Parker Palmer, Phyllis Tickle, Linda Loving, Ingrid Mattson, Barry Cytron, and Tom Faulkner
The Spiritual Fallout of 9/11
Ingrid Mattson is professor of Islamic Studies and the president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Phyllis Tickle is founding editor of the religion department of Publishers Weekly and an authority on religion in America. She's the author of many books, including The Great Emergence.
Parker J. Palmer is founder and senior partner emeritus of the Center for Courage & Renewal; his latest project is The Growing Edge. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, and On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old.
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is First Person: Speaking of Faith on “The Spiritual Fallout of 9/11”. Today on First Person, we’ll explore some of the religious and moral challenges raised by 9/11, questions of meaning, which we’ve only begun to ponder. We’ll hear from Quaker educator Parker Palmer, Muslim theologian Ingrid Mattson and religion editor Phillis Tickle with some of their learnings of the past year. We’ll explore generational differences in response to 9/11 and we’ll take you inside the religious life at and around Ground Zero, which was largely hidden from news reporting.
For those who experienced it, Ground Zero transformed the very idea of what a church can be. There were 60 chaplains of every faith on duty around the clock and there were open-air church services on the recovery site every Sunday morning near what they called “The Pile” and later “The Pit.” These were presided over by a Franciscan priest, Brian Jordan.
BRIAN JORDAN: Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.
MS. TIPPETT: Workers would come back to Ground Zero on their days off to attend these services with colleagues and families of the victims.
ANDREW MAFFIELD: My name is Andrew Maffield. I am a sanitation worker for the City of New York. I’ve been on Ground Zero, keeping the dust down on the debris. Being able to have this church, so to speak, here means a lot to us. And when you step in this area by the cross ready to come to mass, forget what you feel like when you see the, the pit. The pit is hell. This is heaven. This little area here is heaven.
CONGREGATION: [Singing] Home sweet home. God bless America, my home sweet home.
FATHER JORDAN: God bless America.
MS. TIPPETT: God bless America. In the past year, Irving Berlin’s World War II-era song has become almost a second national anthem. And those three words appear on more bumper stickers, T-shirts and front porch signs than ever before. Patriotism skyrocketed after the terrorist attacks right alongside worship attendants. Last fall, American churches and synagogues were full and TV screens were packed with religious services, many of them interfaith.
But the religion story one year later is far more complex. I revisited several leading clergy people with whom I spoke a year ago about how 9/11 has challenged them. Linda Loving is the senior pastor of a 1200-member Presbyterian church. Here sit he upbeat flavor of the conversation I had with her six days after the September attacks.
LINDA LOVING: We, like churches all over the country, had folding chairs in all the aisles. And you get into the pulpit and people look up at you and they are starved for what you have to say. And it was a riveting time to be in the pulpit and to feel their hunger for meaning.
MS. TIPPETT: Now, here is Linda Loving one year later in a very different frame of mind.
REV. LOVING: It was a matter of weeks, maybe even within a month, the congregation was back to normal size. On the other hand, I think that the questions and yearning that people came with that day, maybe the next week day are still there and people are still wrestling with it. And what I continue to wrestle with is how can the institutional church be a place that draws people’s questions and doubts and concerns and isn’t just the shelter in the storm? And once things let up just a bit, they’re back in streets again.
MS. TIPPETT: You talked right after September 11th about how starved people were to hear God’s words straight from scripture. And another thing that you, a quality that you noticed was that people recognized their dependency. Are those things you continue to see or is there any other level that people went to with those particular experiences?
REV. LOVING: I would have to see I do continue to see some of that. What concerns is that it’s so hard for all of us as human beings to live with the ambiguity and live with the anxiety that we want to take the edge off it. And I keep thinking, you know, sometimes when there’s an edge there, it’s because we’re about to discover something incredibly important and we sell ourselves short by, you know, we just can’t go there. It takes a lot of courage.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
REV. LOVING: We keep wanting to take that away and make things OK again, off a comfort food instead of really wrestling with it. And I hope the church can stay in the wrestling place. I feel so strongly about this because we need to know that what happens in other places in the world has an enormous impact on us and we need to care about the rest of the world, because it’s God’s creation, the whole thing. And when a church feels that it’s just a corner of it that matters, we are in trouble. So, so, yes, I wish that those folding chairs were still whipped out every Sunday morning. But it’s never a numbers game. It’s more about how you keep reaching, how you keep articulating the faith. So, I really invite people to look at their own individual journeys, spiritual and vocational, and imagine that it might have to be turned upside down for the world to be safe again.
