A surprising amount of press leading up to the tenth anniversary commemorations of September 11th has been negative. Among the starker headlines, the Religion News Service released an article suggesting that “Interfaith Understanding Remains Elusive 10 Years After 9/11.”
To be sure, last summer’s unnecessary controversy over the Park51 Community Center in Lower Manhattan and its distance to the World Trade Center was not a shining moment of tolerance. It boded ill for tenth anniversary commemorations that the ninth anniversary seemed so bleak and filled with rhetoric.
Yet this summer has been different — and certainly different than many have expected. Perhaps galvanized to action by last year’s spate of Islamophobia, this summer has been one of planning and coalescence for the interfaith movement. The goal is clear, tangible and immediate: to ensure that the commemoration of 9/11 is not an excuse for venom, but a time for healing and an opportunity to return to our country’s founding ideals of religious pluralism.
Organization after organization has stepped up to plan commemorative events. From the Interfaith Youth Core’s “Be Better Together for 9/11” toolkit and student-led campaigns on college campuses across the country to the efforts of Our Better Angels to train current and emerging religious leaders to guide their communities through this time of healing, there is an abundance of resources and cross-pollination between groups.
In Chicago, the Muslim Women’s Alliance, National Council of Jewish Women, Church Women United, and Temple Judea Mizpah have joined forces to host a viewing of “Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football and the American Dream,” along with an interfaith dialogue and commemoration of 9/11.
Harvard’s Humanist Chaplaincy is raising money and organizing volunteers to package 9,110 meals for those who are hungry in the greater Boston area. They are collaborating with other campus organizations as well as those in the broader community to ensure that 9/11/11 is a day of community service and coming together in memory of those who died ten years before.
In Washington, D.C., the 9/11 Unity Walk is being hosted by a dozen congregations — Jewish and Sikh, Muslim and Jain, Buddhist and Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant.
In Los Angeles, the Episcopal Diocese, in partnership with its Jewish and Muslim counterparts, is busy at work planning an interfaith vigil for peace. 5,000 people are expected to attend.
And right here in New York, an interfaith coalition called Prepare New York is planning a series of events and coffee hours, which are set to continue on for months. Its major commemorative project, “Ribbons of Hope” is creating “an interactive, community-created art project designed to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks by inviting people of all backgrounds, religions, ages and races to tie a ribbon inscribed with a message of hope and healing for New York City.” 4,000 people have already purchased ribbons. Thousands more are likely to do so in the days ahead.
Momentum is similarly building for a panel of “Wisdom Thinkers” to provide new narratives from their traditions for grief, sorrow, healing, and pluralism. Their September 8th Event in Uptown New York will ask challenging questions of its rather esteemed panelists:
What can we learn by reweaving our wisdom stories into a new narrative, and what role can each of us play? How do we nurture our children to become active citizens committed to creating a more compassionate, pluralistic, civil society?
These have been central questions for our society since 9/11. But that they are being asked — and answered — still feels relatively new. And more answers are emerging in the events we see shaping up across the country.
If ever the interfaith movement has been vibrant and alive, it is now. Across the country, its leaders of all faiths (and none at all) are working to address the pressing issue of our day: how to remember and commemorate a devastating day in a way that will lead to collaboration rather than division. These efforts are themselves a memorial.