Tag Archives: Paris

Crying for Paris

Paris MapThe horrific attacks in Paris this week brought home once again the precarious nature of our freedoms. 

And so we cry for France and the rest of Europe, so vulnerable with porous borders, weak military, costly social welfare, and alarming inclusivity. 

As the daughter of England, America looks to France, and all of Europe, with anguish and tears. America was birthed by the English, explored by the French, settled by the Spanish, and later enriched by Germans, Italians, Irish, East Indians, Africans, Asians and many others. America has gloried in inclusivity, insisting this great experiment in democracy will after all succeed. Yet, in the last fifty years it is showing signs of serious failure. 

Since her birth, America has welcomed all who escaped to her sanctuary of sacred space, of liberty and life and the peaceful pursuit of happiness. All who came desired safety and a chance to live a better life in which to raise their children. Some sought life itself. This stream of grateful immigrants continues, legal and illegal, crossing borders, running around and over borders, desperate to get in. 

As America grew in strength and wealth, she defended England and the countries of Europe, as any good son or daughter would defend their family from harm. She became a force for good, sometimes through might, sometimes through love of all humanity, usually well intentioned. 

But as Europe aged she grew complacent about defense, counting on America’s strength. Americans looked across the seas to Europe’s villages and history, her cobbled streets, her quaint ways, her saints, her cathedrals, her vineyards and her civilized way of life. We were wealthy and could afford a military that could defend the free world, protect our Western Civilization. Europe rested, relaxing borders. With American might, Europe could afford generous social welfare programs. She could house, feed, nurse, and school all who crossed into her lands, even those who broke her laws. Giving and giving, Europe self-righteously distributed her benevolence. Americans, those coarse fellows across the sea, could provide troops as necessary. 

But no longer. A little like Robin Hood, America robbed from her defense to protect her domestic welfare. She too wanted to feel self-righteous, to “care” as Europe cared. To pay for these programs, programs that buy votes, the CIA was cut and we were attacked on 9-11-01 in New York. To pay for these programs, the military budget was cut and policies of disengagement and “dialog” with our enemies were preferred over shows of strength. 

Islamic State took notice. And so, the barbarians are no longer at the gates. They are here. Living among us, networking their creeds of jihad. National boundaries no long keep the bad guys out. They keep them in. 

It has been predicted by many that Europe as we know or knew it is over. Demographics prophesy that France will be a Muslim state within the next decade, and a sharia state soon after. Put simply, free French are not having children; sharia French are. The same could be said for England. 

In America we are teaching our surviving children to hate our culture, its history, its freedoms. They will not be a generation interested in protecting us. 

In America we rob our children of religious faith and leave them to wander in a nihilistic desert. They will fill this void and find meaning in a Facebook network of suicide warriors. 

In America we slaughter our unborn and euthanize our aged, blinded in our selfishness, not seeing that we are assisting in America’s own suicide. 

But in spite of all the wars and rumors of wars, all the fear on city streets, all the anguish in the once glorious city of light, we hope and do not despair. Those who can see are seeing for others. Those who can teach our children the truth are teaching them the truth. Those who can pray are praying. 

We prayed for Paris this morning in our little chapel in Berkeley. And I prayed that the eyes of the West have been briefly opened, hopefully long enough to change course, to destroy this cancerous evil spreading through the free world. We need a strong America again, one clear-eyed and courageous, yet humble enough to sacrifice for others. We need to wave the flag and revive old-fashioned patriotism.

We need an America that will defend the streets of Paris, once again showing the world and its tyrants that we will ensure peace through strength.

Heroes on a Train to Paris

flagAs news came of the heroic actions of three Americans aboard an Amsterdam-Paris train last week, many voiced admiration and relief that yes, heroes still exist in today’s world. Granted two of the men were off-duty military. Still, civilians also braved the danger, risking their lives. We are proud to be Americans once again, proud to do the right thing at the right time, proud to be heroic, risking all. We wonder if, after all, virtue does exist and might even be alive and breathing. Virtue might even be something we should teach our children. Are ideals making a comeback?

Perhaps the antihero of the last fifty years is not such a wise role model.

The antihero has formed today’s sensibilities through the arts, literature, and media. In real life he has banded together with other antiheroes to form collectives, grievance groups quick to take offense and to demand entitlements. In stories, these characters are often morose, turned inward, bored with life, and anti-authority on principle. They are narcissistic, nihilistic, without direction. They do not possess moral qualities once called “virtues.” These victims blame the system and society, never themselves. Publishers have promoted the antihero, finding readers desiring validation.

