Paris, the City of Lights? (Part I)

Paris, with the beautiful Eiffel Tower lit up at night almost like a watch tower, has been dubbed “the city of lights”.

The Eiffel Tower sits lit up as a beacon in the night sky.

The Eiffel Tower sits lit up as a light tower in the night sky.

There are always people, always things happening. Yet, isn’t this name somewhat ironic? And it’s not just amidst the recent tragedy.

I was back for my second full day of experiencing Paris, after a full five days in London. And, don’t listen to what people tell you, these cities are altogether different!

As an American entering London, it seems like a cool American city with a very unique culture — the type of city you long to live in, almost like the adorable stepchild of San Francisco and New York.

Well, Paris is from an entirely different family. It’s a gorgeous family, but holistically different.

On the day I arrived, I met up with a group of Christians who are trying to make a difference in the city. Once a week, they hand out Christian literature outside a local market — a truly great resource for those who are interested! That’s the only problem with the French.

You know that time when there’s a guy trying to hand out stuff and you fake like you’re getting a phone call and you have to pick up just so he won’t talk to you? The French don’t have to fake anything. “No! No! Don’t give me that,” some of them say, prancing away.

Blunt and to the point. While they don’t really like talking with strangers, or see why such an idea even merits consideration, with a culture that’s so matter-of-fact, sometimes a good, authentic conversation is soothing.

When we were handing out literature, a Romanian woman came up to us and started shouting in French, “Merci! Merci pour faire le travail de Dieu! (Thank you for doing the work of God)!” We went on to talk with her for a while and I prayed for her, her family and her life. She was very appreciative and it was a huge encouragement to us! It’s not often that you encounter people in Paris who love God, much less even care to know if he exists!

After about 15 minutes of people passing by uninterested, one guy passed by and said, “No, I don’t believe in any of that…” as he proceeded to stand there, waiting to hear what I would say. “That’s okay. What’s your name?”

A simple question led to a 10 minute conversation where he opened up about his background and his beliefs. He was confirmed in the Catholic church, but soon discovered a lot of the corruption and abuse of money. I could see why he was so confused and said he no longer believed. “That’s people though, not God,” I told him. “People may be deceitful and selfish, but that is not the way of God! He is real, I know this to be true, and I pray that he would work in your life!”

“Okay…thank you,” he said, shaking my hand and walking away.

The French people may say they’re not interested in talking about God, but it’s because of things like this. They don’t really know what they’re saying no to! Heck, if it was about old Catholic traditions and Sunday mass and no relationship, I would say no too!

Yet, their hearts are crying out for something more, they just don’t think God is the answer!

“If God is real, then he’s not active in our lives,” said one Parisian.

I approached several of homeless men throughout my day, and one of them really affirmed this. He was asking for money to help feed his children. Sadly, I actually didn’t have any money on me! But I thought of Acts 3 where Peter had nothing, but what he had (the hope of Christ) he gave him.

I told him I didn’t have any money, but I wanted to talk to him, get to know him and pray for him.

His name is Peter and he lost his job. He has a little boy and needs money to provide for him. Just another person, like you or I, who has been slighted by the world and is in need of help. But more than financial help, he needed a friend, a human being who cared about him.

“Thanks for stopping,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better than money, you know, to talk to someone. Thank you!”

The French people don’t care to stop for homeless people. Don’t care to talk to strangers. The culture is individualist to the core, and secularist in its soul. So when they encounter true love, true light, sometimes they don’t know how to react.

I scaled the steep steps up to Sacre Coeur, a beautiful Catholic Cathedral that’s been a beacon of light for 125 years. As I stood on the church steps and looked out onto the city, all I could think about was the darkness.

The light shines so clearly in the darkness. Are we in focus enough to realize what the light is?

The view of the city lights in the darkness.

“City of Lights? How ironic!” I said to myself. The dimly lit buildings and street lights offered a minuscule light source, but the Eiffel Tower was the only real source. “Where is the light of the city?”

Without hope and compassion, the light is gone. And in the midst of terrorism, racism and secularism, the city is crying out for true light. Where’s it going to come from?