MS. TIPPETT: Linda Loving is senior pastor of the House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul.
Last September, I also spoke with Rabbi Barry Cytron. After the attacks, he was reading the Book of Job.
BARRY CYTRON: The Job of, 40 chapters of that back, was railing against God and fate and the tragedy of his life. And the ancient rabbi said, “There was no Job, this is every man and every woman, this is all of us as we look out at the world.”
MS. TIPPETT: The spiritual fallout of the past year has included the escalation of violence in the Holy Land. When I spoke with Rabbi Cytron just recently, I was struck again by how little comfort food he is asking from his tradition. Rather, he finds the Hebrew bible to be a help, precisely because it resonates with all the complexity of human life.
RABBI CYTRON: We were in Chicago last weekend, which is where our children and our granddaughter live. And my wife and I were out for a walk and looked up at a, kind of one of these high-rises, which had a poster just stuck in the window, and the poster said “USA: 9/11. Israel: 24/7.” And I went back and said something about that to our kids. And our daughter, with this frail, little 7-month-old, said and I’m just terrified for the world she’s gonna grow up in. And I am too. Jewish wisdom has at least this part right, which is the world and God are all pretty confusing. God is about justice but about injustice.
I think the ancient message is this very important awareness that Job either finally understands or is brought to understand, and that is I simply have to make do with this realization that I never quite got before. And I’m finally reconciled that I am mortal.
MS. TIPPETT: Rabbi Barry Cytron. I’m Krista Tippett and this is First Person: Speaking of Faith.
So, if the spiritual energy unleashed by 9/11 is not contained by traditional theology and worship spaces, where else is it showing up? I turned to Phyllis Tickle with this question. She’s the author of the 1996 book, God-Talking America and many other works. As a religion editor with Publisher’s Weekly, she’s also a long-time observer of religion in all its forms in American culture.
PHYLLIS TICKLE: The attendance at church was already up before 9/11 but it didn’t jazz up and stay there. What happened was that virtual reality sites crashed from overload — worship sites there. What happened was we lighted candles in atriums and in business narthexes and I wish I had had stock in the candle business. And, or we, we posted bouquets along the barricade or we gathered in small groups or we had office prayer groups. We didn’t do it in institutional religion.
MS. TIPPETT: When Phyllis Tickle looks for the spiritual fallout of 9/11, she looks at journalism, , books and movies. For several years, she says, she and her colleagues have been paying attention to the way grand religious themes like good and evil are being explored more and more through fiction and fantasy. Consider last fall’s blockbusters: The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter:
MR. OLLIVANDER (PLAYED BY JOHN HURT): I wondered when I’d be seeing you, Mr. Potter. It is curious that you should be destined for this wand when its brother gave you that scar.
HARRY POTTER (PLAYED BY DANIEL RADCLIFFE): And who owned that wand?
MR. OLLIVANDER: We do not speak his name.
MS. TIPPETT: In 2001, for the first time in the history of Publisher’s Weekly, the bestselling non-fiction and fiction books were both religious Christian titles. Harper Collins has recently rereleased and heavily promoted The Chronicles of Narnia, the children’s fantasy series by Christian author C.S. Lewis. Developments like these convinced Phyllis Tickle that the spiritual cutting edge of the post-9/11 world may lie in the Internet savvy imagination of American youth.
MS. TICKLE: Whether you call them Gen-Yers or millennials or post-Xers or whatever you want to call the generation that is now 13 to about 25, 30 that generation has grown up in the mystery, virtual reality, say. And they are at, very, very keenly aware that’s on the other side of that screen is as real as what’s on this side of that screen. That there are two communities, there are two ways of commerce, there are two languages…
MS. TIPPETT: And can you connect that sense of mystery and reality with the, some of the spiritual questions and impulses…
MS. TICKLE: Ex, Exactly.
