Our Apathy Bled Out: on Paris

I was shocked and devastated to hear of the bombings in Paris. And today, as I reflect on the tragic events and the overwhelming worldwide reaction of shock, grief, and a show of support, I cannot help but notice our collective silence surrounding similar events in other parts of the world.

I do wonder why I and many others were not as shocked and devastated by the bombings in Lebanon and Turkey. Why did world leaders not hold press conferences or Facebook turn our pictures into the flags of each country in shambles? Why did we not amplify our shock and anger and grief through every channel of social media available to us? Why did we not stand in solidarity when faced with the reality that other countries have also been bathed in the blood of those targeted in similar acts of terror?

Surely, among ourselves we can get to the bottom of this inconsistency within the human spirit. Certainly it is not mere ignorance which has dictated our passive response to other events of equally startling and horrific proportions.

Could it be that we are weary of headlines from war torn countries and have, thus, become calloused to the grievous acts of violence inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East? Or perhaps we are so caught up in our own nation’s entangled history – so accustomed to justifying the violence our own people have inflicted – that we do not even identify the victims of attacks in the Middle East as our “brothers and sisters” and therefore, no longer mourn the atrocity of a rising death toll in countries like Lebanon and Turkey.

Maybe we have grown so comfortable with gross generalizations of people groups that we have, therefore, pinned all of our nation’s trauma on one pocket of the world and adopted an “eye for an eye” mentality which makes us numb to any tragedy that transpires in that region of the world. Maybe we have muted shades of grey and instead, filtered the world into lenses of black and white in which some people groups are inherently “good” and others are inherently “bad.” And in doing so, we have carefully measured our internal reactions to gross miscarriages of justice and blatant terrorism on soil other than our own because we have pre-determined who is worthy of our compassion and who must categorically remain an “enemy,” lest our view of the world break down.

And to be blunt, what happened in Paris fucked up our worldview.

Our sub-categorizations of humanity have cost us our empathy. And our seats of privilege have weakened our compassion. We have numbed our senses and in turn, our sensibilities, and continue to exist as if the earth is not running with the blood of innocent and unsuspecting sacrifices on the altar of human hatred.

We thought we could casually ignore the devastation of mass murders around the world. We thought that under the guise of warfare, those killings somehow were to be expected. And in the midst of our mind-numbing expectation of death and dying, we were completely blindsided by the blood which spilled in the streets of Paris.

Maybe we do not have words for the heaviness we perpetually feel as we read headlines of brutality from all over the world. It is possible that our minds and bodies and hearts can no longer contain the trauma or death and dying – of the hatred running rampant in the world in which we live. Perhaps we are a peoples who long for justice and yet grow weary with each new wave of darkness which threatens to extinguish the light of hope we so cautiously carry within ourselves.

But something broke our collective resolve. Something got through to our numb and calloused approach to much of the devastation throughout the world.

Paris – “the city of love” – is a place which represented an idealistic and peaceful state of being. To many, the city is confined only to images of the Eiffel Tower and the whimsy of imagination. Paris is a city that has been romanticized in countless forms of literature and art.

And amidst a world ravaged by war, Paris stood as an icon of endurance and innocence – a beacon of hope and cultural preservation within a world of ruins. And now Paris is running in blood.

We are shocked. We are devastated. And our worldview is being peeled back in layers. Someone didn’t play by the rules. Someone didn’t care about our safe and sacred spaces. And in confronting that brutality, we also have to confront the notion that we sanctioned off some places where violence was acceptable to our fragile minds and designated other spaces as sanctuaries of the earth.

We must consider the injustices within ourselves that contribute to a world where a bombing in Paris shocks us but a bombing in Beirut goes unnoticed by mass media. We must search within ourselves to see which ideas of humanity have incapacitated us to mourn for atrocities in all parts of the world. 

A friend shared this quote with me today:

This is what terrorism is occupied with as well: making real, palpable violence surface in opposition to the invisible violence of security.” – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

So perhaps now, we must allow ourselves to merely sit in the heaviness and darkness of this single tragedy – recognizing that this is not just an isolated event. Perhaps now is the time to consider our own passivity and grieve our role in the perilous divides within the human spirit. How do our experiences of security contribute to our lack of empathy for those who are attacked in spaces which appear to be less “safe” and “secure” than Paris? And why does an attack in Paris trigger so much more fear and empathy from us than an attack in the Middle East?

These are heavy questions. Death is devastating. Our worldview is fractured. And we are at a loss. But we have not lost our resolve. So even as we sit with these heavy questions, in the face of such darkness, may our hope and love outweigh our apathy and hatred. And in our tears and prayers for Paris, may we also weep and pray for those whose city name was never shouted in remembrance. 

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27 graves

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My heart is completely broken today. I have no smile to offer, no words of comfort to console, no understanding to impart. I have truths to lean on – Ancient truths which grant me hope, not in circumstances, but in the promise of Presence.

The promise that I may cast my cares on the Lord and He will sustain me. For He will never let the righteous be shaken.

But I feel shaken.

I am wrecked. Grieved. Heartbroken.

Tears have been my companion since yesterday morning when I first learned of the devastating shooting in a small town in Connecticut. One man’s emotional instability – one man’s rage – ripped dozens of lives to pieces. Hundreds, even. How many families are sitting in silence today, too shocked by their new reality to even speak?

