Vail Daily column: Shadows can’t keep shrouding city of lights
My wife and I are grateful for our several trips to Paris. We visited this City of Lights two weeks before the carnage swept through a cafe and restaurant, plus a music hall and a soccer stadium.
This City of Lights dazzles when onlookers see its sights by bus. We boarded Bus 69 near the Eiffel Tower. Its route zigzagged across the Seine River to the Right Bank, near sites that came to be epicenters of terror. In a string of attacks, Islamic militants slaughtered 130 people, left 350 as casualties — with 99 of this total gravely wounded.
Painful shadows now shroud the City of Lights. When we were there, however, sunshine made the city sparkle. Our bus ended its route at historic Pere Lachaise Cemetery. This huge expanse of tombs and trails is named for Father (in French “Pere”) La Chaise who centuries ago listened to the confessions of King Louis XIV.
Leaves rustled underfoot in the graveyard. On our peaceful walk, we visited writer Gertrude Stein’s (1874-1945) gravestone, a tomb she shares with her life-partner, Alice B. Toklas.
A German visitor told us a story about Toklas getting an edge on her partner after death. During their life together, Stein benefited from more press clippings than Toklas did. However at death, to get her day in the sun, Toklas placed her inscription on the gravestone’s other side where sunny rays shone brighter and longer.
From the light of this rivalry, we stepped in shadows. We entered part of the cemetery where markers remembered victims of the Holocaust, including non-Jews. Was this an omen of the horror that shortly darkened the City of Lights? Holocaust monuments were sharp, angular and stout with figures writhing in pain, doubled-over in grief.
Grief and pain wrack Paris after the terrorists’ murderous rampage. It’s tough to show gratitude there this Thanksgiving. Lights on the Eiffel Tower were extinguished the Saturday evening after the carnage. The City of Lights went dark.
Alarmed by the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, we resonate with a poet whose life lacked light. “O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult (and triumph)?’ shrieks a desperate soul. “(Evil people) pour out their arrogant words. All the evil-doers boast. They crush Your people, O Lord and afflict Your heritage (of goodness). They slay the widow and the sojourner and murder the fatherless” (Psalm 94:3-6).
What’s scary about the Islamic State is that it’s more than a terrorist military force. It’s more than a fringe political movement. It’s a religious juggernaut composed of extremists who believe their god delights in killing infidels. Thomas Jefferson feared this deranged mentality that twists gods into bloody warriors. He worried that if Baptists despised Presbyterians and both groups hated Quakers, bloody religious wars would destroy the American Republic.
Christians and Jews share the Hebrew Scriptures. There God is portrayed as a divine warrior who permits His people to commit atrocities, as does today’s Islamic State. Ancient followers of Abraham toppled rival kingdoms. Victors practiced doom warfare in which enemies were totally annihilated. Now Jews and Christians have moved beyond equating such barbaric military operations with God’s will against enemies.
In contrast, ISIS warriors read the Quran as if ancient norms for warfare aren’t culturally conditioned. In several passages, they read of Allah commanding ISIS to kill infidels. They believe the Quran is Allah’s exact word for every age. Warrior Prophet Muhammed led followers into holy wars. If captured infidels wouldn’t convert, then Islamic fighters executed them. ISIS uses such evil tactics today. Their holy book sets the precedent, they falsely assume.
On a blog post shortly after ISIS’s murderous spree, British novelist Ian McEwan expresses why the fighters in the Islamic State delight in killing innocent people. “The cultists come armed with savage nihilism and a hatred that lies beyond our understanding. Their protective armor was the suicide belt, their idea of the ultimate hiding place as the virtuous afterlife, where the police cannot go. (The jihadist paradise is turning to be one of humanity’s worst ever ideas; slash and burn in this life, eternal rest among kitsch in the next).”
ISIS killers are not the first to make the City of Lights go dark. After Paris fell to the Germans in 1940, Nazi tormentors rounded up Jews and stuffed them in boxcars headed for crematoriums that burned ’round the clock.
On D-Day — June 6, 1944 — Allied forces stormed Normandy’s beaches. Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt gathered 100 million Americans around their radios. He prayed amid reports of carnage on Omaha Beach. “Lead them straight and true,” prayed FDR. “Give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. The road will be long and hard. The enemy is strong.” Resolve, like what we see in Paris today, gave heart to the Allies’ assault.
Unlike the Nazis (and the ISIS) the Allies “fight not out of the lust of conquest,” the president prayed. “They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.” Allies pressed on to free Paris.
The French show a re-birth of the Greatest Generation’s quest to supplant evil with decency, courage and civility. After the attacks in Paris, a writer shows how shadows are lifted from the City of Light. “As night falls, let us light a candle in our windows. We are not afraid; we are together.” Be thankful for this resilient human spirit that dispels evil shadows.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.
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