MS. TIPPETT: …that are raised by 9/11?
MS. TICKLE: Exactly. You see, we’ve got a generation now of kids who never knew what it was to move back and forth, you know, like the children going through the back of the wardrobe in, in, in the closet to go…
MS. TIPPETT: In Narnia.
MS. TICKLE: …in Narnia. Exactly. And so they therefore are terribly comfortable in the spiritual world. They don’t have to talk about objective things to know that things are there. They don’t have to talk about location and spots on the compass to know that space is there. And so we’ve got a whole generation of spiritual travelers. And the trick is going to be to fashion the books or the leaders or the, the writers who can be cartographers, if you will, of that world for these young people. And I suspect that those cartographers are gonna be the young people themselves, that those of us who stayed home in Spain would be poor mapmakers for Christopher Columbus, you know, and that he’s gonna be a better mapmaker for those who followed him than those of us who stayed home in Spain.
MS. TIPPETT: And you’re you’re talking in a big way about them being the cartographers…
MS. TICKLE: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: … religion…
MS. TICKLE: Absolutely.
MS. TIPPETT: … this new world we’re moving into and that they have been conditioned by September 11th…
MS. TICKLE: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: … well.
MS. TICKLE: That, that is their hinge. I can remember for my father, the hinge of history was when the archduke of Serbia was shot. For my kids, where were you when JFK was shot. And for this generation, it had presumably been where were you at Columbine? Wrong, 9/11. This is their defining moment. Pray God there is no other for their generation. But this is the defining moment. And they come to it equipped magnificently, because they do have that, that ease in the spiritual world, that, that ability to think that way. And so they’re not gonna have to jump body in order to get to spirit. They have no separation between.
MS. TIPPETT: Phyllis Tickle is an author and religion editor of Publisher’s Weekly. We’ll hear more of her comments in just a moment. Also, religious life at Ground Zero, stay with us.
This is First Person: Speaking of Faith. Phyllis Tickle is an expert on religion and American life, and she also has an intriguing personal point of view. She lives on a farm in Tennessee but spends part of her working life in Manhattan close to Ground Zero, where I interviewed her. She watched many New Yorkers, in her words, burn through to compassion after 9/11. And she believes that in terms of our national response, there were actually two 9/11s. There were the people closest to the attacks and there was the rest of the country.
MS. TIPPETT: I’ve been very moved by how you have reflected on this event also as a Southerner.
MS. TICKLE: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And with a sense of time that is also conditioned by great tragedies that have happened in the South, and in particular your idea that we won’t be able to make sense of this right away. It’s not just that words are inadequate, it’s that we won’t know for some time what this means or, or for example, who the moral victor will be, which…
MS. TICKLE: Who — who…
MS. TIPPETT: …will determine the end of the story.
MS. TICKLE: Yes, that’s very, very true. I’m always amused when someone says to me we’ve never known war in this country. And I’m thinking, sweetheart, you just told me where you were born. And, of course, we’ve known.
MS. TIPPETT: On our soil, right?
MS. TICKLE: That’s right, that’s right. The South was indeed the victim of the blood — it’s still the bloodiest and deadliest war America has ever fought. And, and there’s still scars, physical scars buildings places that have not yet entirely rebuilt so that the South is very aware of what it means to be the victim in war or to be the loser in war. But that does also give it perspective, especially for times like these.
And what it does first is give you that wonderful Southern sense of distance and of time. It takes a very long time to understand first of all, that there were no rights and wrongs at that time. Both sides thought they were right. Both sides were bible-quoting, bible-thumping, God-fearing, God-siting believers in their cause. The fact that now 150 years later I don’t know a single Southerner who doesn’t say thank goodness slavery is over, you know who is not appalled that it ever happened. But that takes a great deal of time.
