After Paris

It’s over a week now since the attacks in Paris. The national period of mourning has ended. Paris is on the move again, albeit it at a limp. Now Brussels waits in anxious shut-down while the authorities respond to threats of similar attacks against that city.

Some, those few responsible, will mark the Paris attacks up as a success. Those around them who do not share their triumph will be conflicted. Ashamed and terrified. For the innocents who have been violated with such precision. Burdened with knowing at first hand what their family or associates are capable of. We can only imagine the pain, sorrow and anger of the survivors and the bereaved. We are a global village now, united in our pain, in our losses, in our injury, in our questions. There are no victors here, just more victims.

When I was a child and starting to pay attention to current affairs, I remembered my shock at first hearing terrorist groups claim responsibility for bombings. I thought, in my childish way, that they should be ashamed, not boasting about murdering people. I still feel the same way, I think. There is something a bit empty about boasting over murder. Destruction is easy. It’s creating that’s hard. Anyone can be violent. Peace takes real effort.

There are no simple answers. It’s easy to point at politicians, or the system, or religion. Those are big anonymous enemies we can shake our fists at. But doing that doesn’t get us far. Who would really like to be in the hot seat of the world leaders, having to figure out what to do next? They need our prayers as much as anyone else. Events like this affect us as individuals, calling for an individual response. But what? Perhaps we can draw closer to the stranger. Let them hear our heartbeat, know that the same fears assail all of us. Fears of rejection, fears of aggression.

A man who wanted Jesus to affirm his piety asked this question: Who is my neighbour? In response Jesus tells the story of a man mugged and left for dead. Two outwardly religious men, a rabbi and a priest, walk by leaving him where he fell. The one who had pity on the man, who cared for him at his own expense and treated him like a son or a brother, was a foreigner. A Samaritan. A citizen of what is now the West Bank. He belonged to group with whom Jews did not mix. But the Samaritan, Jesus said, was the true neighbour. Because he was the one who had pity on the victim.

Who are our neighbours? The people to whom we show compassion and mercy. The ones we reach out to help. Those whose needs we see and can meet. It is a tiny response, but not without value in the aftermath of events which aim to tear us apart and separate us into warring tribes. Perhaps, to counter the aims of the violent, it’s worth trying, in whatever small way, to reach out without fear and become neighbours to the strangers in our midst.


About three months ago our family visited the dog home. The children and their father were enthusiastic and keen, peering into the cages where the young dogs and puppies waited to be chosen. Classical music blared through speakers on posts near the cages, adding a surreal pathos to the scene. I found it all a bit much, to be honest.

Our eldest stopped and looked at a medium size dog whose cage label said Lavinia. She liked her short black and tan coat, her tufty eyebrows and big brown eyes. She brought me to look first, then the rest of the family. The dog’s dignified name seemed to suit her. Lavinia, a 2-year-old Kelpie Shar Pei cross, found abandoned in a house nearby, lay still while the other dogs barked, yapped or jumped at all the people peering into their cages.

When we met her in the exercise yard the connection was immediate and strong. She was quiet and relaxed, not bounding around in excitement or chasing the youngest, as other dogs had done. She quietly found me and stood by my knees, perhaps sensing my nervousness. I was the least keen to get a dog, my well-worn practical objections revealing themselves as fear in the days immediately before our appointment at the dog home. My only experience of dogs was with Kelly, my Aunt’s terrifying German Shepherd, who as far as I know never left the house and lived under the stairs waiting to eat small visitors.

For a long time the children had lobbied, begged and made ridiculous promises to break down my objections to having a dog. Until recently, circumstances were my ally – we lived in a rental, we’d just arrived in the country, we were about the leave the country, the youngest was still too young…then there was the extra responsibility, picking up poo, vet bills, having to walk the thing, the cost of pet food, restrictions on holiday plans, you name it. I finally had to cave when their father joined in.

Fast forward three months or so. The unimaginable is happening. I am becoming a Dog Person. At the local dog beach I watch her sprint and play with her pals. I know the names of some of the local Dog People, and even their dogs. I carry treats in my pockets and other dogs come up and nuzzle me. I do not recoil. I hardly recognise myself. Except for the times Lavinia stands in my blind spot and I nearly trip over her. Then my objections to dog ownership return. Briefly.

It makes me think. What else do I think I can’t handle that I might actually enjoy?


In England, where I grew up, people don’t really talk about the weather despite the stereotype. In Tasmania, where I now live, we sometimes have four seasons in one hour. You’ll often see combinations like board shorts and puffer jackets and flip-flops and beanies all on the same person, all appropriate on the one day. Locals walk through showers, whether in suits or sandals, simply ignoring the rain.

Weather affects my moods and my inclinations, my energy levels and my enthusiasm. In this place, apart from anything else, I am learning to keep going whatever the weather. To enjoy the sun when it comes out but not too much (even dark skin is no match for a hole in the ozone), wrap up against a sudden Antartic snap, enjoy a light misting , or more, of rain and then get blown up the street by the wind.

And then there’s my personal weather. The competing pressures and dynamics of the aspirations and duties and people that surround and affect me. Every once in a while I find that these coalesce into a storm that throws me around and makes me feel anxious and inadequate. I worry about getting hurt. About drowning.

Then I remember the story of Jesus in the storm. It’s in Luke 8 v 22- 25.

Jesus and the disciples have set out in a boat on a calm lake, when a squall comes up and threatens to swamp the boat. The disciples are terrified. Jesus is asleep. They wake him up and he commands the wind and the waves to subside. Which they do. He asks them ‘where is your faith?’ They are amazed, seeing how powerful he is over an element that they, as fishermen, know pretty well and have a healthy fear of.

You know what’s coming. But it’s easy to ignore or forget. That same Jesus, the one in the book, the one from Sunday school, is in my boat, my life, with me. Resting. Undisturbed. Unmoved by the threats and roar of the waves, he lives his life with me. I need to be like him, unmoved, dead to the threat of these pressures. They are in fact the medium by which I move, the element through which my boat manoeuvres. I can use some winds but not all, ride some waves and avoid others. Better still, I can say to the seas and the winds, Be still. Because I can speak with the authority of Christ, who lives in me.