In one of my favorite novels by Charles Dickens, Bleak House, there is a character named Mrs. Jellyby, a woman living in London who devotes herself to philanthropy in Asia and Africa. She is respected -and even adored – by her philanthropic colleagues.
There’s just one problem.
When the main character, Esther, arrives, Mrs. Jellyby’s youngest has his head stuck in a fence and her oldest is ragged with no skills to take care of herself. The entire novel deals with the social issues of the day in London. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jelly is happily occupied writing a letter of purported import for Asia or Africa in her study.
Needless to say, Dickens is critical of this absentee philanthropy, and later authors George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis note the damage it can create as well (At the Back of the North Wind, There and Back, and The Screwtape Letters). All three seem to agree that there is a hypocrisy in tending matters abroad and neglecting things closer to home.
Which brings me to last night.
When our brothers and sisters in Paris were attacked by terrorists.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been following a case in my hometown of Oklahoma City involving former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who stands accused of 36 counts of felony sexual battery, rape, forcible oral sodomy and stalking against 13 black women in front of an all-white jury. These women appear to have been targeted not only because of the color of their skin, but also because of socio-economic status and past indiscretions that would make them fearful contacting law enforcement about the assaults. If you ask me, that’s a special kind of sick: a deeply broken man taking advantage of a deeply broken system.
Then, yesterday, one of the victims showed up to testify, and tested positive for PCP, so you know the defense and media were all over that, as if it changed what Holtzclaw (who is the one on trial) has done.
For me, this has brought up the emotions of the Phillips, Gothard, and Duggar scandals that have exploded in the conservative Christian homeschool movement over the past two years – men who will not stand trial because of the statute of limitations and men who continue to be esteemed in the movement in spite of their horrendous crimes.
So when I heard about Paris, my mind and heart were on something closer to home, in more ways than one. Something I can’t imagine, and can, all at the same time.
My heart broke when I heard about these violent acts of terror, the likes of which France has not seen since World War II. It aches to see the life of such a vibrant city ripped up by explosions, that dancing is turned to mourning today, and that’s the opposite of what should be.
And that this is a moment of pride in some circles, this devastation of life, sickens me – that there are people who rally around this banner of death and celebrate it. It’s so anti-humanity.
But in my fierceness about Paris, I cannot forget my Oklahoma City. Nor, in my being in Oklahoma City, can I forget about Paris. Of course, I can do more here.
But it doesn’t have to be on or the other; in fact, it should not be one or the other. There is room to remember, to activate for for both the victims of a police officer and the victims of a bomber. They all matter.
Humanity is here and humanity is there. And that, my friends, is what I am ultimately concerned about. People.