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Monday, January 12, 2015

Going to Church for Charlie

Lucille Clerc @LucilleClerc
Break one, thousand will rise
 #CharlieHebdo #JeSuisCharlie #raiseyourpencilforfreedom
 courtesy: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/

January 7, 2015

The slaughter of 12 people in or near the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is an attack on the freedom of the press, which is an attack on freedom. It is important that we don’t let it become anti-Islamic fodder for the right wing. It is critical that freedom-loving people stand in solidarity for a free press, for freedom of worship, and for some, freedom from worship.

I don’t think that our enemy is religion itself. The desire for faith is part of the human condition. Extremism can be found in politics, religion, or an economic system. We need not look far to see extremist Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Jews, and even Buddhists. It is generally agreed that Islamic extremists were responsible for the World Trade Center massacre, where thousands of lives were lost. However, Bush’s extremist political (and economic) views resulted in the loss of thousands of more innocent lives.

So I was left with the question, what to do on this saddest of evenings?

Well, weirdly enough, I went to church. Some folks have posted slogans against religion, comparing it to barbarism. I think extreme forms of any organized thought lead to barbarism. While Occupy brought extreme capitalism’s cruelty back into the limelight, think also of the horrors of extreme socialism. Marx was a genius, but Stalin’s and Mao’s forms of genocide must also be remembered.

I have found great comfort in various religious spaces over my lifetime, including Buddhist zendos and Episcopal and Unitarian churches. And yes, even a Catholic cathedral or two. But I would never suggest that anybody else should find comfort there.

My partner Paul says that he thinks church works best when there are just 12 people and they don’t need a building. We could have a long discussion about what defines a church or a faith community. But on this sad evening, I think it is the very human desire to connect our best selves to other people trying to do the same thing. And that’s what I found at church tonight, outside 88 Kearny Street, the offices of the French Consulate.

A group of several hundred people gathered outside the building’s entrance around 7 p.m. Soon enough the police decided to close the street and moved the barricades out of the way. Although they were gruff when moving the metal fences, some people politely said, “Thank you.” This wasn’t an angry protest so much as a vigil. Generally, it was quiet except for the requisite police helicopter overhead. Men and women cried and hugged each other. Occasionally a group broke into French song and sometimes clapped. And there were several shouts of “Je suis Charlie.”

The San Francisco fringe element was present—a man in Birkenstocks covered in a burka made from a rainbow flag. At the edges, it felt more like a Parisian café, people kissing each other on two cheeks, chatting in French, and of course, smoking. Towards the center, with the candles on the ground, the stillness was very moving in its pure quiet, in the power of mourning the tragedy together and recommitting ourselves to the concept of freedom.

In addition to candles, there were many signs with the “Je suis Charlie” sentiment and hundreds of pens and pencils held aloft. This was not organized religion, but it was faith in humanity made visible. So I will call it church.

For more graphic responses please see:


Unknown said...

Beautiful, Kenny. That is my kind of church. You are right, we have to fight against both those who will use this as fodder for their anti-Islamic agenda as well as those who will use it for an anti-faith agenda. Faith is ineffable; and organized faith sometimes begets evil. But faith itself is not the enemy.

Charlotte Moore said...

Dear dear Kenny. This is so beautiful. I'm happy that you went to that "church"...it sounds healing...even if just the beginning. My own personal response to terrorism is to be crushed by it. It is very hard for me to bounce back, though I respect and LOVE the people that get out there and respond, immediately in the face of it. I am sifting and sifting through my internal rubble...it is so awful. But, yes, we have to celebrate life. Cigarettes, cheek kissing and all.