Never Forget, Despite the Pandemic

Never Forget, Despite the Pandemic


I was three months pregnant and working as a Web editor in New York City at iVillage.com when tragedy struck at the World Trade Center buildings. That particular morning, I had scheduled a prenatal appointment before going in to work. A mere few minutes after hearing my son’s heartbeat for the first time, a nurse burst into the room and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The doctor and I were puzzled, but we figured it was some random accident by a confused pilot in a small private plane.

But after I left the doctor’s office, I realized what happened was no accident. When I first arrived at work, I learned that another plane had hit a second building. And these planes didn’t hit just any buildings — they made the World Trade Center buildings burn down in the most depressingly spectacular way. The entire staff was crowded around a small TV and quickly became very emotional. No one knew all the details, and my coworkers were telling fantastic stories, such as eight hijacked planes were circling all across the country. When I heard a plane hit the Pentagon, it became personal. My brother-in-law worked across from the Pentagon at the time. I couldn’t help it; the tears started to flow. The fear and sadness were overwhelming.

Fortunately for my coworkers and me, our company had a corporate apartment in the city. Most of us lived in Burroughs outside of Manhattan, and all the trains and busses were shut down. Around 15-20 of us squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment, but at least we had a place to go. That said, we still had to get there, which required a long, sad 17-block walk from upper Manhattan towards downtown and the direction of “Ground Zero,” which was the destroyed World Trade Center site’s former name. As we walked, we passed by several first responders, all covered in ash. Everything was covered in ash. Once in the apartment, we saw a hospital right outside the window. Several medical workers were clearly on high alert outside, waiting to take in survivors — but the slew of patients in need was far lower than expected. I called my husband. He never left Brooklyn, where we lived. He started work later than me and was standing on the train station platform waiting to board when he saw one of the buildings go down. A lady on the platform with him fainted.

The next day, I was so afraid to take in the air, fearful of its effect on my unborn son. It took me more than a year before I braved going down there, still afraid of what was in the air and how it might affect my breastmilk. It turns out that it was a smart move. We all know about the many 9/11 heroes who suffered from complications due to the poor air quality.  When I was finally able to catch the train home, I saw flyers posted by loved ones desperately seeking information asking about missing people. The entire city was in mourning.

My son is now 19-years-old and has grown into a young man. I’ve made sure to tell him about that day and those who we lost. I know that I am Blessed. For so many people, that painful day stole their children, parents, and loved ones. I saw firsthand the devastation and the deep wound inside the hearts of New Yorkers. I realize that 9/11 affected all Americans differently, but even amidst this ongoing and insufferable pandemic, we owe the victims and their families a moment of recognition and remembrance. I’m heartened by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Tomorrow is not promised. We must #NeverForget.

Protesting Greed in the Shadow of 9/11

Protesting Greed in the Shadow of 9/11

A snapshot from Occupy Wall Street. (Photo by Christine A. Scheller.)

What I haven’t seen written about in the many stories about the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) encampment at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan is its proximity to the World Trade Center (WTC) site. The park, which fills a small city block, sits across from the southeast corner of the site, where Four World Trade Center is being resurrected.

As I mingled briefly yesterday with men and women protesting corporate greed, construction workers labored above us and a bevy of police officers ushered visitors toward the nearby entrance to the new 9/11 memorial.

I had thought I could quickly connect with a few occupiers before my scheduled appointment at the memorial, but discovered that building rapport with OWS sources would take a lot more time than I had.

Things began on a promising note as I approached Marvin Knight, a retiree who lives in Brooklyn. “Herman Cain is Clarence Thomas minus a black robe,” Knight’s sign said. When I inquired about it, he explained that when he heard Cain express support for Thomas, he knew there was “no difference between them.” He also said Cain’s 999 plan “will make the poor pay more money, the rich pay less, and the middle class pay more.”

Knight has been protesting corporate greed for the last ten years, he said, and he hopes OWS “opens up the eyes of the world that capitalism has failed.” He’d like to see socialism take its place, he said. He estimated that ten-to-fifteen percent of the Zuccotti Park protesters are African American and said he thinks their interests are represented. “Everything is covered as far as I’m concerned,” said Knight.

Flush with that success, I approached an older man who was sitting on a chair next to a sign for a homeless organization. As I introduced myself, a handsome younger man sat down next to him, so I offered to interview them together. The older man objected to a dual interview and couldn’t be dissuaded. He shooed me away.

