Vive La France?

Today is Bastille Day, the day the French celebrate the 1789 storming of the hated prison of that name and the freeing of the prisoners–the moment in French history considered to be the end of the monarchy and the beginning of constitutional government. Like Independence Day in the United States, it is celebrated with fireworks and parades.

My heritage is partly French, and so I have always been drawn to Bastille Day. In my younger days–when I seemed to have more time for such things–I gave elaborate Bastille Day parties.

But my French heritage is actually complicated.  My father’s ancestral family were French Huguenots, French Protestant Christians who were persecuted by Catholics and others and who fled to avoid being killed. My family fled to save their lives well before the Bastille fell. I have come to wonder if I should feel so drawn toward the very nation that killed so many of “my people.”

Some of my friends are digging deeply in family history, becoming real genealogy buffs. I feel an urge to join them in this pursuit.

I even wonder, strange as it may seem, if God is nudging me a bit. One of the outcomes of my coming to Virginia to pastor is that Jonathan and I bought a home off Huguenot Road. I drive that road every day.  There was a major settlement of Huguenots in Central Virginia.

“We all come from somewhere,” a friend of mine once observed. She meant in that moment that all of us have stuff in our history that we might not want to share with the world.

A drawing showing the burning of a French Huguenot "heretic"

But she is right in another sense. We all carry the marks of where we come from, some of which we may not even really understand.

I know one thing: I feel my Huguenot blood begin to stir when I confront any affront to religious liberty, my own or that of others. In that moment, I am especially glad to be a Virginian, to be part of this land where so many battles for human freedom have been fought, to be living where some of my people fled to be free.

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