Reeling or Rising? An Expat’s View of Safety After Attacks in London

by | Jun 6, 2017 | Trust

Holding H’s hand, I begin the ascent, climbing concrete steps leading to the entrance of St. Paul’s Cathedral where we join crowds gathering for Thy Kingdom Come, a global prayer initiative. We have no idea that terrorists will strike innocent victims nearby shortly after the program commences.

Sitting under the dome gilded with cherubim, the majesty of God in the grand display of architectural beauty feels other worldly and just right the Saturday evening before Pentecost.

I make friends with a man in a suit sitting next to me. He explains being one in a group from a church east of London. “I haven’t been to St. Paul’s Cathedral in 50 years,” he admits and then begins telling me about bits of English history. I’m riveted.

Hearing my American accent, he taps the shoulder of a man wearing a tee shirt seated in front of him and introduces us. I learn he is also American, the husband of their vicar, the British woman seated next to him. We shake hands and share commonalities. How long have you been here? Where are you from in the US? Do you like living in London?

I love living in London. And we plan to stay for as long as God allows it.

I repeat that sentence often and it always receives a surprised response. But the surprise comes from a different perspective when it’s an American watching the news, not living in London.

Surprise from Brits comes from a place of humility – why would you want to live in England when America is so fabulous? However, surprise from Americans comes from fear — why would you want to live in a place that is dark and dangerous?

Both accounts reveal the way a fallacy becomes truth the more you listen to it. Listen to fear over love and believing in your own understanding becomes your Truth.

The disparity in cultural response to recent tragic events in London played out publicly when Brits swiftly responded to a New York Times headlineTerrorist Attacks in the Heart of London Leave 6 Dead and a Nation Still Reeling. Brits quickly squelched any rumors about being victims of terrorist attacks with a hashtag that went viral — #ThingsThatLeaveBritainReeling. They made it obvious that Americans were reeling, not Brits.

Since the attacks in Manchester and London, my inbox has been flooded by well-meaning friends and family members with a generous outpouring of love and concern for our safety that is deeply appreciated. But the subject lines reading Safety are a mask for something deeper and pervasive in our culture.

We have made safety an idol.

And the God who moves mountains and kills the wicked with the breath of his lips into a milk toast Savior who is far too safe.

Choose security as your highest aim and follow the God of your own understanding: self-reliance.

The safe god has no power to rescue or fight like a warrior; to catch the arrows of the enemy between two fingers on the hand that shapes the earth. The safe god is a kind old gentlemen that quietly reads and reflects, always smiles and winks when you make eye contact. He weeps over violence but allows you to defend yourself.

Faith rooted in self-reliance is faith that longs to be rescued from evil but not bothered by uncomfortableness, comforted but rarely disrupted, led but rarely inconvenienced.

“But God isn’t nice. God isn’t safe. God is a consuming fire. Though he cares about the sparrow, the embodiment of His care is rarely doting or pampering. God’s main business is not ensuring that you and I get parking spaces close to the mall entrance or that the bed sheets in the color we want are — miracle! – on sale this week. His main business is making you and me holy.” Mark Buchanan, Your God is Too Safe

And holy simply means set apart, not mainstream, the difference between the awe of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the familiarity of Starbucks. God’s highest aim is that we become like him, not that we make following the stream of culture the main focus of our faith.

The paradox in self-protection is this: Safety isn’t a place or a goal; safety is a Person who is dangerous.

His love is a consuming fire that transforms hearts of stone into hearts of beating flesh. He is the Person who brings dead bones rattling back to life. A God who asks us to surrender all for the abundance of his blood shed on a cross for our sins. God is not safe, but he is good.

“A safe god inspires neither awe, nor worship, nor sacrifice. A safe god woos us to borderland and keeps us stuck there. He helps us escape reality.” Mark Buchanan

Voices in a packed cathedral sing  . . . Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me . . . and I sit with eyes lifted in awe, watching cascades of red confetti drift from 365 feet overhead and land on shoulders, heads, and laps. As thin pieces of paper alight on the black and white marble floor, the metaphor is not lost on me.

