For the past five days, we have been bewildered because we have the world's mightiest army, yet the Pentagon was bombed. America is the world's richest nation, yet its greatest twin symbols of capitalism are smoking rubble. The president says terrorism will not stand, yet he does not know where the enemy stands, and we do not know how to stop random terrorist attacks by suicide bombers. The destruction and death dwarf loss of 2400 military and 49 civilians at Pearl Harbor sixty years ago, but then we knew who the enemy was and where to find them.
We have been watching "reality TV" this week, and have discovered that it is not about small groups of self-absorbed people playing contrived games in remote places. Real reality is about people who know in the depths of their heart that no one is an island, and that the deaths of others diminish and frighten us all.
This is the bloody, almost paralyzing background against which we gather here to grieve, to nurse our fury, to weep, and to be with one another.
It was so much worse when it came
It was so much worse than they said.
So much more violent than we could imagine.
Whoever tried to guard us from suicide and mass murder,
Why couldn't you have been stronger?
Why must we see, hear and feel this?
Even when we spoke of "the horror,"
We didn't expect this horror.
The attack was more dramatic, the dead more numerous,
Than we wanted to know.
In so many ways, we would give up almost anything
For the return of our innocence.
We pray we may be protected from the demons
That made those few throw their lives away,
Throwing away so many others with them.
We pray we may move beyond the terror and into heal-ing.
Let this awful numbness pass,
And return us to life and to hope.
We are so very fragile.
So here, in desperation and determination,
We fling this simple prayer outward and inward,
To all the gods and all the suffering souls
Who will listen. And we say simply: Be with us.
Where do we begin? For me, it began in anger--in fury. When I heard of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and a section of the Pentagon on Tuesday, I wanted loud, bloody revenge. I thought "Kill the bastards!" I didn't know just who the bastards were, but I wanted them dead.
Now, five days later, I see that bloody and angry theme is on the verge of becoming our country's battle cry, as we masses are being cranked up for a long and costly war against an invisible enemy - an enemy defined not by a country but by an ideology.
I can sympathize with the bloody anger because I felt it too. These mass murders were reprehensible by any moral code. Civilized Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and all the rest condemn these actions as contemptible and against all of our highest values.
It is hard to know what to do, though it is suddenly very clear what we will not do:
We will not react as Mother Teresa did when officials from Union Carbide flew her - after making a donation to her charities - to Bhopal, India follow-ing the deaths of 2,000 from Union Carbide's escaped chemicals. Met at the airport by the media, Mother Teresa was asked what message she brought to the suffering people, and she replied "Just forgive, forgive." To forgive in these extreme cases is to con-done, and we will not condone these murders.
Nor will we follow the Christian teaching of "turn the other cheek." I haven't heard any ministers sug-gesting this, and can't imagine it. Turning the other cheek would be a cowardly acquiescence to terrorism, and we won't do it.
The wisest teaching I know of that still applies to these murders comes from Confucius. 2500 years ago, he said we should repay good with kindness, but repay evil with justice. That seems the noblest and most humane goal here. We should strive to repay these deeds not with vengeance, but with justice.
But what is justice here? Last week I asked what is truth, which suddenly seems like a shallow question compared with the quest for justice following the mass murders of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.
With truth, I said the kind we're after in religion gives more life, connects us with more people and a bigger world, builds bridges rather than bulwarks. Justice might be defined as truth plus compassion plus power. And while it does not require that we love our enemy - a teaching for calmer situations that would be vulgar here - the quest for justice does require that we try to understand these people who threw away their lives, and more than 5,000 American lives with them.