Asking why on 9/11 anniversary

Like everybody, I remember what I was doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. At the time, I was religion editor of The Oklahoman, the metro daily in Oklahoma City. I was running a few minutes late that Tuesday because I stopped at Walmart to buy a new pair of cleats for a company softball team starting the fall season that night. As it turned out, we didn't play.

As I flashed my company ID at the security guard outside the newspaper building, he asked if I'd heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York. I had not. Minutes later, after I arrived in the ninth-floor newsroom, my colleagues and I watched on television as a second plane hit the twin towers. Almost immediately, ABC anchor Peter Jennings likened the attack to Pearl Harbor. That's when I grasped the significance.

The rest of that day is a blur. Like my reporter colleagues all over the nation, I immediately put aside any personal feelings and operated on journalistic adrenaline. I wrote four bylined stories for the next day's paper: one on the religious community's response, one on Muslim fears of a backlash, one on Oklahoma City bombing victims' reactions and one on a eyewitness account by an Oklahoma professor's daughter. Like many (most?) Americans, I tossed and turned that night.

In the days and weeks after 9/11, I recall interviewing religious leaders and ordinary congregants as they looked to God and sought to explain the seemingly unexplainable. Ten years later, many of the questions remain the same. I was pleased to see a story this week by CNN Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi exploring what pastors plan to say this weekend:

(CNN) – The details of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the plane crash in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, will be remembered at length this week.  What, when, how and who will dominate the headlines.   As people across the country head to churches, temples and mosques this weekend, they will once again wonder why. They will look to the pulpit and listen for an answer.

This week, clergy of all faiths are preparing answers as their congregants ask why 9/11 happened, how it should be remembered and what their response should be as they go out from their sacred space and back into the secular.

For some, there will be calls to patriotism among the prayers.  Others will shy away from country.

Now, my main complaint with this story is that it uses two spaces after each sentence. (Please refer to this Slate piece on "why you should never, ever" do that. Smile.)

Seriously, this is a terrific story:

1. It's fresh. Yes, it's a fairly obvious angle, but it's an important one. Better yet, it's ahead of the curve. Put it another way: Would you rather read what pastors are going to say right now or wait until Monday to see what they said Sunday? I don't know about you, but by Monday, I suspect I'm going to be approaching 9/11 overload.

2. It's Shrek-like. You know what I mean if you've seen the movie ("Onions have layers. Ogres have layers."). This story has layers. The writer talked to religious leaders all over the nation. He quotes a United Church of Christ pastor, Catholic priests, a Southern Baptist chaplain, a Jewish rabbi, a daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham and a spectrum of other voices. The only omission (and this may fall in the category of "glaring") is that there's not a Muslim voice. It would have been nice to hear from at least one imam.

3. It's not afraid of religious words. Read it, and the story mentions the lectionary, Jesus' teaching on forgiveness, specific passages in Matthew and 2 Chronicles, etc. And it does so in a way that's incredibly easy for the religious and non-religious alike to understand. You feel like the writer knows his stuff. (Maybe that's because a Godbeat pro wrote it.)

Even at 1,800 words, there's no way this story could include every voice and perspective. All of us probably could suggest other angles or sources that could have been included.

But it's a nice read. Check it out.

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