The intent to produce and market antiheroes is actually a noble one, ironically, even perhaps a heroic one, encouraging one to empathize with the least in our society – those hurt by race, crime, drugs, divorce, poverty. We want our children to care (and rightly),  but we give them dark novels with stories of rape, incest, and pederasty. In time, literature’s antiheroes, instead of becoming nobler and overcoming adversity, became darker, more ignoble. Novels must increase the terror and degradation, so that sexual sadism and violence towards women spans fifty shades of grey, with relative degrees of darkness, legitimizing the prurient experience.

Without ideals, standards of virtue, even right and wrong, the bar of civilized culture plummets. Civilization fragments and spills into a bestial world we call barbarism.

I was thinking about heroes and their welcome return to the public square when I came across Bret Stephens’ lovely column this week in the Wall Street Journal, “The Gifts of a Teacher.” In this tribute to Mrs. Amy Kass, his Literature professor at the University of Chicago, he describes how we have too many choices in our modern world. Mrs. Kass could see this and saw her vocation as one giving structure and direction to the chaos of those choices. In the past society supplemented law, adding morality, manners, and tradition. Today, we have no such rules, or few of them, so that students in those formative years of schooling that should move them from adolescence into adulthood often flail about undirected.

It was Mrs. Kass’s role to provide a framework of living through the great stories of an earlier time. As Mr. Stephens writes, “Jane Austen still offers the best advice on dating. Aristotle still has the last word on friendship.” The stories considered how to ennoble life, what and how to dream, how to grow a great heart and soul. Simply pondering how others answered, “What is the good life?”, a question I recall from my own two years of Western Civilization, is a start.

We need to train our children to be heroes in all walks of life, to be self-sacrificial rather than self-aggrandizing. We used to do this, assuming it was a necessary education for adulthood. Perhaps we should return to the old ways.

There is a morning prayer in our Anglican Book of Common Prayer that speaks of God’s service as “perfect freedom.” God gives us rules, a framework in which to live. He provides a recipe for happiness, rules for the road as it were. When we serve him we follow those rules, or try to. Once we learn the rules (like riding a bike perhaps) we have plenty of freedom, many choices within the frame of God’s law (we can ride all over the place). That is what we call free will: God… whose service is perfect freedom.

Just so, a culture (through government, schools, churches, temples), to survive, must provide a framework of ideals in which we can live our best lives, pursue our greatest happiness. Mr. Stephens describes the problem of choices without limit:

“We can satisfy our desires, but we have trouble recognizing our longings. We can do as we please but find it difficult to figure out what truly pleases us, or what we really ought to do. Limitless choice dissipates the possibility of fully realizing the choices we make, whether in our careers or communities or marriages. There’s always the chance that something (or someplace, or someone) better is lurking around the corner.”

The heroes on the train knew immediately what they needed to do and they did it. I pray that America’s teachers embrace the honorable and heroic role with which they are entrusted, just as Mrs. Kass did, giving students a framework for figuring out life, how to choose what’s right and what’s wrong, what to do and what not to do, when and where. Such an education will put our culture back on track.

Thank you, Mrs. Kass, and thank you, Mr. Stephens. Thank you, National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, Airman First Class Spencer Stone, and Mr. Anthony Sadler. It is good to remember who we are and who we can become.

Notes from Paris

IMG_0697 SMALLWe have settled into a historic Left Bank hotel not far from the Seine’s Pont Neuf, having traveled from London on the Eurostar train, via the Chunnel. 

As we sped underneath the waters of the English Channel (do they call it the French Channel on this side?) I marveled again at such technology and tried not to think of the seas above us. Security had been increased at the London St. Pancras Station, and as we edged step by step in line with too much luggage to drag and hoist onto the belt and the x-ray machines and then maneuver through passport control, I tried not to think of terrorism in crowded public places. 

Our modern world has paid a price for its modernity. Village or neighborhood risk has expanded to world-wide risk. We read of tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes far away and we mourn the victims. We follow wars and genocides and beheadings as though they were close by. The world has shrunk to our phone or laptop or TV. 