It is the day before Pentecost, when people from all over the world gathered in one place and God had an aerial view of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit resting upon them. An experience translated as drunkenness by some and the powerful outpouring of God’s presence by others. (Acts 2)

Social media wasn’t a thing back then but I imagine Peter might’ve invented #ThingsThatLeaveProphetsReeling, right after bringing clarity to those who are perplexed with the words of Joel.

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . . And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2: 17, 21

God is not safe. And He is everywhere. This is good news for all of us. News that should cause us to rise and not reel with the headlines.


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  1. Ann Swatzell

    Great reminder. Thanks for your sane perspective. We get so caught up in life, I miss my focus. Transformation is hard & hurts but He is able & He is the One True God. Praying for all.Resting a little more, Ann

    • shelly

      Ann, I think you are in good company when it comes to being caught up in life. Perspective comes from that still small voice and I’m hunting it down like a boss in times of solitude. Hearing it is worth every minute I’ve haven’t produced. Thanks for being here with me.

  2. Dea

    Love this so much…these truths. Holiness, to be set apart, also means to be made whole. The whole reason Jesus came for us, to heal us and make us whole. The thing we want to circumvent is the dying part. It rubs against our desire for safety. So many choose brokenness over being made whole. “Holiness, not safety, is the end of our calling.” Lilias Trotter, a Brit wrote that., She was resilient to the core. No doubt, if she were still around, she would be one who would surely use the hashtag #ThingsThatLeaveProphetsReeling

    • shelly

      Oh my goodness, you have just summed up what I’ve wrestled to say for a couple of days. Yay you!! Thank you. I’m mulling over your words. I love that quote by Lillias and as you know I’m such a fan. Sums it up perfectly and she wrote that such a long time ago.

  3. Sandra Heska King

    Ahhh, Shelly. Love keeps you on my heart. Love keeps you in God’s hands. I watched the video of the confetti falling. I’ve never seen that before. It was powerful. Love you, friend.

    • Shelly Miller

      I tried to post that video here but couldn’t get it to load right. And my tech assistants weren’t home from school and work yet. 😉 Glad you saw it on my IG story. Love you too!

  4. Jodi

    Wonderful truths presented here…thank you, friend. I am continually awed by God’s means of protecting His own, as this safety thing is all wrapped up in Calvary’s love. As each child of God rests in Him, that scarlet thread (Joshua 2:18) that hangs from the window of our own souls, places a seal of protection according to His will and way. God’s definition of safety, as opposed to ours, may be quite different, nevertheless, it can all be summed up in this: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)
    Blessings to you?

    • Shelly Miller

      Jodi, I love that you shared that verse for reasons only God would know. Thanks for leaving a comment, it mattered to me.

  5. Kelly O'Connor

    Thank you dear Shelly – beautiful insight and truth.
    Love you.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m honored to see you in the comments Kel. Only a week until I see the whites of your eyes!! Squee!!

  6. SylviaR

    Shelly, I love this excellent post with its solid wisdom and Godward focus, especially this keeper quote: “The paradox in self-protection is this: Safety isn’t a place or a goal; safety is a Person who is dangerous.” Good to remember in so many areas of life where we try too hard to make ourselves safe.

    • Shelly Miller

      Sylvia, it’s lovely to see you here, thanks for your kind comment. I appreciate your thoughts.

