Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Star Trek Canticles

I was long twilight struggling in the Cold War during the original broadcasts of Star Trek, so I missed most of the series. After I returned from overseas I caught glimpses of two episodes on a 10-inch black and white TV from Sears and I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I thought they were terrible. “Mudd’s Women” was about a space profiteer (they wouldn’t dare say “pimp”) who marketed beautiful women to horny starship crews. “The Trouble with Tribbles” was so crammed with gratuitous cuteness that it made my teeth hurt.

I thought later manifestations of the series, including “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space 9,” were terrific, but I never caught on to the Trekkie hysteria that accompanied the original series.

But earlier this month I turned 65 and several of the kids pooled their resources to buy me an iPad. The gift, which confirms that boys and old men are mostly distinguished by the cost of their toys, was much appreciated. Within hours I signed on to NetFlix and, at the suggestion of son Will, began watching Star Trek for the first time.

The series, re-mastered in 2006, has been a revelation. Backgrounds and planet surfaces have been digitally enhanced and the Enterprise’s engines drone with stereophonic realism somewhere behind the left quadrant of my head. The pores and nose hairs of the actors, invisible on my Sears TV, are distractingly vivid and I often find myself studying William Shatner’s scalp for signs of an embryonic toupee. But Shatner, like the rest of the crew, is young and beautiful. As who wasn’t in 1967? (Nichelle, you can park your space boots beneath my bed any time.)

Sure, many episodes flirt with the puerile, and sometimes the digital improvements call too much attention to ridiculous props. In one awkward scene, a silicon-based life form resembling a colossal placenta is supposed to threaten Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The two actors – Shatner and Leonard Nimoy – must have struggled to keep from laughing as the groaning creature advanced and retreated on invisible little wheels. The monster was known to be a mass murderer of humanoids, but Spock contorts his face and gingerly places his hands on the thing to perform a Vulcan mind-meld. Connected with the creature’s essence, Spock discovers the beast is really a misunderstood mom and basically nice. Connected with NetFlix, viewers discover what may be the funniest scene in the whole franchise. Maybe it worked better in black and white.

Despite the sometimes uneven quality of the stories, which I suspect may be part of the series’ charm for many Trekkies, there are also some compelling tales that I would consider morality plays. I suspect episodes in this category were largely conceived by the series’ ingenious creator, Gene Roddenberry.

One such tale is “Errand of Mercy," originally broadcast on March 23, 1967, written by Gene L. Coon and directed by John Newland. This episode marks the first appearance of the Klingons, an alien race that enters the series with bland make-up and fiercely warlike proclivities and appears in later manifestations of the franchise with bizarre three-dimensional make-up and peaceful aims. In this episode, the 27th of the series, Klingon commander Kor is portrayed by the late John Colicos, a Canadian actor who relies on talent rather than make-up to look fierce.

Here’s the story: On stardate 3198.4, relations between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire have reached the breaking point. The USS Enterprise has been sent to the world of Organia, a non-aligned planet near the Klingon border, to protect it from annexation by the Klingons.

Kirk and Spock beam down to Organia and discover an inexplicably pacifist population led by Ayelborne, a bearded figure dressed in a robe apparently borrowed from Roddenberry’s bedroom. The late John Abbott, an English character actor, exudes a serenity so unshakable that viewers suspect he’s toking Maui Wowwie. The planet’s elderly councilmen (emphasis on the “men”) are equally spaced out, and all of them are incomprehensibly placid about the impending Klingon invasion. Naturally, Kirk and Spock are incredulous and infuriated by the population’s pacifism in the face of an imminent invasion by thugs who make the Nazis look like Swan Lake. The population retains its unruffled tranquility as Kor and his storm troopers take over the planet and begin executing Organians 200 at a time.

Clearly the situation calls for major conflict resolution that will restore peace and stop the Klingons from killing everyone. But how?
It’s a little difficult to tell if the Organian’s Ayelborne is supposed to make viewers think of Jesus or Gandhi or both. Or perhaps neither. The Organians face their brutal enemy with vacuous smiles and appear to prefer death to resistance.

