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Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

We are always finding out, like the prodigal, the miserable bargains we have made. But this is not the crucial thing. Only when we come to our Father in response to his waiting look can we be freed and forgiven.

Henry Drummond

Even more than revelations, what we want is: to understand the process by which we negotiated any of our dismal compromises. Today marks the one year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo killings, and we’re still evaluating this miserable bargain of using free speech to be pointless and degrading. At least this is consistent with the motto of Charlie Hebdo:

Founded as Hara Kiri in 1960, Charlie Hebdo is a radical weekly taking rude swipes at the establishment. Its motto was ‘bete et mechant’ – or ‘mean and nasty.’

Last year I wrote two responses to the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Do we get what we deserve? I explored the contrast between self-referenced justice – and grace in a world where terrorists of whatever stripe hope to give some existential pay-back to even the score. In the paradox of true justice and grace, we both get what we deserve, and don’t deserve what we get.

Living in the Shadow. The Boko Haram massacre of some 2000 in Nigeria barely got a headline in the shadow of the Charlie Hebdo fad as hollywood types stumbled over themselves to self-identify as “Je Suis Charlie.”

In time for today’s ignoble anniversary of that murderous event, BBC Editor Mukul Devishand considers “How the world was changed by the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie“. Joachim Roncin, art director of Charlie Hebdo magazine came up with the slogan; Devishand writes:

His illustration, and the associated slogan, would become perhaps the biggest hashtag of solidarity in history. Not only was it used 1.5 million times that day and around 6 million times over the next week on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but copycat “Je Suis” hashtags have sprung up to show solidarity with all manner of causes since.

When you don’t know who you are, What does it mean to be Charlie?

The first thing to happen – and quickly – was that many declared they felt alienated by “Je Suis Charlie” because, despite the horrific events, they still disagreed with the magazine’s editorial line. Those cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed for example, didn’t just offend Islamists – they were criticised by many others as racist.

Within just a day of the January attacks, a counter-hashtag peaked – “Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie” or “I am not Charlie” – driven by users from France and the West but also popular in the Middle East, Latin America and Pakistan…

“Je Suis Charlie attributed some kind of nobility to the content of the newspaper, which I couldn’t really agree with,” says Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Belgian writer.

Are You Charlie?

As Miserable Bargains go, onlookers realized that the negotiations of identity were not simply binary as Roncin and popular entertainment culture would imply.

Charlie Hebdo has become a symbol, but this could also mean its end,” he says. “It’s not easy to go from being totally unknown to becoming hugely symbolic.”

“Being a symbol… becomes an obligation. So Charlie Hebdo might still carry on, but has to carry on differently and I don’t know how long it will last.”

Gerard Biard, the current editor, says that ironically, one effect of “Je Suis Charlie” and all the attention on the magazine is more criticism of its satire than ever before – the paper’s cartoons now get attention around the world. “It’s sometimes difficult because you speak to people that are not supposed to read you.

Who are You?

Identifying with slogans and symbols of this nature is inherently reductionistic. Among the miserable bargains we make, the most important is to negotiate our identity. But we really are at a disadvantage, aren’t we? For we wander a Godless landscape as modernity tries to escape the ultimate reality found in Jesus… not Je suis.

So let me point you back to Henry Drummond’s comment:

“We are always finding out, like the prodigal, the miserable bargains we have made. But this is not the crucial thing. Only when we come to our Father in response to his waiting look can we be freed and forgiven.”

You are who you are Intended to be: freed and forgiven!

On this miserable anniversary of this miserable event, let me nudge you to leave the miserable bargain you have made to misidentify yourself – and return to the One who made you for Himself.

In contrast see Misercordiae Vultus.