But there is, at least in the Southern part the least 16 states I’m from Tennessee, which is a border state, but the 14 below us and around us. There is something closer to the New Yorker’s sense of compassion, because we do remember and because, I mean, my own case my grandfather actually was shot at Shiloh.And there are not many Southerners who can say that. I’m old and my father was the 15th child and there was one after him and there, therefore came late in my grandfather’s life. But my generation grew up on stories about the war. We know what it is to feel betrayed by, by your fellow countrymen, by your fellow human beings.
But we also know that good things came out of that. That we’re better as a country, that we’re better as people, that we’re better as Christians and, and as people of other faiths too in the, in this culture. So it takes away part of the edge of hysteria, if you will, in facing 9/11. It makes it easier for, at least the older ones of us, to say, wait, remember not only do you have to look at this in terms of the long lens of history, but you also have to look at this in terms of whether or not you think this world is what it’s all about if indeed there is an eternity. And we Christians claim there is. And what you do with this better be seen not only in the immediacy of the pain and the immediacy of the problem, and not even in terms of just the history that won’t judge us but also in terms of the eternity toward which we are shaping ourselves and for which we are preparing ourselves.
MS. TIPPETT: And you and I are speaking here right next to Ground Zero.
MS. TICKLE: Oh, right, we’re right here.
MS. TIPPETT: And I wonder how being a Southerner and knowing about mourning the dead. How does that influence the way you understand how Americans and New Yorkers are mourning the day at Ground Zero?
MS. TICKLE: At Ground Zero. I think that’s holy ground. I think that’s Gettysburg. I think that’s Shiloh. I think that’s Chickamauga. I think that’s, I think that’s all the places that the South has not converted. Ourselves is not, of course office space. We would have converted it back to crop-bearing land, to grazing land because we’re still agriculturally based, to a large extent. But it’s the same difference, as my kids used to say. I think this ground is so hallowed and so holy that we will, we will want to embrace it, we will want to keep it, we will to, to make here a place where our children and our children’s children can come and stand before our loss and understand the magnificence of the human spirit.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, and that throws a different light on people flocking to Ground Zero since September 11th…
MS. TICKLE: Oh yes. They’re Pilgrims.
MS. TIPPETT: …which they’re Pilgrims, you feel. But, you know, from New Yorkers I know, that has sometimes felt voyeuristic.
MS. TICKLE: Voyeuristic and, and…
MS. TIPPETT: Ground Zero tourism.
MS. TICKLE: Yes. You know, and the times every once in a while, as I, well, we’ll quote somebody saying that. And sitting in Tennessee reading the Times, I wanna reach out and bat them on the head and say, no, no, no, no, you don’t understand. I haven’t seen those people. I haven’t walked the barricades with those people. I don’t deny that they probably are there. I’m appalled by the souvenir sellers. But then every time I go to a holy shrine, I’m appalled by the souvenir sellers. I mean, you, you think what kind of…
MS. TIPPETT: The Vatican (inaudible)…
MS. TICKLE: Exactly. You go to the Vatican and you, you know, you’re just assaulted. But I went back to the barricades yesterday to watch the people as much as anything. There’s not any kind of conversation at that Fulton Street platform. Those are moments of great quiet. Those are Pilgrims.
MS. TIPPETT: What do you mean when you say that, that you would contrast with the word voyeurs?
MS. TICKLE: There is in that place, and there still is in some of those Confederate cemeteries we were talking about, the sins of the souls of those who have lost physical life in that place. And a Pilgrim is, I think by definition, one who goes in seeking not only to touch those souls, to touch that corporate life that was there and is no longer bodied in the flesh as we are. But also to merge with it or to emerge from that contact better able to bare its own soul.
MS. TIPPETT: Phyllis Tickle is a religion editor at Publisher’s Weekly and the author of many books, most recently The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape. I’m Krista Tippett and this is First Person on “The Spiritual Fallout of 9/11.”
You’re listening to a composition of mandolinist Peter Ostroushko, meditation from the Thin Space at St. Paul’s Chapel.
