On Remembrance Sunday this year, I spoke from this verse in,
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I asked the group a question: What does being a peacemaker look like?
Is it, Not taking sides? Remaining silent ? Or having a quiet personality
I grew up in a loving close knit extended family, the youngest cousin for a number of years. Having an older sister and brother by several years meant my being spoiled was inevitable; and I was.
I have clear memories of my own of my demanding nature, and when I met with neighbours from my very young days, they would inform me about my ability to scream very loud if I did not get my own way - oh the shame.
In my defence our household was somewhat filled with fiery personalities, my dad and older sister had many an argument on a Sunday afternoon post the Sunday lunch pub outing. Sadly I shared theirs and not my mum and brothers calmer natures.
My oldest and youngest daughters have inherited this fiery disposition and once relayed to me a time on a youth holiday when they were both arguing.
A friend then came along and used the phrase; 'calm down'. They both instantly had a common enemy and they quickly unleashed their fury her. They obviously both feel very sad that this occurred but as they said - red rag to a bull moment!
Remembrance Sunday is celebrated both in the United States and the Commonwealth, it is to commemorate the contribution of both military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts and it is held on the second Sunday in November, the Sunday nearest to 11th.
The wearing of the poppy was an idea conceived by Moina Michael, an American professor and humanitarian, as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in World War I.
I read the poem , "In Flanders Fields" written during the First World War by a Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.
He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Sadly this poem speaks of the premature death of those fighting, often these are very young men at the prime of their lives.
The torch is passed on to those who will continue to fight the enemy. Their deaths are to not be in vein and must be vindicated by winning the war.
The reality is the opposing side are equally driven by the belief that their side is right, they too are fighting on the 'right side'.
The First World War was supposed to be the ; 'The war to end all wars' this statement was attributed to USA president Woodrow Wilson, but was quickly met with cynicism, journalist Walter Lippmann wrote in Newsweek in 1967, "the delusion is that whatever war we are fighting is the war to end war", whilst in his Silent Majority speech Richard Nixon said, "I do not tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars"
Mary Scully a Human rights activist from the USA
"Constant war is an inner compulsion, the driving force of neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism. But for tens of thousands of people, war is not carnage & devastation--it's good business.
An international arms fair held recently in Saudi Arabia had 100,000 arms dealers, military & government officials from around the world. according to one research institute, arms sales of the top 100 arms dealers & military services at the 2013 totalled $402 billion.
According to Paramount Group (a South African consortium of military manufacturers), military spending among Middle Eastern regimes grew to $120.6 billion in 2014. This year, 1,200 companies from 56 countries displayed their military wares. Arms dealers don't worry about things like weapons "falling into the wrong hands." Business is business; war is business.
The US can no longer claim ISIS is armed by weaponry captured from the Iraqi Army in 2014. Conflict Armament Research, an NGO that tracks movement of military weaponry internationally, concluded last year that ISIS is armed by US & Chinese munitions (including small arms & heavy equipment like Humvees). They found 20 percent of ISIS munitions were manufactured in the USA.
I was saddened when I looked at the UK and our record on arms buying. Out of the 50 most populated countries in our world we are 22 with 64 million people. The top 5 are China, India, USA, Indonesia and Brazil.
But these were the statistics that saddened me, we are ranked fifth in the world for arm sales. We spend 62 billion, a £1,000 per head of population. Why on earth as a small nation are we spending so much on arms? The top 4 nations are USA who spend 581 billion, China, 129 billion, Saudi, spends 81 billion and Russia, 70 billion.
It's worth noting about Saudi Arabia who are the 46th populated nation and who are spending a fortune on these weapons. It is also a nation with a terrible human rights record. Yet at this moment they are both ours and USA's strange 'bedfellows'.
Peace groups and organisations from across the UK; including, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Pax Christi, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, War on Want, Stop The War Coalition challenged the $1.75 trillion spent annually on the military and on war.
In his message to the Vienna Conference on Nuclear Weapons in December 2015, Pope Francis said: "The security of our own future depends on guaranteeing the peaceful security of others, for if peace, security and stability are not established globally, they will not be enjoyed at all. Individually and collectively, we are responsible for the present and future wellbeing of our brothers and sisters."
