I have a pen in my pocket. There is always a pen in my pocket. I don’t like shirts without a pocket. I carry my pen in my breast pocket of my shirt. It’s one of the things I carry with me and I don’t like to leave it behind.

It’s a metal pen.  I got it for Christmas about ten years ago.  The ink is a little uneven. I need to replace the ink cartridge. The gloss has rubbed off in places on the stem so it’s beginning to look matted. The nib unscrews and I check it so often to see it hasn’t fallen apart. At the gym I carry in my pants pocket while I exercise and it is prone to fall apart then so I have to be careful.  Once I thought I had lost the nib and spring and it mysteriously turned up in another shirt.  I don’t know how that happened.

It’s a cheap metal pen I got for Christmas. I have held onto it so long it is developing its own character in my hand, its own feel. I like it.

I knew of no demonstration for the Charlie Hebdo victims this week that was local to Dunedin. For a brief moment I took that pen and held it nib upright in the air, a silent salute, to the dead.

Satire has been a part of our culture since for ever.  Ancient Greek comedy writers satirised their gods, the hypocritical cant of the puritans was a stock character for William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, Voltaire wrote Candide.  Religion did not fall over because of it.  Cartoonists have parodied religion as long as I can remember: white bearded god and angels on clouds, hairy Jesus, stuffed suits in church, all stock in trade characters.  Sometimes I liked the joke.  Other times I signed and turned the page. I did not feel I needed to become a Christianist radical and kill in the name of my religion.

I haven’t investigated Charlie Hebdo.  From what I’ve seen the quality of humour I would classify as the second type, in poor taste rather than clever, intended to offend, to push the envelop rather than challenge the viewer.  What ever I think they did not deserve to die for this.  There are empty chairs at the table, empty desks in the office.  Silencing a voice has proved nothing, except that the power of the gun, used to abuse others, is evil, and bad religion.

Maybe there is a hope in this.  I think it is in the hands of Muslims who see that violence and execution is not their witness, not their faith.  Too often people react to an attrocity and say this is not our Islam, or not our Christianity, or not our secular culture.  Attrocity needs to be pre-empted by an engagement in peace and community building because this is our common witness, our civic discipleship. It is unclear if peace and affection will break out between us.  We have to break old habits of thinking, of just reacting.  We have to ride together.  The alternative is a distrust that will lead to destruction.

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