The ancient Celts coined the term thin spaces, places where the veil between the everyday and the sacred, between heaven and earth is worn thin. The most riveting image we have of September 11th are two towers that reached to the heavens and came crashing down to the earth. And at the very edge of where they fell, a tiny church was left standing. In the days that followed, St. Paul’s Chapel became a chaotic, round-the-clock site of refuge, care and companionship for Ground Zero emergency workers. Lyndon Harris was priest in charge of St. Paul’s Chapel.
LYNDON HARRIS: The oldest church building in New York City and the oldest public building in New York City in continuous use, the place where George Washington came to worship on the day he was inaugurated as our country’s first president. This church really isn’t about the building. It’s about the people. The church is the people gathered. That’s, that’s the real miracle, I think, at St. Paul’s. There’s a lot of talk about the miracle at St. Paul’s being the fact that the church is still standing. And I agree, it’s completely miraculous because we’re so close. We’ve created in this place a haven of hospitality, radical hospitality, which, which has no expectation of anything in return. I think what you see in this place is resurrection. 9-12 is about resurrection.
MS. TIPPETT: Producer Marge Ostroushko gained unusual access to St. Paul’s Chapel and the religious life of Ground Zero. And as she captured what she saw there, I watched her become what Phyllis Tickle might call a Pilgrim. Here is her account of that journey.
MARGE OSTROUSHKO: When I first walked into St. Paul’s Chapel, I felt a reverence for what was going on there. It, you walk in and it’s an ancient or very it’s an antique place, very, very old, one of the oldest churches in New York. And there were so many different aspects to this space. First of all, all around the outside on the, on the wrought iron fence are photos of people who had died, are letters from people all over the country, are banners from Boy Scout groups and churches. And, and it’s just, it’s, it’s kind of, a carnival like. There’s candles, there’s wilted flowers. You walk in and the inside of the church is the same. Every pew that you sit in right in front of you, plastered are letters from kids saying you’re doing a good job or thank you, God bless you.
And so, you know, when you walk in the church there were tables. And the first table has first aid, Band-Aids and things for blisters and gloves and masks and all kinds of things, socks, people needing new socks. And then the pew that President Clinton would sit in, which was right after that, had held plastic ware for serving food. And, and as you work your way around, George Washington’s pew is there. And there are the old-time pews that are enclosed about ten feet-by-ten feet, and that’s where the podiatrist was working. And then in the pews are people sitting in groups talking quietly or laughing. And they would police officers, they’d be firemen, they would sanitation workers, anybody who was working at Ground Zero would come in. A lot of very personable people talking and, you know, laughing and chatting. And a lot of people just sitting in the pews just staring ahead. People wearing squawk boxes and then people who are in communication with different different people.
So, there was a, a kind of a noise level in the church. was often being played. There was a grand piano and, and I noticed that the person sitting at the grand piano was actually sitting on cases of pop because there was no bench. But different people from Julliard, all different kinds of people would come in and play.
MS. TIPPETT: Ground Zero was across the street from St. Paul’s Chapel. Marge Ostroushko was also given rare access to the final church service there in June of this year. The families of victims and workers who’d recovered the bodies and removed the debris met on a windy summer morning for the last time.
[Audio Excerpt of a Prayer Service]
MS. OSTROUSHKO: I stood kind of behind where the family members were standing and with my back to the fence where the pit was. And it was, there was some wind in that area where I was standing. I was up a little bit kind of looking down a little bit on, on these people. And about halfway through the service, a big wind came up and took with it this ash and swirled it all across where we were standing, just in this around and around and around motion. And it was just full. I mean, you could just see it. People were getting it in their eyes and, you know, on their faces and kept coughing. And then that died down. And I looked down and I had ash on me, as we all did.
You, you know, I can’t help but think that something is there. There’s, there’s a hush even though there’s — there were still machines going on. There’s tractors, the, you know, the backup, beep, beep, beep. There’s all kinds of things going on all at the same time. And that’s also part of the mixture of what was going on. You know, we’ve talked about the idea of thin places where — and I, you could feel that. And when the, when the ash kind of fell on everyone, I’m sure that happens all the time, but there was something about the fact that it was all these family members gathered together and all these volunteers, hundreds and hundreds of people. It felt like a blessing. It felt like we were somehow being blessed and the ash was also remembrance of why we were there.
