War is not an Inevitable Part of Our Reality! – a Remembrance Day sermon

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Yeah right Jesus…have you seen the news? Blessed are the peacemakers.  They better be blessed because all their peacemaking is more than likely going to get them killed than it is to see them heralded as the Children of God!

Today, we commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War I. But, since the end of that “War to End All Wars” the world has experienced the horrors of World War II in which millions suffered and died in the Holocaust, and even more millions were killed in battle and it took the dropping of not one but two atomic bombs to put an end to the madness. Since the end of World War II with its genocide upon genocide the world has seen the violence and untold murders perpetrated by the likes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. More recently repressive regimes together with the greed of capitalist consumption continue to perpetrate violence and genocide upon the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, and the Rohingyas. Refugees fleeing violence are cast as fearsome caravans, and kids just out to enjoy some country music are gunned down in affluent neighbourhoods. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. Jesus hasn’t got a clue. About the only thing peacemakers are likely to inherit is the right to die trying.

Wars and rumors of war are the order of the day. Face it, humans are a violent lot and violence and war aren’t about to end soon. So, I’m sorry Jesus, but this way of life that you keep encouraging us to embrace is only going to get us all or over-run, or enslaved, and killed. But then what would Jesus know? War sure ain’t what it was in Jesus’ day. War has gotten uglier as our means of destruction have gotten more efficient.

Had enough yet? Do you wish you could just find a remote and turn me off? Doom and gloom, just like the news. Over and over again the drumbeats get more and more intense. These are dangerous times. So, be afraid. Be very afraid. We live in the midst of violence and war as horrible as it is, war is a necessary evil. So, before you tune me out, please hear me out. For the times they are a changing.

The truth is our ancestors were far more violent than we are. The truth is, and statistics will bear this out, the truth is that violence has been in decline for years and years and years. Today, dear friends we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ history. So, blessed are the peacemakers because peacemakers will be called the children of God.

Now lest you think that I am suffering from delusions, let me lay out a few facts. For centuries now, violence has been on the decline. I don’t have time to delve into the orders of magnitude in the decline of violence over the centuries. So, let’s just look at the last century. Many of us look back fondly at the good old days, of the last century, because we honestly believe that things are getter worse and not better. But the truth is that since 1945 in Europe and the Americas, there has been a steep decline in: interstate wars, deadly ethnic riots (otherwise known as pogroms), and military coups, worldwide, there has been a steep decline in deaths in interstate wars. Back in those good old days, like the 1950s the average number of deaths in battle stood at about 65,000 deaths per conflict per year. Today, that number has shrunk to less than 2,000 deaths per conflict in a year Don’t get me wrong an average 2,000 deaths per conflict per year is still way too many deaths. But since the end of World War II there has been a 90 percent reduction in deaths resulting from civil wars and genocides; a 90% reduction represents, in the history of violence, a colossal decline in violence and war. (Steven Pinker)

For the sceptics among you, who aren’t that worried about the rumors of war because you’re more concerned about violent crimes in your own neighborhoods, let me just direct your attention to our more violent neighbours to the south. In the US, the FBI compiles what it calls “Uniform Crime Statistics” which tell us that violent crime is going down, in fact in the past ten years crime rates overall have returned to levels last seen in the 1950’s. Canadian statistics are even better. You are far less likely to become the victim of a violent crime than your parents were. As for your grandchildren, they have never been safer than they are right now. That’s what the statistics tell us. As a species we have never experienced such peace. It is unprecedented. (Steven Pinker)

So, why are we living in fear? Statistics indicate that we’ve never been so afraid. Even in Canada, where we once took pride in our military because they were among the world’s most respected peace-keepers, we are responding to our fear, and over and over again we hear calls for us to build up our military, not as peace-keepers but as well-equipped warriors.  We are afraid, we are very afraid.

We are safer than we have ever been. We are living longer than we have ever lived. Statistically, humans have never had it so good. So, why are we living in such fear. Granted, we all know that humans now have the ability to wipe out human life with the kind of efficiency that we have never had. Our weapons have fearsome capacity. But surely, the reductions in violence and war that we have been able to make, might point us in the direction of further reductions in violence and war. Surely, if we find ways to ramp up our efforts, we can capitalize upon the great strides towards peace that we have already made? Continue reading

Lest We Forget – A Peace Remembered

The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.