Next I introduced myself to Derek Brown of the Bronx. I ignored Brown’s request for a donation and asked why he was there. “I got occupied in this movement, not actually thinking I was going to be a warrior or soldier for the movement. I came down to check it out. Once I got here, I never left. I’ve been here for fourteen days,” said Brown.

He left his job as a messenger to join OWS, he said. “When I leave here, I’m going to have to re-establish my ties with the economic system because I have to subsist.”

The scale of justice and economic equality is tipped, Brown said. “We don’t want the rich to be poor, we don’t want the rich to be middle class, we just want you to concede and understand that you have to spread the bread to a degree where people are not so discontent,” he explained. “What we want as a whole is equality. We want room for growth and development and there seems to be no capacity for that right now.”

Brown asked me for money again. I declined, saying ethical journalists don’t pay for interviews. He implied that I had knowingly deceived him. I said if that was true, I wouldn’t have waited until the interview was over to ask if I could take his picture. He let me take it anyway.

With my memorial appointment looming, I approached a young woman who was manning a literature table. She expressed skepticism when I told her I was particularly interested in speaking to people of color at Zuccotti Park, so I said I was actually trying to find a source to dialogue with an African American from the Tea Party movement. She and her fellow protesters expressed derision at the idea.

I caught wind of conversations about putting bags out for collection in a timely manner. Trash bags were piled high, but the site was organized. An emergency community meeting was called with five minutes notice.

A group that was meditating around a collection of crystals and other artifacts seemed oblivious to their surroundings. As a steady “omm” filled the air, numerous bystanders and photographers milled about.

Leaving the park, I passed a group of musicians playing bluegrass on the north side walk. The sounds pouring from their instruments spoke of the discipline, nuance, and complexity that I struggled to find at OWS.

When I returned after my visit to the memorial, a drum circle was pounding out another beat. I couldn’t’ stay however, or I would have been late for a screening and discussion of CNN’s fourth Black in America documentary “The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley,” which was hosted by journalist Soledad O’Brien at the Time Warner building in midtown. There a room full of African Americans talked about how they could garner a bigger piece of the tech entrepreneurship pie. (More on this soon.)

The dichotomy reminded me of 2001-2002 when I worked at a public television show on Park Avenue and took the subway down to Wall Street to catch the ferry back to New Jersey. I couldn’t help but see Zuccotti Park through the lens of that terrible time.

Four World Trade Center from NYC's 9/11 Memorial. (Photo by Christine A. Scheller.)

At the 9/11 memorial, I found the vast pools of flowing water that lie in the footprints of the Twin Towers profoundly depressing. From a certain vantage point, the victims’ names etched on stone around their perimeter appear on the verge of disappearing forever into the void below.

Somehow that image feels to me like a better metaphor for the folly of “too big to fail” than a protest in the park, even though, or perhaps because, my earliest New York City protest memory is of attending the 200,000 person No Nukes protest concert in Battery Park on the east side of the WTC in 1979.

That park was replaced by an expensive planned community a long time ago and we’re still dealing with nuclear disasters. But a 2004 New York Daily News article concluded that No Nukes wasn’t “the first, last, biggest or most musically striking” cause concert in rock history, but it may have been the most effective. “In the quarter-century since those shows, no nuclear power plants have been built; indeed, a number have been decommissioned,” the Daily News declared.

I wonder what we’ll say about OWS in 25 years.

*Note: Most of the links in this post are to my OWS photo set on Flickr. To view a slide show of the collection, go here.

Clergy Excluded from 9/11 Ceremonies

Clergy Excluded from 9/11 Ceremonies

The Problem and the Protesters

Progressive Christian leaders including former Democratic congressman Floyd Flake and Sojourners President Jim Wallis held a press conference today near the World Trade Center site to announce that they are adding their voices to the conservative chorus of religious leaders (Richard Land, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson) that has criticized New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to exclude clergy from Sunday’s 9/11 memorial dedication at ground zero, CNN reported.

“But there’s a twist. In addition to criticizing Bloomberg, progressive religious leaders are also taking aim at prominent conservatives who have blasted Bloomberg in recent days, alleging that those critics are stoking division at a time that calls for national unity,” the article said.