Explaining why campaigners are opposed to high military spending, they say: "We are always being told that high military spending is necessary to maintain peace, create jobs and combat terrorism. This myth is promoted by governments and by multinational arms companies who benefit from the global arms trade politically and economically.
"Military spending prevents the money from being used to tackle much greater challenges; such as relieving poverty, improving health and protecting the environment."
Rene Girard a Stamford professor who died recently was interested in the causes of conflict and violence and the role of imitation in human behaviour, this is known as 'mimetic theory.' Our desires, he wrote, are not our own; we want what others want. How true, we only need to watch a child playing with other children, their desire for the same toy is far more about having 'it' than the actual worth of the toy itself. I know this only too well when I am refereeing between my three young grandchildren.
These duplicated desires can then lead to rivalry and ultimately end with violence (Thankfully not with the grandchildren) and Girard proposed that human conflict was not caused by our differences, but rather by our sameness. Individuals and societies offload blame and culpability onto an outsider, a scapegoat, who on receiving the blame can then be eliminated or done away with, and this is done with the hope that unity will be restored.
We can see this blame game being played out vividly with the current and ongoing refugee crisis. This crisis has come from wars created by the western governments and they were, 'over there', but now this migration has brought thousands right to our doorstep both here and across Europe.
Refugees are often scapegoated in our media and press as, 'Coming over here to steal our lives and our jobs.'
The poor in our society are demonised and despised for being 'on benefits' and we have television programmes that show only a single story and not that of the majority who are struggling to make ends meet and life work.
Joan Halifax a Buddhist nun gave a really interesting TED talk, in it she speaks about compassion and her work on death row with the inmates.
She found that, 'the seeds of their own compassion that had never been watered'. Her view is that compassion is actually an inherent human quality and is there within every human being. The conditions for compassion though have to be activated and to be aroused, by particular conditions.
All our own life stories and our own journeys can ignite this within us to varying degrees.
Sadly compassion has enemies, and those enemies are things like pity, moral outrage, fear. These emotions are the ones heightened by the media in the way they tell the story of the poor or the refugee.
"I know it's sad, but our country is already full up".
"Why do they all have phones"?
"Why is it all young men"?
We can see these questions and thoughts remove us from having to have true compassion for the plight of those worse off than ourselves.
Our world is sadly paralysed by fear and in that paralysis, we of course lose our capacity for compassion.The very word terror is on all our news feeds and can leave each of us terrified especially after the recent and terrible bombings in Tunisia, Beirut and Paris.
Theologian, Walter Bruegmann, writes in his book, 'Prophetic imagination'
That Empires are never built on compassion, but live by numbness. That Empires in their militarism expect numbness about the human cost of war. That Corporate economics expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation.
He speaks of Jesus, in his solidarity with the marginalised, 'he is moved to compassion'.
I believe as a Christian that Jesus came to penetrate this numbness by his compassion and by his compassion takes the first step, making visible the abnormality that had become business as usual, the nothing to see here, mindset that dulls our senses to the craziness of war and conflict.
The Greek word for compassion in the New Testament is 'splagchnoisomai' and it means: TO LET ONES INNARDS (feelings) EMBRACE THE FEELINGS OR SITUATION OF ANOTHER.
Can either numb us or activate us to do something
Peacemakers are called to be compassionate people
We can either retreat or advance
Empires are never built on compassion - The Kingdom of God is built on compassion
Empires live by numbness - The Kingdom of God mobilises our immunity
Empires embrace war and conflict - we as the children of God living in his kingdom
Let's imagine what this could be if we turned swords into ploughshares
Micah 4:2-3 NIV- the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. …
Peacemaker - is not about remaining silent, sometimes we have to have the loudest voices to raise awareness of injustice
Not about being quiet- sometimes those with the quietest personalities are working hard to see change for others in our world
And it certainly not about 'not taking sides' we read in
Luke 4:17-19 NIV
and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor .”
I sit here waiting for the vote in parliament that will inevitably take us again into war. Take us to a place of bombing innocents, the collateral damage of many more lives decided in this vote is an acceptable price to pay.
I am encouraged that so many have stood opposed to war, so many have demonstrated, signed petitions, wrote to their MP's.
So many have acted like peacemakers and I say well done for trying.
There is much more to do we cannot give up, the job of peacemaker, sadly is never done.