I was on a bus heading towards downtown Minneapolis for work while listening to the news on my radio. As the bus neared the University of Minnesota, there was breaking news about a small plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. My mind went back to something I remembered from history; when a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. By the time I was near work, the second plane hit. Now I knew something was up. The rest of the day was filled with trying to work and listening to National Public Radio about what in the world was happening. There was a sense of not feeling safe. America has always seen itself as a fortress; a place that is protected from the rest of the world by two large oceans. September 11 showed that the fortress could be breached. So, it was not a coincidence that I heard a familiar hymn being sung in churches; “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Having just spent the last four years at a Lutheran seminary, I knew this song very well. Written by Martin Luther and based on Psalm 46, the hymn was trying to reassure a nation traumatized; yes our earthly fortress was attacked, but we can place faith in God who is and always will be an impregnable fortress.
America has always seen itself as an exceptional nation. Our geography made us believe that we were safe from the horrors of the world. Even when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor or when we feared nuclear missiles raining down from the sky, we saw ourselves as protected from attacks. We hadn’t been invaded in centuries. The First and Second World Wars left the homefront relatively unscathed. America faced the postwar years as the strongest economy and the future reassured us that or fortress was strong and the chance it could be breached it was slim to none.
Then September 11 happened.
I do see God as a strong fortress. The United States? Not anymore. That overriding sense of security, that belief that things could be easily resolved was gone. Twenty years after 9/11, our own mighty fortress remains broken. Many had hoped the tragedy might bring us together and it did for a time. In the months and years immediately following 9/11 the world was scary, but it felt like…