This is what I was going to say before Paris.
I was going to say that I had found where you can find the most beautiful people.
I was going to say that they were in the security line at the bottom of the escalator in terminal 3 of Chicago O’Hare airport, because I’d seen that ebony mama with her sleeping baby wrapped to her back in a grey wool shawl and her head wrapped in this African turban of sunset oranges and pinks and when I had smiled, she’d lit in a bit of continental glory.
I was going to say that there was a greying Asian man ahead of me, his smudged glasses sliding off the end of his nose, who kept turning to gently take the arm of the wisp of his wrinkled mother and she had nodded and patted my hand when I’d helped nudge her carry-on forward in the inching line, and that there was a teenager in front of their fragile shuffling, gangly with his hat pulled low, his headset on and the music was making the boy sway to some hidden, miraculous rhythm in the universe and I’d wanted us all to dance.
I’d wanted us to hold on to each other, and hold each other up and I want us to cup each other’s faces and carry each other’s stories and how does a glimpse of heaven happen in a security line and maybe that’s one of the securest thing there is in the world: Love Himself leaves His prints on all our faces and Love Himself won’t leave our stories in ruined places.
I guess I was going to be fool enough to admit just exactly that:
That I was standing there in the line with passport in hand on a Friday afternoon in the busiest airport on the entire planet, looking into weathered and young and searching eyes of a torrent of passing people, and I was falling head over broken heart in love all over again with teeming, beautiful humanity. That you can find beautiful people wherever you seek to see beauty. That I believed that we know the last line of this cosmic story and His beauty saves… And that I was this smiling fool nodding at everybody, that I couldn’t stop looking into the eyes of the wanderers and the sojourners and the weary travellers because I never get over it:Smiling at anyone is to awe at the face of God.
I was going to say that too:
The whole hurting world needs more of us to take up the ministry of smiling.
We need more grinners and winkers and nodders and laughers and smilers to go walk the streets and the airports and the bus stops and the restaurants and the stadiums, we need more of us to go around all day looking into eyes of all the regular people and smile in awe at the face of God.
Then I stepped through security.
And the world blew up.
It’s flashing on every TV monitor: Attack in Paris. Bloodbath in Concert Hall. Bodies on street at Restaurant. Explosions in Stadium. Suicide Bombers. Death toll rising. There are flashing sirens on every screen. Red, bloody sirens in Lebanon and Syria and Yemen and and Iraq and Japan.
I put my bag down. Stand with bearded strangers and soft and supple old ladies , shoulder to shoulder, struck dumb in the face of struck down.
Walking to gate G20 — all I can hear on every speaker, like a relentless haunting through the airport, no matter where I walk: Attack, Attack, Attack, Attack.
And I can feel this inner heart attack, see it in the faces of sojourners pressing past me: How can the same responses of the past, retaliatory bombings with collateral damage, yield different results?
Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same things repeatedly & expecting different results?
How does a misplaced desire for revenge not take a dark day in history and make it darker?
How can we find a collective response to terrorism that doesn’t horrifically kill civilians on foreign soil, that doesn’t radicalize another generation, that doesn’t trap us all in a relentless cycle of violence and blood and desecration of the image of God in each other? Force may be needed, but, please God, what else?
Sure, go ahead and trace the dollar trail, lean hard politically and legally on those funding ISIS even indirectly. Freeze their bank accounts deeper than the North Pole in the midst of a January blizzard. Go ahead and globally gather overwhelming diplomatic and legal pressure on every single government that is complicit by their silence, because their oligarchies want to stay in power.
But whatever we do, what will prevent desperate people attracted to the ideology of ISIS from joining their forces and the forces of evil? Who has answers? Humanity, by God, needs answers in the midst of all this insanity.
We need to do more than vent hashtag outrage, do more than change our Facebook profile pictures — because this current climate doesn’t need comfortable social media slackivists — it needs committed and humble and risk-taking real activists.
I’ve sat on the dirt in Iraq and I’ve looked into the wild eyes of young Yezidi girls, fleeing from ISIS, the violence of ISIS bullets that tore up their father’s faces burned into their memories. That’s the beginning of what ISIS want, suggests,
“The goal,” Ms. Gambhir said, “is that through these regional affiliates and through efforts to create chaos in the wider world, the organization will be able to expand, and perhaps incite a global apocalyptic war.”
This isn’t Diablo III and a gory video game flashing up massacres on the screen. Nobody is playing games here. There is a global entity who has killed 400 people, screaming little children and kind people who had coffee that morning, thought about what they were having for dinner, and kissed someone they loved and didn’t linger long enough —- 400 regular folk killed around the globe since the 1st of October by ISIS —- an entity whose goal in blowing apart husbands and wives and our belly laughing children? Is to perhaps incite a global apocalyptic war.
