What happened in Paris on Friday was horrible and scary. What happened in Beirut and Afghanistan on Friday was horrible and scary. And what happened to the Russian plane leaving Sharm El Sheikh last week was horrible and scary. The world right now in so many ways is a place with horrible, scary things happening. And when I hear about each of these things, my first reaction is to want to hunker down and hide away. I want to go back to my house near the woods in Delaware and stay in a part of the world that feels quiet and safe. I think about my own husband and all the women who have lost theirs and I want to go and hide and be assured of our safety. I think about wars and global crises and famine and climate change and, at moments, I wonder how I could want to bring a child into this world that seems so full of bad things.
Many people feel threatened and we want to build big walls around ourselves and make sure we and our loved ones are protected before we can try to protect other people. We can worry about the other people after we ourselves are safe.
I understand why the Paris attacks get so much more press and sympathy and words of solidarity from the western world. It is not only because they are ‘other white people’ that more people seem to care, but that is part of it isn’t it? Earlier this year when Al-Shabaab attacked Garissa University in Kenya, Facebook didn’t give an option to change our picture to have the Kenyan flag show up over our faces like they have with French flag, even though more people died in the Kenyan attack. No, I think that people in the West generally take more notice and seemingly care more when something happens in a place like France because it hits closer to home. The people in France are people like us. It’s a Western ‘civilized’ country like ours. We have friends who have travelled there and maybe we ourselves have dreamed of going there one day. It shakes us to our core more because these attacks happened in a country ‘like ours.’
It’s easier to imagine the people who died tragically in France as our own family and friends than in a place like Darfur or Syria. When things happen in other areas it simply doesn’t resonate as much because, well, we may think, that’s Africa and the Middle East. It’s different there. They’re not as much ‘like us.’ But the French are kinda like us and it makes us scared.
But it’s wrong and most of us know it’s wrong. To divide people into little mental categories of ‘like us’ and ‘not like us.’ To care more about the loss of human life in one place over another. To turn things into ‘us’ and ‘them.’
What do I think should be done in light of all this? I think now is time or the church to prove it’s staying power, to live hopefully, and to not live in fear. It’s not the time to put ourselves or the kingdoms of this world (looking at you nations and governments) ahead of our heavenly call. We can’t shrink back in fear and self-defense. I’m an American citizen and I’m so grateful for that. But my allegiance is first to Christ. It has to be! And Christ tells me to love my neighbor and my enemies, to welcome the stranger, to care for the poor. Jesus never advocating caring for our own interests first, but for the poorest and most hungry and most hopeless.
So I’m not heading for a cabin in the woods (as nice as that sounds) and I’m not going to decide to have kids or not based on the state of things. Because I believe in all this crazy and all this fear, our God reigns. So I’m going to live like I believe that’s true. Taking all the opportunities I can I to build his kingdom here. Yielding my anxieties and fear to the assurance we have that God is king and He, our King, is for justice, for peace, for well-being.
“We could be children of war and resentment and fear and anxiety and aggressiveness. We need not, however, live in that way. There is another way that God intends among us, a way of peace, a more excellent way! We ourselves could be exactly children of the peace-giving God. Good news!” Walter Brueggemann