We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the awful tragedy of Sept. 11. In the wake of this tragedy, many asked the question, "Why?" I prefer to ask, "What now?"
How should the Christian community respond to such an act of terror and indiscriminate killing of fellow human beings? Many of us have been filled with anger, not only as we watched the horror of those days but even as the years have passed. Anger is often a response to hurt and pain; we don't have to feel less than Christian because of anger. Jesus was obviously angered by those who turned his Father's House of Prayer into what he called a "den of thieves and robbers." Anger is a normal human emotional response, and Jesus was no less human than us. The lesson for us is how our Lord choses to reveal his will for humanity, even when humanity displeases him.
Christians can display to a flawed humanity that despite acts like Sept. 11, God calls us to love all of humanity. He doesn't call us to destroy those who seek to hurt, maim, and even kill us. Nor does God call us to feel anxiety and discomfort because others possess more than we do. Remember the man who asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide his inheritance with him? Jesus replied that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions but in richness toward God. We are rich toward God when we love one another and love God. Our love must not be talked about but displayed.
Here are ways to demonstrate to a disbelieving world that we do have the capacity and will to be rich toward God and others:
1. We can choose to open our places of worship to the total community as Houses of Prayer.
2. We can make a special effort to include those who are often left out of such gatherings -- the unemployed, homeless, people who work on Sundays, or others we don't see in our churches.
3. We can go to the prisons, jails, youth detention centers, and poverty-stricken communities to hold outdoor prayer events or celebrations of our common need for each other.
4. We can ask teachers in our churches to donate time in tutoring students who struggle with academics.
5. We can donate 10 percent -- a tithe -- of our offering to establish a fund to help struggling persons in our communities. (Maybe it should be 11 percent!)
6. It would be wonderful if we could help individuals and families in our churches work toward reconciliation after they've experienced conflict.
Jesus declared that people "shall know that you are my disciples in that you have love one for another." United Methodists can live this out by keeping the three simple rules: "Do good," "do no harm," and (as Bishop Reuben Job puts it), "Stay in love with God!"
Let us work to alleviate the anxiety in ourselves, in our homes, in our churches, on our jobs, in our communities, and in our world. Instead of building walls that divide us, let's build bridges of love, trust, and hope.
Bishop James Swanson is resident bishop of the Holston Conference.