Mohandas Gandhi, one of the more evolved souls of the twentieth century, resisted the British Raj in India with a strategy he called Satyagraha, loosely translated “soul force” or “truth force,” a passive resistance that eschewed violence but ultimately forced the British to grant India its independence. It was the same strategy employed by Martin Luther King, who kept a framed portrait of Gandhi in his office. Skeptics have opined that if Gandhi had employed Satyagraha against a power less absorbed with the ideals of fair play, such as Hitler, he would have been squashed like a bug. And this, in the Star trek morality play, is the possibility the Organians are facing.

It’s evident that throughout scores of original Star Trek episodes, Roddenberry was crafting video homilies about race relations and human conduct. The conflict between the Klingons and Starfleet is a Cold War metaphor. As the episode progresses, warships of the federation and the Klingon empire are poised to engage in a battle so cataclysmic that the special effects required to show it would not be developed for another 40 years.

What to do?

The scriptures offered this week by the Revised Common Lectionary are also anecdotes of conflict and its resolution. In Exodus 17:1-7, Moses is again facing open insurrection in the wilderness, this time because the children of Israel are dying of thirst. And in Matthew 21:23-32, the chief priests and the elders are trying to trick Jesus into claiming a special relationship with God so they can stone him.

What to do?

The Star Trek denouement is remarkable. As Federation Star Ships and Klingon battle cruisers begin their apocalyptic encounter, their controls suddenly go dead. Their photons fizzle. Their phasers dangle limply.

What the hell happened? Commander Kor and Captain Kirk levitate in rage that their powerful weapons have been rendered useless. But how?

Ah, but didn’t we know it all along? Councilman Ayelborne, still gazing limpidly into a horizon no one else can see, explains it in placid monotones. The Organians have interceded, he avers. They have shut down the operating systems of the belligerent fleets and they won’t restore power until both sides agree to live in peace. It turns out that the Organians, evolving for millions of years, have shed their corporeal forms and exist now as invisible globules of energy. They assume an illusory humanoid form when they have to entertain under-evolved guests or satisfy Screen Actors Guild minimums. “The Organians are as superior to us,” Spock observes, “as we are to the amoeba.”

At the end of the episode, Klingon storm troopers and the Crew of the Enterprise depart in peace – a fleeting arrangement that cannot last long if the Star Trek franchise is to endure another season.
But as diverting as the story was, Cold War viewers must have been left with the distinct impression that true peace – true human harmony – cannot be a reality until evolution has advanced a few million years. The very idea is, as we would have observed then, heaped in bummerosity. But it raises an interesting question: Just how evolved do you have to be to love your enemies and live in peace?

During the Raj, when Britain’s imperial power was strangling India, the British Viceroy, Lord Irwin, asked Gandhi how he would solve the problems between their two nations. According to reports, Gandhi picked up a bible and opened it to Matthew 5. "When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount,” Gandhi said, “we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.”

Gandhi also famously said to his British overlords, “I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
There is painful truth in that statement by a Hindu mystic. Among other things, it suggests why Roddenberry and the creators of Star Trek believed it would take millions of years for humanity to evolve into a peaceful, loving community. As a matter of fact, the formula for that beloved community was preached two millennia ago on the Galilean hillside. And for two thousand years, Christians – so unlike their Christ – have steadfastly rejected it.

I wondered, watching episode 27 of Star Trek, if writer Gene Coon and producer Gene Roddenberry were thinking about the Sermon on the Mount when they created the loving Organians. Their society is clearly based on Jesus’ teachings:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth …”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God …”
“…Everyone who is angry with his brother or sister shall be liable to judgment …”
“Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also …”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”

What Coon and Roddenberry could not comprehend, I suspect, is that a peaceful, loving, and harmonious world would not require millions of years of evolution. It would merely require enough faith to believe what Jesus said long ago, in the distant mists of the Bronze Age. Peace on earth is not a strange new world to which we will someday boldly go. Peace on earth is the realm of God that has been with us all the time.

It’s sobering to think how different the world would have been if we Christians had been a little more like our Christ. The crusades, the Inquisition, the barbaric extermination of indigenous peoples in the age of Christian exploration, the bloody empires, the carnage of countless wars – including the War in Afghanistan which goes on and on – all were unnecessary, all were violations of God’s law, and all were a blatant rejection of our Christ.

