“Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” by Alan Jackson
40 Days of Country – Day #34 – Lent 2016
September 11th, 2001, is not only one of the most tragic days in the history of America, it is, quite literally, a day that changed the world, so much so that the term, “pre-9/11” is regularly used to describe a way of life and a national experience that was quite different prior to the vulnerabilities of our country being exposed by terrorist attacks. On November 26th, 2001, less than two months after the event, Alan Jackson released a song he had penned that sought to capture the personal and national emotions of that fateful September morning. Billboard commented, “A multitude of songs have been written and recorded in the wake of September 11, but none captures the myriad emotions unleashed by the terrorist attacks on an unsuspecting nation more perfectly than Jackson’s eloquent ballad.” To date, “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” is, perhaps, Jackson’s greatest piece of work in a career filled with success.
Alan Jackson was intentional about trying to write a song that captured the variety of reactions to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 without making an overtly political statement. It was this genuine and honest approach that led him to write a string of questions as opposed to making bold declarations as other artists (i.e. Toby Keith) were doing at the time. Questions such as, “Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers? Did you stand in line and give your own blood?” ultimately give way to the concluding reflection of the song, “I know Jesus and I talk to God and I remember this from when I was young. Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us, and the greatest is love.”
September 11th spurred both a sudden wave of patriotism as well as an increased reliance on the Christian faith immediately following the terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, the country also experienced a terrible backlash against devoted Muslims living in America. One of the most truthful elements of “Where Were You,” is the inclusion of these vengeful desires, but Jackson doesn’t stay there. instead, he ends with a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13, acknowledging the importance of love above all other emotions and actions. I can’t help but believe Jesus would have responded in similar fashion. Perhaps this is why, in his famous “Sermon on the Mount,” in Matthew 5:43-44, he tells his followers, “ “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” As Christians, while we ought to recognize and honor the tragedy and sacrifices made on that historic day, we have a responsibility, and we continue to have the opportunity, to show that “the greatest is love,” and that no matter our circumstances, no matter the evils inflicted against us, we will always respond with the love of Christ, not hate, to friends and enemies alike, and that by faith, we have an everlasting hope that “love will never fail.”
Loving Savior, we thank you for the brave and tragic sacrifices made by so many innocent men and women on that tragic September day. Strengthen our hearts so that no matter what evils we face in this world, we cling to love above all else, and offer a witness of faith and hope to this broken world as long as we live. Amen.