Scrolling through Facebook on this fateful anniversary, I see a mirror for the schisms in our country. We cannot seem to embrace the diversity of ways that people honor this particular fraught anniversary. There is a spirit of competition as some people post photos of the World Trade Center towers on fire and say “Never forget.” Others focus on people–survivors, first responders, memorials to civilians who died that day. I posted the Budweiser ad that according to Jim Brooks who originated the post, they only aired once so as not to make money on this tragedy.
Since it is also Sunday, our church at St John’s Lutheran in Sacramento held a Serve Day. We all worshipped together in our jeans and t-shirts and were graced with an amazing sermon from Rev. Dr. Stephen Bourman, who served as Lutheran Bishop of New York on 9/11/01. We then went out in small groups to accomplish projects in the neighborhood. Our group of 6 picked up trash for a couple of hours–a challenge after a second Saturday in Midtown.
These various expressions of remembrance and service are not surprising as they reflect the various cliques of people who emphasize some values over others. Social media facilitates this in a way that the traditional media never has. Traditional media likes to find one narrative for “the country”. There is competition for the narrative right after the event and then most of the media adopt this as “the narrative.” Social media allows us all to find kindred spirits who see things like we do in all of its diversity. Now we compete for “Team First Amendment” or “Team America First”.
When a quarterback decides to take a knee during the national anthem, there are groups who feel everything from support for the racial conflict in the USA, to his right to express his views but they’ll refuse to watch the 49ers play, to people burning his jersey. It often feels like football rivalries.
I wish instead of reacting with anger and competitive spirit, we could all take a breath and get curious. What moves this quarterback so deeply that he’s willing to risk his career and popularity to make a statement? Is there something we can learn from this perspective? If his statements trigger supercharged emotions in us, then what can we learn about our own values?
And I wish the media could continue to do more of what they did after 9/11 when they found many, many stories of personal heroism and tragedy and shared those with us. At least at first the narrative was allowed to include how we all pulled together to help one another grieve and regroup. Before it became the war on terror.
I personally do not to see a photo of the towers with billowing smoke as that image is forever etched in my mind; but I’ll do my best to stay curious about why others do. Mostly I want to remember that it was a time when the world was united behind the USA, when we all shared a tragic experience and looked for ways to help others–from volunteering at ground zero to giving blood. Finally, to search within myself to find that community spirit and act in ways that keep it alive.