What I Wish Generation Z knew about 9/11

If my calculations are correct, the high school senior class this academic year will be the first ever to feature kids who were not born when 9/11 happened. Equally as stunning, I think it is reasonable to assume there will be college graduates this year who have no significant memories of that day. This generation, the one immediately after the Millennials and often referred to as Generation Z, will be the first to not truly remember the day America was attacked on our homeland in a way we hadn’t been before or since. 

Like just about anyone who was old enough to have memories, mine from that day are sharp. I was a graduating senior at Welch College. I worked every morning at the YMCA from 7 AM to 8 AM and that day I realized I was going to be late for my first class so I went and got a haircut instead. They had TVs in the barbershop. Like millions of others, I was very confused as to why one of the towers in New York was on fire. Like millions of others, I saw the second plane hit live as it happened.

So much has changed since then. Netflix, Twitter, and Facebook either weren’t invented or weren’t public yet. We were six years from smartphones being a thing. And even though Amazon had been born, it was a shadow of what it is today.

Some things changed significantly because of that day, like air travel. Homeland Security was created. And some things we experienced that day and the time afterwards in the realms of politics and culture are things we will likely never experience again.  

Here are just a few that I hope the generation coming up with no memories will take the time to learn and appreciate. Because we all need history; not just facts on a page, but stories from those who saw it firsthand.


First, I wish this generation knew what it was like for the country to be unified.

I wouldn’t want anyone to ever have to go through the trauma of that day, where 3,000 died and thousands more had their lives drastically altered for the worse. But something that rose from the ashes was a countrywide unity that I do not think we will ever see again. By the end of his second term, George W. Bush was an extremely unpopular president. But after 9/11 his approval rating–for the country as a whole, not just Republicans–peaked at 92%[1. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/President Bush Approval Rating 92%]. Few things on a national scale have brought me patriotic chills like Bush walking out to the mound for Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, seven weeks after the attacks, in a bulletproof vest, waving at the crowd, giving the thumbs up and then throwing a beautiful strike for the first pitch. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” played on TV and radio and American flags flew everywhere. Policemen and firemen were the toast of the country, especially in NY. 



I’m sure there were a few people who didn’t join in and those who were Muslim or are very sensitive to Muslims probably remember those days quite differently. Even as an evangelical Christian I do not want to overlook this. But simple data proves that the country was united greatly in the face of tragedy.

The last 15 years or so have seen so much political division I feel confident no president will ever reach that height ever again, meaning that we will never be that united again. My fear is that not even a non-polarizing president, unlike our last and current one, could unify us. Even if we do experience something like 9-11. God forbid we ever do.


I wish this generation knew how surreal that day was.

The adjective “Surreal” and the phrase “It felt like a movie except it was real life” have been overused the last 17 years describing the event. Yet it’s hard to say it uniquely without losing accuracy. That is exactly what it felt like.

I bet I spent 8 or 9 hours in front of a TV that day. I’m sure others spent more. My Bible College had a chapel service dedicated to praying for what was going on but who knew what to think or say?

Even after all the details emerged It was hard to know how to react. Even those who don’t like country music probably remember Alan Jackson singing “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?—an emotive, contemplative and beautifully written song about that day. For my money, that was how most people I knew felt. It captured the mood of the country perfectly to me. You better believe I called my mother to tell her that I loved her. People were going to church and holding hands with strangers, people were giving blood and people were staying at home and clinging to their families. And more than anything, many were just stunned and shocked for many days after. 


I wish this generation knew how people looked to Heaven in those days.

Much of the evidence is anecdotal and less is statistical, but even without that I think most people I knew sensed a increase in the general feeling of “I need to pray and go to church” after 9/11. One pastor, Ed Young, says his church attendance went up by several thousand the Sunday after 9/11. Tim Keller says his nearly doubled. Beyond that, it seemed people were praying all over the country, out of sheer desperation and helplessness. To be frank, because the US is quite pluralistic, it reminded me of Jonah 1 when the men on that boat were faced with tragedy and they all cried out to their gods.


I wish this generation knew how fleeting it all was.

One of the more immediate sobering memories I have post-9/11 is that there was a backlash against something New York policemen or firemen did at some point. I thought, “Their time to be honored is apparently over.” Church attendance leveled off very quickly and in some cases reduced. Bush became less and less popular. And 17 years later, there is confusion for people like me as to when patriotism becomes nationalism[2. That word is loaded these days so understand I mean it as simply as I can: the feeling of superiority as an American to the point of demeaning other countries.]–a question that seemed odd back then.

But there’s a life lesson in all of this. Much of life, even the good, is quite fleeting. As a Bible-teaching Christian I can’t help but think of Ecclesiastes and its message of how dark life can be when you try to find meaning and purpose in what is fleeting. I am proud to be an American but I also fully believe that all people of all cultures are fundamentally flawed morally. And I do not find meaning in how unified our country is or is not, or how many people come to my church or how my president is perceived. I find it in Jesus Christ and him crucified. And in what he calls me to do. Which is make a difference to my home, church, neighborhood and country in practical and daily action.

