One year ago, a group of suicide bombers, mass shooters, and kidnappers orchestrated an attack in Paris. The attackers killed 130 people, injuring another 368. Seven of the attackers also died. The attacks were the deadliest on France since World War II.
I can remember exactly where I was, sitting in the drive through ATM line down the street from my apartment, when I first saw the news flash that the Paris attack had happened. I remember the days that followed November 13 and seeing a flood of #PrayforParis hashtags spread on social media.
Those attacks happened and the world grieved. Meanwhile, the world picked up and moved on in the face of the horrific string of attacks that followed in Belgium and California, in Orlando and in the continued occupation of Aleppo.
In 2016 alone, we’ve seen an increase in violence globally.
Just this week, The Guardian reported that ISIS has resorted to hiding explosives in teddy bears to stall the Mosul offensive. How do we respond in the face of this news which is, to many of us, half a world away? How do we grapple with the fact that people are living in the reality of this assault on humanity day in and day out? Many of us don’t.
Attacks, bombings, riots, the refugee crises, systemic racism, police brutality, ISIS and a turbulent political season have numbed the collective psyche of Americans in the past year.
This year wasn’t the beginning of violence; rather, it marked a distinct upswing in our perceived climate of violence. As our collective awareness in the midst of a 24-hours news cycle and hashtag activism increased, our capacity to respond with compassion has, in many ways, decreased.
This past Sunday, I was having a discussion with our church’s middle school students about this. I asked them to list some of the things that had happened in the world in the past year. As the list became increasingly long, one girl piped up, “it’s almost like we’re becoming desensitized to all the violence.” It was one of those rare moments where I didn’t have anything to say or add to the silence that came from her statement.
One of the core questions of humanity is, “Why do bad things happen in the world?” Why is there pain, suffering, loss … and what do we do about it?
The thing is that this isn’t a new question. This is a human question. We’ve been asking this for a very long time.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Habakkuk pleaded with God:
How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery?
Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. (Habakkuk 1:2-3)
Habakkuk is essentially questioning God, “Why is there pain in the world?! How much longer do I have to witness this?”
I identify with Habakkuk. The weight of this year and the loss of human life that it has marked, both domestically and abroad, has been devastating.
We have to ask the question: In 2016, and in the face of relentless violence, how do we fight for peace in a world addicted to chaos?
Live in active resistance.
We have to be the kind of people who use our lives to actively resist violence, racism and inequality. When we frame our lives with this in mind, it should change the way we purchase, consume, spend and engage in a global marketplace.
When 1999 was ending and 2000 was about to begin, there were a lot of people who thought the world was going to end. A primitive theory scared people into believing computers wouldn’t be able to turn over into the new millennium and this would cause destruction to everything we knew.
So what did people do? They prepared for the worst.
I remember neighbors who built bomb shelters in their basements, stockpiled barley and grain, and took other steps they felt would prolong their life in a post-apocalyptic new-millennium as long as possible. 1999 came and went. The computers didn’t crash. We’re still here. And their bomb shelters still exist.
If we are to follow Jesus in 2016, we can’t live with this kind of mentality. The kind that preserves only our own life and our own interests. The kind that isolates itself from the reality of the world into bunkers of our own distractions or consumption.
This cannot be our reality.
The Kingdom of God that we are to be part of establishing isn’t a place we will go to “someday,” or checking out of the world as it is but rather, it’s part of transforming and healing the world we are in now.
Our lives must be shaped by the truth that we have a role to playing in God’s healing work in the world. And in that, we accept our responsibility to engage.
Recognize the humanity in others.
I was in a gathering of Christians recently when the speaker said a familiar line, “We just have to use our lives to speak up for the voiceless.”
There’s only one problem with that.
Saying that a person or people group is voiceless is committing an act of violence against them.
By calling someone voiceless, it takes away something that isn’t ours to take away. This person was well meaning but was speaking from a lazy reading of Proverbs 31:9.
Everyone has a voice.
Following Jesus in 2016 means recognizing the shared humanity in all people. This requires leveraging our individual power and privileges to elevate the voices of others, and having the courage to listen to what they say. Instead of just speaking on their behalf.
Immigrant, migrant and refugee people have voices.
How can we go about hearing them? How do we amplify their own stories and honor their agency to tell those stories, live them and create something new out of them in relational community with the body of Christ?
Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. I use shalom here because the word peace is insufficient.
Shalom is a more whole definition of peace. It means wholeness, harmony, perfection and completion. Shalom is intricately linked with God’s desire for all of creation to flourish. When we give our lives to pursuing God’s shalom in the world, we commit to doing our best in helping all of creation to flourish and giving agency to the people who carry his image.
The world doesn’t just need to hear that Jesus loves them—although that’s very true, the world needs to see that love in action. The world needs to see God’s shalom lived out.
Fighting for peace in a world as broken as ours rejects our most basic temptation as humans to look out only for ourselves and our interests. It partners with Christ in the restoration of all things to himself. The path to this kind of peace, peace that is whole and perfect, remains engaged. It seeks God’s heart for those affected by violence and then it moves to action. When it’s inconvenient, when it’s costly and most of all, when it’s easiest to not to.