On the Eve of Another Remembrance Day
“Isaiah 2:4 “God shall judge the nations, and correct the people. And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
When I was about 3 years old, I learned to count by trying to figure out how many tadpoles I’d collected in my pail. When my son was 3 he learned to count, along with thousands of others, marching on the streets of Vancouver chanting: “1,2,3,4, we don’t want a nuclear war, 5,6,7,8, we don’t want to radiate.”
That was the year I despaired that my children would ever be able to grow up in a peaceful world. That was the year I despaired that they may ever have a chance to grow up at all. That was the year I refused to wear a poppy. (I took off my lapel poppy).
Why should I? The world was in a more dangerous position than ever. The U.S. alone had enough nuclear power to blow up every living person in the world 10 times over. The war to end all wars had ended nothing but the lives of millions of people.
The next year I was working at First United Church on Hastings Street, in the heart of Skid Row in Vancouver. I went to the Remembrance Day service. There I heard Harold speak. Harold was a WW2 veteran. He was one of the many young Canadian men conscripted. It wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. He decided that if he had to be in the services, he’d be in the air force – so if he had to shoot someone, at least he wouldn’t have to see them.
`We boarded the train on Christmas Eve day’, Harold said. `When we went through the tunnels of the Rogers Pass, in the darkness, someone began singing Silent Night, and we all joined in. `I was grateful for the darkness’, he told us, `I was grateful because I was crying, many of us were crying, but the darkness covered us.’
Harold survived the war. Somewhere along the line he went into ministry. One day a young woman came to see Harold about performing her wedding. Harold gathered some data, including the birthplace of her parents. When he saw the name of the town in Germany that this woman’s father was from, he asked what had become of her father. ‘He’s in the car, waiting for me.’ She replied. Harold left his office, went out to the car, and told the man, “I can’t do this wedding for your daughter. I cannot do this wedding until I ask your forgiveness for bombing your city.”
What Harold showed me that Remembrance Day, was a vulnerability that gave me a new respect for the veterans and what they went through.
I began to realize how disappointing it would be to have fought, to have had to make choices to kill or be killed, to watch your friends die, and see the world still in great peril. I then realized the poppy was not a symbol of glorifying the past wars, but standing in solidarity with those who risked their life with the intention to protect freedom, and depose tyrants.
In this weeks’ Eagle Valley News, there is an article on the Veterans Charter that was released in 2006. The current veteran’s ombudsman, Guy Parent, says the new charter is woefully lacking, especially for those severely wounded and disabled soldiers. We now name some of the emotional as well as physical scars of war: post-traumatic stress disorders, night terrors, crippling panic attacks. Men especially, have been conditioned not to talk about these things, but they take their toll – memories too horrible to recall are drowned in alcohol, or stuffed stoically
inside until they leak out in bursts of violence or emotional distancing from those who most need their love. As human beings we all have the capacity for lashing out, for destroying life- it’s built into our survival DNA. But we also all have an inner knowing about the sacredness of life, a limitless ability for empathy and compassion. With those opposing feelings, it’s no wonder war can be so devastating whether you are one the `winning side or losing side.’
In my heart I want to be a passivist. I want to be a peace-maker. I believe beyond all reason in Isaiah’s vision of swords into plow-shares, I believe the way to peace is by following the way of the `Prince of Peace’ – in my tradition – Jesus. Theologian Dorothee Solle has referred to Jesus as God’s unilateral disarmament. And every great religion in the world shares a variation of the Golden Rule – to treat others as you would want to be treated.
Yet, I am haunted by the words of peace activist Ron Cider who says, `Unless we are willing to risk the costs of peacemaking we better confess that we didn’t really mean that the cross was an option to the sword. Those who go to war are willing to lay down their life for peace and justice. Why do we think that peacemaking would be less costly?’
So, do I have as much courage to be a peace-maker as it takes for a soldier to march into battle knowing he may have to kill or be killed? I don’t know if I have that much courage.
But I wear the poppy again, (I put it back on) as a sign of respect for those who died, and for those who risked their lives, for those who are here to witness to them. You would be more comfortable perhaps if I said I wear the poppy now with pride, but if I am honest, I will tell you that I wear it with ambivalence. But I wear it. I wear it as a reminder that there is a terrible price to war, I wear it with gratitude for those who fought to protect the freedom I have always known. And I wear is as a reminder to myself that if I believe the only true way to peace, is through justice, through recognizing the core goodness in people of all races, nationalities and religions, and confronting injustice in myself and in the world, then I have to work at that with all the courage I can muster.
So now wear two poppies. (I put the peace poppy on my other lapel) The second poppy, the white poppy, has been worn since 1933 and has its roots in the Cooperative Women’s Guild in Great Britain. It is called the Peace Poppy, and encourages us to find better ways of resolving conflict than by engaging in war.
As you know, this is my last Sunday here before I leave for a two week journey to Israel and Palestine. I’m a little bit nervous. It’s not the most peaceful place on the planet. But being there, in the land where the Prince of Peace lived out his life under a different authority than the occupying Romans, being there where it seems one peoples gain is another people’s loss, being there – and wondering about the similarities in my own country, will indeed test the peacefulness of my own heart.
I have heard it said that courage is fear that has said its prayers. Please pray with me…
“O God of many names, Lover of all nations,we pray for peace in our hearts, in our homes,in our nations, in our world. For the peace you willed, we pray. Amen.”