North face south tower after plane strike. Wikimedia Commons

All the Earth is Ground Zero

The American dream cannot be based on materialism. Generosity, faith, and audacity are needed. A painter of international acclaim offers us his reflections upon 9/11 and its aftermath.
Makoto Fujimara

On September 11, 2001, one of the engines from the hijacked planes landed in our street, almost killing a pedestrian. We were, like the pedestrian, spared, and, after a two-month exile my family and I returned to our loft for Thanksgiving of 2001. The stubborn fire that persisted throughout that time at Ground Zero finally went out around Christmas, and our three children returned to school in February of 2002. By that time, Ground Zero was no longer Ground Zero–a raw, devastating and severe reality. It had quickly been sanitized.

The American Dream is a term coined by historian James Truslow Adams in 1931, meaning “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Just as Ground Zero became co-opted, the American Dream can very quickly be short-changed into sheer materialism. The events and aftermath of 9/11 exposed the assumptions behind terms like “Ground Zero” and “American Dream.” The past decade was an opportunity to think through the consequences of these assumptions. Theologically, all the earth is Ground Zero. We live in the fallen world in which every good, true, and beautiful reality can fall prey to destructive greed. Christ came to redeem this path to self-destruction by taking on all of our “pride of the flesh” on the Cross. Christ is the God of Ground Zero.

Ground Zero, in Christ, can also mean a new beginning where we can stand on the ashes of the Wasteland we see and seek renewal and “genesis moments”– and the American Dream can be a collection of such “genesis moments.” It does not have to be merely a calculation of our material possessions; it can be a measurement of happiness based on creative and relational capital.

Rather than making Darwinian decisions on “limited resources,” we can believe that God’s gifts are infinite. Creativity based on love generates a capital of generosity, feeding the world with fresh opportunities rather than fostering competition.

Caring for culture
(“Culture Care”), as with our environment, is a noble goal for the next generation. This does not come from a socialistic vision, based on limited resources, but is based on the abundant optimism of what “America” represents. In other words, the American Dream does not have to be all about what we own, but about the celebration of the prudential and humble steps to use the infinite Grace that God pours into us. It can become truly about the dreams of an individual to see possibilities even as we grieve, standing on the ashes of Ground Zero, and as we endeavor to pass on hope to future generations.

This will require faith.One does not even need to be an American to be part of that dream, which is not bound by geography, nationality, or political party. A dream is always meant to be open-sourced, imparted as a gift to those who dare to accept it. America can be a place where new ideas are tested in a microcosm and shared. It can be a nexus of the creative and communal movement of dreamers, gathered to steward the future of the world. But immediate suspicion will challenge such an optimistic view. The world, certainly, does not operate out of generosity, but individual preservation and even greed. Capitalism depends on this drive. From the faith communities of churches, I can hear dissent as well. Are we meant to be triumphant over the city of men on this side of eternity?

And if we are, are we not simply able to push back the darkness for a limited time before corruption sets in? All of these positions are valid. Yet, I submit a radical thought rising from the destruction of 9/11 and the subsequent financial crisis on Wall Street: capitalism based solely on greed is not sustainable, and faith without audacity cannot survive in our extreme climate of pluralism.

*Makoto Fujimura is the founder of the International Arts Movement (