More than anything I wish Generation Z knew that 9-11 was a huge reminder of how desperately the world needs the grace of Jesus Christ. Because that is my most signifiant memory.





Turning the Stranger Into Family

Every week at my small group, I pray the same prayer: “God, thank you for friends who’ve become family.”

There is no doubt that to me, after 16 years and being a thousand miles from home, my church is my family. The amount of people I could call in the middle of the night if I had an emergency is long. The number of people who drove six hours in the heavy rain to see me get married is almost the same number of people who come to an average Sunday service. I share no blood with any of those people, but we share something even deeper in unity of Spirit.

I’m sure many Christians all over the world could say the same things. Which is appropriate, since the Bible absolutely teaches us that Christians are family. God is our Father and we are brothers and sisters in our faith. It’s beautiful, Psalm 133:1 says, when we live like we are.

Yet the Bible gets specific in how we are to practice this in a way that is extremely counterintuitive. Hebrews 13:2 states it this way: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Similarly, Job claims, “I have never turned away a stranger, but have opened my doors to everyone.” Jesus makes it personal when he says, “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” 

I want to point out two things that are crucial to understanding and contextualizing these verses in 2018 America. First, the word “stranger” every time means someone from a different country who lives among you. That can be easily seen in both the Hebrew and Greek words used as well as how “stranger” was defined in Israelite law (Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 24:22). This group was often mentioned with the orphan, widow and poor as people to whom great compassion should be shown (Deuteronomy 24:17). God knew something back then that we can still see today: when you are a new immigrant, primarily because you have fewer resources, you are extremely prone to be a victim of injustice.

Secondly, all of them teach that we are to have strangers (and especially fellow Christians) in our homes. The word for “hospitality” in Hebrews 13:2 literally means love of strangers while the word for “entertain” literally means to receive a stranger as a guest. And the ideas of “inviting in” and “open doors” are specific as well. Having someone in your home is an intimate event in any culture that I have experience with. It is an act reserved for family and closest friends.

I say this is counterintuitive for obvious reasons. The very fact people from other countries have been historically and biblically called things with negative connotations in American English now like “stranger” and “alien” in some way proves that parts of our culture bend against treating immigrants (a more modern and less demeaning word) like family. As I have written before, we often tend to do church in a homogeneous way, where we are similar in culture and even in our coded language and preferences in things like music. And my guess would be that we are even more limited in whom we share our homes with than whom we share our church with, since there is research that indicates that only a tiny percentage of people have other races and ethnicities as a part of their circle of friends, and especially their inner circle friends[1. Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post, August 25, 2014. Information accessed at https://www.washingtonpost.com/three-quarters-of-whites-dont-have-any-non-white-friends]. Yet biblically we are to share our homes for meals (and whenever possible, more intimate and longterm events than that), with Christians who look and act quite differently than we do.

This is an issue of the Gospel. In Ephesians 2, I find it impossible to separate salvation by grace through faith with how we accept immigrant brothers and sisters. In political discourse, it is completely understandable that we use words like “Immigrant” to describe those who have moved here from other countries. But Paul taught in Ephesians 2 in the church this terminology is obsolete. The Hebrews had many laws that commanded them to treat the stranger among them with love and compassion, like Leviticus 19:9-10 and 19:33-34. But in Ephesians 2:19 Paul says to Christian Gentiles, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” So I tell the immigrant believers in my church, “The world may call you an ‘immigrant’ but at Northwest, we call you ‘family’.” And unless I truly treat people like family, which includes having them in my home, then I’m just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

In his sledgehammer book, Generous Justice, Tim Keller drives home the point about eating with the stranger as being a Gospel issue by referencing Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians. Peter had stopped eating with Gentiles out of fear of man and Paul rebuked him that he “was not acting in line with the Gospel[2. Tim Keller, Generous Justice, 124].” The Gospel has never ended with man’s reconciliation to God. It has always included people groups’ reconciliation to each other, as evidenced by Ephesians 2 and also by nearly 20 different languages present for the beginning of the Christian church. How can we be truly reconciled from a distance? We must invite them in. As Hebrews taught. As Job lived. As Jesus said we should treat him.

So my question for you today is: Are you acting in line with the Gospel? Are you practicing Hebrews 13:2 hospitality? Let me be plain that this is not a series of question with a political angle. I’m not writing this only to conservative white Christians. The truth of the Bible transcends that. I ask them to all Christians who read this. Because the familial nature of Christianity, and our Gospel, demand it.


Why A Bilingual Church?

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” [Revelation 7:9]


In the past, I have written about second-language learning and about racial reconciliation for REO. And those two things have come together for my local church in Chicago to form a decision that our church would not separate our worship services or social events based on the two dominant languages of our neighborhood, English and Spanish. We decided to translate everything we do and be a bilingual church.