27 beds will be empty tonight.

27 graves will be prepared for innocent victims who had no time to protest before their lives were stolen from them.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

I cannot fathom the pain of the parents who lost their children yesterday. I cannot imagine the ache in the hearts of the children who lost brothers, sisters, and cousins. It is inconceivable to me that parents dropped their children off at school yesterday morning, fully expecting to pick them up just like any other day, and were told that their children would never come home again.

None of us can fathom it. We are all shocked. Outraged. Grief-stricken.

And afraid.

Because if someone was able to get into a school in a small, peaceful town in Connecticut, what about the schools of our own kids? What about the schools of our parents and friends, who are teachers? If our kids aren’t safe, who is?

Nothing is sacred anymore. Nothing is sacred.

Hear the word of the Lord, 
    because the Lord has a charge to bring
    against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
    no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
    stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
    and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

We can blame poor regulation of gun sales or the prevalence of mental health issues and our incapacity to deal with it properly. We can impose stricter security measures in all of our schools or homeschool all of our kids and refuse to send them to school. But these solutions are only temporary. And they serve only to prevent the same outcome. But what about other acts of terror? How can we foresee and prevent those?

Devastation in response to this traumatic and tragic massacre of American children extends outside of American soil as well. Dozens of delegates from other countries have expressed their own shock and sympathy in response to hearing the news of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. Everyone is horrified.

Why would anyone assault children like this? Why would we turn against each other like this, killing the most innocent among us? If we cannot trust each other to value and protect the sanctity of life, then what do we have to believe in?

Some trust in chariots and some in  horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

In the midst of this tragedy, we are pulling together as a nation to mourn this atrocity. We are unified with many other countries as we express shock and horror at such a heinous crime.

But our hubris, which will lead, once again, to our tragic downfall, is that we believe that “we, the people” can fix this. We believe that if we can continue to construct a patchwork quilt of moral codes, rules, regulations, and sheer grit, then we can prevent further tragedies from taking place.

If only we can restrict gun access, keep a closer eye on the mentally ill, heighten security measures, screen people with risky behavior, instill the right values…we can keep this from happening again. And that belief keeps the greatest of our fears at bay: that history will, indeed, repeat itself in our lifetime. In our neighborhood. On our watch.

So we vow to come together and take a stand. And as noble as that sounds, we cannot stand on the foundation of our own skewed morality and depravity.

Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
    and they know not the Lord.

As a nation, as a culture, we are increasingly accepting of everyone else’s moral code. How can we ever agree on what is morally “right” when we are unwilling to tell someone else that they are morally “wrong?”

We are appalled by this crime (and rightly so) because it is cold-blooded murder. The annihilation of innocent children.

Yet abortion, the means by which hundreds and thousands of children are killed on a regular basis, is never met with such a widespread, unified reaction. As a nation, we have decided that this method of murder is permissible because it is someone’s choice.

I have read countless news reports on the Newtown shooting and I have yet to hear anyone defend the shooter as justified in his actions because killing these children was his “choice.”

See the problem? We cannot prevent these types of crimes. Because we have so blurred the lines between what is criminal and what is permissible that we only call into law that which shocks our collective conscience. And friends, there are very few things that prick our conscience collectively. We only acknowledge injustice as such when it directly violates us. When it seems to directly impede our personal safety or freedom.

I have heard many people say that since we have asked God to leave our schools, He has left them. That is why tragedy continues to strike. But this is inaccurate. God has not abandoned His people. He is omnipresent. He is Emmanuel. God with us. But God will not force Himself on us. While He has the power to make Himself known, He is not obligated to protect us in every situation.

When our Creator asks for our obedience and we abandon the safety of the shadow of His wing in order to pursue our own skewed perceptions of morality, how can we expect Him to guard our every step?

“But this command I gave them:  ‘Obey my voice, and  I will be your God, and you shall be my people.  And walk in all the way that I command you,  that it may be well with you.’”

This earth has a real Enemy. Who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. And we are handing ourselves over to be devoured every time we stake our safety and security on our own protective means and measures.

Friends, there will be those who debate until their dying breath the existence of God, the love of God, the care of God. But do not make the mistake of damning yourself because you spend your entire life loathing an invisible, unloving god who only cares about rules, hates those who sin, and can’t wait to send heathens to hell. Because you will have wasted your entire life loathing a fake god.

Instead, look to the Author of life. Allow yourself to consider the Living God of the Bible. And see how the selfish, inconsistent god of your imagination pales in comparison. And then look at the grievances of this world through the lens of that God. Whose law is love and whose Gospel is peace. Who is not a God of chaos or of confusion but of peace. And then see if maybe, just maybe, living a life of obedience and reverence to this God is not a closed-minded or ignorant way of life, but a life of freedom, hope, peace, and redemption.

I do not understand any more than you why those children had to die. But I do know that my God is a one of great compassion and I believe that as we grieve, He is grieving as well. And rejoicing, at the same time, because those children no longer face any threat of this fallen world. For they are now free from the fears of this world.

So when our grief, our heartache, our anger, and our pain do not bring us the answers our souls do desperately seek, may we consider that perhaps this world never will bring answers or comfort. But hope may still be found in the God of comfort whose Light is more powerful than the deepest darkness of our grieving hearts and this tragically broken world.