Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Word Works: Reflections on 9/11

It's my generation's Pearl Harbor, our JFK assassination. We all remember where we were when the planes struck the World Trade Center. For me, that Tuesday morning found me in Hannover, North Dakota. I'd stayed with a pastor friend and his family for a little extra break after our Monday meeting with the pastors of our Circuit. Usually when I woke up at their house, my friend had already left for his study at the church. This particular morning he was still at home when I emerged from the guest room, and he was watching the television with rapt attention. I wandered over, and I was assaulted with the sight of smoke and flames billowing out of the first of the towers to be struck. My horror increased as we watched the second plane strike. I watched for a little longer, and then I jumped in my car without a shower to make the 150 mile trip back to my own parsonage. While on the road, I did something I never do: I listed to the radio, searching for news reports emerging from New York City--and then Washington D.C. and Somerset, Pennsylvania. I spent time on the phone between no-reception zones trying to get in touch with my sister and her husband who lived outside of New York City. I knew they lived far enough away, but maybe my sister had taken her class on a field trip to the World Trade Center that day? I didn't know, and I didn't hear back from my family until later in the day that they were okay. It's a day I will never forget: the confusion, the fear, the images, the uncertainty, the grief, the anger, and a whole host of other things.

Chaplain Kavouras
On this anniversary of that horrible terrorist attack--not to mention the anniversary of the terror in Benghazi a year ago (and I'm sure not mentioning Benghazi today would make the current administration very happy)--I didn't want to just throw out my narcissistic musings on the day and what it means. Instead I picked up and read a book I first read over a decade ago. The book is called Nine One One: The Aftermath--the Word Works. It is a compilation of the chaplain reports of the Reverend Dean Kavouras, an LCMS pastor who also serves as chaplain to the police and fire departments of Cleveland, Ohio, and the Cleveland Division of the FBI. Chaplain Kavouras served the workers in Somerset and those in Staten Island who searched the refuse from the World Trade Center for human remains. His reports show the power of the Word of God at work in the lives of people who spent long hours in an earthly hell in service to the families of those lost their lives on that awful September day.

Dean with my son Michael
These days my wife and I are friends with Pastor Kavouras and his beautiful wife, Barb. At the time, however, I only knew Pastor Kavouras from Internet interaction. Nevertheless, I was blessed to read these reports as they first came out. Rereading them today was a potent reminder of the power of God to do mighty work for the good of His people in the midst of the greatest of evil and the greatest of tragedies. Chaplain Kavouras and his faithful words and service guided me as I spoke with acquaintances and family after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. His example also inspired me as I wrote my Thy Strong Word series of novels, where the main character is both a parish pastor and a chaplain to his local fire department. His guidance helped Pastor Corwin sound like a real pastor and chaplain instead of a bumbling idiot.

The national legacy of 9/11 is a curious one: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the molestation of American citizens in the name of tightened airport security, political maneuverings, and in some cases the limiting of the freedoms for which this nation was founded. There has been a shift toward watching American citizens who exercise those freedoms with suspicion and fear. Homeschoolers, gun owners, Christians, political conservatives, and others are on terror watch lists. At the same time, the President of the United States refuses view a Muslim soldier who goes on a killing spree on Fort Hood while yelling "Allahu Akbar" as a terrorist or the attack as a terrorist attack.

As an American, as a Christian, as a pastor, as a husband and father, on days like today it's important to remember that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)." We are under constant attack from "the old evil foe," as Luther calls Satan, and it is true that "on earth is not his equal." Yet the victory is not the devil's, for our Lord Jesus Christ has defeated Satan with the sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross and with His glorious resurrection. That victory is applied to us in the waters of Holy Baptism, where we are marked with the name of God and clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Nothing this world and its prince can do to us can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I checked, and Nine One One: The Aftermath by Chaplain Kavouras is available from Lutheran Heritage Foundation. Call 1-800-554-0723 or send an e-mail to to order a copy. I cannot give this book a sufficiently fervent recommendation compared to what it deserves.

I pray you find comfort on this anniversary from the words of St. Paul, words which Chaplain Kavouras often drew upon in ministering to those entrusted to his care by the Lord:
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (I Peter 5:6-10)

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