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September 11 2002 Reflection

Welcome to St. Andrew's on the Terrace. My name is Margaret Mayman and I am the minister here. I welcome you on behalf of the people of St. Andrew's and Peace Movement Aotearoa, who have worked to bring together speaker and singers in an event which asks if the world could still change as a result of September 11.

I want to begin by thanking Edwina Hughes of PMA who initiated the event and put the programme together. Tonight we have four speakers and two musical performances. At the end of each presentation, I invite you to take a moment's silence to remember, reflect and commit yourself to take action for peaceful tomorrows.

On this day a year ago over three thousand people were killed in acts of unimaginable violence. They died in New York City, Arlington, Virginia and in a field in Pennsylvania. One year later we gather to honour their memories (airline passengers and crew, office workers, window washers, stockbrokers, restaurant and store keepers, police and fire fighters) and we also honour the courage of all those people who valiantly tried to save them and who averted the deaths of thousands of others through their acts of heroism and bravery. Anniversaries are days for grieving again, for memories.

Bute September 11 is complicated now. A year ago all we could do was grieve and mourn and lament . Now more is required of us. Because of the global culture of which we are a part, the Americanized global culture, we in Aotearoa NZ felt close to those the terror in America. We knew the landmarks and some of us had been to the World Trade Centre and admired the view. My partner, my fifteen year old son, a native born New Yorker, and I had been up to the viewing platform twice in our visit to the US three months prior to September 11. I was there again six months ago. I felt the sadness, but also the resilience, of that place, symbolised by the Towers of Light memorial that was lit at that time. Remembering and mourning is appropriate today, but so also is an examination of the realities of global politics and expression of our hopes for peace on earth and for survival for the human spirit.

Our gathering this evening is a response to a call from a U.S. group calling itself September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Its mission is to seek effective, non-violent responses to terrorism, and to identify a commonality with all people similarly affected by violence throughout the world. These families came together out of a shared feeling that their grief was not a cry for war. They asked that the anniversary of September 11 not be used to promote more war and violence. Instead, they envisioned this day as a time for communities around the world to unite in the shared honouring of those who lost their lives and in the exploration of what it will take to create peaceful tomorrows; as a time to reflect on peace and healing.

They challenge us with these words:

"This first anniversary, let us initiate an exploration of what it will take to bring healing and wholeness to our world. It is in remembering the universality of our grief that we shape our hope for a future of peaceful tomorrows."

Peaceful Tomorrows draws inspiration from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows...We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means." In addition to acts of remembrance they have encouraged community gatherings that explore the alternatives necessary to create "peaceful tomorrows," the bringing together of diverse voices to say "another world is possible."

It is the call for an awareness of the universality of grief that I want to focus on. We so often neglect the loss of human life in places other than Western Europe and North America. This day is an opportunity to recognize the universality of the human tragedy of violence and suffering and to claim our common humanity that transcends race, gender, religion, culture and politics.

The most tragic response to September 11, was the call to violent revenge which continues now with the threat of an invasion of Iraq. First Afghanistan, a country already devastated by decades of war was invaded. The perpetrators of the September 11 were not caught and brought to justice, yet hundreds of innocent Afghani civilians were killed. Life is life. There lives are as valuable as every life lost on September 11. We mourn for them too.

Retaliation is a deeply instinctive reaction to being wronged. But mere retaliation is not a strategy for an enduring, secure and just peace. War is not the answer. As Gandhi said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves a lot of people without eyes or teeth, and the initial problem no closer to solution. We have the resources to address the sources of anger, hate, dehumanisation, rage and indignation that lead to acts of violence, if only we had the will.

Every minute of every day the global military complex costs NZ$3,591,324. The military budget of the United States alone for the current financial year is $752,620,000,000. Every dollar that is spent by the military, is a dollar taken from that which sustain life. Less than nineteen days of global military expenditure is all it would take to meet the additional cost of providing access to adequate food, clean water and safe sewers, basic health care, reproductive health care for women, and basic education for everyone around the world.

That war damages bodies is clear for all to see. I believe that war also damages the spirits of human beings. When we bless or ignore our government's participation in war in Afghanistan we are all damaged spiritually and diminished psychologically. In the memory of those who died one year ago and their families seeking for peaceful tomorrows, let us resist attempts to escalate further violence in Iraq where already thousands have died since the imposition of sanctions that are about revenge rather than change.

So many headlines a year ago proclaimed: the day the world changed. A year later we reflect on how the world could have changed, but in fact went on with business as usual. In my faith tradition, and in many others, we talk about being called to repentance. Repentance doesn't just mean saying I'm sorry. It means a turn in the direction of our societies at every level, a return to the most basic ideal of all religions: that every human life is sacred, that the bottom line should not be power or profits but creation of a world of love and caring, and a recognition that the best way to prevent a repetition of the events of September 11, 2001 is not to use violence, not to turn ourselves into police states, but to turn ourselves into societies in which social justice, love and compassion are so prevalent that violence becomes only a distant memory.

Peace will come to us and to our children only when the concerns of justice anywhere become the subject of political and social will everywhere. There will be no peace without justice.

Remember, reflect, hope, and act for peaceful tomorrows.

Rev Dr Margaret Mayman, St Andrew's on the Terrace
Reflections on 11 September: Visions of a Peaceful World, 11 September 2002

11 September 2002 in Aotearoa / New Zealand


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