Our Only Hope: Balancing Justice and Mercy

Words delivered at a September 12 Candle Lighting and Prayer Service for the Victims of the Day of Terror

BY: the Rev. Forrest Church, All Souls Unitarian Church, New York City

 

How precious life is and how fragile. We know this as we rarely have before, deep within our bones we do. I am not certain how much more we know right now. Our minds imprinted with templates of horror, our hearts bereft with truly unimaginable loss, we face a newly uncertain future. The signposts have all been blown away.

I am so grateful to see you, each and every one. How profoundly we need one another, especially now, but more than just now. We are not human because we think. We are human because we care. All true meaning is shared meaning. The only thing that can never be taken from us is the love we give away.

So let me begin simply by saying "I love you." I love your tears and the depths from which they spring. I love how much you want to do something, anything, to make this all better. We all feel helpless right now; I know that. At times like these and today uniquely so, in the midst of our daily stroll through life reality leaps out from behind the bushes and mugs us. How I ache for those of you who have lost dear friends and loved ones to this senseless and barbaric act of terror. How I ache for all of us, who awakened this morning to a new skyline, not only here in New York, but all across America.

The future as we know it is dead. Long after the smoke clears from Lower Manhattan and the banks of the Potomac, our vision will be altered by the horror of September 11th. No longer can we measure human accomplishment by technological mastery or by our standard of living. Henceforth, for years at least, we shall be remembered by two things above all others, one conveniently ignored, the other too often forgotten over decades devoted to material progress. Unmistakably and forever inoculated against innocence by this full-scale outbreak of terrorism's virus on our own shores, as a nation we shall be known by the steadiness of our resolve in leading the war against the perpetrators and sponsors of terrorism all around the globe. And as individuals, truly now members of one embattled body, we shall be known no longer by the symbols of abundance and prosperity, but by how well we learn to recognize our own tears in one another's eyes. Hope will answer helplessness if, and only if, from the sacrament of this shared sacrifice of innocence and the innocent, we become for one another channels through which our faith may flow, and wells of love from which to draw much needed comfort and new strength.

At first these visions of a future rebuilt upon yesterday's ashes may seem to contradict each another. Justice and mercy. Retribution and compassion. War and love. Yet they will only be at odds should we choose one vision in place of the other. On the one hand, if hatred and vengeance spur our lust for retribution, rather than the greater quest for peace, we will but add to the world's terror even as we seek to end it. On the other, if we pray only for peace, we shall surely abet the spread of terrorism. Our hands will end up far bloodier than those that lift up arms against it.

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