War and peace by Yvonne Aburrow
Extracts from an address given at Oxford Unitarians on Remembrance Sunday 2011
War, when you look at it, is a very strange cultural phenomenon. Vast amounts of men and machines are pitted against each other, and it is not moral superiority that ensures victory, but superior tactics and technology. It is odd that the outcome is determined by tactics and technology rather than by who is actually right. One might as well determine the outcome by having politicians engage in single combat in a large stadium, as it would save an awful lot of lives and resources.
My own attitude to war is fairly ambivalent. I admire the heroism of warriors, and the camaraderie of regiments, and their colourful and stirring traditions. I admire the craftsmanship and technology that goes into making weapons like swords, bows and arrows, castles and siege engines. I find people's personal war stories absolutely fascinating, and never tire of listening to them. On the other hand, I abhor the bloodshed and violence, the blind fury of battle, the slaughter of men, the terrible waste of humanity and talent that is involved, and the sorrow of bereavement on such a vast scale, and the tragedy of the physically maimed and psychologically scarred men that return from war. I often think of Wilfred Owen, whose poems we heard earlier, which often move me to tears. Wilfred Owen was killed in the last week of the First World War, and his mother received the telegram informing her of his death as the church bells announcing the Armistice were ringing out over the Shropshire hills.
And yet, and yet, I am grateful that imperialism and Nazism and other horrors were defeated so that we can live in freedom now. I wear a red poppy in memory of those who gave their lives for our freedom, and a white poppy in the hope that one day no-one will ever have to make that sacrifice again.
If only the heroism and the craftsmanship could be channelled towards peaceful ends. If only the world was a more just and equitable place, where resources were fairly distributed and nobody thought they needed to fight for territory, or try to wipe out people who are different. It's possible to create camaraderie and fellow-feeling by digging a fire-pit for a weekend camp – there's no need to go to war to create it.
Imagine a world without war. Instead of money being spent on guns and tanks and fighter planes, it would be spent on improving the lives of ordinary people. There's a well-known feminist poster that says, imagine if the army had to hold jumble sales to raise money for weapons, and healthcare was properly funded. It's true, there is something wrong with a world where wars are automatically funded, but hospitals have to fund-raise for essential equipment.
The Quakers talk about the seeds of war. There are ideas and practices prevalent in our society that make war more likely, make it seem inevitable, even. The way boys are discouraged from showing emotion, and encouraged to regard women as objects, so that they could one day be soldiers. The way our taxes go to fund the army and the maintenance of weapons, whether we want them to or not. The way that our industry is geared towards the manufacture and distribution of weapons of war. The way that social inequality is maintained, one result of which is that the army seems like a good career for a working-class lad.
If there are seeds of war, there must also be seeds of peace – seeds that we can plant. There are practices like non-violent communication, meditation, contemplation, community-building, diplomacy, interfaith dialogue, living sustainably, volunteering overseas, all of which promote an understanding of other people and cultures, promote dialogue rather than violence, and contribute towards the creation of a just and peaceful world. But there can be no peace until there is social and environmental justice. Until resources are fairly distributed, there will always be people trying to grab land and resources, or people trying to prevent others from getting them. I am pretty sure that both the Gulf Wars and the Falklands War were about oil, and the reason that no-one has bothered to liberate Tibet from the Chinese is because it has no natural resources worth exploiting, and because China is a major creditor and trading partner of Western countries.
Let us, therefore, seek out and plant the seeds of peace. Let us seek to see things from other people's point of view. Let us promote interfaith dialogue, non-violent communication and social and environmental justice. And let us practice peace in our own lives, as I know many of you are already doing. For as A J Muste once said, "There is no way to peace: peace is the way".
Fallen leaves by Yvonne Aburrow
Each year with the falling of the leaves we shall remember them
As the years drift into the silence of longing –
The longing for the ones who never came back.
A photograph, dimmed by time, is all that remains;
A lock of hair, a memory, a name, each evoking
A man that lived and breathed and laughed.
Poets and dreamers, craftsmen and lovers,
Farmers and ploughmen, boys from the shires,
Fallen leaves in the autumn, returning to the soil.
Divine Spirit, source of all being,
From whom we emerge and to whom we return,
We have gathered today to remember lives lost in war.
For it is written,
"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
We are thankful for the great love that gave us freedom and for the sacrifice of those who died that we may live in freedom.
But we wonder sometimes if our freedom was not bought at too dear a cost.
And we pray for peace among the nations, and dialogue between warring factions.
May we always remember those who died in war and persecution – not only the soldiers, but the civilians who were raped and tortured and butchered.
May we honour those who stood as a witness for peace, because they would not turn their hands to killing.
May our lives and our communities be a beacon of justice, peace and hope,
And may our words and deeds be a witness for peace, all the days of our lives.
And when we fall into strife and bitterness, may we forgive ourselves and others, and work for reconciliation and renewed trust.
We would live our own lives in such a manner that we plant seeds of peace, and not seeds of war.
We would work for peace and justice and tolerance, so that war may be prevented.
For we are held in your vast and mysterious love,
Each life a bright thread in the tapestry of being,
And all are one, and one is all, and the divine life shines in each and all.
Peace, the deep serenity
Of being at one
With yourself and God.
Prayer for Peace
Spirit of love and of life,
come and rest upon us, within us
for these few moments of calm.
Quiet my strivings and allow me
a time for breath, for silence,
a time to let go of all longings and desire.
May I simply be here without worry or wish
In the quiet of our hearts, pour in peace.
Not only the absence of striving,
not only the absence of conflict,
but the fullness of peace that may be.