In this week’s lectionary reading, Jesus makes it clear that the most pious among us will be the first to close out ears to him. "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you,” he declares, “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:31-32)

That’s another way of warning us that Christians will not be like our Christ.

Star Trek has created a wonderful illusion of a world in which all women and men live in peace, where ethnic backgrounds and color lines have no meaning, where there are no poor, where hunger does not exist, where no child ever awakens to the sounds of violence and terror.

Gene Roddenberry couldn’t imagine that world becoming a reality for many centuries.

But the foundations of that world were put in place thousands of years ago.

And the mission assigned to us all is as elusive as it is simple: to boldly go where no Christian has gone before.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Unfair Practices

Back in the day, union organizers and evangelicals were hard to tell apart. They ate at the same tables, harmonized in the same choir lofts, and often shared the same beds.

In the late 1960s at Eastern Baptist College, Tony Campolo would occasionally bring a guitar to his sociology classes to lead us in rousing union songs that sounded like hymns.

There is pow'r, there is pow'r
In a band of workingmen.
When they stand hand in hand,
That's a pow'r, that's a pow'r
That must rule in every land --
One Industrial Union Grand.*

Tony’s point, I think, was that the gospel of liberation provided the soil that nurtured the seeds of the labor movement. I’d like to think that Moses and Jesus, emancipators as they were, would have been union men. But you can't prove it by the passages cited in this week’s Common Lectionary.

In Exodus 16, Moses, long past his honeymoon with his starving band of Israelites, is pelted by stinging grievances so relentlessly that he begins to feel like a freshman in a varsity dodge ball game. And in Matthew 20, Jesus scoffs at a committee of workers who demand fair wages. “The last will be first and the first will be last,” he sniffs unsympathetically.

As a card carrying member of Local 38010 of the Communication Workers of America (AFL-CIO, CLC), I wonder if I should speak out about that. The situation Jesus is talking about in Matthew is blatantly unfair: workers who have been busting their butts all day “in the scorching heat” learn they will receive the same wage as laborers who have been on the job for barely an hour. No wonder the exhausted day workers complain, but Jesus sides with management on the issue.

I can’t imagine a shop in the world that would put up with that. Equal pay for equal work is a measurement of justice, and the union exists to protect workers from precisely the sort of exploitation Jesus appears to endorse. My spouse’s parents, immigrants from Cuba, would have floundered in the U.S. without the unions that made sure they were paid just wages for their labors. In 1946, my father was hired as a teacher in upstate New York at an annual wage of just under $1,000. The faculty had no union to seek a more appropriate level of remuneration, or to arrange to pay teachers during the summer break. Between June and August, Dad worked as a road crew laborer and part-time insurance vendor.

Here’s where I want to insert an autobiographical cliché, “We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor,” but actually Dad was quite good at making sure we knew it. By the time the faculty finally organized and joined the United Federation of teachers, nearly 20 years after Dad taught his first class, I had graduated and was on my own. While Dad rarely shared details about his finances, it was clear that his annual wage had risen dramatically – not, I might add, because the union was gouging the tax payers of the district, but because for the first time teachers were receiving a fairer compensation for their work.

I tried to think of an anecdote to illustrate how much my own union changed my life, but it didn’t. I don’t think any of us reporters and photographers believed we were being paid enough – in fact, I never worked harder for less than in my newspaper days – but our salary and benefits negotiations accomplished little. Perhaps our instincts as journalists convinced us the First Amendment would be somehow damaged if we walked out and closed the paper. And when we were pressed to confront management, our preferred tool was the informational picket line, at which we excelled. We were exemplars of the Charlie Brown school of confrontation: we didn’t win any ball games, but we had a lot of interesting discussions.

In Exodus we read about a somewhat different situation. Moses is not facing a work stoppage as much as an open revolt. The children of Israel are long passed the euphoria they felt when they escaped Pharaoh’s cruel bondage and now hover on the verge of starvation in the desert. They are now desperately unhappy that Moses’ campaign promises have not been fulfilled. Before the revolution, they complain, “we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread,” but now they complain to Moses, “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Their ingratitude is shameless but perfectly understandable. It’s similar to people-in-the-street interviews with Russians after the fall of the Soviet Union, when basic needs like food and fuel were hard to come by. Suddenly Russians of a certain age remembered the Stalin years as the happiest of their lives.

