At this time of year, I often wonder how my great-grandparents and grandparents felt when their children had to go off to war to fight for freedom. I try to imagine what I’d feel like if Cam and Ross were called up to fight in a war. I know I’d be afraid – afraid that they wouldn’t come back, or that they would come back, but permanently maimed in either body or spirit. I know, too, that I’d be angry; angry that humans can’t make peace round a table; angry that ideologies take precedence over human lives; angry when I hear the violence of war glorified. I’d be very angry! But what will I do with my anger?
And why aren’t I angry now? Since 1945, British servicemen and women have been engaged in 80-odd ‘mini-wars’, and there are conflicts today somewhere in the world – civil war in Syria, religious war in Afghanistan, tribal war in Darfur to name just a few. At this very minute, perhaps, someone else’s son or daughter is being killed or maimed in one of the armed conflicts happening somewhere, right now. The Iraqi bystander caught up in the crossfire; the Israeli and the Palestinian young men who throw stones or grenades at each other on dark street corners; the youngster who ties a bomb to his waist and blows up 15 people – including himself. These are troubling times, and spine-chillingly so, when people believe their actions carry the stamp of divine approval.
But violence is not only on the fields of war; it’s everywhere. In a house not too far away there’s an abused child; further down the street a battered woman; around the corner a mugger waiting to pounce on the old man shuffling home. In a place not too far away, in these days of instant news, there’s a persecuted minority; in this place it’s women; in that place it’s Jews or Muslims, somewhere else it’s Christians; and elsewhere again it’s gay people.
These are troubling times. What are the children of light doing – the followers of the Light of the World? How are we letting our light shine? What do I do with my fear and my anger? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what do I do with them?
Brother Roger of Taize was murdered a few years ago. He feared for the future – not for himself, but for the world. During the Second World War, he hid Jews and helped them to reach safety. But after the war, he gave house room to Germans and offered them a part in a future where peace and reconciliation could triumph. Brother Roger’s fear led to peace-making efforts and reconciliation.
Remembrance weekend I am privileged to be part of delegation going from the URC to meet with friends from the Evangelical Church of the Palatinate. We will be commemorating 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our trip may be a drop in the ocean perhaps, but meaningful, nonetheless. At this time of year, we give thanks for our freedom and for those who paid the price with their lives, or their physical or mental health. But all that remembering is mere sentiment, unless, as children of light, as followers of the Light of the World, we let our light shine: we let our fear and our anger be channelled; we work and pray for peace and for justice; we support the peace-keepers and the peace-makers.
The sort of peace that includes the absence of war but is far more than that – the peace of God that goes way beyond our understanding. I know that my fear and my anger won’t amount to many drops in the ocean. But I can be responsible for making sure that they do go in the ocean, and that they’re contributing towards a just world at peace.
With love and prayers
Russell J Furley-Smith