Sept. 11

Finding comfort in faith after 9/11, as well as hard questions that never fade away

Finding comfort in faith after 9/11, as well as hard questions that never fade away

Looking back at the events on Sept. 11 and its aftermath requires looking back into time and also looking within, deep into the mind, the heart and the soul.

If it’s true that time heals all wounds, 9/11 could be the exception to that adage. As a reporter for the New York Post that day, I was a witness to the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

How did I feel? What did 9/11 do to me? How did it affect the way I did my job? These are all questions I get from students each time I do a talk about the attacks.

Looking back on 18 years ago, I remember feeling angry at God. Had He allowed for this to happen? I yearned for the answer to that question. I looked to my church (I am a Roman Catholic) for adequate ways to quell my inner frustrations. I recall saying a prayer the morning after the attacks on my way to work. It was my way of trying to find some inner peace.

So I am looking back on that stunning day as a journalist and as a Christian.

The entire time, I had a job to do. I had to divide the personal from the professional. Never in my life has that been so hard to do. It wasn’t until three days later, after hearing Billy Graham speak, did I feel more at ease with what had happened. It helped me make sense of the brokenness.

Indeed, one of my first reactions had been, “God, how could you let this happen?” Of course, God didn’t let this happen. What happened that day was pure evil, the work of Islamic militants who had perverted their religion to justify death. It was the good that would later come out of the tragedy, the stories of heroism and sacrifice, that reflected God’s love.

In the weeks that followed, I covered dozens of funerals, primarily those of firefighters. I found those funeral masses both extremely sad and comforting. I participated in them. When I wasn’t taking down notes and interviewing grieving family members, I remember praying along within everyone else at each one of those services. I was grieving along with everyone else.

There was, you see, no way around the faith elements in this event and this story. That was part of the pain, as well as the basic facts.

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'If You Want To Humble An Empire': A 9/11 story that got religion and shouldn't be forgotten

'If You Want To Humble An Empire': A 9/11 story that got religion and shouldn't be forgotten

What’s the statute of limitations for pulling a story out of the GetReligion guilt folder?

Seriously, I want to call attention to a remarkable piece of news reporting — written under tremendous deadline pressure — that predates GetReligion itself. This journalism-focused website, in case you need a refresher, launched in 2004.

As you undoubtedly know, today marks the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It seems appropriate then to recall just how much Time magazine incorporated religion into its original in-depth report on the events of 9/11. My thanks to New York Times Godbeat pro Elizabeth Dias, a Time alumnus herself, for highlighting the story by Nancy Gibbs on Twitter this morning:

If I read the Time story back in 2001, I don’t remember it. At the time, I was religion editor for The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. I was focused on my own reporting, including writing four bylined response pieces on 9/11.

But I’m glad I took the time to read Gibbs’ piece today. It brought back so many memories. And yes, it covered crucial glimpses of faith present at that time.

The opening itself — written in Time’s analytical style — certainly emphasizes that element:

If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith, and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can't be safe. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, planted at the base of Manhattan island with the Statue of Liberty as their sentry, and the Pentagon, a squat, concrete fort on the banks of the Potomac, are the sanctuaries of money and power that our enemies may imagine define us. But that assumes our faith rests on what we can buy and build, and that has never been America's true God.

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The New York Times gets the ground zero shrine story, but misses St. Nicholas Church

The New York Times gets the ground zero shrine story, but misses St. Nicholas Church

First things first: I am thankful that The New York Times covered this highly symbolic rite at the St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center.

I was at the site just over a week ago and asked some of the crew if they knew when a cross would be installed atop the emerging dome on the shrine. This project represents the end of years of struggle to replace St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church -- the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11.

This is a "local" issue for me, in a way, since I am an Orthodox believer and I walk past the site every morning on my way to The King's College, when I am teaching in New York City. Click here, here and here for my columns about the church, beginning just after the attack.

The Times piece gets many things right, but leaves some major holes about the church itself -- as in the people of St. Nicholas. From the very beginning, this is a news story about a New York landmark, as opposed to a house of worship. Here is some summary material near the top:

The topping out of the shrine with the cross was a milestone in the tortuous effort to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a little parish outpost at 155 Cedar Street in Lower Manhattan that was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the south trade center tower fell on it.
And it is more than that. The cross is the first overtly religious symbol to appear in the public realm at the World Trade Center, where officials have often contorted themselves to maintain a secular air. (What almost everyone knows as the “World Trade Center cross,” for instance, is officially referred to as the “intersecting steel beam.”)

I appreciate that the story gives a precise location for the original church, in terms of a street address. The key is that government agencies needed that tiny piece of land, so they took it. So what happened to the displaced church and its people?

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The Palombo 10: At the 9/11 anniversary, an exceptional story of family and faith from CNN

The Palombo 10: At the 9/11 anniversary, an exceptional story of family and faith from CNN

I didn't read or watch a whole lot of coverage of the 9/11 anniversary.

To a large extent, I can identify with what a good friend and fellow reporter wrote on Facebook:

Truth: I want to forget what I saw live on television on Sept. 11. I want to forget that it brought April 19 back to life for me. I want to forget what I saw in person on April 19. I won't forget. I can't forget. But I really don't want to remember.

Like my friend, I covered the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The bombing was, until Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. And like my friend, I still can't think about one without recalling the other. 

But I did allow myself to digest one story timed to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 — and I'm so glad I did. I perused this piece because a faithful GetReligion reader shared the link and suggested that it really needed our attention. 

"IT IS SO GOOOD," the reader said.

After reading it, I agree 110 percent. In fact, this is one of those cases where I really should just share the link and tell you to read it. No commentary necessary:

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Sorry, Heartland, you suffer from a major case of Islamophobia — an elite newspaper said so

Sorry, Heartland, you suffer from a major case of Islamophobia — an elite newspaper said so

On the front page of Sunday's Washington Post — below the banner coverage of "A blizzard for the ages" — ran a long, long profile of a young Muslim woman from Kansas.

The nearly 4,000-word story, told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer, follows a now-familiar media premise: Americans, particularly those in backward places like the Heartland, treat Muslim women who wear hijabs with suspicion and even disdain.

In this story — dubbed "The Education of Maira Salim" — the Post declares that Muslims like Salim are "enduring the worst spasm of Islamophobia in their lifetime as they decide their relationship with America."

We have, of course, repeatedly highlighted the problem with that word.

Granted, a lot of people on Twitter seemed to really like the Post's story on Salim. The piece was described as "beautifully sensitive," as "an engrossing read" and as "the very best of what the Washington Post does," just to cite a few examples.

And certainly, the story benefits from a talented writer:



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