While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people.  She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies.  You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars. 

The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London. Continue reading

Lest We Forget – A Peace Remembered

The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.

While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people.  She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies.  You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars. 

The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London.

After dinner, the young woman suggested that they pop down to the pub for a chat with her Grandmother’s neighbors. Usually, her Grandmother would have jumped at the chance to show her granddaughter off to her friends. But she seemed more than a little reluctant on this occasion. She so rarely refused her granddaughter anything, but it still took a great deal of cajoling before the young woman managed to talk her Grandmother into venturing out into the world.    As they were putting on their coats to leave, the Grandmother asked her granddaughter to remove the white poppy from her coat.

The young woman looked at her Grandmother’s red poppy and refused. She began to lecture in that pompous way that only young people who don’t know any better can about the horrors of war and the need to stand up for peace.     Her Grandmother insisted that she could stand up anywhere that she wanted to for peace but not in her local, not in front of her friends, not tonight. And then their battle began in earnest. They started calmly, but firmly arguing over the damn poppies. Before long, they were shouting and eventually the Grandmother, stormed out of the house and went to the pub without her granddaughter.

The young woman discretely went to bed before her Grandmother came home.  Each woman slept fitfully, bemoaning the fact that they had declared their own kind of war.   

Early the next morning the young woman rose quietly, hoping to dash off to London before her Grandmother awoke. She was just about to make a clean get away, when her Grandmother came into the living room. She was carrying a uniform. A uniform the young woman had never seen before; a uniform that stopped the young woman cold in her tracks.

Over breakfast the old woman explained that during the Second World War, she had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The men were all off fighting and so the government had consented to letting women do their bit. Her job in the WAAFs was carried out on the home front. Every evening after she had fed her kids supper, she would send them off to the air-raid shelter with a neighbour, then she would put on her uniform and head off to the hills over Birmingham, where she would “man” an anti-aircraft gun.

After telling the young woman stories that she had rarely told anyone before, the old woman invited granddaughter to come her to British Legion later that morning. Awed by all she had been told, the young woman changed her plans and agreed to meet her Grandmother down at the Legion hall in about an hour.

On her way to the Legion hall, the young woman bought a red poppy and timidly pinned it to her lapel. When she finally caught up with her Grandmother, the old woman couldn’t help but smile when she saw the red poppy pinned to her beloved granddaughter’s lapel.

The young woman couldn’t manage a smile. Not threw her tears. The young woman was overcome by the sight of the white poppy that was pinned to her Grandmother’s lapel. 

The two women fell into one another’s arms and for a moment, just a moment the two held one another other in the presence of a peace beyond words; a peace which surpasses all our understanding. The peace that only love can achieve. The peace that the world is dying to experience. 

As the last post was trumpeted on that cold November 11th, separated by generations, perspectives, opinions, and commitments, two women stood united in love as they remembered. Together they stood hoping against hope for peace.

           

Lest We Forget Who We Are and Whose We Are: Followers of Jesus’ Ways of Non-Violent Resistance – Matthew 5:38-48

lest we forgetLest we forget” is a phrase that has become synonymous with Remembrance Day. Sadly, our Remembrance Day commemorations have become disconnected from our history and the vast majority of those of us who observe Remembrance Day have forgotten its origins. Our collective amnesia about the phrase, “Lest we forget” is a case in point. I have always assumed that the phrase was coined to encourage the world not to forget those who have served, fought and in too many cases died to protect our freedoms. While the phrase’s attachment to Remembrance Day has served as a call to collective remembrance, it was coined for a far more humbling purpose than to honour the fallen heroes of foreign wars. The phrase, “Lest we forget” was coined by the great poet laureate of the British Empire Rudyard Kipling, in his daunting poem, “Recessional” written to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Kipling’s poem was a sobering call to humility at a time when the British people were basking in the glory of Empire. Recessional served as a reminder that the sun might never set on the British Empire, but God was still in God’s heaven and thus, the sun rises upon the evil as well as the good. Kipling warned those drunk on the excesses of Empire that God was sovereign and not the British people.

