I can’t believe it’s almost been twenty years. I was driving south from Spencer on Highway 71 to my “other job”. I scanned the radio stations in my 1987 Volvo. I thought it was odd the hosts on the Christian radio station were praying on the air. Not odd that a Christian prays. They just usually played music.
They were praying about an airplane crash in New York City. It seemed terrible. Then things went from bad to worse. A second plane crashed into the other building. I was smart enough to know this wasn’t a crash. I changed the radio to the news station as I turned west on Highway 3 to Cherokee. The United States was under attack.
I arrived at my job site. A series of old, gothic buildings carved into the Iowa prairie were serene and beautiful. The place opened in 1902 as the Iowa Lunatic Asylum. In the 1940s, over 1,700 patients would pack into these cold, institutional buildings. Big pharma changed psychiatric care and the population in 2001 was a fraction of that.
I was the chaplain to these patients every Tuesday. It was my third day on the job and ended up being the most surreal day of my life. The next eight hours would be spent crowded in front of 19 inch televisions in various common areas with men and women hospitalized with schizophrenia, bipolar disease, borderline personality disorder, and deep depression. My job was to care and not to cure. I prayed with a lot of people that day. We had a worship service at noon. A few of the patients had paranoia—I tried to calm them down.
I left the hospital late in the afternoon and headed back to my church in Spencer. They were waiting. We had a prayer vigil that night. I tried to offer a few words of comfort. No idea what they were or if they were remotely helpful. These people could pray and they did. Peace isn’t the absence of problems. Peace is when you discover God is bigger than your problems. The faithful men and women blessed me with peace that night.
I arrived at the parsonage a little after nine. A little boy was there, Benjamin. Three and a half months old. I held him and inhaled a whiff of his baby smell as I ran my fingers over his fuzzy head. I looked into his blue eyes and thought this wasn’t the world I wanted for him. Innocent lives lost. Fear. Hate. Uncertainty.
And then the next few days stories of courage and heroism and hope emerged. Police officers and fire fighters. Ordinary citizens. We were all in it together. New Yorkers and the rest of us. Democrats and Republicans. Things like the color of our skin didn’t matter.
I remember standing behind the pulpit that Sunday. Clearing my throat one last time and reading from the Gospel:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. –John 16:33
America is more untied than united 19 years later. The coronavirus has replaced terrorism as our enemy. But, have peace and take heart, because Jesus still overcomes the world. His power and his presence is always greater than our problems.
So hold the babies and anybody you love a little tighter. Do something daily to unite. Avoid saying or typing anything that unties. Believe the Gospel and accept the peace Jesus offers.