Je Suis Nice

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Nice, France June 2013

It should be pretty clear by now, nobody knows what to do.

And I find myself asking, “Is this our new normal?” But I keep rejecting that, because God forbid I ever accept as normal, one suffering human taking down hundreds of strangers.

But how do I respond?

Author Anne Lamott has some pretty good thoughts here.  She says Cain is still killing Abel, just as he always has, but grace still bats last.

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Taken from the Promenade des Anglais Nice, France August 2011

My sister lives in Nice.

She was having dinner five blocks from the truck massacre. She and her friends were swept into waves of people running from what they didn’t know. They just knew they should run. The friend she was dining with wrote this in the Huff Post about the experience.

It prompted someone to say on her Facebook page, “that was a little too close.”

Let us not delude ourselves. We are all a little too close now. The idea that anyone can “keep us safe” from a guy driving a truck into a crowd, or the other terrors we imagine but don’t speak, is just foolish.

Unfortunately, this rage, this sickness, this despair is alive to some degree in all of us, and only in that space can a meaningful response begin.

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Castel Plage. Promenade des Anglais. Nice France. June 2013

Don’t believe me?

Pick a tragedy. Ataturk Airport Istanbul. Dallas PD. Bangladesh. Iraq. Orlando. Nice. Did you know there are pages-long lists of terrorist attacks organized by month on Wikipedia?

How did you react to the news of each? Rage? Invective? I alternate between that and sighing defeat, but what does that accomplish? Nothing. It just releases more anger, fear and despair in my orbit.

Maybe you’re not enraged by the carnage.

But how do you react when you see a Black Lives Matter rally? Do you murmur and grumble? Make surly comments? What about Trump and Hillary? I. Can’t. Even.

What comes out of your mouth then? What do you release into your orbit? Certainly, (hopefully) it’s different by degree, but not in nature.

It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, Jesus said. It’s what comes out.

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Vieux Ville, Nice France. June 2013

Someone told me once, the key to victory in spiritual warfare (and don’t kid yourself, that is happening) is entering the battle bearing the opposite spirit. St. Francis explained it like this:

Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, let me sow pardon, where there is despair, let me bring hope. We saw that this week in Dallas. Thank God.

But after Bastille Day, with our Nicoise brothers and sisters lying dead in the street, nothing could be more irrational and impossible. Nothing. Yet, Jesus said to do it, so it must be possible. But He never said it would be easy or cheap.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ He said.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

To do such an impossible thing, we have to believe that Jesus is the God of impossible redemptions. Which I do.

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Overlooking the Promenade des Anglais

Kindness is the fruit of the spirit I most want to cultivate right now.  So when I find myself shouting expletives at my tv, I try to catch it and consider how unkind that is. It only poisons Sam and me and our home.

What I’m trying to do instead is stay within my circle of influence – controlling the things I can – like my mouth, my interaction with people I love, and my service to people around me.

So I’m choosing kindness when what I want to do is scream. I’m choosing quiet, unseen service to other humans when I want to be selfish and angry. I’m choosing to slow it down and respond carefully in conflict, rather than just reacting in my same old ways.

And I’m choosing to pray and fill this space with beautiful images from one of my favorite cities on earth. Nice. Mon coeur est brise´.

What else can I do?

Maybe this sounds naive in light of the shocking and seemingly relentless terror that plagues the world now. If I could do something about all that rage and violence, I would.

Maybe what I can do is deal with my own.

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#PrayingforNice

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Why Bother with Jesus?

Eating lunch in a French cafe last week, Sam and I were playing a game called: You just won the lottery, what will you do with the money?

It’s a useful exercise because the question really asks: Without limitations, perceived or actual, what would you do with your life?

IMG_8737“Well, I’d have a nice ranch with cattle,” he said.

“You already have that.” I reminded him.

“I’d travel more.”

“What are you talking about, we just ordered lunch in French.”

“Ok, I’d buy a new truck.”

“Come on, you’re going to do that anyway.”

What we think we want is money. What we really want is joy.

It’s tempting to believe we could have better lives if we only had more money. Obviously in some cases that’s true, but in France I caught myself wishing I too could drink wine on my sparkly, white yacht before sailing to Villefranche or Monaco. Unfortunately, that craving threatened to eclipse the simple joy of watching the boats from my balcony in Nice.

Even though I know better, I still behave like money guarantees happiness. Please everybody, raise your hand if you know a wealthy person who is a howling, insufferable mess.