  7. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Shelly, I was one of those friends concerned for your safety. Twice I FB msg’d asking if you were “okay”–I guess my word for safety. I just heard from my niece who had just been in England and had some kind of very scary experience. We didn’t talk. She sent a video, and I will call her to learn what happened. She loves England and has been there many times, but now wonders if she will go again. My daughter and I had a scary experience in Prague in 2011 when we were cornered on a side street by drunken men. Recently, I went to Scotland (the remote Isle of Iona), and one thing that nearly held me back from going was fear–fear of everything: of traveling for the first time alone to Europe, of being in airports (having had just watched the news and knowing of terrorist attacks in them), of flying, of terrorists here and abroad on killing sprees–fear, fear, FEAR! Yes, fear of safety. Yes, fear of ultimate death. But by an act of His sheer mercy and grace, the Lord beckoned me to go. He drew me in power. He reminded me over and over that He is my good Shepherd, that He would lead me in paths of righteousness (that word holy), that my times are in His hands (as they have always been), that He had already appointed my time to die (just as He had appointed my time to be born), and that He can be trusted. So it didn’t really matter if I stayed in St. Louis, flew in a plane, stood in long lines in Heathrow, or took train, ferry, bus, and ferry again to Iona, riding boisterous, dizzying waves on that last ferry, like a careening coracle…. or climbing to the highest point of Iona–Dunn I–hiking up slippery, treacherous rocks with nothing to cling to except my walking stick, which became His Shepherd’s staff to me. None of it mattered, because my times are in His hands. When I descended that peak, later alone in my little cell that night, as I opened my Bible, its onion skins splayed to Ps. 121, I knew on that dangerous hike that I had looked up to the hills for my help, and I knew that my help had come from the Lord–the Lord, who had not let my foot slip. And with tears coursing, I realized that that whole time I had not been afraid. I had obeyed the Lord and had left caution to the wind, and I had not been afraid. The next day, my red Gideon’s Bible fell open to Ps. 124, and God showed me that like a bird, I had escaped from the fowler’s snare of fear and had been set free–free of a stronghold that has mired my life for years. Your entire, wonderful post (I think the single best you have ever written!!) is about being set free from the fowler’s snares of fear and of self-reliance, and placing ourselves safely in the hands of the unsafe Almighty. These lines are potent truth, and I believe that God has inspired you to pen them: “Choose security as your highest aim and follow the God of your own understanding: self-reliance. The paradox in self-protection is this: Safety isn’t a place or a goal; safety is a Person who is dangerous.” Potent! Powerful! Passionate! And why? Because you are writing with the powerful authority of God, because you are telling truth! Truth will overcome fear. Truth will overcome darkness. Truth will overcome danger. Truth will win out. I need to be reminded of this again and again, and I thank you for this, Shelly–so much!! I thank God He has put you and H where you are. Your clarion voice is needed to ring out loud, clear, strong, and true. I think it’s fine (and good :-)) for friends to inquire about you, because less than that, we wouldn’t be showing our love. But at the same time, we should be encouraging you to stand strong in London and to keep sharing God’s truth and to keep rising to His Gospel call (the disciples were hardly “safe” either). He has placed you just where you are for a reason. I rise up with you in solidarity of spirit, reeling only in the awesome power of the knowledge of God, knowing that you are where you need to be. Will we both die someday? Yes. But our earthly end will be in *God’s* hands, and not ours, and it will be but a safe passage home. I love you. I thank you.

    • Shelly Miller

      Lynn, your comment — or should I say essay!! — left me a little teary in all the best ways. Love you too!!

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Oh sorry!! I did go on! Not intentional, truly, but you just inspired me sooo much. Thank you so much for understanding, and “in all the best ways”! Love you so much!

  8. Stacy DeWerd

    I saw H’s video on Facebook of the red confetti falling as voices united sang for His Spirit to fall. I was mesmerized! It was so beautiful to see and hear! Please thank him for sharing it.
    I loved this post Shelly!!! I’m currently reading Mark Buchanan’s Your God Is Too Safe. My husband and I recently moved and as I was packing I found it. When I opened the cover there was an inscription to me from a dear friend from 1999. “Sometimes we explore the things of God and other times the Deep things of God. This is the latter.”
    I’ve carried this book with me for 18 years through six moves and never realized I had it until a month ago. God is just so amazing!!! He knew I wasn’t ready to receive the message it contained until now.
    Such a paradoxical life we live as followers of Jesus. I’m leaving borderland to live in the presence of what appears to the world as an unsafe God but the truth is … there’s no safer place to live other than in Him. The message in your post is a perfect example of this truth applied in our daily lives. Bless you sweet friend!!!

    • Stacy DeWerd

      My friend gave me Mark’s book in 2001 not 1999. God’s timing is perfect. I had my dates wrong and I wanted to make sure I corrected my error.

