‘I stand in front of you. I'll take the force of the blow. Protection.’ (Massive Attack)
I recall vividly sitting opposite an older woman, a total stranger, on an underground train in London. She was wearing a Star of David necklace around her neck, a symbol of the Jewish faith. I remember thinking, ‘I’d give my life for you…and you have no idea.’ My own bleeding scars from a lifetime of studying the unthinkable horrors of Nazi atrocities run deep. I don’t have a Jewish background, and I didn’t live through that darkest period of human history. It’s a vicarious experience, an imagined knowing and feeling from a distance, which has nevertheless propelled me into a lifetime of work.
Another occasion, this time in a town in North England, I stood outside some shops as an infamous, large group of rowdy motorcyclists rode past, weaving in out of traffic, pulling wheelies, provoking car drivers and generally behaving like hooligans. I suddenly became aware of a young Muslim woman standing not far from me, wearing a hijab and looking anxious. We caught eyes for a brief moment and she moved to stand beside me. We didn’t speak a word but it’s as if somehow she felt safer, and I could have hugged her. It’s something about vulnerability in the face of a threat. I hate it.
I once talked this through with Ali, a beautiful-spirited, Jewish systemic coach who had lost many of her family members in the Holocaust. She was intrigued by my instinct as a follower of Jesus to intervene, to try to change things. We discussed some of the painful challenges that people can face in extreme circumstances. What to do if, say, you see a Nazi pointing a gun at a girl to shoot her, and you have a gun and could stop him? I said, ‘I’d pull the trigger.’ Ali said, quietly, ‘I’d put down the gun, then stand between the soldier and the girl.’ I stand in front of you. I’ll take the force of the blow. Protection.
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