We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil.
Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive.
44 people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University.
Three swimmers from the men’s team were killed and two others are in critical condition.
When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out.
Ran into the fire.
The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.
They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends.
The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.
Probably my favourite quote from the West Wing.
Amid the rubble of yesterday’s horrific attack in Woolwich one aspect shines like a diamond in the mine.
The woman who stood up to the attackers, while they held a gun and a meat cleaver in their hands. The woman who stepped off the No 53 bus because she saw a man crumpled on the floor who might need some first aid. I frequently ride the 53.
It was too late for first aid but she started talking to the attackers. The Daily Telegraph reports:
“And then when I went up there was this black guy with a revolver and a kitchen knife, he had what looked like butcher’s tools and he had a little axe, to cut the bones, and two large knives and he said ‘move off the body’.
“So I thought ‘OK, I don’t know what is going on here’ and he was covered with blood. I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else. I thought these people usually have a message so I said ‘what do you want?’
“I asked him if he did it and he said yes and I said why? And he said because he has killed Muslim people in Muslim countries, he said he was a British soldier and I said really and he said ‘I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan they have nothing to do there.”
She said: “I started to talk to him and I started to notice more weapons and the guy behind him with more weapons as well. By then, people had started to gather around. So I thought OK, I should keep him talking to me before he noticed everything around him.
“He was not high, he was not on drugs, he was not an alcoholic or drunk, he was just distressed, upset. He was in full control of his decisions and ready to everything he wanted to do.
I said ‘right now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose, what would you like to do?’ and he said I would like to stay and fight.”
Right now it is only you versus many people. Perpetrators of horror like to pretend they are acting on behalf of many. They are not. EDL supporters gathering in Woolwich last night might suggest they represent the disenfranchised majority. They do not.
In the coming days and weeks we will hear a lot about what happened, and a lot of speculation about why it happened. Whether it was terrorism or not, whether it was a crazed pair using rhetoric borrowed from terrorists, the Bishop of Bradford, Nick Baines has some sensible words on this.
But the woman who stood up to the attackers. The woman who looked them in the eye. The woman who treated them as human. The woman who defied fear and the common sense expectation to steer clear and cross to the over side. Ingrid Loyau-Kennet defied the conspiracy of low expectations, the conspiracy of keeping ourselves to ourselves.
Digital Nun writes: “I do not know whether she has any religion or not, but to me her actions speak of purity of heart. Hers was a redemptive act, and we should thank God for it.”
Boris said last night that this was a “sickening and unforgivable act of violence”. But he’s wrong. Somehow it is forgiveable, somehow in a way I cannot comprehend but still appreciate there is nothing that is unforgivable. No violence too horrific, no attack too sickening. Violence and vengeance does not mark the path out of a cycle of pain.
The brutal agony of an attack on London’s streets will not be diminished by an eye for an eye. The casting of blame based on stereotypes and lazy solutions will not bring peace to our city.
But in a woman who looked into the attackers’ eyes and spoke to them with dignity is a spark of hope for humanity. A hope for humanity that can be found even in the darkest moments of despair, even in the darkness of depravity.
And we pray. We pray for peace. We pray that God might have mercy. We pray for the families of the victim, we pray for the attackers and their families too. We pray for neighbours scared to walk down their road.
We pray for peace.