In my mind, that is best answer to the question: Why bother with Jesus?

When you get everything you want and it’s still not enough, crushing despair is often the bonus in the box. What do you do then? Go get more boxes? Buddha said that wouldn’t work. Jesus did too. He said over and over, don’t strive, don’t hoard, and he followed up with this advice:

“While you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and there is nothing that I need,’ you have no eyes to see that you are wretched, pitiable, poverty-stricken, blind and naked. My advice to you is to buy from me that gold which is refined in the furnace so that you may be rich… All those whom I love I correct and discipline. Therefore, shake off your complacency and repent.” Rev. 3:17-19

IMG_8430Before I was following Jesus I wasn’t greedy, I was complacent, which is a different and hard animal to break. So, how do you buy this gold from Jesus? What does that look like in practical terms? Here’s my hunch:

  • What matters to Jesus is usually opposite of what matters to us. So plan on that.
  • It’s going to involve doing things for people who won’t say thank you. Rinse, repeat.
  • It will cost something, probably a lot, maybe everything.

Wow, that sounds awesome sign me up!

But what if the return was joy? What if by buying this gold, rather than coveting and hoarding ours, we could live with unspeakable joy? What if  your joy bank was so full, overflowing so lavishly on other people, that they followed you asking your secret?

Would you do it?

Welcome to Nice.

To be a writer, it’s fairly important to write daily. But trapped as I am in a whirlwind romance with the unforgivably sexy South of France, my writing disciplines have slipped off like bikini tops on the beach.

So, why not just run the highlight reel. Thank God a picture is worth a thousand words. Welcome to Nice everybody.

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I know I can’t believe it either and I took the picture.

What’s that? You’d like to putter about on that lovely turquoise water? Pas de probleme… you can rent this little sloop – The Excellence V for 360,000 euro per week. At the current exchange, that’s about a half million dollars, but it sleeps twelve, so you know, you can split it with your friends.

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It is excellent!

Ninety minutes by train up the steep and piney Var Valley, is the fort city of Entrevaux. Nobody wants a history lesson right now, but this town was designed to keep Europe (Rome) from invading Provence. Hence the drawbridges, stone walls and the 17th century citadel perched at about 5,000 feet above sea level.

The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.

The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.

And here’s the Entrevaux cathedral inside. Check Mary out having a little party in the lower left corner. Maybe that’s a sacrilegious thing to say, but Mary is the one who told Jesus to hurry up and make some more wine at Cana, which we all know he did. Although my French is loose and unreliable, I’m told Mary was actually ascending here, not whooping it up like me.

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I just read a New York Times article about the value of taking a short walk after you’ve stuffed yourself with steak tartare, frites, creme brulee, vin rouge and cafe creme. We did just that after dinner tonight at Castel Plage. We ate yet another off-the-hook French meal, while the waves shoved millions of pebbles up the shore and then hustled them back out to sea. That’s why the beach pebbles are smooth here, incessant tumbling.

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See pebbles, not sand.

On the walk home, we admired the city, all lit up and shimmering. At nine or so, everybody finally showed up dressed for dinner – the men in tailored jackets, women in summer dresses and Chanel No. 5. Seriously people, the French get this so right. Let’s get dressed for dinner again, shall we America?

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And once again, this is Villefranche Sur Mer. We’re headed back there in the morning because I literally cannot get enough of it. Bill Gates, Sean Connery and Mick Jaggar have homes here. Can you blame them?

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Sometimes, I feel a little guilty about what a ripping good time I get to have in France, but then I remember something Jesus said and I get over it.

I came so that you might have and enjoy your life, have it in abundance, to the full until it overflows. John 10:10

So I’m doing that because I’d be crazy not to. I spend a lot of time at home, praying and studying and mowing my lawn, but here I’m laughing and drinking wine and letting my life overflow. One is not holier than another, Jesus loves me both ways.

But Jesus also said:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48.

And do you know what? I’m fine with that bargain. Exactly one month after standing on the dock next to the Excellence V, I’m going to Africa to work in a bush orphanage where kids don’t have shoes. Who lives their life like this? Me, because I’ve decided that living a big, exuberant life and helping other people isn’t an either or proposition. I think it can be both and… It’s crazy but it’s interesting and ultimately that’s what I want.

If Jesus is the foundation and the master architect of our lives, I don’t think it matters what we build, just that we do it with gusto and create something beautiful, not just for ourselves but other people too.