And for the past eight years or so we have been trying slowly and surely to develop this philosophy of ministry and to communicate it to our church and to others. We desire to be clear that we do not think all churches can or should do this. Each church must decide what is best for them. There is no one way or right way. But here are five reasons why we feel this way is best for us.


1. Because of the New Testament focus on being ONE

Consider just this partial list of verses in the New Testament:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, so that they may be ONE as we are ONE…I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be ONE as we are ONE—so that they may be brought to complete unity. (Jesus, praying in John 17:11, 20, 23)

All the believers were ONE in heart and mind. (Acts 4:32)

For just as each of us has ONE body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form ONE body, and each member belongs to all the others. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

...So that with ONE mind and ONE voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:6)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all ONE in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

His purpose was to create in himself ONE new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in ONE body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:16)

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of ONE body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6)

There is ONE body and ONE Spirit, just as you were called to ONE hope when you were called; ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism; ONE God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

I will know that you stand firm in the ONE Spirit, striving together as ONE for the faith of the Gospel… (Philippians 1:27) 


2. Because the United States desperately needs unity in spite of differences

In a country where we wage daily social media war over politics and race and many other topics, it can speak loudly when a group of people says, “We refuse to be divided based on typical anthropological differences.” Like language. You can have a multi-cultural church without being multi-lingual but being multi-lingual guarantees you will be multi-cultural. People whose first languages are different will likely be different in many ways.

And by nature we find differences annoying and ignore what is different when we can.  We often think in terms of “Us” and “Them” and only tolerate “Them” as far as to be polite.  So our church’s mission statement on being bilingual says, “At Northwest, there is no Us and Them. Only Us.” The church of all organisms needs to be countercultural and push back against homogeneous thinking and community living. Bilingual community forces us to interact with people who we otherwise perhaps would not.

There are times in our church we have social event and a person who does not speak Spanish and a person who does not speak English will communicate with each other in significant conversation, using hand gestures, the few words in the other’s language they do know and the universal language of smiling and laughing. And they love it. They will grab a translator if absolutely necessary but experience has taught us that since 90+% of communication is nonverbal, if you demonstrate just a little bit of patience and humility, it rarely is necessary for informal conversation. But you’d never know that unless you tried it or were forced into it.


3. Because it teaches us to be outward and others focused.

In a religion whose truth contains the ideology of “Consider others more important that yourself” and “No one should seek their own good but the good of others” as a core tenant of the faith, it can challenge your commitment to it when you are in a place where you do not understand everything going on around you and when you do not understand so that others can understand.

When the Scripture reading happens in Spanish, about 40% of the people at my church do not understand it. When it happens in English, around 30% do not understand it. Someone at my church is constantly sacrificing for the sake of others. It is good for the DNA of the church. This is especially true for English speakers in the US since English is essentially the official language. It takes humility to say “Your language is welcome here, even if I don’t understand it.” The humility of deferring for the good of others.

Even for some Spanish-speakers who speak English well, they long to hear the Scripture, songs and sermon in their first language since that is how they understand it best. As Mick Donahue, former missionary to Spain, shared with me from an English conversation partner he had over there: “When you preach to me in English, I understand it in my head. When you preach in Spanish, I understand it in my heart.”


4. We learn more about each other by learning culture and language  

I love it that even people who speak little Spanish in my church know that “Oremos” means “Let’s pray” and that “Nuestro Dios” is “Our God”. And I have no doubt that our Spanish-speaking people are improving their English weekly. Just by being in worship services and social events, the natural community of the church. And this helps us with communication skills because it enhances our empathy. It is the way of God to bless us when we sacrifice for others. And the blessing of getting to know more about brothers and sisters from other cultures just from learning a few words and phrases in their language is magnificent.


5. Because the Gospel isn’t just Christ reconciling people to God, but also people groups to other people groups

In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches clearly that Jesus’ death was not just about the forgiveness of sin, though that is foundational to Christianity. He also explains the terminology of “alien” and “foreigner” in the Kingdom of God is obsolete (2:19). There are no immigrants among God’s people, only brothers and sisters. The curtain was torn when Jesus died to obliterate the division in the holy and the common. But the separation of Jews and Gentiles in temple worship was also undone. Christ’s death destroyed the wall that divided two ethnic groups and made them united and equal under a new covenant. This is as much part of the message of Good Friday’s cross as the remission of sins. We cannot preach Christ and not preach racial and ethnic reconciliation.

And so we have determined that bilingual ministry is the best way to communicate that.  We do not judge other churches based on doing this differently or on any other non-absolutes.  But we encourage others to consider it.


So as we celebrate Good Friday and Easter coming up, we at REO want people to reflect on exactly what Jesus’s life and death truly meant and what they mean today. For me personally, they often mean that I die to my own ethnocentricity and embrace a world as similar to Acts 2 as possible, whatever that means for me in Chicago in 2017. Bilingualism has been invaluable in doing so.