On a recent trip out west to minister to soldiers, I was in an airport, having just passed through TSA PreCheck. When I retrieved my bags from the conveyor belt and put my ruck on my back again and walked towards my terminal I noticed a framed image that caught my eye.
It arrested me when I really sat and thought about it but it has been more than twenty years now since September 11, 2001–or 9/11–as it’s often referred to. Over two decades in history now.
Like many of you probably, I remember precisely where I was when the flames burst upon New York City, the ash began falling from the inferno, the Pentagon was attacked, another plane went down in Pennsylvania, the nation’s airports were locked down, and much of the world gazed upon unspeakable horrors, while heroes of uniformed personnel–firemen, police, and the U.S. military leapt into battles to rescue, evacuate, and honor.
Twenty-plus years ago now. And I wonder oftentimes how many of my generation remember or even care. Because I’m a soldier still I am thankfully surrounded by many fellow patriots–those who have read the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and see that they’re worth fighting for.
There are exceptions, of course. There are bad apples in every organization–in police units, in churches, in fire departments, in the military. The tares grow up alongside the wheat, as we were told (Matthew 13:24-30).
The generation joining our nation’s military branches now are often strikingly different from when I joined. When I joined, I wanted to do all the cliched things like see the world, be part of a team, be part of history, etc. But most of all, I wanted to contribute. I did not want to just “be a taker.”
But I’m finding it is often so different with many of the current generation. If and when they look up from their smartphones, it’s usually only to take a picture of themselves so that they can post themselves online for others to adore. It’s emblematic of a generation literally dying from too much self. Can you imagine trying to teach someone who grew up just two generations ago what “selfies” are or why they’re so common? Rather than contribution it’s consumption. Fie!
As I walked towards my terminal, I met a white-haired man wearing a Vietnam veteran black cap. And it was burned into me once again–that history goes on, that almost all names are immediately forgotten or erased. But there are invariably some individuals who put skin in the game, who serve, both to preserve and to bequeath blessings upon the many who take, who reap benefits. Those contributors are still out there, thank God, in often small ways, shaping little arcs of history.
And every once in a while, maybe others will look up–perhaps to see the nation’s colors framed–and remember that the freedoms enjoyed now can and will be taken if a nation’s god becomes self rather than the only Savior.
The older I grow the more I relish the study of history. Not just my own nation’s history, but especially the history of thought, the history of ideas, and historical theology. And you don’t have to go through many volumes of history to learn that nations come and go. Empires rise and fall. Nebuchadnezzar was only king for a day. The Caesars are dead and gone. Pharaohs are subjects of Bible scholars, Egyptologists and archaeologists. Presidents, too, are thankfully temporary. They’re quickly replaced by other sinners. But still, this is history. And it matters in the ultimate sense, whether or not it matters to the masses. I think it’s one more reason the wise are taught to number our days (Psalm 90:12) because the days are both brief and evil (Ephesians 5:16).