tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Friday, September 03, 2004

9/11 and the meaning of 'is'

In about a week, we will note the third anniversary of 9/11. I remember that morning so well – the horror, the uncertainty, the fear. Oh, what I would give to go back to the innocent life of September 10, 2001!

August 17 marked another anniversary. It was six years ago on that date that William Jefferson Clinton uttered the phrase that would come to define his presidency: “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” As absurd as that snippet of Grand Jury testimony was, it offers meaning worth considering in the context of 9/11.

The Book of Exodus offers the story of God speaking to Moses through the burning bush. When God commands Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses asks whom shall I say sent me? God instructs Moses to say he was sent by “I am.”

‘Is’ and ‘am,’ you might know, are forms of the same word: the verb, ‘to be.’

So what Clinton was really saying was: “It depends on what your meaning of God is.”

I was thinking about this while listening to U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson speak to a group of business leaders on August 6 in Alexandria, Minn. Peterson, a Democrat representing Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District, has held a seat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence since spring of 2001. He told the group, mostly made up of community bankers from throughout Minnesota, that the war against terrorism isn’t going well. He said we need to shift our efforts toward covert operations, away from a military approach. Further, he said, “some people are going to have to be assassinated.” People applauded.

When I was thinking about what ‘is’ means to me, I recalled Francis of Assisi. Known today mostly for his love of animals and nature, Francis was a peacemaker in his day. Troubled by fighting between Christians and Muslims, in 1219 he traveled from Italy to the heart of the war on the east bank of the Nile. While all those around him where wielding swords, Francis approached the Sultan unarmed and negotiated a peace. God was the common denominator for the two sides, although they had different ideas of who God is.

We are told the terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center did so in the name of God. It is very difficult for most Americans to comprehend this meaning of God.

But, if we are ever going to find peaceful co-existence with those who hate us, maybe we should try to understand their meaning of God. It was an important step to peace some 800 years ago and, to me, it seems more promising than assassinations or on-going war.

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