A little over a week ago, Americans celebrated Patriots' Day - our rebranding of the national tragedy of 9/11 into a celebration of the American spirit, of community, of camaraderie. This year was particularly striking, as the 20th anniversary of the event.
So you know someone had to go and ruin it.
The same thing happened a little over a week ago that always seems to happen in our society, and it's why it's so hard for us to have real conversations about things. Someone hijacked (yes, I get the irony of this term) the remembrance of 9/11 in order to twist it into a conversation about the current pandemic. Specifically, what started coming out toward the end of the day - after the names had been read, the bells had been tolled, and Taps had been played - was how the nation needs just as much "unity" in response to the pandemic as we had in response to these terrorist attacks.
You knew it was coming. You knew someone was going to do it. You were thankful that they at least had the tact not to say it while flowers were being laid and names were being read. But honestly? The timing was still terrible.
We talked last week about how our culture twists conversations to its own aims. About how we need to be mindful about the ways that we use the name of Jesus and how we let the name of Jesus be used. About how our culture will interject the name of Jesus just to get us to do something they want us to do. And here we are with a great example of how nothing is sacred to American culture.
Not even, interestingly, American culture itself.
And it's such a subtle shift, so subtle that most don't even recognize it (which is why it's usually so effective). 9/11 ought to be a sacred day in America. It ought to be a time of us setting aside all the rest of our junk, coming together, remembering together, grieving together, communing together. It ought to be a day in which all that divides us just...disappears and we all walk out of that cloud of dust together.
The problem is that when we start talking about how we ought to do that, instead of just doing it, we often 1) don't do it and 2) create divisions. And let's just add this, 3) diminish the experience of our friends and neighbors who have a real, meaningful connection to the event that we're trying to turn for our own gain.
Every single person who lost a loved one on 9/11 or who was otherwise impacted by the events of that day got to listen to talking heads on that very night proclaim that a virus is no different than a terrorist, that getting sick is just the same as being blown up (sorry for the graphicness). That something spreading by chance through our communities is not fundamentally different than someone plotting and planning and deliberately executing the attacks on 9/11. What these survivors got to hear was, hey, it was basically chance. Nothing really but like getting sick.
I cannot imagine that anyone with a personal connection to 9/11 particularly enjoyed the comparison, much less the realization that yet again, the pandemic had stolen one more sacred moment in our culture by making everything about itself.
This is important to talk about because it continues the conversation we were having last week - our culture doesn't know how to have respectful conversations any more, it seems. Not about Jesus. Not about community. Not about life as we know it. Not even, as I said before, about itself. There is nothing in our culture that our culture is willing to recognize as sacred, nothing that is untouchable, nothing that it is not willing to twist and to commandeer and to use for its own advantage, without any regard for the way that it bulldozes through the most sacred moments of human experience.
And we have to change this. We have to stop this. We have to start setting aside times and places and spaces for the sacred. And that means, in part, that we're going to have to start standing up to culture on this.
So we'll talk some more about it in the coming days, of course. Stay tuned.