In the 1940s the term “French Underground” was akin to the French Resistance, which operated underground mostly in a figurative sense—je ne dis rien du égout ou catacombes parisennes. The Resistance sought to help the allies drive the Germans out of Paris, out of France altogether. The French had become strangers in their own land, working against an evil government that had wrongfully appropriated their own country, wrongfully appropriated their principal city, and in many cases, their goods, their livelihoods. There were reports of women raped, houses looted, automobiles confiscated. What had been theirs before was theirs no longer. So the ablest and bravest among them went underground to work against the foe.
When I was in Paris this time—I just got back from Europe two days ago, only to discover Donald Trump surprisingly having been elected to become the forty-fifth president of the United States—I experienced a different kind of French underground, though the more I thought about it, the less different it seemed. I had been invited by a dear friend named Maria to join her in visiting a church that she was familiar with but that she had hitherto herself never visited. The reason for that was, oddly enough, because she is a member of a home church group, metaphorically speaking its own kind of underground movement.
The church we attended was no more an edifice than Maria’s home church. Rather, it met in the basement of an office building, which, I am assuming, they either rent or are granted access to because someone in the group works for the company that owns the building. In any case, entering the church was strangely and wonderfully covert. A woman met us in the street. “Are you Maria?” she asked.
“Oui,” I answered for both of us, but the woman looked at me in a puzzled fashion, at which point, of course, I directed my gaze and my index finger toward the real Maria.
Satisfied, as if we had given some coded response to a coded answer, she led us inside, through a courtyard, down some stairs where we were met by another Christian, who led us down yet another flight of stairs under the courtyard to the rather ordinary subterranean room that served as a makeshift triplex of narthex, nave and apse, though it itself was but a relatively small square room. A table held a few items associated with Christianity—a party string with the name J-E-S-U-S in gold-colored letters hanging from it, a cross, and some brochures, I think, along with cookies and a coffee pot for the after-service fellowship, which really was more like an after party and went on quite a long time. There I was delighted to meet a charming, young Russian woman studying hotel management in Paris. I would love to tell you more about her but I can’t, as she is member of the Resistance.
Before that, of course, the service itself was held. It began with a prayer, a few minutes for a friend of Maria to share about God’s recent provision of a job and His general sovereign kindness in her life, and lots of singing; several contemporary hymns in both French and English; more of the former, of course. Then, after several such lively hymns, another prayer and a sermon—a good but rather long one—on Martha and Mary. This theme was familiar to me and perhaps to a few others, though probably not as familiar to all, as the congregation there was very young and they had surely not heard as many sermons as I have. At the end, another prayer and that was it. No, I was not expecting any liturgy—quel dommage—but yes, I was expecting another hymn to end the event. But there was none. De gustibus non…
Yet now I return to how this French underground church, quite literally underground, is akin to the French Underground of the occupation of France during the Second World War. Hitler’s idea had been to appropriate the beauty of France—indeed he looted many city’s artistic treasures and had them brought to Berlin or held in other secret locations in Germany. He wanted to take what was great about France from the French, make it his own, and force the French, the rightful owners of their own country, their own democratic government, their own staples of wine and cheese, and their own rich artistic cultural heritage, to serve the German government, to serve the German people, and ultimately to serve Adolf himself.
And that is precisely what has happened to Christianity in France. Secularism has taken from it some form of morality, has taken from it ideas whose origins, in purest form, are the property of the church—such as the concepts of true and unadulterated justice, honor, freedom—and degraded them. Then, secular society there (and, by the way, in my own country and many other lands as well) twists the moral code to fit its own purposes. It starts by appropriating the church’s language, the language of love. It redefines love so that it primarily means sex. It reconfigures the term “family” so that it means virtually anything at all, it corrupts fairness, it restricts parental responsibility, and it redefines even (and perhaps especially) the word recreation, which now comes to serve as a way of obviating someone of responsibility (to wit recreational sex, recreational drug usage) instead of it meaning what it is supposed to mean: re-creation, refreshing behavior. (The image that occurs to me when I hear the phrase “friends with benefits,” for example, is far from refreshing.) And that is but the tip of a very, very deep iceberg, when it comes to the pillaging of the church by secular society.
And that is why the opportunity to worship with the new French Underground was so exciting, even if the lack of liturgy (and likely deficiency of appreciation of church history that is incumbent upon such a dearth) and the absence of traditional hymnody are not to my taste. Still, the entire event was pure excitement for me, for I felt as if, at least just for one day, I was participating in that movement against the secular regime and its ultimate power structure, for which, unlike John Milton and Mick Jagger, I have little sympathy.
And all this happened just a few days before Mr. Trump was elected. In regard to him, let me share in closing a small warning that I was asked to bring back from France. The French have jestingly told me that, if he misbehaves as president of the United States, they plan to change the spelling of the word tromperie, which ironically means “deception,” to trumperie. Or maybe, though it is difficult for them to pronounce the ‘h’ sound, they will call Airforce One “Hairforce One.” Yet the church I visited is not worried about the guile or rabid, grasping secularism of humankind, for in the midst of this new conflict with the society around them, they have a means of communication with their own true Leader, as if by a wireless telegraph machine that allows the new French Resistance to communicate with the allies or at least their principal Ally. That communication begins two flights underground but can be heard in the Highest of Realms, whence that Leader replies in His own coded messages. It was indeed a delight to join the French Resistance for one day and to hear those wireless messages going back and forth. Vive la Resistance, et vive le Roi vrai!