Ordinary People

“How do you fight an ideology?”

This question, asked by a morning show host the day after the horrific attacks in Paris, has since haunted me.

The host asked her question as the show was discussing potential responses to the new level of threats from ISIS and their continuing ability to recruit people worldwide. I think the question struck me in part because it seemed to come from her personal struggle, without the usual polish of a seasoned journalist.

I don’t remember how the expert answered, or if he even addressed the question. The experts struggle to discern appropriate responses to the rise in terrorism globally, and I am certainly unqualified to offer large-scale suggestions–politically, militarily or otherwise.

But the question continues to echo in my mind. Perhaps it haunts because I feel like there is something we can and should do.

How do we fight an ideology? Is there anything folks like us can do?

As I continued to wonder, I began to see in my mind pictures of those who have joined ISIS—particularly from the U.S. and cultures similar to our own. Often, as reporters told their stories, they would show photos from before the individuals were radicalized. And they looked like ordinary people.

Ordinary people.

I don’t know much about international politics. I don’t (to my knowledge) know any terrorists. But I know a lot of ordinary people.

What if the key to changing an ideology comes down to ordinary people. What if ordinary people could treat each other in ways that foster hope instead of hate, love instead of fear?

What if ordinary people can draw others to a better ideology?

  • Ordinary people being kind to those who are different.
  • Ordinary people standing up for a child who is being bullied.
  • Ordinary people offering grace to those who have hurt us.

I think of the Emmanuel AMC shooting in Charleston. The shooter, Dylan Roof, told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”* Relatives of those same ordinary people chose to forgive Dylan rather than perpetuate the hate that motivated his actions.

Ordinary people, acting with extraordinary love.

I am reminded of something Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I wonder if, as a preacher, King was thinking of something the apostle John said centuries before:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Candlelight_(8183902106)Perhaps that light can shine from one candle at a time, held by ordinary people.

I do not want to minimize the seriousness of terrorism, or suggest that nations need not respond definitively to protect human rights and innocent lives. I pray that God will guide world leaders to righteous and just actions with constructive long-term effects. But I know that I have neither the knowledge nor the influence to make a difference on a grand scale.

So I consider the things I can do. Ordinary ways that I can choose to shine light in the darkness.

  • I can speak a kind word to strangers of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.
  • I can choose to forgive those who speak to me in anger, or disappoint me, or simply ignore me.
  • I can encourage the good I see in others rather than criticizing the bad.
  • I can pray for strength to love even when I’m grumpy, for discernment that fosters compassion, for courage to speak against wrongs.
  • And I can pray for the ordinary people in my life.

Sometimes ordinary people become terrorists. But sometimes ordinary people become extraordinary light bearers.

I know an ordinary person who offers love to homeless folks through a greeting card ministry.

I know an ordinary person whose grief motivated her to start support groups for widows.

I know an ordinary person who opens her home to single women who often feel marginalized in the church.

I know ordinary people whose hugs and kind words get me through the day.

Ordinary people. Extraordinary Light.

How do you see ordinary people shining the extraordinary Light of Christ? We’d love to hear your comments and stories!

Taking Heart with you,

Sandy MacMillan

Photo by By Frank Malawski (Candlelight) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

*NBC News Story