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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris and Beyond

Instead of studying for my Pediatric recertification exam, which was supposed to fill this weekend (the prep I planned to do has its web site down, and they don't work on weekends, and yes that did result in some panic and stress so pray for Scott who is absorbing all that) we are joining the rest of America glued to CNN.  Last night we listened to an articulate reporter who happened to be in the epicenter describing crouching in the theatre as attackers proceeded execution-style, then running out while they reloaded, picking up a severely injured and bleeding young girl on the way and carrying her a couple hundred meters from the theatre then flagging a cab to take her to the hospital.  We listened to the British woman describe the glass-breaking mob-style assault on the Cambodian restaurant, holding the arm of a woman who presumably died of her wounds.  We listened to numbers, to speculation.  We watched the clips of the bombs sounding in the football match, and then the sirens wailing around the concert hall.  We tried to make sense of the multiple sites, the coordinated attacks, the suicide bomb belts.

And today, the count settles: 129 killed and 352 injured, "soft targets".  Soft, as in normal people going to enjoy music and dinner in a city that is synonymous with love, with culture, with history, with art.

Within hours, social media was flooded with images of the Eiffel Tower, with "pray for Paris", with French flags shading profile pictures.  Then a few started to ask, why the sudden interest when Beirut was bombed and Bagdad, and few Americans noticed?  We pray for Paris; what about Syria?

A valid question, and a push to broaden our horizons of concern to all of humanity.

But I understand the power of identification and connection, and the fact that Paris strikes more fear in the American observer than bombs in Kabul or gunfire in Garissa did.  For me, the 147 Kenyan students who were killed by terrorists while we gathered our East Africa teams nearby, represented a much more palpable threat.  That's because I know many Kenyan students, and the territory and faces are familiar.  My kids went to school in Kenya too.  It's close to home, in the same way that French people attending concerts or having a meal with their lover are familiar to most readers in this hemisphere.

In fact, the one American student killed on her semester abroad stands out, particularly after discussing France as a semester-abroad option with one of my kids a couple weeks ago, and knowing my current semester-abroad child's return ticket goes through Paris.  In the same way, reading about the racial unrest at Yale, a commenter said with contempt about the vocal African-American women students who protested, "they probably are there on a full ride, and majoring in African studies; they won't be the elite once they leave Yale."  Hmm, that pretty much describes my Yale student.  When the hate hits closer home, we see things from the victim's perspective.

So, 24 hours later, let's let Paris grab our hearts and painfully push them to wrap around all the people ISIS has targeted, from theatre-goers to moderate-muslim goat-herders to encircled Christian minorities.

Let's also remember that ISIS is not synonymous with Islam.  Of the world's billion-and-a-half Muslims, the Islamic State only represents a small minority of them (tens of thousands, maybe a couple hundred thousand, but that is still less than a tenth of a percent (0.1%).  Most of ISIS's victims have been their fellow Muslims whom they regard as apostate.  When tweets began to blame Syrian refugees for the Paris attacks, I appreciated one that asked, don't your realize THIS IS WHAT THE SYRIAN REFUGEES ARE FLEEING?  There is a dark evil percolating, one that espouses beheadings and slavery, one that rejects borders and courts and elections.  We can stand against this madness without suspecting every person with a name that ends in "i" of being a terrorist.  I would imagine that there were faithful people who loved Jesus in the middle ages who did not want Christianity to be equated with the extermination of Jews or the bloodbath of crusades.

And let's think deep and hard about what would sap the power out of this state.  I'm not a political expert, but it seems that invading Iraq may have set us on this path.  A "we will show no mercy" response may play right into their hands.  Honestly I don't know, is this the time to reluctantly use greater force for the cause of justice, or to soberly tread slowly because our enemy is nebulous, and within?  I think we as Christians can pray for wisdom for ourselves and for our leaders, pray against vengeful pride, pray for sacrificial courage.  Pray for deliverance from the Evil One, for those in South Sudan and Burundi and Lebanon and Jordan and all over our world.  Because the only path that we know will bring true and lasting peace is one that changes hearts.

And lastly, as we have radios and TV's showing fear and lashing out in frustrated bravado, let's remember the kids in the room, and our own souls as well.  We can't promise anyone that what happened in Paris won't happen in Washington or Philadelphia or Durham or San Francisco.  There is only so much that any army can do to stop the first fifteen minutes of coordinated ready-to-die young men with guns.  But we can hold onto truth, that perfect love casts out fear, that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that in all things are in the process of redemption.  Our neighbors and our kids need to hear that.  That's the true safety, that no terrorist can take from us.  We are held by a Mercy that is stronger than death.

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