’ve found it to be shocking… unsettling… a feeling that pushes me to disconnect from reality. Imagine it’s not happening. Keep telling myself it won’t last long.

You see, I had LASIK done on my eyes November 9. Then, one month later to the day, a gunman stormed into my home church — leaving 2 dead and others injured.

Now the real story here is how God’s used this for good, and I encourage you to read and spread the testimonies that were lived by many. But the feelings elicited within me were strikingly similar during both events. Thus, I offer as an analogy…


LASIK TRAINING

My pre-op visit the day before surgery didn’t bode well. The office was clean, professional… and huge. By the two hour mark (which wasn’t the end), I had been shuffled through 10 different test rooms and interacted with at least that many office staff. The doctor and I did speak briefly, though our talk was all about Huckabee’s chances in the election. Good subject, but I hoped he was focusing on my eyeballs as he poked with his medical instruments while verbally prodding me about who Texas politicians would get behind.

Finally I was deemed OK for surgery and slotted in for the next morning. The 6am slot.


WOULD YOU CALL IT COMEDY OR TRAUMA?

The first thing they had me do at about 5am when I arrived was put on a hairnet. I’m serious. Then they dilated my eyes and subjected me to bright light (as I say, it’s comedy and trauma.) Their path of “processing people” was more efficient than the pre-op: after a back room procedure, another staffer was waiting for the patient hand-off so he could score another medical test. All the action stopped once we reached the end zone: The Dark Room.

So here’s where all the million$ flowing through this office went. I’d gotten a glance at it the day before: a freezing cold room the size of an average Subway shop, filled with about ten massive machines. Each resembled a dentist’s chair, only with pricey computers attached and metal claws that sported powerful lasers. I didn’t think much of it the day before, but now as the room whirred with lights and sounds, as I and 3 others were told to keep our eyes shut and our hairnets on — well, I didn’t know what to think.

The woman beside me was jittery, so despite the sound of a half-dozen lasers cutting away, I reminded her that these pros know what they’re doing. A bit of Name it, Claim it theology in action there.


“TRAUMA IS LIFE WITH THE DULL BITS CUT OUT” – ALFRED HITCHCOCK (revised)

The only pain I felt in the next hour was when a metal clamp was placed over my eyes. To “pull back the corneal flap” and apparently drain fluids, I felt a sudden, sharp prick, my vision immediately went dark, and I was bandaged. Then someone held my hand (a little weird) and directed me to a spot where I awaited the final chair.

Even with my eyes out of commission, I noticed they occasionally turned on all the room’s lights, then just as quickly shut them off again. I don’t know why; inspiration from the world’s other leading isolation rooms, perhaps? I do know the surgery ultimately ended, I was given some goofy goggles, and family arrived for me.

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW, THE PAIN IS GONE

Having gone through that ordeal, I looked forward to seeing the world differently. The change wasn’t immediate — a harrowing nighttime drive from Denver airport to Colorado Springs comes to mind. Is anything more scary than a blind man on icy roads? Yet within a few weeks, sights began to surprise me.

Coming into work, I could actually count the office building’s bricks from 60 yards away (great use of time), whereas before it was just a red blur. More remarkably, the vistas and valleys of Colorado opened up to me as never before. Now mountains stretch back further on the horizon… and snow-covered trees glimmer brilliantly, right down to each pine needle. I love it.

Early on, I experienced terrible headaches when using a computer longer than an hour. Considering my job keeps me on one for nearly 8 hours a day, I was motivated to find a solution. The Dallas surgeon’s office referred me to a Colorado Springs LASIK doctor. My sight was improving, he said, but I had to use eye drops more frequently.

Returning home over Christmas, the surgeon’s office further changed my treatment: eliminate one type of drops, use the other more often. Constant care became the theme.


SUNDAY AT THE TRAUMA UNIT

By now, you may see the parallels. What occurred at YWAM Denver and New Life Church on Sunday, December 9 was traumatizing… even for me, someone who was off the church campus over two hours before it occurred. (I’d been in the early service that morning.)

A certain worship chorus helped me understand why I was shaken up; it goes, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house / They are ever praising You.”

While I recognize my body as the temple of God, I also know New Life as my church home. After all the prayer times, worship recordings, small group meetings, etc., I feel like I “dwell” in this house of God. What if a man with a gun parked at my home and fired off 30 rounds at my family members? That’s essentially what occurred.


“A MOMENT’S INSIGHT IS SOMETIMES WORTH A LIFETIME’S EXPERIENCE” – OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR.

Six weeks later, the place looks very different to me. Since we now know that 12 undercover guards participate in New Life services, I view my fellow worshipers with fresh eyes. Is that lady singing near me packing heat?