      • Shelly Miller

        Stacy, I have a few books on my shelves like that. Books that I’ve had for ages and brought with me across the ocean because I hadn’t read them yet but knew I would at some point. I’m reading some now and they are timely for me too. As you probably know, I’m a huge Buchanan fan because he’s taught we so much about faith but Your God is Too Safe along with The Rest of God are my favorites.

  9. Leah

    Dear Shelly,
    Thank you for writing this.
    I know, like The Pentacost the Church just celebrated remembering, that the Holy Spirit was on you as you typed these words. I could feel it. It is so good to hear words of testimony from a believer who is experiencing living in London right now, nor just the spew of rhetoric opinions that are everywhere. As troubling as these times may be ,(and really when are the times never not troubling?) believers should take comfort that just as Dickens wrote ” it was the best of times it was the worst of times…”. That is the simple reality of being in the kingdom of Christ is a fallen world don’t you think? There is a stirring in the body of Christ to wake up….dry bones becoming flesh as Joel wrote. You’re writing on the other reality that God is not safe but good is spot on and wonderfully encouraging to read.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m so happy to know you felt the Holy Spirit present in the words, best compliment ever. And I agree with you about God stirring us up. We may be getting what it is we think we want and need but isn’t what we want or need at all. Lord, have mercy!

  10. Nancy Ruegg

    Thank you, Shelly, for adjusting my focus. As the recent attacks in London, Paris, and Orlando have occurred, one right after the other, my thoughts have turned to the families of the victims. They suffer greatly, too. I also wonder: What city will be next? Will it be here or in another place where loved ones live? That’s exactly what the terrorists hope: that their actions will cause us to live in fear. But your wise words provide strong affirmation for who we are in Jesus, and what our focus must be: becoming holy as he is holy. And you are so right. We must remember: “Safety isn’t a place or a goal; safety is a Person who is dangerous.” Lord God, if those we love should suffer at the hand terrorists or cancer, or any other calamity, may I be strong like Job whose first reaction to his sorrows was worship (1:20). Whether you give or take away, I want to bless you, my precious Heavenly Father (vs. 21).

    • Shelly Miller

      Nancy, I’m with you. My heart breaks for those who are heartbroken after such senseless tragedy. I pray that God will redeem and restore and comfort those who are weeping in grief.

  11. Jerralea Miller

    Shelly, this post is one of your best ever! It spoke volumes to me. Thank you!

    • Shelly Miller

      Blushing. Thank you Jerralea, so kind of you to say.

  12. Katie Andraski

    This: “The safe god has no power to rescue or fight like a warrior; to catch the arrows of the enemy between two fingers on the hand that shapes the earth.” Thank you for this reminder that God is not “a tame lion.” Though the green pastures and still waters can be very terrifying as well and need to be receive with gratitude.. The peace of the Lord be with you.

    • Shelly Miller

      And also with you Katie!

  13. Natalie

    Oh, I am a girl who likes to play it safe, likes to believe she’s safe, likes to work to insure she’s safe. What a delusion. My pastor talks regularly about the idol that is safety–and I squirm. At the same time, I grow. Slowly. But I grow. Your words are true and important and that is why praying for you as you and your family minister so far from here is a joy.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks for your vulnerability and kindness Natalie. You are a gift!

  14. Carolyn

    Shelly, as always, you are perceptive and your blog is a timely reminder, that safety can be an idol.
    I am also reminded of the description of Aslan, in The Lion, the witch & the Wardrobe ” Safe? Of course he isn’t safe, but he is good” Amen to that.

  15. Michele Z

    I am trying not to shout here in my Kathmandu living room as I read your words! I did “Amen’ aloud at least a dozen times. 🙂 I’ve lived in Asia for almost 20 years now, and have definitely noticed, in large things and small, that Americans are super-safety oriented. You said it so well, and I’m probably going to be quoting you during my three months in the States this summer! Thank you!

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh! Your comment brings a smile to my face because it has the same level of frustration and passion I had when I wrote this piece. I mean for heaven’s sakes American people!! Right?! You echo what I hear from many who live abroad. Glad to know we have all had the same clarity with a little distance from the culture. Thanks for being here!

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