And that had that on me for hours afterwards. I would look down and think, oh, what’s, what’s that white stuff on me? And it was still there. I didn’t brush it off, no. I wanted to, wanted to honor it.
MS. TIPPETT: Marge Ostroushko.
The Reverend Tom Faulkner is priest associate at St. James Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s East Side. He had charge of 60 chaplains of every faith who worked around the clock at Ground Zero in three eight-hour shifts until the recovery operation closed in June.
TOM FAULKNER: It’s not the thousands of people that have died here that is, is important. What’s important are the prayers that have been said over all of these months. Prayers said by those who are dying, prayers said by those who were working at the early moments, rescue workers who were frightened and the prayers that have been continually said by so many people. That’s what’s important in terms of the sacredness of this site. If a church or a mosque or a synagogue is supposed to be a holy place and it’s a place where prayers are offered up to God in which one has a special communion with, with God, then this clearly was a holy place. To me, the most sacred space in which I have ever, have ever worshipped in, ever done liturgy, ever offered prayers without any question.
A sheikh, who was one of my chaplains, had came in when the remains of a, of a civilian had, had come in. And I know that the firemen, the EMEs and EMS were wondering who’s this guy? And as the medical examiner was looking through the body, he found a wallet. And he opened up the wallet. There was the New York State driver’s license photograph of the body in front of us. And he was a young man. And the name was a Middle Eastern name. And the initials MD were there. The medical examiner said he’s a doctor. And the sheikh slightly bowed and said in the tradition, MD is an abbreviation for Mohammed. We realized we were looking at the remains of an Arab, most likely a Muslim. And you could feel the quiet in that room. Mind you, everyone else probably were Roman Catholics in this Episcopalism.
The quiet because we realized that he was one of us and we were on of him, me and the sheikh. That he could do something we didn’t do, that he could bring a sacredness and an understanding to that moment that we could not.
MS. TIPPETT: The Reverend Tom Faulkner.
I’m Krista Tippett and this is First Person. After a short break, we’ll return with Muslim theologian Ingrid Mattson, the first woman vice president of a major American Muslim organization. Also, Quaker author Parker Palmer on church and state and the spiritual fallout of 9/11. Stay with us.
Welcome back to First Person: Speaking of Faith. In early September last year, the Islamic Society of North America elected Ingrid Mattson its first ever woman vice president. She’s a professor of Islamic studies at the Hartford Seminary. Canadian born, she grew up Catholic. While studying Paris as a young woman, she discovered Islam, and Islam, she says, helped her believe in God again, a belief she’d left behind in childhood. Ingrid Mattson’s deepest concern since 9/11 is for the Muslim identity of her two sons, age 10 and 12.
INGRID MATTSON: When my son in the second grade came home with a book that his class had made. Each child had a page on which they’d drawn a picture of themselves and said what made them special. So, my, my son on his page wrote I love soccer, I’m brown and I’m a Muslim. And so for him, being a Muslim was just one of those many elements of diversity.
Now, I notice that he feels very differently. And I remember one day some news report came on about some new warning about a terrorist attack or something. And he, you know, he’s not, you know, he’s a 10-year-old boy so he’s not the most expressive person, but he just turned to me and he said, oh great. Now, everyone’s gonna be afraid of me. I felt really sad about that because it made me aware of how self-conscious he’d become about his religion, whereas before he was, you know, very natural about it.
MS. TIPPETT: I think that many Americans have sought a crash course in Islam 101 since September 11th. You know, certain books have been read by many, many people. I’m curious in your experience, what questions you haven’t been asked, what you are longing for people to learn more about in Islam?
DR. MATTSON: That’s a good question.
MS. TIPPETT: What are we not getting?
DR. MATTSON: Well, one of the things that I find, and I give a lot of presentations on this to church groups and schools and different places. Most people want to ask me about Islam and politics, Islam and, and women. Very seldom do they ask what Islam means to me as Muslim in terms of my relation with God. And that is something that I try to get an opportunity to say in these, in these contexts. I try to get them to listen to what the Quran sounds like when I recite it. I try to let them understand what that does to my heart, to my soul, to my perspective on the world. I’d like people to understand that, that more.