I also realize how God indeed provided our new leader. David Perkins’ blog mentions how New Lifers see Pastor Brady Boyd in a new light and it rings true. From big things like Pastor Brady’s handling of the police and media, to the little things like his fatherly treatment of Jeanne Assam, we became more endeared to his pastor’s heart.

Yet most of all, I see people differently — family, friends, passers-by. Think about the shooter, Matthew Murray: a 24 year-old homeschooled guy, from a Christian family, who trained at YWAM, whose brother is an Oral Roberts U. student, and whose parents called Ted Haggard their “favorite preacher” before his fall. Conversely, look at the Works sisters who were gunned down. They’d gone on short-term missions, also were homeschooled, big fans of Lord of the Rings, and actively part of the Desperation movement.

I see bits of myself there. And I’m not crushed or fearful seeing those similarities. It actually motivates me.


SEE THE LIGHT

Not so long ago, I would’ve focused entirely on the Miracles aspect of this story. Truly these testimonies (among many others) have been under-reported or entirely unreported:

>> New Life’s Special Needs group had long planned a Christmas party for Dec. 9, but canceled it due to bad weather. These folks would’ve been in the exact hallway of the shooting when it occurred.

>> Hundreds of Colorado Springs residents took advantage of the free crisis counseling offered the days following the shooting, given in conjunction with Woodmen Valley Chapel and Focus on the Family.

>> Without an ad campaign or giving drive, this tragedy enabled the Gospel to be preached to millions of people worldwide via CNN, Good Morning America and other mainstream outlets.

>> Colorado elected officials, including the Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, Colorado Springs mayor and dozens of police/firemen/first responders, joined a packed auditorium of worshipers 3 days after the shooting. There were tears, yet also much rejoicing for God’s hand on us. “I’ve never been to a remembrance service like that!” more than one of the officials said afterward.


AND JESUS SAID, “TAKE CARE OF MY SHEEP” – JOHN 21:16

True stories of God working should be broadcast, and repeated, and Him given the glory. Yet what excites me right now is that New Life desires change just as I do. We’ve been nudged in a certain direction by these events. We want to become better at bringing in and caring for the Matthews of the world – because we had many chances.

“We have an absolute commitment to pastoral care,” Pastor Brady said shortly after the shooting. Already steps are being taken to build community more, such as Sunday nights becoming a gathering for small groups rather than a service. To really effect change, each of us must pray and think through how we can be the church… daily.

Like the eye drops after surgery, our healing will continue only with intentional, constant care over a long period of time. Like, until Jesus returns.

False Summit — Thoughts on Anointing, Ted Haggard and the Cross

“I keep thinking we’re near the top, but we turn a corner and there’s more mountain to climb.” My friend Renae, my roommate and I were hiking in Colorado Springs’ Front Range, just one week after my pastor was no longer my pastor.

Renae’s comment got me thinking about New Life Church—where we’ve been and how far we have to go. For in the last few days, we turned a corner to find a lofty peak we never expected

 

“So, if you think that you are standing firm…”

Celebration of Discipline, a book we’ve just started in the small group I’m in (curiously enough), begins this way: “The greatest problems of our time are not technological… [nor] even political or economic, because the difficulties in these areas are largely derivative. The greatest problems are moral and spiritual—and unless we can make some progress in these realms, we may not even survive.” I think something about my attitudes and life wasn’t keyed in to this fact a few weeks ago. To quote Pastor Ross Parsley, “We took a subtle bit of pride in ourselves.”

Not that growing ministry is a bad thing. For instance, a great strength of New Life for many years (and especially now) has been the church’s four internships. Church becomes more lively when about 300 students are worshipping, coming, going or meeting at any given hour. Church = once-a-week services? So last century.  It’s certainly possible to have a megachurch without overblown ego. And I don’t think there was a “personality cult” per se around Ted Haggard.

But, well… with intern enrollment up every year, the NAE office at New Life gaining national clout and cool stuff like a massive spinning globe in the prayer center, looking at the exterior ornaments became easy. I remember last year when the parking lot trams came in. “Staff told me, people will be able to get out of the cold quicker,” Pastor Ted said at the time. “But I love it because, hey, we’re more like Disneyland!” It was a joke, but perhaps one that hinted at a problem here.

I watched as Pastor Ted’s influence grew. Like many churches, New Life has had special choirs come in, elaborate flag ceremonies on Missions Sunday, plus guest speakers like Ron Luce and Sunday Adelaja from Europe. But it was Pastor Ted’s global vision, off-the-cuff humor, political acumen, etc. that convinced me New Life had something special — an anointing that seemed to keep expanding. But whether repeating Ted’s jokes or talking up a New Life program, “preaching ourselves” became a very real danger.

 

“…Be careful that you don’t fall…”

Back to our recent climb… ascending the mountain, we passed the Will Rogers Chapel. First we saw the main entrance where thousands entered every year. Then our path took us around the back, which perhaps only a few dozen hikers ever saw. What impressed me was the heavy stone wall that encircled the chapel: every inch of the circumference—front and back, seen and unseen—was guarded.