The goal is — to bait us into fear and fighting and war. The goal is lure the world into a bloody armageddon, to snap shut the trap that has us all in this cycle of steal, kill and destroy.
Look: We are weary of war. But we are not weary of freedom.
We are tired of terrorism. But we are not tired of courage.
We are worn down with the headlines. But our strength is not worn down, our faith is not worn down, and our hope is not worn down.
We have all been experts at making enemies — but what, in the name of all things holy, can make us better at making friends?
When I get to G20 in Chicago O’Ohare, there’s one beautiful woman already there at the gate.
She’s swaying her baby to sleep in her arms. The world’s on fire on all the screens around her and this mama’s hushing all the fear and worries away in her little girl fighting sleep and dreams. She’s wearing a black abaya. I gently smile and nod toward her little one in arms. The mama smiles shyly, framed in her black hijab, strokes the sweat damp curls off her little girl’s face.
The world may be burning down and taking up arms and somehow, someway, right here, we all can do something to link arms. Let the world do what it needs to do —- but in the midst of a dozen burning screens and flashing sirens and deafening calls of attack —- a Muslim mama at G20 smiles over at a grinning, nodding farm hick and there’s a perfect love that casts out all fear, there’s an immoveable truth that we are a people of Love, not fear, and there’s not an attack of the enemy that can make the people of the Cross cower in fear and hate and close their doors to Love.
And maybe that’s all?
The way we fight terrorism is to refuse to be terrified.
(Doesn’t He tells us this more than anything else, because He knows this is salve for our weeping wounds: Do Not Fear.)
The way we fight acts of war is with acts of kindness.
(Doesn’t He tell us to not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good, because He knows that being ignited by hate is like holding a flame in your own hand and wondering why you feel burned. Do not try this at home or in the privacy of your own soul.
Doesn’t He tell us “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” Deuteronomy 10:19.
Doesn’t Jesus Himself say, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.
If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.
The way we fight terrorists —- is by being giftivists.
Doesn’t this make us a brave kind of activists when it feels like all hell is breaking loose?
The Giftivists are activists who believe that radical acts of giving can change the world.
What has ever changed the world more than this: For God so love the world, that He gave.
It’s the Giftivists who believe that every human being is a gift, made in the image of God, the Great Giver — and to destroy or dehumanize the gift of a human being to is to desecrate God. It’s the Giftivists are the activists who believe that scarcity is a myth and abundance is the Truth because your Father is the God of the universe and He made enough for every soul’s need — but not for anyone’s greed.
It’s the Giftivists are the activists who believe that radical acts of generosity counter radical acts of inhumanity.Humanity is at its best when giving —-because when we give, we are most like God.
But in a world stripped of grace, cynics can laugh at these things, can mock these things, can swiftly and mercilessly deem the Giftivists as losers, and forgivers as weak, can let Fear devour all things Christ within them, because in an ungenerous and unforgiving culture its too easy to fall for the ruse that giving and forgiving isn’t actually the greatest of His ways in the world.
“The best gift we can give each other — is our own generosity,” is what Miroslav Volf, the Croatian theologian whose father slaved through a communist labor camp, and who is definitely no lightweight as the Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. And he can can testify:
“With that ‘indescribable gift’ called Christ, God gave us a generous self and a community founded on generosity.
Such a self bestows gifts freely.
It gives because it delights in the Beloved and can’t endure the need of the needy.
And in all of this, it forges lasting bonds of reciprocal love. At the most basic level, generosity itself is exchanged in all our gift exchanges:
My generosity is reciprocated by your generosity, and the circle of mutual love keeps turning.”
The professor of Theology at Yale knew it:
Giftivists break bonds of retaliating destruction by forging deeply connective bonds of reciprocating love.
Giftivists break vicious cycles of violence with virtuous cycles of benevolence.
God is the ultimate Giftivist, the ultimate Giver and Forgiver, and we are Giftivists as we follow Him, but ultimately, we are Givers and Gifters and Giftivists because the Greatest Giver Himself is in us and working through us.
I move some of luggage and bags so Muslim Mama can sit and get some impossible weight off her feet and she rocks her baby slow in a world that has to come up with answers that are rooted in love and not poisoned by fear, and I slip up to clarify with the ticket agent about boarding and timing and mutter something about going to go get a hot tea for my burning throat.
And a big bearded guy in hunting gear at the next ticket agent, he looks over at me and says, “Here — take my bag of Halls.” He thrusts the bag of cough drops at me.
“I needed them for sitting up in a tree stand all week. Can’t cough when you’re waiting for a deer. But I don’t need ‘em now.” His laughter rumbles over him like leaves falling out of a tree.
“Here — you take ‘em.” I’m shaking my head no.
