How 9/11 Changed Us: Part III

For our co-founders Jeremy and Jessica, 9/11 set them on a course to the Middle East, and ultimately, to Iraq. Initially, to change the people they thought were the enemy. But often, when we move closer to those who are different—to those who believe differently, pray differently, or see the world differently—we discover that we are the ones who need to change.

That’s what happened for Jessica and Jeremy—and ultimately, that was how Preemptive Love was born.


Related: Love Anyway Podcast, Season 2 Bonus Episode: How 9/11 Changed Us

Jessica

It was about three months after we got married that 9/11 happened. Growing up, it seemed like the biggest rift in relationship with America was Russia. All of a sudden it became really obvious that that wasn’t the biggest rift. That the biggest rift that was being created in America was actually between Muslims and Christians, and between America and the Middle East, specifically Afghanistan and Iraq.

It didn’t make sense to me that the decision of a few people was going to change the life of millions of people on the other side of the world from America, just because they happen to have the same religion as the people who were terrorists. At that point it became a really natural shift that the people that were the underdogs, the people that we loved the least, were the people in the Middle East.

Jeremy

I don’t really remember talking about Islam much before September 11th, 2001. But from that moment on, it just seemed like everything in our world, a lot of America was zeroed in on this conversation about Muslims and Muslims as terrorists in particular. And America went off to war fairly soon after that.

We didn’t think we were part of that kind of way of responding to September 11th, so we went in a slightly different direction. We wanted to address the problem of terrorism and what at the time we would have probably called the problem of Islam. We wanted to address that by making Muslims into Christians.

I would have to confess that we also didn’t want Muslims in the world. We also didn’t know how to live at peace with Muslims.

We chose not to pick up the gun to respond to September 11th and to respond to terrorism, but we picked up weapons. I would say we weaponized our lives in some ways and moved overseas for the purpose of getting rid of Islam, for the purpose of getting rid of Muslims.

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We didn’t want to kill anybody. We still wanted Mohammed, this friend on the other side of the table from me. We still wanted Mohammed to be alive and well in the world. We just didn’t want him to be alive and well in the world as a Muslim. We wanted him to renounce all of that and come over to our side.

There was never any sense that we would also change, that we would divest or give away what we knew to be true. That we would have to relinquish some of our ideas, our strongly held beliefs.

A couple of years after moving overseas and trying to do this, I remember just going facedown on the ground and crying out to God in frustration and anger, “I’ve been here faithfully doing this work for more than 2 years. I know the language really well and I’m giving my life to this and I’m out every day in the markets and streets.” And I’m facedown just crying, “Why me? Why me?”

There was a voice. And the voice said, “It’s because you don’t love them, Jeremy. Sure you love to be right. To be thought highly of. That you have all the best words and the best arguments and you’re brave. But you don’t love this guy Mohammed on the other side of the table from you, for who he is today. Full stop.”

I saw my fists come down and open up into an open-handed embrace. I stood up off that floor and I knew I was transformed.

I walked out of the conference, out of the hotel. And we moved to Iraq. And I was a completely different person.

We are still learning to live with the legacy of 9/11, still trying to heal what’s tearing us apart. Later this month, we’ll share a vision for how we can build something new from the ashes: a new kind of community where we take a step toward those we fear or misunderstand, where we start to live like we really do belong to each other.

That’s the vision behind the new book Love Anyway and a new film of the same name, both releasing September 24. You can learn more at LoveAnyway.com.

On September 11, we remember all we lost that day 18 years ago. On September 24, we can take our first steps out of exile, together. And launch into a new way of living and being and belonging to each other.