On Paris

I was 17 years old when I first visited Paris on a high school choir trip. Before we left, I was told over and over that the Parisians did not like Americans. I was told to be prepared for them to be rude and mean.

That wasn’t my experience. In fact, it was just the opposite of what I experienced there.

Everywhere I went, Parisians went out of their way to help me. They were kind. They were warm. They were compassionate.

Sure, the city was beautiful and historically rich, but it wasn’t the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame Cathedral that made me want to return to the city. It was the people who treated me as though I was one of them.

They were Paris.

It was not the tourist attractions that ISIS attacked: it was Parisians themselves. Folks eating dinner. Music-lovers taking in a concert. Fans attending a soccer match. ISIS wanted to instill fear, and that goal was accomplished.

Now, the retaliation has begun. New airstrikes. Blind anger at any Muslim. Fear of the unknown has replaced any attempt to embrace the other. None of it will make us safer.

Religious violence has been with us since the time the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. We seem to not know how to love God without killing each other. The terrorists cried, “God is great” as they killed the innocent. It is a cry we have come to expect. I just hope we are not prone to respond, “Our God is greater.”

Surely the God we worship can help us find a path to peace. Embracing those who are not like me gives me a chance to see the full richness of God.

I pray we will not retreat to “an eye for an eye.” We know already that will make the whole world blind.

Conservation and Christianity Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

My brother in law, John, is a world-renowned nuclear physicist. He is the Chief Technical Officer and former CEO of TerraPower, a company owned by Bill Gates that is developing a safe, small nuclear reactor being built in China. It will supply power for 200,000 people without creating weapons-grade plutonium. Only the Chinese are interested in the technology because it is expensive to build and the US believes we have an abundance of energy in the form of natural gas and shale. While this is true, these are the exact fossil fuels that are leading to climate change and that have long-term adverse implications for the environment.

Will we ever learn? While I’m pleased that the Keystone XL oil pipeline won’t be built, we still have a long way to go until we take consistent, active steps to being good stewards of our planet. As Christians, we are called to care for God’s creation and treat it with sanctity.

John has never openly believed in God. He is, at best, an agnostic. He loves to discuss issues of the universe but has never seen the need to believe in God.

Recently, he and I were talking while overlooking San Francisco bay. We were discussing the short sightedness of the American energy policy when he began to wax poetically about the uniqueness of our planet, how Earth possesses every single thing needed to support life. He then described the number of planets in our galaxy and pointed out that even if there is a “Goldilocks planet” – a planet with the exact conditions needed to support life – out there, it is not remotely close to us and without changing the dynamics of physics we would never be able to reach it. He continued to speak about how special our planet is and how we must care for it at all cost because we can never replace it. The unique qualities could never be replaced.

So I asked him, “How do you think it came to be?”

Smiling wryly, he said, “I guess an old man with a white beard and a cocked head must have made it.”

He didn’t exactly come to claim he believed that we are here because we are creatures of God, but his smile made clear his willingness to consider the possibility. Pure chance does not seem a reasonable answer to the question of how we came to be.

I find it remarkable that one of the most religious countries in the world, America, is a leader in harming our truly irreplaceable Earth. We are unwilling to do what it takes to care for the planet despite the fact that in Genesis, it is one of the first things God commands us to do (Genesis 2:15). As Christians, we are mandated to be good stewards of this place that sustains us.

My agnostic, physicist brother sees it. Why can’t our God-fearing leaders?