I went to church today for the first time in as long as I can remember - as in, not a special occasion event, but a regular Sunday morning service at our local Unitarian Universalist congregation. My mother has been wanting to check it out for the past year or so, and whenever we try to line up our schedules it hasn't worked out for one reason or another. Yesterday, out of the blue, I decided that today needed to be the day. I didn't know why, but it seemed important.
Soon after arriving and settling into our seats, I realized that today is September 11th. It's not that I hadn't realized it before, but somehow the significance didn't quite filter through the nearly impenetrable maze of stuff in my head. As the music began, and as I grounded myself in the moment, the memories of that day, 15 years ago, came flooding back.
I've written about My September 11th, in a public way, and it remains one of the pieces that I've published online that generates response - most of it positive, but a good deal of hateful rhetoric as well. A few years after writing the original piece, I made a short video to accompany it, which also got a lot of airplay, and even more hate mail. I was interviewed during drive-time on a South African radio program. It was definitely one of the more surreal experiences of my life - sitting in my car in Berkeley, talking to a radio DJ half a world away, and fumbling to explain how my writing expressed not just my own failure to be a fully engaged human, but also a failure that lives in each of us.
In My September 11th I wrote: "As long as we allow the existence of near and far, of nation-states, and borders – as long as we stay within our own zone of knowledge, comfort, and understanding, those fault lines will remain. Fault lines that crack and splinter, rifts that eventually rupture to tear us apart. What will it take for us to see humanity as a whole, rather than as subdivided entities, as “us” and “them,” as one or another person being wronged?" As I finished speaking my three-minutes of South African radio time, I remained on the phone line and could hear as the station shifted to the traffic and weather report. It was, after all, commute time there, amusing and very real evidence of shared humanity.
Today's sermon touched on Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, by Walter Brueggemann. In Brueggemann's words: "I suggest that the prophetic task now, in contemporary U.S. society, is exactly to perform hope that is characteristically a tenacious act of imagination, grounded in a dream, song, narrative, or oracle, rooted in the elusive but faithful authority of God. The prophet is the one who dares to speak such a future that is out beyond all evidence. The work is not simply to reiterate old acts of hope, but to be informed by such old acts in order to perform acts that may be grounded in divine initiative."
The minister ended with these words: "We are all made of love and dust." I used to joke that much of my public writing is driven more by heart than by a well-articulated political analysis, and that may indeed be true. I'm not all that much of a God person, but grounding hopeful action in dream, song, narrative, or oracle, that is, in something akin to divine, resonates with me deeply. Love and dust. Today's sermon seemed to be a good call that self-criticism be damned, it is time to get my voice out there in the world again. I think I'll take my mom back to church next week too.