To guard a heart takes trust, wisdom, people around me who will kick the sin they see, and probably some things I’m missing. It’s no easy task. I’d rather float through life and ignore the hooks Satan has in me, ignore the small things. After all, doesn’t everyone struggle? Didn’t the Apostle Paul himself have a “thorn in the flesh”?

But, no, I don’t have to choose sin. “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” (I John 4:4). My heart connection with Jesus every day is what enables victory, purpose, abundant life. And my words to God have never been more emotional than that night wrestling which how my pastor could fall so hard and so fast.

“If you asked me last week to write a list of 1,000 pastors who this could’ve happened to,” said Charisma publisher Stephen Strang. “Ted Haggard wouldn’t have been on there.” No question, this caught everyone by surprise. It looked like a last-ditch election ploy, or even the set-up to a dumb joke—but it was what it was. “98% of me was the good man you knew, but the 2% evil began to dominate,” to paraphrase Ted. Suddenly I want to learn more about accountability, about the nature of my own heart.

Following the Sunday service where Ted’s letter of confession was read, I spoke to a businessman named Wayne. He works as a mortgage broker, right next to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles in Colorado Springs. One day he saw a man in the parking lot who’d just got a license for his snazzy new scooter. As Wayne watched, the man fell off his vehicle and scraped himself up. Wayne ran to help; the man was bleeding and scarred. A crowd gathered. As Wayne began to help with his wounds, what did the scooter rider do? Ted Haggard began to preach the gospel to the hog riders who’d gathered to see blood. “That’s why I joined New Life,” Wayne told me after his story. “Today I can’t pick Ted up from his fall – but I can come and pray with his friends.”

 

“…When you are tempted, He will also provide a way out…”

A few New Lifers walked into that service with a spring in their step, like any other Sunday. They were the children—teasing each other, excited to sing with their friends, asking Mommy to stop at the café so we can get a bagel. Having lunch later with a family, I asked a girl how church was for her. “It was fun, we heard about David becoming king,” the 10 year-old said. As touching as it was to hear Gayle’s letter, seeing the next generation following God lifted me up even more.


The last sermon Ted gave was from I Samuel 16, the story of Saul’s anointing passing to David. After the scandal, my small group dug in to the analogy: Saul was called by God to be Israel’s first king, led with humility for decades, expanded their territory and defeated many enemies… until he did some things that looked good, but his actions weren’t complete obedience. As an elder recently said, “Sometime in the past three years, we started saying, ‘Isn’t New Life great?’ more than we said, ‘Isn’t Jesus great?'”

(Here I would caution anyone tempted to now disparage Ted. “Though the man of God be wrong, we are not to touch his anointing,” a wise friend of mine recently said. “Remember David and how he respected Saul even when Saul was trying to kill him.”)

Perhaps some of us saw our error sooner than others. One of New Life’s worship leaders, Jared Anderson, just wrote a song called “Lost in Heaven”; it pinpoints this issue so clearly. “Sunday morning and I’m performing ~ Right and wrong seem far away… I flee temptation, but not frustration… I’m living in Heaven with no place to go ~ Should I be freaked out ~ Or should I feel alone ~ When this prodigal has never left home?”

 

“…For God is faithful” (I Cor. 10:12-13)

During our hike, Renae brought up that her counseling training had taught an enlightening definition: “Joy is being fully known and fully accepted.” Contrast that with Ted’s statement: “When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased…” So it’s another paradox of Christianity: the stone wall of protection comes only with vulnerability, a hunger for others’ correction.

Humility is more than just vulnerability. It’s really taking to heart correction, not taking offense. Maybe it looks like passing up a promotion when the timing is off. Or it could be worship so extreme that people will watch and think I’m crazy — but I don’t want to care. It’s confessing my failures, and taking personal inventory of my own heart. Self-sufficiency isn’t the Gospel, after all; Jesus says, “Come to Me, and We’ll get you fixed up.”

Finally, we reached the summit. Below us, a forest of pine trees rose and fell on the contours of the foothills, like a green ocean. Above us all around, higher peaks and more dramatic views opened up in the distance. This wasn’t really the top; so much more was left to discover. It seems knowing God is a series of false summits: will we ever “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”? Not likely, but we can sure try. It’s the only True false summit… a love that takes off the blinders of my self-centered vision and opens me to a vast landscape of real joy.


P.S. Is New Life still anointed? Without a doubt. From what I’ve seen, this is leading us to a time of understanding some things better than ever–like integrity, sexuality, and the power of the Cross. Fill us and mold us as only You can, Lord.

 

(Thanks to Pastors Ross Parsley & David Perkins, whose recent messages were liberally borrowed from in this blog : )