Jim Harnish

Where Were You When…


Where Were You When…

Everyone who experienced it can tell you exactly where they were when the World Trade Center fell. My friend, Stephen Bauman, described the way people crowded into Christ Church, NYC, after the attacks. (You can watch it here.)

It reminded me of the Sunday after the Kennedy assassination. In both cases, churches were packed and preachers faced the daunting challenge of putting words around an event that left us speechless.

A Word to Remember  

I don’t remember what our pastor said back then, but I recently rediscovered the sermon The Rev. Dr. Harold Buell preached at Hyde Park Church in Tampa on the Sunday after the assassination.

He began by reflecting on the President’s visit to Tampa just four days earlier.  (You can see the 50th anniversary documentary of the visit here.) He called the assassination “a symbol of the moral deterioration of American life.” He said:

“We have placed our trust in militarism, in the philosophy that might makes right; and then we wonder that an assassin thinks he can solve a problem with the firing of a gun. We are fed violence and brutality on television all day…and then we wonder that an assassin follows the techniques of television.”

Sound familiar? And that was in the supposedly “great” days of the early ’60’s!

He went on to say that the assassination was “the inevitable result of the work of hate mongers…in American life.”

“These extremists would pit American against American; white American against black American, and black American against white American; Roman Catholic against Protestant, Protestant against Roman Catholic, and Catholics and Protestants against the Jews. These extremists have taught hatred of the United Nations, of the Supreme Court and other American institutions; they have sown distrust of leaders in both Church and State. The murder in Dallas reflects the work of those who have spread hatred.”

Sound familiar? Add Muslims to the list and he could speak those words today.  Why is it that the loudest voices in our country  assume that we cannot disagree with another person’s convictions without demonizing them? Whatever happened to mutual respect, basic decency and “the common good” in our political life?

A Word of Hope

Having named the painful reality of the time, Dr. Buell offered a word of hope.

“John F. Kennedy will not have died in vain if his murder calls us back from our mad pursuit of money, pleasure, fame and power, to the things that made American great…You can kill a man with a bullet, but you cannot kill the truth the man stands for.”

He told the congregation that the death of the President “calls us to a rededication to righteousness in public and private life” and he affirmed that “we still have one to whom we can cling; we have the stability that trust in an Omnipotent God can give.”

Reading his sermon makes me want to take a look at the sermon I preached on the Sunday after 9/11.  I’ll share some of that with you in my next blog.

When Will We Learn?

Looking back as a child of the ’60’s, I can hear Peter, Paul and Mary singing, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” with its haunting question, “When will they ever learn?” Jesus still weeps over our violence-addicted, power-intoxicated, hate-filled world saying, “If only you knew the things that lead to peace.” (Luke 19:42)

It’s not enough to remember where we were when JFK was shot or when the towers fell.  We must also learn the deepest lessons they have to teach us about who we are and what we are called to become.

May it be so.

Grace and peace,


P.S.  There’s still room for you to join us on the Celebration Cruise in January.  I’m looking forward to sharing the leadership with Becca Stevens, the founder of Thistle Farms.