The attitude of the Israelites is not Moses’ fault, of course. It’s not unusual to lose faith in human political leaders when we realize they cannot live up to our deification of them. It’s this kind of disillusionment that President Obama is trying to counter on the campaign trail, and he is not the first to experience it. In the fall of 1963, President Kennedy’s poll numbers were teetering and he believed he faced a close race against Senator Barry Goldwater the following year. It was an assassin’s bullet that installed JFK into the pantheon of political gods. Had he lived, he would have been just another pol with a toothy smile, trying to glamour voters to stand by him through one more election.

Faced with a possible insurrection, Moses tells himself that “the complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” God recognizes it, too, and intervenes by scattering a miraculous meal – manna from heaven – on the morning sands. Crisis averted.

Manna was evidently concocted in Heaven’s Kitchen so no one knows what it tasted like, except that it had the powers to placate an angry mob. There, however, speculative manna recipes. If you visit the eastern U.S. archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch in New Jersey, for example, you will be served manna derived from a concoction traced back two millennia. It is white, delicately chewy and preternaturally sweet. The archbishop probably uses it judiciously, because he knows it is impossible to hold on to your anger or resentments when you eat manna from Paramus.

As we desperately isogete the labor and crowd management issues evident in the passages from Exodus and Matthew, I think we can discern this: there is both bad news and good news in these stories.

The bad news is this: God is willing to treat us unfairly.
Consider the children of Israel, victims of the ultimate bait-and-switch: promised milk and honey but stuck with thirst and starvation.

And consider the poor sweaty wretches who worked all day in the vineyard and were appalled to receive the same wage as those who wandered lazily passed the vineyard at the end of the day and worked for an hour.

The good news is this: God is willing to treat us unfairly.
In the desert, the children of Israel may still be decades away from the land of milk and honey. But God remains a palpable presence in their midst, and their faith is rewarded with food from heaven’s kitchen.

But the best news of all is in the vineyard Jesus intended as a metaphor for God’s judgment.

Salvation is not a fair wage offered exclusively to those spend all their lives working out their deliverance in fear and trembling. If that were the case, heaven would be as lonely as Ghadaffi 's compound.

Salvation is an unfair wage offered both to the life-long stalwart and to the last-minute seeker for whom faith is unsought, unplanned and accidental. The most famous example of this kind of barefaced unfairness is the criminal on the cross, whose last words on earth are to beg Jesus’ favor in paradise.

In the final analysis, I think, Moses and Jesus would have been good union men. Moses was the ultimate shop steward, arguing before Pharaoh that his work force should be granted its freedom. And Jesus had a classic union constituency in mind when he declared God had sent him to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and economic justice for all.

Where Moses and Jesus may differ from more traditional union leaders is that the contracts they were negotiating were not just for the workers and the weak, but for management and the powerful as well.

There’s absolutely nothing fair about that. But it is very good news for us all.

* Words by Joe Hill, 1913

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11

We all have our stories.

Martha and I had just settled into our offices in The Interchurch Center, more than 100 blocks north of the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, Martha directed public relations and communication for the United Church of Christ Pension Boards on the 10th floor (as she still does), and I was communications officer of the U.S. conference for the World Council of Churches on the 9th floor.

I was probably sipping the last dregs of my morning coffee when Martha called. “Did you hear a plane has flown into the World Trade Center?”

Instinctively, I turned to my keyboard and typed The Associated Press had tentatively moved a story with a file picture of the twin towers.

“What a mess,” I thought. I could imagine a small plane veering off course from Teeterboro and straying into one of the 1,340 foot-high towers. No doubt some office workers in the tower had been injured.

Martha called back. “We have an office on the 19th floor,” she said. “We can see the towers from there.” I met her at the elevator and we went up. Tom, the office IT director, shook his head as we walked in and nodded toward a southerly window.

