Dordt College News

Soundings: A faculty reflection

August 20, 2011

Ten years later, Brue’s class response to 9/11 is as relevant today as then

EGR 315: Machine Design class September 12, 2001

In the noise of all that is going around us, I want us to consider again why we are here today. I admit to feeling some dissonance yesterday while teaching fluid mechanics as towers were falling in New York. I briefly asked myself why I was carrying on with the rather ordinary teaching of fluid mechanics while thousands of people are dying in our nation. Doesn’t fluid mechanics pale in significance to life and death issues? Yet, for whatever reason, I resisted the inclination to delay class in order to be brought up to date by each other and the media. 

Maybe all that needs to be said was said in chapel.  While the television commentators keep telling us that “this changes everything,” the learned teacher told us that “there is nothing new under the sun.” 

If the teacher is right, why don’t I feel the same dissonance when I hear on the news that thousands are dying in Nigeria or Rwanda or the Middle East?  And what about the abused, broken, and dying ones in our communities?  In trying to sort out emotional dissonance, we often generate more questions than answers. 

One such question might be to ask why we cancel events in Iowa due to this tragedy. Obviously, New Yorkers need to allow the rescue and clean-up operation to proceed and to minister to those in grief (as some of us may be called to do). The popular notion seems to be that we need to pause and concern ourselves with “religious” matters for a while—a moment of silence before we return to normal life. 

But what is normal life? For many of us, it is the comfort of living oblivious to reality, the reality of ever-present tragedy that is the residue of sin. Many people are saying “This really puts things in perspective.” But does it? Is anyone wondering why things were “out of perspective” to begin with? Why aren’t our lives silent enough to listen to the ever-present truth of tragedy? Why should it take a terrorist to guide us to truth?

Many people today, including Christians, feel that in the face of immense tragedy, continuing with our mundane activities is insensitive. But Christians more than anyone should be aware of the implications of true reality, God-saturated reality—all of it, from ever-present tragedy to ever-present hope. And perhaps an appropriate response to this tragedy for us is to be right here in machine design—or accounting or music theory or fantasy literature.

I’m convinced that if machine design should not be studied in the face of “life and death” issues, then it should not be studied at all!  Redemption is a Boolean concept—either you are “in sin” and DEAD or “in Christ” and ALIVE. There is no middle ground. If accounting or machine design or music theory or fantasy literature have nothing to do with our new life in Christ, then we should NEVER study them. Not in peace. Not in war. But the message of our flesh and blood salvation is that everyday ordinary mundane reality is a “life and death” issue!

That’s why we’re studying machine design today as an appropriate response to this tragedy. Our presence here testifies to the ongoing rule of God in the face of evil. We proclaim the gospel that Christ came to make all things right and invites us to join in his great task of reclamation. As players in the Creation-Fall-Redemption drama we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to act out as best we can the way things are supposed to be. And it is right here in this class and others like it that we learn the skills necessary to play our part as shalom bringers in all things! 

So along with prayer, reflection, and the many other appropriate responses to this tragedy, I encourage you to continue with your studies, your communal worship, your celebrative play—these everyday religious activities. To do so ensures that we don’t succumb to the despair that the evil one desires and that we evangelize with our lives that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God—the God with us here in the everyday-ordinary—He is the ruler yet!” 


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