I know what caused the attacks in Paris this past week. I know it because I have felt the cause in my own heart and in my own life. I am not talking about the inclination towards sin that we as humans all share; I am talking about something more specific to our day and age. I am talking about something that has the potential to destroy our society and quite possibly humanity from the inside out.
It is difficult to name, specifically, but I have an image in my mind. We used to play volleyball in the pool at a summer camp that I worked at. Sometimes we would have what seemed like hundreds of kids in the pool at the same time. It was very tough for everyone to get a chance at the ball. The best strategy is to get right in the middle of the action and kick, strive, swim, jump, maim, push, wrestle, and fight your way up to the ball. Needless to say, this game was not the safest, but it was fun. When the ball would fly overhead, you would kick your legs through the water and press on the shoulders and heads of those around you to punch it back across the net. The more kids there were, the more challenging it was.
Now imagine, that the pool is our world and we are all the swimmers. We suffer from an excess of available players. Because of globalization and the information age, we now live in a world where we can speak to any and everyone in the world in an instant, but it is becoming exceedingly difficult to be heard. The ball is the attention of the world and that terrible feeling of screaming in the middle of the crowd drives us to fight to rise to the top no matter the cost.
The race to the top of the pack is called radicalization. For this, I can think of no better example than that of the recent skinny jean epidemic to sweep our nation a few years ago. Jeans kept getting skinnier and skinnier until you had men wearing denim colored leggings and people having to cut themselves out of their pants. In order to be seen as at the cutting edge of fashion, people pushed themselves and their jeans way past the simple laws of physics. This is obviously a tongue-in-cheek example, but I use it because so many of the other examples are just sad. Whether it is the woman who wears less and less because it is harder to catch the attention of men or the Christian who protests a coffee company for changing their cups, humanity is pushing to be more and more radical. These terrorists succeeded in their primary objective; they rose above the noise of Justin Beiber’s new album and the republican debate to make the world take notice. They got the world to listen.
I have tried this strategy as I seek to live as a Christian. I have sought, in my own way, to stand out in the crowd. To stand apart from what I see as normal society so that I might have a greater voice. Sometimes I have done it well and have lived what could be deemed a “radical” or “outside of society” because I am following the Lord’s calling or the Bible’s teaching. But I have also tried to use my own Christianity as an excuse for me to grab the mic; I have used it as a means of fostering the world’s attention.
This situation in Paris has made me realize that I have been misguided in my thinking and that it can have dire consequences. The truth is, I am not playing water volleyball. In fact, to return to my previous example, we shouldn’t really care about the ball at all, we should be caring about the other people in the pool. We aren’t called to chase the world’s attention; we are called to love God and love others. I am inclined to believe that very few people have come to faith because of convincing rhetoric. I know what you may be thinking. Yes, I believe we should be known as people who stand up for things like the rights of unborn children, but we must do so in an unwaveringly loving way. No, we should not be known as a people who can boycott someone into putting snowflakes on their cups; I don’t think anyone seeks Christ as a result of such a blog.
Here is what I am processing in my own life as a result of this past week’s events:
The radicalized part of me wants to post a moving prayer for Paris on facebook, but I am called to pray for Paris.
The radical part of me wants to shout, but I am called to weep.
The radicalized part of me wants to decry Islam for a small number of its adherent’s propensity towards violence, but I am called to love even the men and women who committed this great evil.
The radical part of me wants to call for swift and just war, but I am called to cry out to God for peace.
Ultimately, the selfish, sinful, and small part of me wants to draw attention to myself in this time, point out all of the injustice that I see, blame the world for its evil, and tell everyone how to do things the right way,
but I am called to love
because I have been loved in spite of that part of me
and because my God loves this world.