Reflections on War

“I’m against war. I won’t have anything to do with it. It’s a waste of life and money.”

Les Leach, Gallipoli ANZAC survivor, 1999.

I’m a new Kiwi who came here to Aotearoa via Canada to Australia. All my boys are ridgy-didge Aussies; and my loving spouse, a true blue Kiwi. Today, for the first time ever, I felt compelled to be part of a growing group – one who choose to honour the ANZAC’s who fell at Gallipoli. I didn’t really know how to do this — other than to pay homage by watching the TV programmes dedicated to the ANZACs; so that I might learn as much as I could about the history around the campaign. 18,000 men fell in an extraordinary 8-month campaign 100 years ago; more than twice that many were wounded. It is still branded one of NZ’s worst military disasters in all of history. Wholesale slaughter – and not just our sons. Over 10,000 Ottoman Turks were slaughtered in 2 hours on 8 August on Walker’s Ridge alone. Contemptible carnage!

How do we come somewhat to terms (I say ‘somewhat’ for with evil there can be no such arrangement) with these devastating and deadly powers unleashed on a group of mankind; and a world calamity on all mankind such as a World War? They say “War is Hell”. After learning more about what the ANZAC troops went through to get to the Dardanelles, via ANZAC cove, this truth is deeply impressed upon the heart, as well as the senses.

As an active contemplative, I must confess I’m a peace-monger by nature. War is senseless, from any standpoint. Yet my dad told me all his life that if the Allies hadn’t taken a resolute stand against the “forces of Evil” down through history, the world would be a very different place today. I guess I’ve never truly appreciated his comments.

I still find myself gravitating towards a purely pacifistic stance. Like Michael Leunig, I see the obscenity of war as more obvious than the bravery and selflessness often corporately revered. It seems like such a hopeless business. Frequently, the deep scars (psychological & physical) never heal.

A reflection on War -- Leunig

Then, I came across some excerpts entitled “Inconsolable times” — a blog posted on 15 December, 2012 by Jason Goroncy[1]:

...I happen to be working on a book of essays on the Hebrew notion of tikkun olam (to mend the world)... my friend Rebecca Floyd drew to my attention a sermon by J. Mary Luti preached after the tragic events of the massive Indian Ocean tsunami. Here are a few snippets:
We Christians sometimes find it hard to refrain from overwhelming great empty spaces and terrifying silences with hope-filled murmuring about God’s love and abiding presence. We are people who count the resurrection as the core of our faith. For us, hope is second nature, nothing is impossible, death is not the end. But there are times when Easter comes too quickly, when we get Jesus off the cross and into glory with unseemly dispatch. Perhaps this haste is a reason why Easter is doubted by so many.
There are times when the God of the lilies of the field and of all our carefully-counted hairs must repulse us. Times when, in the face of the vulgar horrors of our world and the intimate tragedies of our lives, an all-caring God is inadequate. Times when light is premature, when it hurts our eyes and does not heal. Times when we need the cover of night.
Sooner or later, we all wonder with Job why we were ever born. Sooner or later, we all pore over the lexicon for a word with which to fashion inconsolable laments—and we find the cross, Christianity’s most believable symbol. It offers no answers. It offers instead a common lot: sooner or later life deposits us all at the cross. It is the gathering place for the world’s sorrow, its wasted efforts, its tormented children, its unimaginable catastrophes, and its utter silences. When we arrive at its foot, we also discover its hope – not the hope of Easter, but the hope that comes simply from having a place to gather when the pain is unspeakable and the sorrow beyond all bearing.
It is not yet the dawn. Not yet. We need to be healed, and we will be, but not too fast. We have to wait. It takes time. And we have to stay together, with every loss and horror creation has ever borne. We have to stay together so that it is not too frightening to wait, so that our waiting does not become despair. Like that inconsolable man in Indonesia, we may even prefer to wait, just as long as we are not alone. Together we will outwait death and come startled and blinking to Easter.
But no, not now. Not yet.

…my friend Bruce Hamill has penned the following prayer for tomorrow’s church service:

Today we pray for a society obsessed with weapons of destruction and sometimes mass destruction, obsessed with self-defence and the perpetuation of violence. We pray for America and we pray for our own country inasmuch as we share the same cultural patterns and values. Lord we lament with your people everywhere, how much we have talked of the gospel but failed to appreciate the gospel of peace, replacing it with a gospel of personal security and individual salvation. We have failed you. Have mercy and bring your judgement first to the household of God. If we do not bear witness to the gospel of peace, who will? Lord have mercy on us.

keiji-kosaka-reconciliation-in-the-midst-of-discontinuity

At times like these... I often find myself both reflecting on Keiji Kosaka’s profound sculpture ‘Reconciliation in the Midst of Discontinuity’, and turning to both Donald MacKinnon and to Gillian Rose, and to their efforts, each in their own way, to resist premature closure of what must remain open and patient and in agony. MacKinnon’s reflection on John 1.10–11 (‘He was in the world and the world took its origin through him and the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not receive him’) provides one such example of what I mean. Here’s an excerpt:
It is sheer nonsense to speak of the Christian religion as offering a solution of the problem of evil. There is no solution offered in the gospels of the riddle of Iscariot through whose agency the Son of man goes his appointed way. It were good for him that he had not been born. The problem is stated; it is left unresolved, and we are presented with the likeness of the one who bore its ultimate burden, and bore it to the end, refusing the trick of bloodless victory to which the scoffers, who invited him to descend from his cross, were surely inviting him.
What the gospels present to us is the tale of an endurance. “Christ for us became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The writer of the fourth gospel invites his readers to find in the tale of this endurance the ultimate secret of the universe itself. For the ground of that universe is on his view to be identified with the agent of that endurance. So his teaching cannot easily be qualified as optimistic or pessimistic. He is no pessimist; for he is confident that we can find order and design, the order and design of God himself, in the processes of the universe and in the course of human history. But if men would understand that design, they must not, in random speculative mood, look away from the concrete reality of Jesus of Nazareth, from the bitter history of his coming and rejection. Where the speculative intellect finds answer to its furthest ranging questions is still the same place where the bruised spirit may find consolation from the touch of a man of sorrows.

In times like war and natural calamity, ordinary men & women are commanded to do extraordinary things. Give their all, suffer and die. Tales of endurance… trials… and occasionally, triumph. So who are the true casualties of war?

epitaph

Maybe Banksy was right… maybe as long as we “remember” the dead… never stop reciting their stories, and their names… and their sacrifices, great and small alike… and then we’re invited to find, in their stories, the Ultimate secret of the Cosmos. The Cosmic Christ. His truth about life and death.

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[1] See http://jasongoroncy.com/2012/12/15/in-inconsolable-times/

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