No wonder some are depressed, angered, and grieved. No wonder the suicide rates rise and euthanasia even considered. We feel for the planet, its peoples. Their sufferings are ours. While it seems at times too much for one person to bear, perhaps it is good to know these things happen and can happen; perhaps it is good that we are forced to look and see, to pull our heads out of the proverbial sand. But history attests that disaster is not new, whether natural or manmade; what is new is that we are aware of such horrors, we watch them unfold, sometimes on live media. 

IMG_0688 SMALLBut then, for Christians, we have our annual festival of Pentecost, the breath of the Holy Spirit breathing upon the disciples in Jerusalem. The disciples are given the wondrous power of language, to speak to those of differing tongues about the wonderful works of God. And such language, such speech, was repeated again and again in sermons and holy suppers that first century of the Church. These words, forming at first an oral tradition, were finally written down, first in St. Paul’s letters and St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, and then in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Those codices, thought by many to have been the first use of the codex (leafed book) as opposed to scrolls, were again copied and recopied through the centuries down to the present day. 

So not only do we have the horizontal present-day knowledge of events worldwide, but we have vertical timeline knowledge, memory connecting the past to the present, coloring it. This timeline forms a historical highway leading to a crossroads where these two paths of knowledge meet. And of course, the road to the past also travels into the future, and we look ahead to the next minute, hour, day, week, year, and to our final passing into another, better world. We look back to our personal past and forward to our personal future; we look back to humanity’s past and forward to humanity’s future. And all the while we absorb the events of the world in the present day, surrounding us and demanding our constant attention. 

IMG_0685SMALLWe have in a sense eaten of the tree of knowledge, and we suffer for it. I am happy to have modern medicine and hygiene and the comforts of today, central heating and plumbing and running water. But science goes further than basic comforts; it allows us to design babies and kill those left over or unwanted. Such knowledge is godlike and without God’s help, we are lost in a sea of facts, data, with no good way to make sense of the jumble. The tree of knowledge, without God, produces poisonous fruit, deathly fruit. 

And so God gives us that help if we desire it. I love this Pentecost scene in Acts 2, when the disciples receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This breath of God comes upon them as a “rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house… there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire… upon each of them.” They are empowered by God; they have been given the means to express the profound events of the Incarnation and Resurrection that they have witnessed. Until this moment they had hid, timid, afraid, waiting for a promise made at the Ascension. After this moment they knew what to do; they knew what to say; they knew to whom to say it, where to say it, and above all how to say it. And of course, in time they confessed to what they had seen with their lives, as martyrs, with the exception of St. John. 

Pentecost is the union of God and man. It is the filling of man with God. And soon, as the disciples broke bread as Christ instructed them to do, consecrating the bread and wine to become his body and blood, taking and eating, and re-membering (re-forming) him, as they met together for these holy suppers of thanksgiving, eucharists, they became more and more filled with God, through his Spirit and his Son. 

God made sense of the marvelous works he had done on the Cross and in the empty tomb. He had made sense of it all and of all of us and our wars and our disasters. We too can enjoy this making-sense; we too can take and eat and re-member; we too can find answers to the disturbing tumult around us. We need only head for our local church. 

Paris is tumultuous and full of tourists this late in May. But on Sunday mornings it suddenly becomes quiet. The streets are silent, some empty. Families gather for brunch or bask in the parks. Lovers stroll. Cats scrounge for scraps in the open cafes. But the balmy weather is edged with sudden chill and brisk breezes and clouds scuttle over an ever-changing sky. The river rolls under the many bridges, and plane trees, lushly green, are happy with the end of winter. 

IMG_0691SMALLWe stepped through the quiet lanes this morning to say prayers with other faithful at the ancient church of St. Severen (13th C), and we followed the French Messe on the handout as best we could. The church was packed; candles flamed, stained glass glittered over high gothic double ambulatories; children in white capes and headbands with Holy Spirit paper flames, joined the procession. The songs and the singing echoed up and over us, swirling into the vaults. 

At peace with the city, with ourselves, and with God, we made our way to the Bateau-Mouches, the riverboats, to see Paris from the Seine. I thought how, at least for a time, everything made perfect sense, this Pentecote Sunday in Paris.

Barbarians at the Gates

starWe headed for church this morning to celebrate the Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men to worship the Christ Child, the following of the star to the manger. We drove through a thick fog, a bone-chilling fog. The damp fit my mood, as I reflected on the horrific massacres of this past week. For wildfires breached once again the fire trail of Western civilization. The barbarians entered the gates of Paris and the free world. Where was that Epiphany star?

