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Clay Bennett, Truthdig.com

Clay Bennett, Truthdig.com

Where does one start to talk about this murderous weekend in Paris that ushers us along in the theme that will not let us escape its attention: the place of violence in our society?

“This is Not a wake up call”

While some will react with fear intended by the terrorists, others will respond with defiance in the hubris of misplaced courage:

“This is not the kind of thing that is a wake up call to New York City,” John Miller, the department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said of the Paris attacks… “We’ve been awake about this for a long time.”

There is a difference between “awake” and “sleep walking.” Society’s self-regarding and self-guarding sleep walk in stunned savagery is not truly being “awake.” And despite Miller’s bravado, “patrols were stepped up and added security measures were put in place across the States. In New York, officers with assault rifles stood guard in Times Square, and extra security was stationed at French-owned sites in Washington and consulates in Boston and New York City. But elsewhere around the country, including at Minnesota’s Mall of America, it was business as usual,” reports The Guardian.

Police officers patrol near the Eiffel tower in Paris. EPA

Police officers patrol near the Eiffel tower in Paris. EPA/BBC News NI.

How Paris wishes it was “business as usual.” One report says, “Paris is numb as terrorism shadows tourism.” The new business for France is marking three days of national mourning for the 132 fatalities and 352 injured (as of Sunday’s last tally; you can follow the time lines here).

A rose in a bullet hole in the window of a restaurant in the city. Getty Images

A rose in a bullet hole in the window of a restaurant in the city. Getty Images

Now the numerous death sites become festooned with flowers, candles, and gifts to self-identify with the dead and with this event so senseless that we would do well to catch our breath before lashing out in blind anger, or escaping in hopeless depression on behalf of the human race.

Instead, after surveying the theatre where dozens were killed, French President Francois Hollande stated, “To all those who have seen these awful things, I want to say we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless.”  Of course he would have to say this. In geopolitics, as a national leader, to say anything less retaliatory would be judged as weak. Already deploying 1500 soldiers and activating more aerial attacks on ISIS locations in Syria, the reaction is as predictable as it will be deplorable.

I wish, just for once, a world leader would promise to “lead a war which will be pity-full – – – full of mercy and aggressively understanding.”

Despite inevitable retaliation, we are able to see the best of human creativity amidst dehumanizing cruelty. In a case of “life imitating art imitating life,” there was a “Cellist of Sarajevo” moment in Paris, when an unnamed pianist began to play John Lennon’s Imagine on one of the streets of carnage:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

It is a hymn to idealism that limply wishes for something without cost. Don’t get me wrong: Imagination is a very good place to begin! There is no doubt that we need a different imagination to the retaliation and rebuttals of earlier fights and provocations. But this “Imagination” isn’t strong enough to hold up under the weight of reality.

“This is a Wake Up Call”

There is a world leader who says something so radically different, so profoundly imaginative, that He beckons intentional mercy and aggressive understanding – and it begins with an invitation: Jesus invites us to an extremely different world view: “if anyone would come after me, they must pick up their cross daily and follow me…”

Jesus’ invitation is to be first in line to be killed, not to do the killing. It is death to self-will first; all other living is subsequent. How can an ego-centric, narcissistic culture possibly understand this in light of this vicious weekend?

This is not a wake up call to self preservation and retaliation! This is a wake up call to reconsider what life is all about – to be restored to the One who made us for Himself – and who invites us to be His ambassadors of reconciliation – His reconciliation!

This is a wake up call to justice – and justice can’t be taken into our own hands.

This is a wake up call to consider the ways we’ve created this mess and contributed to the injustice that terrorists hope to counterbalance in their wounded sense of social arithmetic.

This is a wake up call to look in the mirror of our ambitions.

This is a wake up call to see our part of creating the peace everyone wants.

This is a wake up call to pray to the Lord to “cast out” labourers into His harvest field – fields full of people ready for peace – ready to come to the One who is peace.

This is a wake up call to recognize and worship the Prince of Peace – in whom and through whom real peace is possible.

This is a wake up call to consider the place of violence in our culture; to question its legitimacy and ubiquity wherever it finds a handhold to strike yet another blow on one’s adversaries.

In this sense I can borrow those words of Lennon, “some may say I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one…”  The dream of reconciliation is the imagination of the Forgiving One, the Reconciling One who is strong enough to bear reality.  He stands up under our crisis, wretchedness, and unfairness – and bears the weight of life and death.

This is… more enigma than dogma.

For more, see Thoughts on War and Peace.

Addendum: (@ 06:30 MST, november 17)

I was interested in the BBC post released earlier today. It is a short interview with former ISIS hostage Nicholas Henin about the response to the Paris attacks. Henin said he understands why people will be seeking revenge but asked: “Is revenge the proper response?

Addendum: (Washington Post, November 16)

War with Islam? Evangelicals ponder Christian response to Paris attacks.

“We need to be more radical than ever fighting for peace,” said Andrew White, author of “The Vicar of Baghdad” and president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.”