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On Sept. 11, I was to make a presentation on "Things we can control and things we cannot control." I had planned on talking about things like teen-age sons, the weather, and how long Lou Pinella leaves Norm Charlton on the mound as just a few examples of the many things I cannot control. The events of that morning in New York and Washington rendered my presentation entirely inadequate. I was happy and smug in the shallowness of my perceived powerlessness on Monday evening. The news of Tuesday morning ripped us apart and shook us to the very foundations of our nation's soul. Powerless we were. My powerlessness was such an affront to me that in the following days, I would wake up in the middle of the night scheming how I would have wrestled control from the hijackers and how things would have turned out much differently if only I had been there.
Powerlessness is a difficult thing to come to terms with.
It seems that for some of us, this episode has thrown us into confusion and we haven't known what to think.
It seems that for others, this has just gone to confirm what we already know and believe. Liberals who laid low during the Clinton years, not wanting to criticize his military actions, are suddenly coming out of the woodwork. They are dusting off convictions and passions they haven't used since Desert Storm. Conservatives who have been at a loss since the end of the Cold War finally have an identifiable enemy to want to blow to kingdom come.
In the meantime, we still have this issue of powerlessness. I don't know about you, but the thing that really gets me about this whole mess is just how powerless we were to do anything about it. Less than 20 guys with box cutters. All we could do was just sit by radios and televisions listening and watching and being horrified.
We are realizing how powerless and vulnerable we are. We are rattling sabers and making plans for war, but empty airports and hotels and a stock market on the skids betray our fears. It may be chemical, biological, or nuclear next time. It may come from crop dusters or terrorists deliberately infecting themselves with a disease and walking around crowded malls. It could be blowing up dams or electrical transmission lines. I would guess all of us have thought about just how vulnerable and powerless we are.
We are not entirely powerless. We can control ourselves. And we have influence over a whole lot.
My friends in AA have a prayer they pray, known as the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."
One of my problems is that I spend too much time trying to control the things I cannot change (or wishing I could), and the very things that I can change -- or at least influence, I quickly get bored of and want to move on to other things. I spend way too much time worrying and scheming and screaming about things I really have no control over. And I don't spend near enough time on what I can control.
I can't stop those planes or the buildings from crashing, although God knows I've tried. I can't make our enemies say, "Never mind, we didn't really mean it and we're sorry."
I can be encouraging toward those around me, though, and sane and understanding of others who are fearful and upset. I can turn off the TV when the news and the images get too numbing and just too much. I can pray for American Moslems and Arab-Americans. I can pray for our enemies, too. I can keep in mind that all wars, even justifiable ones, are ultimately a sign that we have failed to find a better way to settle our differences. I can refuse to hate or to take delight in the death of terrorists. I can refuse to stoop to the level of terrorists.
I can refuse to give in to fear. I can pray for our President and other world leaders. I can refuse to be petty. I can educate myself about who's who in this and challenge ignorance and people who are misinformed. I can accept the things I cannot change and change the things I can, and may God grant me -- and all of us -- the wisdom to know the difference.
Come to think of it, there's quite a bit I can do.
And so can you.
Larry Olson is pastor of Eagle Wings Community Church.