I’ve been rather quiet here lately and thought I would try to catch up a bit. I’m currently involved in four groups that talk about race, anti-racism, reconciliation and a whole host of other topics. Three are offered by our denomination and one is online called Be the Bridge. Anyone can access the fourth one. There is a ton of material to read, watch and listen to as a new member must complete all the units provided and be “silent” (meaning no comments on Facebook) for three months. I’ve passed my three months, but I haven’t finished all the material yet, so I’m still not posting. I might not post any time soon because I am still learning so much and don’t want to “talk over” the many other voices that are there in the group.
All of this “training” is helping me see people around me differently. My hope is that it will help me be a better listener and advocate for the migrants, immigrants, refugees and cultural mix that is in our neighborhood. We live in a beautiful kaleidescope of a neighborhood, just on the edge of Lyon, France. When I look out my window, I see Algerians, Tunisians, Angolese, Armenians, Congolese from RDC, Kenyans, Moroccans, Mauritanians, Brazilians, Congolese from Brazzaville, French from many generations, French from Italy, Portugal, Spain, China, northern Africa and more. Stepping out the door, or at the farthest, a short walk from our home, I see Syrians dressed up in religious clothing, Muslims with headscarves, Jewish men wearing kippahs and much more. There is a Japanese restaurant just across the street and two others within two blocks, all run by Chinese or Koreans. We are exactly where we want to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There is a tension that exists between those who have lived in France for generations and the “New French” who have come in the last 1-3 generations. There is a clash because those who were born in France, yet don’t “look” like the traditional French person, are seen as foreigners, outsiders, or worse, intruders who do not belong. And sometimes you can see this rejection and anger on their faces. Yes, there is tension.
There is also a beauty and richness that we are drawn to. An undercurrent of organization beneath the chaos of dog droppings on the sidewalk (a French specialty – read any book about France!), the various modes of transportation swirling around us (just at our intersection there are trams, buses, semi-trucks, electric scooters, foot scooters, bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, pedestrians, hoverboards, and those electric wheels that people stand on [do you know them? In French there are monoroues, gyroroues, gryopodes – I’m not sure what it is in English… electric monocycle??]). We are getting to know the people, from the men who work the copy store to the nearest bakers, pizza makers, grocery store cashiers and stockers. It is in this place that we are building roots and forming relationships, listening to needs and finding ways to respond.
In one of my groups, we are reading the book, “Healing Our Broken Humanity: Practicies For Revitalizing the Church and Renewing the World” by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill. I’ll end this post with two quotes in the book of them quoting others.
First, on peacemaking by Stanley Hauerwas:
“Peacemaking isn’t passive. It’s the active, courageous, and public exercise of forgiveness, love and reconciliation.”
And next on religiosity from a church in Toronto called The Meeting House. It is one of Canada’s biggest churches and this is what they say about themselves:
“Rules, Rituals, Religion – Really? We think Jesus came to show us a different way, a better way. At The Meeting House we believe that when you see Jesus without the religious baggage we’ve historically put around him, you’ll find someone understandably life-changing and worth following. Everything we read about Jesus in the Bible paints a clear picture of a revolutionary and radical who intended on turning our ways of thinking upside down and inside out. Jesus wasn’t interested in creating a new religious system of do’s and don’ts, wrongs and rights, rites and rules. Rather, Jesus’ irreligious message is that we can only find true peace and wholeness when we embrace a love-based relationship with God, others, and even our enemies. We believe that in order to truly see Jesus, grasp his message, and follow him, we need to reject the lends given to us by religion, even the Christian religion, and become a community who opens our Bibles regularly with fresh eyes and re-live the accounts of those who first followed Jesus. Join us as we do our best to discover Jesus for who he truly is.”
Both of these quotes fit our vision and hope for what we are doing in France. Our most recent new series that we launched is called “Journey to and in France” where we practice the sacred act of listening, with no judgment, commentary or questions, in order to stand in solidarity with those sharing their story. May we be active and courageous in our pursuit of peacemaking and anti-religiosity. Let us know how we can encourage you on this path!