Surprised and Disappointed

“Utterly disappointed and surprised” was the response of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City councilman and the pastor of New Life Outreach International church in the Bronx to Bloomberg’s decision, CNN reported.

“There’s certain things that government cannot do, and answering questions of meaning of ‘Why are we going through this?’ and ‘Where am I going to get strength from?’ – those are existential questions that can only be answered from a spiritual aspect,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera and the Family Research Council have collected over 62,000 signatures asking the mayor to allow clergy, prayer and first responders (who have also been excluded) at the city’s 9/11 memorial ceremony Sunday, The Christian Post reported.

The Microphone Won’t Melt

Among Bloomberg’s critics is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani was widely praised for his handling of the 9/11 crisis when he was mayor. He echoed the recommendation of Southern Baptist Richard Land, who said there should be a priest, a minister, a rabbi, and an imam at the event.

“Say a little prayer. The microphone will not melt,” said Giuliani before launching into a brief lesson at the National Press Club on what the constitution says about church/state separation.

Consistent Exclusion

But clergy have never been an official part of the 10 remembrance ceremonies at ground zero; moments of silence have and will be again, The Huffington Post reported.

Bloomberg’s Rebuttal

The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature and this year’s six moments of silence allow every individual a time for personal and religious introspection, a spokeswoman for the mayor told HuffPost.

An Uphill Battle

Critics “face an uphill battle,” Religion News Service’s David Gibson said, because “Bloomberg is not one to second-guess himself” and “tends to get what he wants.” Besides, Bloomberg defended religious freedom when he “championed Muslims’ right to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero” and when he “rejected the advice of secular critics and defended the inclusion of a cross made of girders from the fallen towers in the new 9/11 Memorial.”

Protesting a Call to Compassion

Meanwhile, protests are being lobbed by some Christians because Evangelicals won’t be represented at the Washington National Cathedral’s “A Call to Compassion” on September 11, the Daily Caller reported. The commemoration will include a bishop, a rabbi, a Tibetan lama, a Buddhist nun, representatives of the Hindu and Jain faiths, an imam and an Islamic musician, but no evangelicals.

The idea that a group that represents at least 35 percent of the population has been excluded “is difficult to comprehend, much less to defend,” said Southern Baptist Richard Land.

What do you think?

Are these egregious omissions or much ado about nothing?

How Did 9/11 Change Urban Ministry?

How Did 9/11 Change Urban Ministry?

The Cross at Ground Zero.

 

Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, so we asked three urban leaders who will be participating in memorial events how the attacks impacted urban ministry.

Here’s what they said:

Jeremy Del Rio, Esq., New York

Jeremy Del Rio is executive director of Community Solutions, Inc. a faith based youth and community development agency in New York City. On September 10, Del Rio will participate in Reaching Out, A Sacred Assembly, a prayer and worship service in New York City.

September 11, 2001 exposed gaps in urban ministry in ways that could not be ignored any longer. The church’s response to those gaps demonstrated grace and hope and provided a glimpse of what might be one day.  For me, here are three lessons learned over the last decade:

1) The magnitude of the attack and the scope of its impact required a Jesus who was far bigger than any one ministry or personality to heal. It forced the Church to confront the sad reality that we were too disconnected from each other to be a useful partner to our city during a crisis. It’s impossible to mobilize 7,000 churches quickly when they aren’t already connected and coordinated, so the city didn’t call us initially for help. Pastors and church leaders had to repent for being lone rangers and intentionally link arms during the common crisis in order to respond effectively and be Christ to a city that was collectively grieving in unprecedented ways.

2) September 11 also exposed fear and bigotry among many Christians towards our Muslim cousins.  Suddenly, many who professed a love for Christ and people were parroting suspicions about our immigrant neighbors and perceiving threats where none existed. The Church had to embrace that Jesus’ imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves includes those individuals and communities we might otherwise fear, and wrestle with how to build bridges during and beyond the crisis.

3) The inertia of normalcy has obscured the need to remain vigilant in nurturing the kind of relationships that build trust across denominations and congregations, and with neighbors regardless of their faith and cultural traditions. My prayer for the Church on this tenth anniversary is that we would recapture what it means to love each other in such a way that the world will know we are His disciples.

To read more about how Jeremy and his father Rev. Richard Del Rio ministered in lower Manhattan post-9/11, go here.

Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries, Somerset, New Jersey

DeForest “Buster” Soaries is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, and a pioneer of faith-based community development who has also served as New Jersey Secretary of State and chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission. On September 11, Rev. Soaries will speak at the September 11th Remembrance Service in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

I’m not sure the impact was greater in urban areas or not. The short term impact was to motivate people to think more about God, faith, and church. But long term, we have seen a return to a preoccupation with materialism versus a focus on God. The major ministry need that I’ve experienced and seen around the country is a greater need for focus on mental health ministry. We’ve added a full time therapist to our staff.

Black America has historically been the most optimistic and today all of the data describe African Americans as being more optimistic than the general population on the one hand. On the other hand, in terms of concrete expectations, we’re finding that there’s a greater sense of hopelessness and despair. The way that’s related to 9/11 is that prior to 9/11 our culture perceived itself as being almost invulnerable. What 9/11 did was begin a process of perceived vulnerability. After 10 years of being constantly reminded how vulnerable we are, it has begun to affect us emotionally and psychologically. The church has to create the connection for people between our emotional, psychological, and spiritual status.

While 9/11 was a terrorist attack, we’ve also been victims of a global economic meltdown and I would argue that our sense of helplessness in response to the economic meltdown is directly related to the decline in our sense of national self confidence. Prior to 9/11 we had this sense of “we can make it if we try.” In post-9/11 America, we have a sense of “there’s no way out.”

The economic crisis that we’re experiencing is probably more difficult to climb out of emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually then it perhaps would have been before 9/11. In 1987 we had a tremendous stock crash, but the general sense of the country was “we can make it through this.” Then in 2001, we had another traumatic decline in the stock market, but now what we’re finding is that the kind of optimism that would normally accompany economic decline seems to be accompanied by a general sense of pessimistic projection. I think 9/11 was the singular date when we began to question our ability to really manage our circumstances. The challenge of the church is to make the case that our psychological, emotional, and therefore poltical status, hinges on our spiritual strength.

Shane Claiborne, Philadelphia

Shane Claiborne is co-founder of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia, a best-selling author, and a social justice/peace activist. On September 10, he will co-host Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream, a 90 minute variety show, with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founder Ben Cohen in Philadelphia.

My initial thoughts about the impact of 9/11 on urban ministry relate to the increases in military spending where we’re spending like $250,000 a minute. As the country goes bankrupt, it raises all kinds of questions. In our neighborhood, we can really see what Dr. King meant when he said, “Every time a bomb goes off overseas, we can feel the second impact of it right here.” We’ve got thousands and thousands of abandoned houses, a bankrupt school system, folks needing healthcare. The interconnectedness of that is really evident.

In addition, I think that what one veteran from Iraq called the “economic draft” has become a really urgent reality for our kids in the urban neighborhood here, where they’re selectively recruited. The fliers that they give out say, “Everybody told you to go to college. They just didn’t tell you how to get there. Join the Army.”

We have a drop out rate over 40 percent in Philadelphia. At a graduation I attended this year, they said more kids will be going into the military than will be going to college. That really struck me. The post-September 11 military ethos has grown and affected things dramatically.

This year we’ve got a mentoring program called Team Timotheo, where young men are mentored and  discipled by older men. It’s a football league that was started by guys in our neighborhood. Part of what we’re trying to do is to teach young people non-violence and out of it, deeply rooted faith in Jesus and the non-violence of the cross. We’ve got a homicide rate that is almost one a day in Philadelphia right now. All of that is very interconnected because we’re trying to teach kids not to hit each other and then they see this mess of redemptive violence kind of perpetuated all over the world after September 11.

There’s a kind of spiritual dimension to it. There’s an economic dimension to it. So those are all things that we’ll be talking about on Saturday. Particularly the testimony of the Iraq veteran, Logan. He’ll be sharing about his collision with the cross and the gun. Terry Rockefeller, whose sister was killed on 9/11, has said there was never a moment when she thought violence would be the answer or would solve the tragedy of September 11. Those are credible, important voices. We planned Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream before we realized it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11, but then when we realized it was, we decided that there’s no better way to honor those who died on September 11 and those who are continuing to die now than to try to celebrate the possibilities of another, better world.

*DeForest Soaries’ and Shane Claiborne’s comments were edited for length and clarity. Jeremy DelRio submitted his via email and those were not edited.