PW: Tell us how the members of your congregation, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, were affected by the attack on the World Trade Center.
JC: We lost four people from our church: a firefighter, a police officer, a man who worked for a financial firm and a woman who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Her 19-year-old daughter is part of our church. Also, the whole church has been touched by the tragedy. We ministered to people by the thousands as they fled Manhattan and came over the Brooklyn Bridge. In October, we also had a benefit concert for firefighters here. The church was packed with about 2,000 people in overflow rooms, and they went berserk to honor the firefighters. They cheered for five or six minutes straight.
PW: When was your book God's Grace from Ground Zero conceived? How long did it take to write?
JC: About 10 days after the event, I was lying in bed praying, and the thought came to me: "God's grace from ground zero." Now, I'm not a polished writer—all of my books are really sermons that I've preached and then put in my own hand. Then my co-writer edits them and helps me with my dangling participles and all of that. I called Zondervan—this is very rare for me, because I usually don't have ideas for books—and told them that I had a book in mind and that I already had a title for it. Zondervan got back to me in a day and said, "How quickly can you write it?" I said I would shut down everything else, and I did. In two weeks and four days, between me and my co-writer, we finished the book. It's short, but still, I thought that was amazing. I did nothing else but eat and write for those two weeks.
Incidentally, all of my royalties, from the first book on, go directly to the church. I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm capitalizing on this tragedy.
PW: Why the title? What can be seen of God's grace at ground zero?
JC: The people who lost loved ones have seen a great manifestation of God's grace. God is helping these people through their ordeals, and their losses have created new opportunities for others to experience God's love. God will use things from the beginning of this war to bring people closer to him. We're all more conscious now that when you leave this earth, you don't take a thing with you. People now are willing to discuss eternity and the brevity of life. No one ever expects their last day to be their last day; life is so uncertain. These are not things that New Yorkers typically think about, let alone talk about.
PW: In the book, you express disappointment with the way some Christians have responded to the tragedy, by judging others or laying blame.
JC: We've just got to avoid the pseudo-prophetic judgmentalism that says who is to blame for this—as if prophets speak to nations instead of the church. Christians are to be witnesses with good news. And Jesus was clear that there would be wars and rumors of wars, but the end is not yet. To me, this tragedy is part of the human condition of free will and evil on the earth. For 20 centuries, there have been tribal wars, ethnic wars, civil wars and world wars. Now, we're in another kind of war. Christians need to shine like a light.
PW: What are you hoping that this book will offer to readers?
JC: I hope it will be a blessing to people, and that it will make them stop and think. I hope it will give Christians encouragement that we can't live in fear. You've got to trust God and keep moving on.