The entire poem is addressed to God as a prayer, and serves as a call to the Empire’s powerful Victorians to remember their place.

God of our fathers, known of old—

Lord of our far-flung battle line—

Beneath whose awful hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

The tumult and the shouting dies—

The Captains and the Kings depart—

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

Far-called our navies melt away—

On dune and headland sinks the fire—

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard—

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

And guarding calls not Thee to guard.

For frantic boast and foolish word,

Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!   Amen.

Amongst the pomp and circumstance of this solemn day, it is all to easy for those of us who aspire to be Christians, to forget who we are and whose we are. For we are a people who follow a man whose life was given to the cause of non-violence; a man who resisted the temptation to fight even in the face of the most brutal occupation army that the world had seen in first century. Jesus of Nazareth refused to take up arms against cruel oppression. Jesus proclaimed a radical new response to violence. Continue reading

Lest We Forget – A Peace Remembered

This Sunday at Holy Cross, we will commemorate  Remembrance Day with a service of lament. As I prepare our liturgy and look toward the sermon, this story floods into my mind. I re-post it here, hoping that the memory of all that has been lost to war will inspire our efforts toward peace.

The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.

While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people.  She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies.  You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars. 

The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London.

After dinner, the young woman suggested that they pop down to the pub for a chat with her Grandmother’s neighbors. Usually, her Grandmother would have jumped at the chance to show her granddaughter off to her friends. But she seemed more than a little reluctant on this occasion. She so rarely refused her granddaughter anything, but it still took a great deal of cajoling before the young woman managed to talk her Grandmother into venturing out into the world.    As they were putting on their coats to leave, the Grandmother asked her granddaughter to remove the white poppy from her coat.

The young woman looked at her Grandmother’s red poppy and refused. She began to lecture in that pompous way that only young people who don’t know any better can about the horrors of war and the need to stand up for peace.     Her Grandmother insisted that she could stand up anywhere that she wanted to for peace but not in her local, not in front of her friends, not tonight. And then their battle began in earnest. They started calmly, but firmly arguing over the damn poppies. Before long, they were shouting and eventually the Grandmother, stormed out of the house and went to the pub without her granddaughter.

The young woman discretely went to bed before her Grandmother came home.  Each woman slept fitfully, bemoaning the fact that they had declared their own kind of war.   

Early the next morning the young woman rose quietly, hoping to dash off to London before her Grandmother awoke. She was just about to make a clean get away, when her Grandmother came into the living room. She was carrying a uniform. A uniform the young woman had never seen before; a uniform that stopped the young woman cold in her tracks.

Over breakfast the old woman explained that during the Second World War, she had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The men were all off fighting and so the government had consented to letting women do their bit. Her job in the WAAFs was carried out on the home front. Every evening after she had fed her kids supper, she would send them off to the air-raid shelter with a neighbour, then she would put on her uniform and head off to the hills over Birmingham, where she would “man” an anti-aircraft gun.

After telling the young woman stories that she had rarely told anyone before, the old woman invited granddaughter to come her to British Legion later that morning. Awed by all she had been told, the young woman changed her plans and agreed to meet her Grandmother down at the Legion hall in about an hour.

On her way to the Legion hall, the young woman bought a red poppy and timidly pinned it to her lapel. When she finally caught up with her Grandmother, the old woman couldn’t help but smile when she saw the red poppy pinned to her beloved granddaughter’s lapel.

The young woman couldn’t manage a smile. Not threw her tears. The young woman was overcome by the sight of the white poppy that was pinned to her Grandmother’s lapel. 

The two women fell into one another’s arms and for a moment, just a moment the two held one another other in the presence of a peace beyond words; a peace which surpasses all our understanding. The peace that only love can achieve. The peace that the world is dying to experience. 

As the last post was trumpeted on that cold November 11th, separated by generations, perspectives, opinions, and commitments, two women stood united in love and remembered. Together they stood hoping against hope for peace.