Paris, the City of Lights? (Part II)

Even on the first day I was in Paris, I knew it wasn’t the City of Lights it was boasted to be.

Culture paints the city so romantically: the beautiful Eiffel Tower, the romantic cuisine and the gorgeous Seine River, among other things. And those perceptions aren’t inaccurate — there just such a small picture of the larger city.

The Eiffel Tower gives off the most light in the city.

The Eiffel Tower gives off the most light in the city.

Walk several blocks away from the Louvre, and you’ll see homeless people begging for money, begging for attention. Walk up the steps to the famed Sacre Ceour and you’ll find immigrants from West Africa with rough, war-torn pasts scamming people for money to find a way to provide for themselves and their families.

Even in the so called “light” of the city, there’s a mask painted over the real issues. You see, the recent terrorist attacks weren’t a chance event. It’s been looming for some time. There’s a clear divide in the city between French and immigrant, between the “beautiful” and the “forgotten”. But even the romanticized parts of the city aren’t without flaw.

When I went to a local creperie, the restaurant was pretty empty. I tried to engage the owner in conversation because she seemed lonely. After I ordered, and she was about to walk away, I said, “Vous appelez-vous? (What’s your name?)”. She turned to me, dumfounded, and said “Quoi? (What?)”. I repeated myself and she said “Moi?”.

It was clear she had never really been asked this question. Nobody had ever cared to engage her in conversation, to ask for her name.

She smiled slightly, and shyly responded “Alexandra”.

“Dieu vous bendice (God bless you)” I told her as I paid and left.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. Because the French culture has become so calculated, secular and politically correct, it’s shut out passion, compassion and the true light.

The city lit up at night on the Seine.

The city lit up at night on the Seine.

It had it once, and I believe the city is not without hope. But something needs to ignite the light.

On my last night in Paris, I was headed to do some shopping on the Champs Elysees. However, before boarding the second train, I felt that I should get off at a completely different stop. I couldn’t explain why.

I was walking around for a while and I saw a group of people standing around in a circle, and I knew that they were Christians. I stuck around to see what they were doing, and they were praying for a homeless man who had approached them. I stood by awkwardly, wondering if I should approach them. I knew I had to.

“Excusez moi, êtes-vous christiens? (Excuse me, are you Christian?)”. “Oui,” they responded.

It turns out they are from Hillsong Paris — which was crazy, because when I was in London I went to Hillsong London and they told me that I should try to hook up with the church in Paris. We got to talk and hang out for a while, and they told me more about the church and the city.

Hillsong London serves around 2,000 people for 5 services!

Hillsong London serves around 2,000 people for 5 services!

They have expanded a lot — now they offer five services and a variety of outreach for the city, including ministries for the homeless. I knew when I saw them that these people were the true light of the city.

The terror won’t stop in Paris or across Europe until the people are presented with true light, true compassion, true hope. It’s not found in a building, it’s not found in social policies, and it’s not found in secular, humanist philosophies.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Paris needs more people to let their lights shine, that the Parisians may glorify our Father in heaven!

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!