The towers were nearly seven miles south of us, but in my memory they seemed just a few blocks away. Black smoke billowed from the northern façade of the North Tower, and I still assumed an errant small plane had done the damage. Most of the people in the office had stopped looking out the window and had returned to their tasks.

We watched the smoke streaming eastward for several minutes.

“I have a service downstairs in the chapel,” Martha said. One of her coworkers had died over the weekend, and Martha was in charge of the memorial. We thanked Tom for allowing us to satisfy our curiosity and walked out. Seconds after we closed the door behind us, the second plane hit the South Tower.

By the time Martha and her colleagues emerged from the memorial service, both towers were fully involved in flames and on the verge of collapse.

Across the river in Hoboken, Martha’s cousin Tony watched in horror as people leaped off the towers to escape the flames and fell to their deaths on the plaza below.

Martha’s cousin Alina was stranded with her colleagues at Brown Brothers Harriman on nearby Wall Street. In the Empire State Building on 34th street, Alina’s husband, Steve, was making urgent calls to her office to see if she was all right.

Back at the Interchurch Center on 120th Street, my colleagues Jean and Sonia were literally holding each other up as news came of the collapse of the North Tower. Jean’s niece, who had been staying with her that summer, worked at one of the buildings adjacent to the towers and Jean had been unable to reach her.

As I sat in my office overlooking the Hudson River, I spun my radio dial, seeking additional updates. I listened briefly to an FM deejay who said he was broadcasting from one of the towers. “They’re telling us to evacuate,” he said excitedly, “But I’m staying at my post as a public service, ‘cause folks need to know what’s goin’ on …” I spun past him looking for 1010 WINS or another all news station and didn’t give the deejay a second thought. But ten years later, I wonder: did the guy wise up and get the hell out of the tower? Or did I accidentally tune in to his last words on earth?

It wasn’t easy getting news about what was happening outside. I began receiving emails from a World Council of Churches colleague in Geneva. Dr. Martin Robra was monitoring the news in Europe and it was in one of his emails that I learned a plane had also struck the Pentagon in Washington. “You are at war,” Martin wrote ominously.

Our offices in The Interchurch Center at 120th Street and Riverside were far from Ground Zero and still unaffected by the calamity that was unfolding downtown. Two days later, a foul yellow haze that stung the eyes and burned the throat would spread throughout all of Manhattan. But in the midday hours of September 11, the air was still clear uptown. If you turned northward toward the George Washington Bridge, it was a beautifully pristine late summer day.

Outside the city, persons following the events on television wondered if all New York was in flames. Our son, Will, then a junior at Port Chester High School, left an urgent message on Martha’s cell phone. He said he had heard the city was under attack by military jets flying out of the White Plains airport and he pleaded with his mother to get in touch with him.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the message until hours later, when we were all safely home.

Daughter Victoria was in sixth grade in Port Chester on September 11 and we felt sure she would be safe with her teachers until the end of the day. However, daughter Katie was in a special education program in an outside school district and needed to take a school bus home. What the traffic situation would be like in Westchester County was anyone’s guess.

“Let’s go pick up Katie,” Martha said. I told Jean and Sonia that we were heading home, and they waved their hands as if to shoo us out. “Be careful,” Jean said. She had just heard that all bridges and access routes to Manhattan has been closed.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s see how far we can get.”

As it turned out, Riverside Drive was virtually empty. When we got to the Bronx-bound Henry Hudson Bridge, I looked for signs it had been closed. Instead, an MTA officer waved us through the tolls. We made it to Katie’s school in Ardsley in half the usual time.

But there were scores of cars jamming the high school parking lot. Parents from all over the district had come to take their children home. We parked at the far end of the lot and headed for the nurse’s office to sign Katie out. We found ourselves waiting in a line of anxious parents as a stressed-out gray-haired nurse scolded us. “This is crazy,” she hissed, “You people are over-reacting,” as she impatiently scribbled her signature on dismissal slips.

After several minutes, Katie was escorted to the office by her teacher, Erin. Erin smiled at us but she must have had other things on her mind. She knew her brother, an employee at Cantor Fitzgerald, could have been one of nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center. It would be weeks before his remains were identified, but hours after the attack his fate was still unknown.

