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Two men lived on a houseboat. One night while they were sleeping, the boat broke loose from its mooring and drifted into the open sea. One of the men got up in the morning and, going out on deck, noticed there was no land in sight. Excitedly, he called to his mate, "Joe, get up quick - we ain't here anymore."(2)
In quiet moments, I guess we all occasionally reminisce about the way things were "back then." It is true we did not have to worry about the safety of air travel "back then" - only birds and insects flew; it is true that we did not have to worry about anyone breaking into our home and stealing our television "back then" - we HAD no television, or even electricity for that matter; it is true that we did not have to worry about AIDS "back then" - we were too concerned about our kids getting diphtheria or polio. Remember? If we really think about it, the "good old days" were not all our memories crack them up to be.
Still, we WOULD rather go back...at least to September 10th. In Anna Quindlen's column in the current issue of Newsweek,(3) she writes,
I go over to the school to vote in the New York City primary, and Im in the booth looking at all the names and the levers and the sign at the top that says INFORMATION FOR VOTERS, and its déjà vu all over again. This is where I stood, this is what I did, just after 8 on the morning of September 11. And suddenly I think that if I just stand still, dont flip the levers, dont leave the booth, that time will move backward, the spool rewind. I will come out into the bright sunlight instead of the steady drizzle, and downtown those thousands of people will go about an uneventful day, those hundreds of firefighters get called to a few uneventful fires, those passengers have an uneventful plane trip, those buildings stand until the glitter of the sun on their surfaces turns to the reflection of the stars on their night-black glass.That would be lovely. I wonder if that is what all those people who have been flocking to churches and synagogues and mosques in the wake of the attack have been praying for. No, not really. Folks want to get in touch with something that offers some stability.
Thirty years ago Alvin Toffler wrote a best seller called Future Shock.(4) In it he said, "If [humanity's] 50,000 years on this planet are divided into lifetimes of approximately 62 years, then there have been 800 such lifetimes. Of these, over 600 were spent in caves, only the last 70 have had written communication, and only the last six have had printed words. But of them all the most crucial is our lifetime - the 800th. This one lifetime is the center of history with as much happening in it as in all the previous lifetimes put together...Unless man learns to quickly control the change in his personal affairs as well as in society at large we are doomed to a massive adaptational breakdown."
No doubt, that is part of what the terrorists hoped would happen following their attacks. But the early evidence is that they were mistaken. Instead of collectively falling apart, our nation has come together in ways that no one has seen since World War II. And part of what has allowed us to deal with the crisis as effectively as we have is that we do have deep spiritual roots, roots that have been with us since "the good old days," even though we sometimes neglect them until confronted with catastrophe.
After the September 11th attacks, Anna Quindlen says she asked her sixteen-year-old son, "Don't you feel that the world is a much more perilous place?"
He responded, "Mom, I always thought the world was a perilous place."
Yes, it is, and these recent days have jolted us with that truth. Not just that terrorists are on the loose. We get jobs then lose them. Homes are established then break apart. Friends are born, and friends die. It is easy to think that nothing in the world is tied down and to feel in danger of being blown away. But then we gather on a Homecoming Sunday, a day which happens to be World Communion Sunday as well, and, along with millions of Christian brothers and sisters around this perilous planet, hear again those soothing, calm words that we first heard as children, back in those good old days: "Take, eat...drink...I will help you make it through...do this to remind yourself...do this in remembrance of me."
And what else do we remember? In these tumultuous and terrifying times, we remember how history finally ends. From the good old days we look forward to a grand NEW day, and we hear again the mighty voice of a celestial choir resounding through the universe singing,
have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he shall reign forever and ever.
1. Marc Connelly (1930)
2. Pastors' Professional Research Service, 1/89-2/89 - 2
3. "Everything Is Under Control," Newsweek, 10/8/01, p. 64
4. New York: Random House, 1970