MS. TIPPETT: I wonder how, and if, you feel that your Islamic faith or your Muslim identity have been distinctly shaped, and maybe have they been shaped in ways that surprise, that you might not have predicted on September 12th?
DR. MATTSON: One of the things that I have thought about in the last year has been what my responsibility as a Muslim is towards non-Muslims. I mean, on a theological level, what does my faith say about non-Muslims? You know, it’s quite interesting the Quran talks in many places about the people of the book or the people of scripture, meaning primarily Christians and Jews, and about the special relationship that we as Muslims hold with them. The more that I, I, I probe into this, the more it seems to me that there is a, a, there’s a kind of obligation on our part to cultivate those relationships actively. Not just passively, but that we have to recognize that we have a special spiritual connection as people of faith, not just as American citizens or, you know, members of, of the same civic community.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett and this is First Person. Ingrid Mattson is a Muslim theologian and the first vice president of the Islamic Society of North America. She’s telling me about some of the ways 9/11 has changed her.
DR. MATTSON: One thing that I’ve, I’ve noticed in myself lately, a response I’ve noticed that I don’t like and I, I hope I can get rid of, and that is, you know, the, the cumulative effect of negative comments I hear about Muslims in the media the cumulative effect of people who look at me on the street with clear displeasure. You know, I wear a scarf, so…
MS. TIPPETT: Yes.
DR. MATTSON: …I’m visibly, I’m visibly a, a practicing Muslim. That I started to have this kind of defensive reaction where I feel like I just wish I didn’t have to always go out among these people. And it’s made me, one of the good things, is it’s made me understand, I believe, on a deeper level what people of visible differences, especially African-Americans, what they’ve experienced for so long and why sometimes they felt historically that the only solution is just to have their own communities to avoid any interaction with white people. Because the daily bombardment of negative reactions against who you are essentially and what you hold so dear yourself is really demoralizing.
So, I’m starting to understand that impulse but I’m definitely resisting it in myself and saying, well, it’s a good learning experience it’s good so you can understand other people’s experiences, but it’s not an option for me.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, I wanna ask you one more question. I think the problem with people being so focused on this, these negative images of Islam is that they were so vivid, right? I mean…
DR. MATTSON: Mm-hmm.
MS. TIPPETT: …we have in our heads these pictures of airplanes crashing onto buildings. And, and when Muslims have stood up and said, you know, Islam is about peace, those were, those were words. And they can’t, they can’t meet those images with the same drama.
DR. MATTSON: Yes.
MS. TIPPETT: And so what I wanna ask you what are the vivid images? Where, or where are the places you would like Americans, non-Muslims, to be looking to find your passion for the beauty of Islam and for Islam as a positive force in the world?
DR. MATTSON: Well, you’ve, you’ve hit right on it. I mean, that’s, that’s the point is that the violent actions are much more traumatic and memorable. A person who’s motivated, a Muslim who’s motivated by faith will sometimes in their life have an opportunity to do something, you know, grand, but most people don’t. Most people, they live out their life live out their faith day to day by small actions of generosity, humility and, and gratefulness. I, I think what Americans need to do is look around them and see many hospitals, for example, that there are many Muslim doctors. And day after day, they are serving people, they’re helping people, certainly as a result of their training, but it’s also an aspect of their faith. There are Muslims work in soup kitchens and in those shelters.
So, you won’t, you know, you don’t necessarily see that drama because it requires some kind of, some kind of active outreach or at least a desire to look for, for those Muslims on the part of, of other Americans. But I believe that in the end it’s worth it.
MS. TIPPETT: Ingrid Mattson is a professor at the Duncan Black MacDonald Center for Islamic Studies and Muslim-Christian Relations at the Hartford Seminary.
I’m Krista Tippett and this is First Person on the spiritual fallout of 9/11.