The killers were attacking the West by trying to silence us. I, for one, prefer logical debate to satire, respect to ridicule. It troubles me when Christian images are ridiculed and defiled; I know how it feels. But we in the West discuss our differences in peaceful forums.

Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

“Without free speech no difference of opinion can be resolved, no progress made in the law or in politics, no truth found and held high, no scandal unearthed and stopped…We know on some level that this is how civilization keeps itself together.”

So the issue in the Paris massacre is not that the publisher should have been more restrained. The cartoonists were not “at fault” for their caricatures. The issue is how civil society deals with disagreement. We do not grab a rifle and shoot. We express our grievances through debate, speech, the courts.

Clearly terrorists who kill in the name of their god do not agree with our laws, or how we choose to redress insults. They are not interested in converting us to their beliefs through debate and apologetics. They are interested in forcing our submission, and submission is not peace. Submission is not freedom. We in the West honor freedom.

There are many trends in Western culture that I find disturbing, and so I wrote a novel about them called The Fire Trail (just finished the first draft). One of the themes is the need for individuals in our culture of freedom to practice self-discipline, to consider one another’s feelings. But without faith institutions to curtail excesses in word and image, we seem to be at a loss. We do not want to, nor should we, limit speech by legal means. It is far better, to be sure, to limit ourselves, to control our urge to ridicule.

In many universities some who see themselves offended have tried to limit free speech, by naming offensive speech “hate speech.” This is a dangerous road to travel. I would rather be offended than to criminalize offensive (hate) speech. Protection of free speech is far too important, far too intrinsic to who we are as a people. We need this First Amendment right in order to survive.

Perhaps it is simply easier to claim offense than to engage in debate. It is easier to ridicule than to reason. Perhaps both sides – the offender and the offended – act and react simplistically out of laziness, mental sloth. Perhaps they are used to easy and not trained in the difficult.

Much has been written about the need for the return of virtue to the public square. The West was built on Judeo-Christian virtues, blended with Greek virtues. As faith recedes, how do we return faith’s virtues to the public square? Without the authority of that Judeo-Christian God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, how can we survive and still be free?

The Jewish legacy of the Ten Commandments gave us laws to honor God and one another. The Greeks spoke of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, courage. Christianity added faith, hope, and charity, giving us seven virtues to battle the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride.

I have often thought that if we practiced these virtues, or confessed and repented the vices, the sins, we would have little need for legal restraints. But we are children of Adam and Eve. It is difficult to practice these all the time; we are constantly tempted. It is easy to envy and be angry, even easier to be gluttonous and greedy. It is easy to lust, encouraged by the soft porn all around us. And pride honors all sins and has no need for virtues, not admitting they exist. Pride lives in denial. It’s blinding.

How do we infuse the public square with the desire to be good? We cannot legislate goodness. We cannot legislate love, honor, respect for one another. This is the great question of the twenty-first century, how to revive the legacy of faith as faith dims, as churches close and their lights go out.

So my little novel is my small peaceful contribution to the debate, a quiet call to recognize that the barbarians are on our borders, to admit our pride and our denial. I fear such admission and recognition may be too late for Europe, as one commentator lamented, but America has hidden strengths and is used to changing course and doing battle. Never before has there been such a need for such a change of course.

As the great Anglican scholar, C. S. Lewis, wrote in Mere Christianity: 

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

So as I gazed this morning in church upon the Christ Child in the manger, I knew it would all work out, in the end, for God’s glory. For there are still wise men who will bring their gifts to him and, in so doing, to our world. There are still shepherds who will bow before the Christ Child, who will care for the sheep who cannot care for themselves. There is still the love of Mary and Joseph, who show us how to practice virtue, how to say “yes” to God and how to hear his voice, in vision or dream or word or sacrament.

The great gift of Christmas, our preacher said this morning, is also the great gift of Easter. It is the gift of life itself, life on earth and life in eternity. And they are the same, he said, for eternity is now.

The great gift of Christmas is the gift of God to our world, the light shining in the darkness. It is the gift of love, and yes, the gift of Western Civilization, of civilized culture. For our culture – our freedom – has been built upon that gift, and that world is now threatened. We value life and love and freedom; others do not. The choice is clear. We must look to the star of Bethlehem, to the Shepherds, to the Wise Men, and to Abraham and Isaac.

We must return virtue to the public square and to the world.