Summary: A Christian attempt to understand the tragedies of 9/11.
Glimpses of Grace
Baltimore Area Men’s Rally
March 3, 2002
I live in Staten Island–which is a Borough of New York City, but I live in a unique part of NYC, probably unlike any other part of the world. It is called Travis. People ask me what is Travis like, I say it is the Mayberry of New York City. Travis is bordered on the West by the Arthur Kill–which constitutes the border between SI and NJ. On North by Wetlands and thinly spread out industry. On the South by the Fresh Kills Landfill–it may ring a bell because that is where the debris from the WTC attack is being sifted for evidence and human remains. Consequently, Travis is still relatively isolated, though we have to fight the developers to keep it that way. Anyway, Travis still has a small town feel to it.
There is a gentleman who lives in my town by the name of Ed. He doesn’t attend my church, but I see him fairly regularly at different events. When I do, he usually gives me an earful. I listen because there is not anything else I can do. Let me tell you what he tells me virtually every time I see him. We used to talk about his mother, who was well into her 90s when she died about two years ago. Ed took care of her. She wanted to be independent, so he let her live in her own home until she died. He made sure she was fed and warm. It was a lot of effort, but it is what you might expect from a loving son.
He also tells me about his grandson whom he takes care of. When he was a baby, they took him for his shots. They got home and he was running a bit of a fever. He didn’t think anything of it–not unusual after shots–so he went to bed. He couldn’t sleep that night because of strange dreams he was having. Finally, he got up and checked on his grandson. He was running an extremely high fever. Immediately, they began to work to get the fever down, but it was too late. He was permanently brain damaged. One of the idiosyncracies that came out of that damage was an uncontrollable habit to put things in his mouth–including dirt and pebbles. Usually that is not too bad, but after a while his condition got worse and they discovered an extremely high level of lead in his blood. It came from his own backyard. The pebbles and dirt he put into his mouth were slowly poisoning him. That grandson becomes less and less responsive and more and more difficult to control every year. His mother is no help because she is a resident in a mental facility, so Ed takes care of him the best he can.
Then Ed tells me about his son. His son had an accident several years ago–I think a diving accident–it left him a quadriplegic. He provides care for all of these people. I ask Ed, “How do you keep going?” He says the little amount of faith he has keeps him going. “What about your wife?” “She is an atheist. She used to believe, but after everything she cannot any longer.” That is what hardship does. It divides us because we have to choose. We choose whether to believe in God or abandon our belief in God. On September 11th each of us to a greater or lesser extent entered Ed Fanuzzi’s world. We are, many of us to this day, still making that choice. The choice between belief and abandonment. Let’s talk about that choice tonight because it is a choice that each of us is or will become familiar with throughout the course of our lives.
We are forced to make the choice when we are stricken by unforseen tragedy. Those events lead a person to re-evaluate himself, his beliefs, the things he bases his life on, often he will do that based on some very fundamental questions. One question we have to come to grips with is “What does this mean?” I imagine everybody, whether in the ministry or not has had this question asked, “What does this mean?” We have heard that question many times in response to the attacks of September 11th. What do you say to that? Our inclination as believers is to turn to the Bible–a good inclination. We might turn to Matthew 24 and say that events such as the attack on WTC are a sign that Jesus is coming. You could say that, but I think you would be wrong. Not about Jesus’ coming, and its imminence. I believe in that, but not any more than I did on September 10th. At the very least you are going to have to explain to me why the events of Sept. 11th mean more than the 1900 flood in Galveston, or the Great Chicago Fire, or the Earthquake in San Francisco in 1986. Each of these is a sign that things are not right in the world. In my faith, I know that one day they will be made right, so everyday’s difficulties should cause me to turn to heaven and echo the Apostle John, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.” But if you are going to give me a reason for something to happen it has got to be better than that. I already believed Jesus will come back. And I am not sure I am pleased with a god who has to kill mothers and fathers to try to teach hard-hearted people a lesson. For most of us, giving some sort of apocalyptic interpretation to events doesn’t help much.