As I write this, the news is full of the atrocities in France, the subsequent march of over a million people joined by many world leaders, and the consequent government meetings about security.
“Je suis Charlie” has been the rallying slogan of the past week or two as the French (and others) seek to identify with the murdered journalists from the radical satirical magazine. There can be no other response than to condemn the murderous and terrorist actions of a few who seek to bring fear to others in the name of their cause. The whole situation must, however, cause us to pause and ponder upon a few important questions. When does free speech become, in itself, simply an agent to provoke, to belittle, to incite anger? Is it possible to draw a line which should not be crossed, or are we to tolerate anything that is said or written? What should our response to the practically blasphemous words and images that such magazines as Charlie Hebdo publish? How influenced are we by the major media outlets? What should a Christian response be to such events? Can we make any difference?
I struggle with such questions as these myself, and do not believe that there are any simple answers, nor do I believe I can I tell you what your response should be. I do encourage you to think on them, however. I know, for myself, that I am drawn in by the big news stories that make the headlines and am easily distracted for example from the fact that the killings by Boko Haram in Nigeria have run into hundreds, maybe thousands, over the same few days. The latest edition of Charlie Hebdo following the killings has a drawing of the prophet Mohammed on its front page and will undoubtedly provoke more anger and grief amongst the Muslim population and others. I tolerate all kinds of things I disagree with for the sake of a peaceful life – although I do challenge individuals when I hear blasphemy and I hope that we are able to correct and be corrected amongst our own communities.
The issues and questions are big ones and we might be tempted just to give up in despair. The message of the gospel, however, is not one of despair or defeat but of hope and endurance. You may have heard the story of a man who was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a young person going back and forth between the surf’s edge and the beach. Back and forth they went. As the man approached, he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide. The man was stuck by the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached, the young person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf. As he came up to them, he said: “You must be crazy. There are miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The person looked at the man, then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said: “It made a difference to that one!” Maybe our response to issues where we feel powerless or helpless is to find our own “starfish”. I’m sure we all know somebody who is grieving, or sad, or stressed, or lonely, or unwell at the moment. We should, of course, pray for them. Perhaps you might also visit, or send flowers, or buy a box of chocolates, or lay a gentle hand on a shoulder, or offer a hug. Maybe small acts of love, mercy and kindness will make a difference that will build God’s kingdom, share his peace and show some love to those around us.
With many blessings,
Peter Callway, Rector