Today, we are honored to have Dean Borgman as our guest blogger on UniteBoston. Dean Borgman was a youth leader in Connecticut, then in Young Life’s first urban work on New York’s Lower East Side. For some forty years, he taught youth ministry, racial justice and biblical social justice at Gordon-Conwell’s Roxbury and Hamilton campuses. Here, Dean shares a reflective piece after watching a documentary from 9/11 about the need to confront the evil in our midst.
I watched CNN’s documentary on 9/11… and was led to live it in some small way… as an intrusive visitor. Still, its sounds and smells, the thuds of bodies and cries of injured… the incredible sacrifice of First Responders filled me with awe, anxieties… and questions.
My inner soul wants to take it all somewhere… but where? What are others feeling? What is Media suggesting? It’s been twenty years since my assistant called me and merely said: “Dean, you don’t know? Turn on your TV!”
In some way or other we are all Responders.
There seems to be at least three ways to respond:
to hate… to forget and pass on…
to forgive—a word that is almost unfathomable in this case. I have hated those who plunged so many lives into fear, pain, death, and grief. I have hated those who hijacked and drove those planes… and those who planned and smiled at great distances as so many suffered, those dying and those who would spend the rest of their lives grieving.
Then, besides that initial hate, I have forgotten… and gotten on with my life. After all, it’s unhealthy to dwell with hate or drown in grief. We who have tended to forget and pass on will occasionally express a genuine: “It was a terrible shame.” And our unfinished regret is assuaged by media memorials.
But finally, beyond hate and forgetting, the forgiving…. What does that even entail and mean? And what good does it do… myself and the world? I don’t see myself, or society, knowing what it might mean to forgive such an enormous assault? The forgiveness seemingly called for is not just my own individual turn from hatred… or “getting on with my life.” It seems to call for a much larger national forgiveness… and forgiveness from “faith & religion,” the Church.
There is trivial forgiveness of slight social mistakes, and there is superficial forgiveness of serious personal and social injustice—harm that one suffers and can’t get over.
Effective forgiveness needs to be pondered and discussed—as a process. It calls for genuine relationships and the telling of true stories. Must I not deeply understand what I’m called to forgive? Don’t I somehow need to comprehend vividly what I am forgiving… something of the nature of Evil?
Something still seems to be missing? That hour in CNN… with the dust and darkness, the bodies! The terrified faces of those fleeing the hailstorm of debris… the frustrated looks of firemen and first responders. The cries! I’m struck by the enormity of Evil.
Am I alone trying to comprehend such evil? I hardly hear it being called Evil. Nor little suggestion as to how we are to deal with evil. Nor instruction about what Evil really is. I understand that in our Post-(so much) times such issues have dissolved into the ultimate nothingness of life. Can we live with such final meaninglessness?
Being honest, I realize I have not preached specifically on Evil. I fear… I may get it wrong… express it wrongly… be misunderstood or rejected. Am I another part of a Church that hasn’t taken up its cross and proclaimed Evil as a necessary part of the Good News. Am I basically unwilling to follow the way Jesus confronted the evil of Pharisaical religiosity (Matthew 23) or the evil in every individual’s heart (Matthew 15:19)?
Such honesty would call us all… individuals, nation, and churches… to repentance. The Good News would not be “just believe and join us,” but “repent and believe.”
I can hardly do this alone. Don’t we need the Church? Don’t we need others to help us confront evil… which comes from the Evil One… who so easily seduces societies, churches, and all of us descendants of Adam and Eve? Don’t we need, as a People, to remember and face the evils of the Holocaust, Racism and 9/11… and more, with true repentance, corporate and individual… against evils going beyond our personal comprehension.
Loving and forgiving God, we are trying to face realities in which we all share some blame. We have busily built our own kingdoms. Help us humbly repent and pray,”‘Thy Kingdom come.”
Dean Borgman was a youth leader in Connecticut, then in Young Life’s first urban work on New York’s Lower East Side. For some forty years, he taught youth ministry, racial justice and biblical social justice at Gordon-Conwell’s Roxbury and Hamilton campuses. He’s also taught at Fuller Theological Seminary, Cuttington University (Liberia), the African International University and Daystar University (Kenya). Dean and his wife Gail have four grown children and twelve grandchildren.