What does it mean to stand with someone? Popular response to the atrocities unfolding in France has to been to declare solidarity with the victims. Michael D., Obama, Merkel, Cameron, even Putin, the leaders of the major religions and countless others have vowed to stand with the victims. Many people have changed their profile pictures to the French flag. World landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and the CN Tower were lit up red, white and blue. When Charlie Hebdo published their offensive cartoons and were subsequently attacked, millions of people took to the streets and to the avenues of social media identifying as on the side of Charlie; “Je Suis Charlie.” It is popular to stand with the victim.
To “stand with” implicitly also means to stand against. If you stand with Man United, you stand against Liverpool (for the record – I do neither of these things!). If you stand for the right to abortion, you stand against granting the right to life to a foetus. (Note: This is not to be confused with tolerance. You can tolerate a few things and stand for none of them. Take music, for example. I like classical and 90s tunes and electro. I’m not really into heavy metal. I do not “stand for” classical. I simply like it.) If we stand in solidarity with the victims in France, what are we standing with, and what are we standing against?
Yesterday I opened the discussion to a group of asylum seeking teenagers; what do they know of what is happening in France and how do they think France should respond. Following much deliberation, one insightful young man said, “France can’t do anything. If they attack, they are playing the game the terrorists want them to play; if they don’t do anything, the terrorists will continue.” I imagine Hollande and Obama were having a similar discussion.
The reality is, France is attacking. Along with a host of other forces. They are seeking out the terrorists and causing “collateral” casualties in the meantime. So the victims are not confined to French soil. This makes me wobbly on my feet. If each person is made in the image of God and is deeply precious to Him, whom can I declare solidarity with?
Whom can I declare solidarity with?
On Monday, ITV released a video by a man whose wife had been killed in the Bataclan Club. In powerful resilience, he sent a message to those who had killed the love of his life and mother of his 17-month-old child, stating that he would not give them what they wanted; he would not hate them. He and his son would continue their lives without fear and would thereby insult them with their freedom and happiness. This is power. I had a glimpse of what I feel I can stand with. A glimpse of hope shining through the cracks of a fractured world.
Psalm 120 says, “Too long I have lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” In a time of growing hostility between “us” and “them” (this takes on many, may forms), there is a deep need to resist the urge to hate. It is often easier to hate. The only way to avoid it is to stand with Love. And love, of course, is not mustered up by our human emotion, but is sourced by Abba Father.