Absence, it is said, makes the heart grow fonder. I’m not sure if that is the case with my blogs, for which I apologise for the absence over recent weeks.
Like London buses of old, it will be a case of waiting a long time for one to arrive and then several come altogether!
Last month I was involved in the Community’s Peace and Reconciliation Pilgrimage organised around the Flodden 500 Commemorations. Walking and praying, talking and sharing as we journeyed from Durham Cathedral to the battlefield over eight days, caused me to think deeply about the issues of conflict, violence and war.
As we reflected on the battle that was the bloodiest and most violent between the English and the Scots 500 years ago, a war that was to influence the lives of both nations, we were also mindful of the many wars in the world today. Over sixty nations encountering war, civil unrest, terrorism and acts of insurrection. War is not a thing of the past, nor is it a game to be played for entertainment on computers and mobile phones but a present reality that scars the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
The whole pilgrimage experience strengthens my leanings towards pacifism. I am not yet a fully pledged pacifist but the more I read of the horrors of war and the wounds and trouble it causes, leads me to the conclusion that very little is gained. I think one of the things that disturb me most is not so much the issues of defence and security that have to be considered, but rather the whole scale arms industry from which thousands of companies across the Western world profit.
The week we walked on the peace pilgrimage saw a world arms trade fair at the Excel Centre in London, something the politicians and the press chose to completely ignore in their news coverage. Whilst the front pages were filled with horrific, graphic images of war in Syria, there was no mention of the arms, chemicals and instrumentation that in previous years had been manufactured and supplied by British and American companies.
I felt ashamed and sickened that there were some companies here in the North East of England who were represented at the trade fair. As we think about British soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is sad and salutary to realise that many will have lost their lives by weapons sold years ago to now rogue states, those whom we now consider our ‘enemy’. God have mercy upon us….
Another thing that increasingly troubles me is the rise in nationalist and racist attitudes within the UK. Fuelled by ignorance, fear and insecurity, allied to self-interest, it seems that we are losing the ability to think, discern and discriminate between the facts and the distorted, mis-represented and xenophobic headlines and soundbites.
As we draw near to Remembrance Sunday and recall the horrors of the two World Wars of the last century and ensuing conflicts, we need to take heed to the dangers of self-interest and nationalism that were major contributory factors both of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and the rise of Hitler and the Second World War in 1939. With a predominantly right-wing press, a ‘dumbed down’ media and political soundbites, it is impossible to have a proper debate and discussion on many issues, which will serve us very poorly in the run up to any proposed referendum on whether we stay in the European Union or not. The false accusations about Europe could lead to great damage in foreign relations and instability not only economically but politically. We need to remember from history that virtually every economic recession has led to conflict, violence and often to warfare between nations.
I am not blind to the problems that beset the European Union, but I don’t want people to be unaware of the positives, the benefits and blessings that it has brought us. There have and continue to be undoubted economic, political, social and cultural benefits that serve the cause of justice, righteousness and mutual wellbeing.
A key and very significant achievement of the European Union is that it has promoted and majorly attained peace among European nations for more than sixty years. This was something that was acknowledged last year when the European Union received the Nobel Peace prize, (something that I fear most people in Britain knew very little if anything about). We should herald such an achievement and not take the peace and goodwill between our European neighbours for granted.
One of the great challenges facing the world is how we can live amicably together and strive for a peace and unity among the diversity of cultures and nations. The task of peace and reconciliation begins in our hearts, expresses itself within our homes and is something we must embrace in Community and work and pray for in the wider world.
To be followers of Christ is to heed his call to be peacemakers and reconcilers. I have just read the Sam Sharpe lecture delivered by Neville Callam, the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance on ‘Deconstructing the Notion of Race’. In it he asserts that Christ is the example par excellence for rejecting racism. “Christ broke down the walls that separate people from one another. A faith centred on Christ will not accommodate the racism that trades in negative images of others. Instead, that faith asserts not only the common humanity of all people, but also the shared identity in Jesus Christ that Christians enjoy”.
I thank God for the growth of our own Community across the world and celebrate with thanksgiving the growth of Companions and Friends across the world. Shirley and I have just returned from a delightful time at L’Abri a Sauvigny, the Community House in France. I have just enjoyed another stimulating video conference call with Bill Hockey in the States and, within the last hour, have replied to emails from Australia, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, Ireland and Germany. This afternoon I will see the house team at Nether Springs, a team that comprises Belgians, a Lithuanian, as well as Brits. On Saturday night we enjoyed hosting a delightful music evening at our house here in Wooler, where we were treated to some wonderful songs and stories from good friends and Companions, Lina and Laura from Lithuania. These things would have been impossible just a few years ago.
Thank God for the removal of the Iron Curtain, boundaries and barriers that excluded and caused tension and war. Thank God for a European Union that celebrates diversity and allows movement and opportunity not just for the wealthy but for some of the poor. For a Continent that has as its motto United in Diversity, that holds as much promise and potential as it does problems and challenges. Thanks be to God for the privilege and opportunity to belong to a Community that reaches out across the world, hands starching out over the divides created by man and removed by Christ.
Au revoir, arrivaderci, vaarwel, sbohem, до свидания, búcsú, Auf Wiedersehen.