“C’mon here now — I wanna give them to you.”
“Well — I’ll thank you for two —“ I scoop two out of the bag “ —thank you, sir.”
When I haul back to the gate after going to hunt down some my tea for my burning throat — Muslim Mama and Hunter Man are gone, but I look ticket agents Daniel and Alexander right in the eye (right after I glance at their name tag) as they check my passport, and I thank them for making the world a better place today and for a flash of a moment, their smiles dim the chaos of an inferno world.
I get on the plane — and my seat says 7C — and I look up — 7C: right beside the burly hunter who gave me the Halls.
“Well, now it looks like I get to thank you for real—“ I drop my bag on the seat, stick out my hand.
“The name’s Jim.” He grins, shakes my hand like he’s trying to shake me down out of a tree.
“And now I get to give you the whole bag of Halls like I wanted to in the first place.” He stuffs the bag of Halls into my shoulder bag on the seat, grins like he’s the winning cat that’s swallowed a canary. There are Giftivists wearing camo and trucker hats, there are ordinary activists, Giftivists, who believe that small acts of giving can ripple out in these ever expanding circles of grace to change the greatest problems of living.
“You saw all what’s going on in the world, what they had flashing on all those monitors in the terminal?” Jim’s shaking his head. I’m getting a seat belt buckled up, trying to soothe an enflamed throat with the gift of Jim’s Halls.
“I’ve about seen it all — was a nuclear submariner during the Iranian hostage crisis back in the 70’s.”
Uhhhh… Jim? Really?
“You bet, ma’am.” Jim’s buddy on the other side of him is nodding, and the buddy’s holding a Peter Kreeft book in his hands about heaven, so I’ve got a tendency to believe the guy. Jim’s holding his phone in his hands, looking down, playing a game of solitaire, like he’s remembering a bit of a hell that he’d rather escape.
“93 days. Right off the coast of Iran.” Jim glances out the plane window — then back to his solitaire.
“Never broke surface for 93 days. Never saw a window, or water or light or heard the news, didn’t know what was going on out there, if we were at war or not — just 93 days of sitting in a submarine, manning my nuclear missile, waiting for the word.”For all of history, there’ve been elements trying to burn hope down — but ashes are never the last line of any of God’s stories.
“So —-“ I look out the plane window, out of the clouds and patches of earth below — “so when the whole world feels like it’s on fire, what’s the word from a guy like Jim?”
“Well, a guy like Jim thinks that somehow?” Jim turns off his phone, shifts so he can tell me square in the face. “Somehow we’ve got to stop all of this warring and killing and destroying —- and humanity’s got to figure out how to live with each other. Humanity’s got to figure out how to be united…”
Somehow humanity’s got to figure out to be united, how to find a bit of union, a bit of communion…
And maybe that’s all there is still to say after Paris:
There are the most beautiful people in the streets of Beirut and Bagdhad and Boston and the backstreets of wherever you are, the most beautiful people living near us and sitting across from us and streaming by us and showing up on our Facebook streams and we can disagree but we can leave love comments because no matter what anyone’s saying, everyone’s just asking if they can be loved?
We can look for the beauty in people & give each other the time of day and a bit of courage for the battle, we can give a pat on the shoulder and these are holy acts that heal a soul and the global wounds of the world. How you love where you are is how you change the whole wide world.
We can smile like believing fools and find a way to help take the weary weight off a Muslim Mama, and offer someone with a burning throat a cough drop, or a whole bag of them, and we can be united by these ways of grace and channels of gifts.
We can give the ministry of smiling to the people passing on the street, the ministry of presence to the person right in front of us, the ministry of falling in love with God in a thousand ordinary faces.
We can be the activists who are the Giftivists who give a hand, and a thumbs-up with a wink, who give a place at the table and a place to put up some tired feet, who give a bag of groceries or a hot steaming coffee to the person behind us — because incremental giving in ordinary places —- makes elemental change in the atoms of the cosmic places and supernaturally changes the the ways this warped world spins.
Because seeking everyday ways to be broken and given is how we live a bit of communion everyday. Giving is how we pass holy sacraments around.
It’s the bread and wine that speak to what heals the world’s wounds.
After Paris, the calendar says it, that Advent cusps, that now the days will get shorter and the night will get longer and longer and longer, till it seems like the night’s invading the day —- and then Grace with skin will invade everything. Then the Greatest Gift will be born and we will remember another world and Home and our true names and how there is nothing ever to fear.
Then we will see again how the smallest, most fragile gift can save the world.
Related: Be a #Giftivist & defy ISIS by supporting Preemptive Love in Iraq… it’s you #Giftivists who are changing the world — & joining our community of #Giftivists who’ve given now over $1 Million dollars to defy ISIS