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Ted Foote column: It’s still beneficial to seek well-being of all people

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Sunday is Sept. 11, 2022, the 21st calendar anniversary date of the terrorist attack against the United States by operatives of the Al Qaeda network.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed, with countless others injured, many with long-term negative effects. Additionally, there are scores of family and friends who have since borne grief and additional responsibilities. The ripple effect of disastrous loss of life and injuries is immeasurable.

“How can life be better?” is a question which best stays in the front of our minds every day, when life is more smooth sailing than not, and when life is storm-tossed, as was evident from those morning attacks 21 years ago.

In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 29, exiles from Jerusalem, who were marched in captivity to Babylon as civilian prisoners of war, are yearning to be back home. God directs Jeremiah to communicate through a letter to the exiles that God does not anticipate their return for many years. God then instructs them to “seek the well-being of the city where you are, because in its well-being will be your well-being” (29:7). When the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, our family was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa had then and still has today a significant Muslim community. It was important for Tulsans — along with US citizens everywhere — to hear President George W. Bush say, in an address to Congress, “We respect Muslim friends here and worldwide. The teachings of Islam are good and peaceful. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith. Our enemy here or anywhere is not Islam, but a radical network of terrorists.”

Just because the President said it, did not mean he was able to “wave a magic wand” to create goodwill among persons of different religious traditions. Yet the President’s words of diplomacy, theology and community relations did encourage citizens across the nation and around the world to “seek the well-being of the city where you are” by continuing existing positive interfaith relationships and initiating new positive interfaith relationships. Some resisted his perspective then, while others took his words to heart. We can ask the evaluative question: Have we grown in this since 9/11?

Some have recalled Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation speech to the British Commonwealth on June 2, 1953, when she said: “Parliamentary [and other democratic] institutions, with their free speech and respect for the rights of minorities and the inspiration of broad tolerance in thought and expression — all this we conceive to be a precious part of our way of life and outlook.”

If President George W. Bush in 2001 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 were echoing the prophet Jeremiah from 550 years before Jesus, it is likely beneficial for me, and perhaps you and others, to listen carefully and, still today, seek the well-being of all people wherever we are, similar and different as we can be.

Ted V. Foote Jr. has been pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bryan since 2007.

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