[Warning, this started off as a mini-bloggette, and has developed into a long bloggage!]
Over the weekend many people have changed their Facebook Profile Picture so that it temporarily shows a Tricoloure (French Flag) across their image – comme ça. (Facebook now has the facility to do this temporarily.)
It is to show solidarity with the French people following the horrendous events in Paris last Friday. I felt moved to do the same, as you can see. I wanted to express my horror at what had happened and this was the first time I had realised that it was possible to change my picture in this way.
But almost immediately I was made to feel guilty for doing so. Facebook statuses started appearing that suggested (either implied or explicitly) that those who had added a tricoloure to their photo were wrong to do so. It was not because they should not express solidarity with the French, but people were asking why there had been no similar solidarity with victims of violence elsewhere in the world – Beirut, Baghdad, Syria, refugees, and so on. The suggestion was made that it was only because this was close to home (across the channel) and (almost unbelievably) because the majority of victims were white Europeans that this was receiving the attention that it was and that by changing my Facebook profile in the way that I did I was perpetuating this discrimination.
I felt bad.
I wondered whether I should remove the tricoloure.
And then I decided that I would not. I think that those who were making these statements were generally having a go at the Euro-centric media (but inadvertently having a go at the rest of us who were apparently suckered in by this). Just because I did not change my Facebook profile picture for any of the other atrocities does not mean I do not care about anyone else. I think that for most of us it means we did not know about the other atrocities, or didn’t know we could change our profile picture.
I have also made this statement on Facebook to clarify my position:
The French Flag on my profile photo not only represents solidarity with France and those affected by the attack on Friday, but is representative of solidarity with all who are victims of violence wherever it is perpetrated, and whether on a national or personal scale. Lord have mercy.
It may have been slightly defensive (I admit) but I wanted to say that everyone matters. And they matter to God whether or not I know about their pain and suffering. They matter whether it happens in the public eye or out of the awareness of the media. It matters whether it happens to hundreds of people in a public place or to an individual in her home.
Violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter, hate, and many other words are not only part of our language, regrettably they have also become part of our world. And while temporarily changing my Facebook Profile Picture may not make much difference, it is at least a statement. It is a statement of defiance: that evil will not win. It is a statement of friendship: you are not alone. It is a statement of love: that I care.
And for me it is an outworking and a public expression of my personal faith in Jesus of Nazareth (who was a refugee in childhood and a victim of bullying, persecution, injustice, assault and state sponsored murder) that God’s love is stronger than anything evil.
And God’s love can not only overcome, it can diminish and weaken violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter, and hate at their source – the human heart.
I recognise that it’s a lot more complicated than this bloggage can express, but bear with me…
God’s love can change hearts in a way that no other force in human experience can.
His love can be expressed practically (rebuilding homes and offering aid…) in ways that do not create enemies in the same way that bombs and politically motivated invasions do.
God’s love can (often very gently and gradually) release people from the chains of domination and violence that continue beyond the end of physical oppression if someone is unable to forgive and is bound by bitterness and anger.
God’s love can stop the cycle of violence – transforming ‘an eye for an eye’ to ‘turn the other cheek’.
(And God’s so gracious that his love can be shown by people who don’t even know the source of it, he doesn’t even claim exclusive rights or seek the credit!)
I am not suggesting that we do not resist evil. I am not suggesting that victims of violence do not need protecting. Lord, no. But love shapes how we respond. Let me illustrate from my personal experience:
When I was a lawyer a lady was brought to me by someone from a woman’s refuge. She had been beaten by her husband for many years and finally his brutality and hatred and violence had been so great that the need to escape it broke her free from his dominance and her fear of him and she sought help. She needed an emergency injunction to keep him away from her. The poor lady’s face bore testimony to that need, and the memory of it still haunts me today.
I was angry. I was angry at the husband for the violence he had inflicted on her. I was angry that such things happened behind closed doors and for the most part were hidden. But anger would not help, it would only escalate the situation and perpetuate the violence. Love was what was needed. We needed to act in a loving way.
Some people think that turning the other cheek in the name of love is weak. But it did not mean that the lady should not be protected by me getting the injunction (which I did). It did mean that we did not get together a ‘posse’ to go around to his house…
‘An eye for an eye’ had been intended by God as a way of limiting the ‘compensation’ for injury. It was intended to prevent an escalation of violence. It was saying that any response must be proportionate to the offence and not excessive. But human beings being what we are had subverted that from a limit to a right – ‘I have the right to retaliate’. Jesus’ teaching: ‘Turning the other cheek’ is not about meek submission but about a refusal to retaliate. It’s about seeking the best for everyone, including your enemy. It’s about love. God’s love.
God’s love is the only thing that can change the human heart permanently. Jesus didn’t command us to do much, but he did command us to love one another… as he has loved us.
It’s not easy, especially in the face of violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter, and hate. But it’s the only way that will change the world, one heart at a time.
Be blessed, be a blessing.