Archive for January, 2015

Beyond “Je suis…”

Folks like me who speak minimal French have had one phrase burned into our memory: “Je suis”—“I am”. Following the January 7 terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, millions identified with the victims: “Je suis Charlie”—“I am Charlie”. The related attack on the kosher grocery store amplified the sentiment: “Je suis juif”—“I am a Jew”. People all over the planet stood in solidarity with those victims of terrorism and anti-semitism. The following Sunday’s massive demonstration brought together world leaders who agree on little else. That day in the streets of Paris they stood side-by-side for freedom of expression and against terrorism and violence. “How long,” I wondered, “will all this solidarity last? When will this news cycle end and self-centered business as usual return to center stage?”

Then I wondered further: “Je suis—folks we usually squeeze out of our circle?” “Je suis Michael Brown? Eric Garner? George Zimmerman? Trayvon Martin? The homeless folks lined up outside the shelter waiting for it to open?  Their colleagues who hold handmade cardboard signs at busy intersections? Je suis those on the far side of our social, cultural, generational, religious, and ideological divides? You know, the folks we can’t talk to without yelling but love to talk about. (It’s always easier to talk about “them” when “them” aren’t present. Besides, labeling “them”  prevents or at least postpones the discovery that “them” are every bit as wonderfully and maddeningly human as we are! Every breach in the “them” barrier reveals how much like “us” are the dreaded “them”. Stereotyping labels don’t’ stick to folks with names, faces, and lives so much like ours.)

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, I see hopeful ripples of “Je suis…:”

  • January is a month designated for education and action to stop the global epidemic of human trafficking. Slowly but surely folks are getting the message.
  • I heard a Golden-Globe winning actor describe how the experience of making “Selma” taught him at a deep level that “I am” the marcher hit by the fire hose, the person facing excessive discrimination as he/she seeks to register to vote, the congregation whose church is fire-bombed, and all the other characters in that continuing drama.(Sorry, I don’t know his name. I’m celebrity-challenged).
  • The developed world loudly mourned the events in Paris, but paid far less attention to Boko Haram’s latest brutal attack in Nigeria. The terrorists slaughtered hundreds, perhaps as many as two thousand. The United Methodist Bishop in Nigeria affirmed that Sunday demonstration for the twenty or so victims in Paris. But when, he wondered, would he see comparable support for Boko Haram’s victims. (Not so far, have we?)
  • We just celebrated Martin Luther King Day. The next day (yesterday) our nation’s first African-American president gave the State of the Union address. That’s huge progress. But we have so far to go. Have the black-white struggles of recent months set the stage for faithful conversation and action? Will we finally move beyond the ceremonial nods-to-the-cause that politicians of all stripes have learned to deliver in mid-January? When will a critical mass emerge to follow Dr. King’s lead with bold moves toward deep and lasting healing of the racism that infects our society—and our planet?

One word—INCARNATION. The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14 The Message) We celebrate Jesus’ birth because he grew up to become our window into the heart of God. That living window reveals God’s presence in every aspect of our life, and in every life. “Black lives matter” along with every other “sort and condition” of humankind. Rich and privileged lives matter. The least favored and most despised among us matter just as much. All of us who share this planet matter equally to God because every human life contains a spark of God. That’s how our Creator created us: “God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature.” (Genesis 1:27 The Message) That “reflection” has been dented, scratched, almost totally obscured over time. But Christmas reminds us who we are in God’s sight–“created…reflecting God’s nature”–all of us. ”Little Lord Jesus”  invites us to treat each other with appropriate respect so that reflection may be renewed in us and all within our reach.

We Christians get out that word Incarnation every December. A few weeks later we put it away  in the garage with all the other seasonal trappings. (My wife says that’s next on my to-do list.) But some rebels among us keep at least one nativity scene out all year. It proclaims “Incarnation!” 24/7/365. Incarnation affirms the sacred worth of every human life. Incarnation affirms that the God who’s moved into our neighborhood in Jesus came to heal the terminal illness (sin) that afflicts humanity and grotesquely distorts the reflection of God’s nature. That purpose may be delayed but not defeated. We see that reflection laser-clear in Jesus. That “reflectivity” is in every person, even the ones in whom we see no trace. Ask God to help you see your neighbor, your enemy, the strangers you usually ignore, with God’s own eyes. As we look deeply for that “reflecting-God’s-nature”-ness in other people, we’ll  start seeing them differently.

Soon we’ll be ready for the next step. We’ll move beyond “Je suis”—“I am…” to “Nous sommes une famille”—“We are family”. “Family” share the same DNA—the same creator, so to speak. We can choose the causes we identify with—free speech, democratic society, etc. But we can’t choose family. It’s a deeper, permanent relationship. Transformative change comes as our circle of “Nous sommes une famille” grows ever wider.

I have no master plan to get 7 billion-plus people to that point. But you and I can begin with ourselves and the people in our lives. If you’ve put all your nativities away, get one out. Keep it in plain sight all year. Teach your family and your guests why it’s there. Be an evangelist. Teach the curious a little French: “Nous sommes une famille”. Then watch and wonder as one early Christian’s witness happens before your very eyes: “The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” (John 1:5 The Message)