Stay tuned for Part II.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in Paris

I arrived on the ugliest day in Parisian history in over half a century — three armed gunmen attacked a small, liberal-leaning newspaper for their dealings with the prophet Muhammad. It was an ugly, sad day in the city of love.

Yet, the entire day I traversed the city, these facts were completely unknown to me. I checked into my hostel and was ready to hit the city. I was in Paris! My gosh — I’ve only dreamed of so much.

I talked with the hostel attendant for quite some time — learned about his family background, his interests, ignoring the news in the background, presumably discussing the horrific shootings that happened a few hours earlier.

When I left the hostel, I traveled the 2-mile route to the Notre Dame and I knew something was different. There was a sense of hopelessness and loss in the air — but I didn’t know where it was coming from! I stopped by and talked to a few homeless people, gave them a few euros and gave them a pamphlet in French about hope in Christ. For when there wasn’t hope, then there was.

The walk to the Notre Dame boasts beautiful architecture, cute shops and nice scenery.

The walk to the Notre Dame boasts beautiful architecture, cute shops and nice scenery.

Then I passed a group of over 100, some of whom shook signs up and down reading, “Je suis Charlie”. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it had something to do with the air of hopelessness I was feeling. Throughout the afternoon, I just kept feeling called to pray, to pour my heart out over the city. My heart-felt prayers filled the air around me.

When I finally got the Notre Dame, the atmosphere changed. I was awestruck — like, in the real sense, not the way in which it’s overused. Dumbfounded. I walked inside and saw the beautiful sanctuary. “How can you not see this is about GOD himself?” I asked myself. It was beautiful, and it glorifies the One, True God! It was so incredible I started crying! I sat in the pews and continued to just pray over the hopelessness that I felt earlier.

The beautiful Notre Dame de Paris and the Christmas Tree.

The beautiful Notre Dame de Paris and the Christmas Tree.

Then, I made my way to the Louvre. As I walked through the city, the atmosphere of oppression reigned. But when I escaped into the depths of the glass pyramid, it dissipated. Through the beauty of ancient sculptures, famed paintings and the cultural immersion of languages and cultures, hope again was amidst us. The paintings, many of which featured the work and life of Christ, restored my hope and peace and I yet again found myself speechless.

“Look what he did for us up on the cross!” I would think. “Yet, he’s still alive! He’s living even today!”

The Louvre has three wings full of precious, famous paintings, like the Mona Lisa.

The Louvre has three wings full of precious, famous paintings, like the Mona Lisa.

Then, I made my last journey to the famed Eiffel Tower. I saw it from some distance away and thought, “huh, I thought it would be bigger.” Well, that was when I was still 30 minutes away! Once I finally got up close and personally, it towered over me like a giant. The tower that reigns over Paris, over France, reminding them of the rebellion, of their freedom.

And that’s where it hit me. The Notre Dame. The paintings in the Louvre. They could be about God, they should be, but they’re not. They’re about architecture. They’re about artistic prowess and beauty. And the Eiffel Tower isn’t like the church steeples that hope to display God’s glory in the highest. It’s there to display the glory of France, and the supposed freedom found in government.

The Eiffel Tower sits lit up as a beacon in the night sky.

The Eiffel Tower sits lit up as a beacon in the night sky.

There’s a reason that when I stepped outside I felt the oppression in the air. It wasn’t because of the police sirens, or the protests. When I woke up the next morning to texts and emails repeating the refrain, “please tell me you’re okay,” and then checked the news a shock went down my bones. I couldn’t believe it. I almost started to cry again, but this time not out of beauty. I had seen the good and the bad of the city, but this was ugly. Real ugly.

If liberty and freedom are found in a government or a political philosophy, then they’re bound to be shaken. And on January 7, France’s liberty and freedom were shaken. You could feel it in the air.

But what if we had a liberty, a freedom, a peace that couldn’t be shaken? What if, the beauty didn’t end at the church building or the paintings? What if these were only earthly representations of a higher, heavenly hope?

The light shines so clearly in the darkness. Are we in focus enough to realize what the light is?

The light shines so clearly in the darkness. Are we in focus enough to realize what the light is?

I’m banking my life on it!