[Soundbite of Music]
MS. TIPPETT: You’re listening to a Quaker spiritual composed on Harvard, Massachusetts in the mid-18th century. We end this hour with Parker Palmer, a Quaker thinker, author and educator. In the past year, many Americans have criticized the Islamic world’s resistance to the separation of church and state. Yet the Quaker tradition, which Parker Palmer adopted in mid-life, is a reminder of how Christianity too has struggled in this country with realities like pluralism, violence and authority. Parker Palmer speaks and writes widely about inviting the soul into American public life. So, I asked him how he reconciles the spiritual fallout of 9/11 with the American and Quaker commitment to separation of church and state.
PARKER PALMER: As I like to say, I, as a Quaker, I stand in the spiritual tradition where my ancestors, some of them, are hanged on Boston Common by people who weren’t all together clear about the separation of church and state. And so I don’t have any romance about…
MS. TIPPETT: And they were Christians.
MR. PALMER: And they were Christians too, yeah. They just didn’t think Quakers were. And so, I’m not, I don’t play light and loose with this question. On the other hand I don’t have any tolerance at all for these cheap and facile interpretations of this wall of separation that would prevent us from even addressing or reaching for these deep questions of meaning and purpose. I mean, any, any teacher in this country on the day of September 11th and in the days following would tell you that suddenly what they were doing was not teaching math or literature of history, they were teaching children about the meaning of life and children were teaching them about the meaning of life.
I was in a public school very shortly after that when the principal told me the story of making an announcement that day, saying to the children you need to go directly home and talk about this for a while. Forty-five minutes later, he got a call from a third grade girl who said, Mr. Jones, I know what we need to do tomorrow. We all need to write letters to the children whose parents died and to the policemen and firemen who are helping them, expressing our grief and expressing our thanks. And that’s what they spent the whole next day doing. So, there was a lot of back and forth in this between the elder and the younger about who was teaching whom in the wake of that event. Well, we can’t ever let false interpretations of the church-state barrier get in the way of addressing meaningful relationships, concerns of that sort.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, one thing that I have heard anecdotally since September 11th, I keep hearing about people feeling that they could have those kinds of conversations in their places of work, and that in fact that process started as on that day they all watched those events unfold together with their colleagues and were drawn to pray together or at least, you know, had to speak out of what I think you would call their, their souls together. Are, you are hearing anecdotes like that also?
MR. PALMER: Yes, yes, I do. And I take great joy in the fact that people are finding in ordinary spaces of their lives opportunities to have conversations that, prior to September 11th, they wouldn’t have had, even though they might have wanted to have them, that they become legitimate. I also, however, worry very much about the power this culture has to drag everything back to default position, coming…
MS. TIPPETT: What do you mean by that?
MR. PALMER: Business as usual. It happens quickly in our culture that we move on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing but we keep getting back to business as usual.
MS. TIPPETT: And in that, are you also suggesting that, that some of these questions of meaning and, and of what it means to be human, some of these spiritual questions that arise from September 11th, that if those questions are to stay alive, we have to preserve them in a different way.
MR. PALMER: Yeah. The Quakers proceed not so much by proclamations of how we ought to live as by queries about how we are living. And one of the big queries is are you living in a way that makes violence unnecessary? And that’s a very searching question for me. That challenges me at the level of my own tendencies towards overconsumption of resources that leave other people in the world with less than they need. It challenges me at every level of my life. So, I’m holding the tension of September 11th in all kinds of ways. I think lots of people are. I don’t think we have very many models for holding the tension creatively to, a model which basically says, yes, our hearts are broken by these contradictions in our lives but that doesn’t have to be a destructive thing. It can mean your heart is being broken open to something larger than it once was. That, to me, is, is the path.
MS. TIPPETT: Parker Palmer is the author of many books, including Let Your Life Speak. Earlier in this hour, you heard Muslim theologian Ingrid Mattson, Ground Zero chaplains Tom Faulkner and Lyndon Harris, author Phyllis Tickle, Rabbi Barry Cytron, and the Reverend Linda Loving.
I’m struck by a common thread that emerged and ran through all these conversations, an insistence that religion’s greatest role now may not be to provide haven or comfort but to keep alive the uncomfortable questions of the post-9/11 world. When the long lens of history looks on our current crisis, who will the moral victors be?