That night, as the sun began to set on September 11, the Port Chester members of the family were safely home on Wesley Avenue. Throughout the tri-state area that night, thousands of shaken people who made it home kept an eye on their neighbors’ homes to see if they returned safely. But many never did.

As supper was being prepared, I stepped outside briefly, probably to retrieve something from the car. A military fighter jet roared overhead at a low altitude; if the jet had been slower, I could have read the words on the fuselage, but it thundered angrily and disappeared. My knees buckled as I ducked instinctively, but in an instant it was silent again. I thought to myself, “We really are at war.”

It’s difficult to exaggerate the worldwide effects of September 11. The attacks – and our reaction to the attacks – had an indelible impact on billions of people. On September 12 we learned that our British friends John and Bridget Newbury had been flying from London to New York on September 11. When U.S. airports closed, their flight was diverted to Nova Scotia. They and other passengers were taken in by friendly Canadian farmers until the planes started flying again, on September 14.

Our daughter Lauren had planned to fly from Washington State to Philadelphia on September 11.

“I was going to a wedding in Philadelphia on the 15th,” Lauren recalls. “My flight was supposed to be a red eye leaving on the night of the 11th, but it didn’t get out until the 14th. I waited on line at (the Seattle-Tacoma airport) so long that I got free water and snacks from the Red Cross.”

Lauren was in a tiny minority of Americans who still wanted to fly that week. As it turned out, she made it to the wedding on time. “The minister pointed out that weddings are always audacious acts of hope in a world full of tragedy,” she recalls. “It’s hopeful, loving, life affirming acts like marriage that get us through everything else.”

It was not easy to find loving, life affirming acts in the aftermath of September 11. It’s not any easier today as the war in Afghanistan, launched as a direct reaction to the terror attacks, goes on and on. For many of us, the murder of Osama Bin Laden a decade after the attacks did little to ease the anger and salve the grief.

Perhaps one of the most prophetic statements that came out of September 11 appeared within days after the attacks. It was called, Deny them their victory, and it was written by four interfaith leaders* and signed by 4,000 people, including Martha and me and perhaps including you.

“We, American religious leaders, share the broken hearts of our fellow citizens,” the statement said. “The worst terrorist attack in history that assaulted New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, has been felt in every American community. Each life lost was of unique and sacred value in the eyes of God, and the connections Americans feel to those lives run very deep. In the face of such a cruel catastrophe, it is a time to look to God and to each other for the strength we need and the response we will make. We must dig deep to the roots of our faith for sustenance, solace, and wisdom.”

The statement continued: “The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge – even against the most innocent . . . The terrorists must feel victorious.

“But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us.”

Ten years after the attacks, I still can’t bring myself to watch the television images of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. They are simply too painful.

But equally painful has been the cycle of violence that has swirled around us for so many years, with no end in sight.

Five years ago my friend Michael Livingston, then the President of the National Council of Churches, was attending an interfaith gathering at the U.S. Embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan. The event, hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan, happened to be held on September 11. The Ambassador asked Michael to lead the gathering in prayer.

“God of history,” Michael prayed, “even as we remember the death and deep pain inflicted by such desperate acts, we acknowledge our own participation in a world community that has failed to accept and celebrate our common humanity. We fail one another: when one child goes hungry anywhere in the world, when one person is persecuted for adherence to a particular religion or no religion at all, when preventable diseases cause one unnecessary death, when air and water are polluted or exploited for economic gain.

“Merciful God, we are none of us innocent. And if we share responsibility for the harm we have done to one another in the past—sometimes in the name of religion—then surely we share responsibility for our common future. Help us O God, to resolve to know one another, as you know us; to accept one another, as you accept us, to love one another, as you love us.

“Let the memory of 9/11 move us to build a world of justice without exploitation; of peace without violence; of joy at the sheer wonder of life on this beautiful planet; of community that celebrates the great diversity that is our divine gift.

“God of signs and wonders, move among us as a healing spirit, binding our wounds, forgiving us our debts, reconciling our differences. One world, one God of many names, hear our prayer.”


* The writers of Deny Them Their Victory were Jim Wallis, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, David Saperstein, and Bob Edgar.