Peace - embodied in how we treat each other,
poured into the world in compassion and care,
shown in the world by acts of justice and of mercy
Peace - known by the safety of children
and those who are vulnerable
Peace - created by each of the earth's children
within and beyond,
building a web that links each to all
to the boundaries of all that is.
Into our hearts, pour this presence of peace, we pray.
Spirit of love and of life,
Thou who animates our lives,
the world in its trouble and chaos
cries out for the blessing of peace.
May we be those
who draw together the threads of peace
found in the beauty of the earth that surrounds us,
found in common and simple acts of kindness and compassion
that fill the world
May we draw together
the threads of peace and weave them,
weave peace for our weary, beloved world.
In the quiet of these moments,
may we open our hearts
to the presence of peace.
So may it be,
World without end,
Rev. Linda Hart
A Prayer for Remembrance Sunday; a Prayer for Peace.
Spirit of life and love,
known by many names and none.
We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others;
but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop and the actions taken in our name.
Bless those who mourn, and those whose lives are blighted by such terrible memories, be they military or civilian.
Bless those who carry the scars of war with them for the rest of their lives and those who care for them.
Bless those whose safety is currently compromised through war and violence at this time, no matter where in the world.
May forgiveness be found, personally and nationally, that all can learn to live in peace.
We acknowledge that death recognizes not the colour of uniform, nor the age or gender of victim. That death and destruction comes because of our failure - our greed - our indifference.
Let us dedicate ourselves to the greatest remembrance of all – that war should be no more.
For a future to be possible; May our prayers be heard.
Rev Chris Goacher
Why is there so much hatred on this earth?
Why is there so much hatred on this earth?
How many years will pass before we know
That only tender souls and love and mirth
Can make a friend of what was once a foe?
These bloody wars that pierce a country's heart,
Where neighbours' sons raise arms and fight, it seems
O'er centuries we've torn our world apart
And ever put in shackles all youth's dreams.
The flags of nations wait to be unfurled
Their colours and their symbols fresh and new,
But why must each man think in all the world
That only his can stand for what is true?
And in religion's name dark deeds abound,
Deliberate acts of cruelty of mind
And hurt inflicted which will scar and wound.
Is this what God intended for mankind?
Reliving acts of centuries long dead,
Of battles lost, of grievances, of slights,
Where Catholic and Protestant have fed
The flames of bigotry, pursuing rights.
The Serbs with Croats fought and land was scorched
And in Angola mines would maim and kill.
Rwandan homes were targeted and torched
And orphaned children sat, so stunned and still.
Arabs and Jews o'er years have loathing shown
One to the other, when will this all cease?
Why won't they see what others long have known
That each deserves the right to live in peace.
Now planes as human missiles used to vent
Destruction on an unimagined scale,
Where terrorists with evil hearts have sent
So many to their deaths, to what avail?
The misery, the horror of that day
Indelibly imprinted on our eyes.
The ghastly sights will never go away
Of wanton carnage spewing from the skies.
No cause on earth can justify this act,
This sickening slaughter that can shake belief.
We should not with revenge or hate react
With vengeful murder, angry in our grief.
For we are taught to turn the other cheek
And show compassion, empathy and care
But do aggressors seeing this as weak
Use viler means to add to our despair?
We cannot sit and only watch the plight
Of those whose lives are crushed by evil hands
But we in turn must never think it right
To use our powers to subjugate their lands.
Just like the dragon's teeth in ancient field
Of Greece spawned forth a crop of men of hate,
They will rise up and never will they yield
'til earth and humankind have sealed their fate.
With courage and with justice there must be
An answer to this horror that we see
But tempered with our own humanity
And not with acts of sheer brutality.
Please God for us there'll be some future day
Where people of the earth will know no strife
Where harmony prevails and all can say
That they respect the sanctity of life.
When we put others' needs beside our own
Nor try to win the argument with might,
In doing so the seeds of peace are sown
And Heaven on earth is nearer in God's sight.
Bronwen Taylor. July 1998 & September 2001
A Prayer after the London Bombings
Holy Spirit, Allah, God, known by many names and none;
At this time we stand in shock at our human capacity to embrace evil.
We pray for compassion toward those who grieve,
and comfort and healing for those in pain.
How can we make sense of this, how can we know the truth.
How can we forgive?
Humanity twists your inspired words to our own ends, … to justify the unjustifiable.
Forgive them for they know not what they do.
The words you spoke to Mohamed (Peace be Upon Him) calls for justice and kindness, (Qur'an 16.90) how can they have got it so wrong? How can killing and maiming be seen as justice and kindness? How can they not understand?
Forgive them for they know not what they do.
We ask why for we do not understand how these things can happen.
Open their eyes that they might see the wrong they do.
But open too our eyes that we might see.
Open our minds that we might understand.
Open our hearts that we might forgive.
The words of Isaiah extol your call to justice and equity, have we failed to hear?
Have we set the seeds that now we reap?
Forgive us for we know not what we do.
Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness as we too forgive.
Therefore we pray for the ability to forgive those who perpetrate such acts of violence, as we too seek to be forgiven for creating a world out-of-balance;
For withholding our capacity to love.
Help us to create a new world, a true Kingdom of God, help us to loose the bonds of injustice, … Help us, Christian, Muslim, members of all faiths, of all humanity, to plant the seeds of equity and justice that all may reap the harvest of love and peace, and violence shall be no more.
Rev Chris Goacher 2005
To fight or to take a pacifist line is one of the deepest and starkest choices of personal conscience. Is pacifism a cause worth fighting for? I write as one who has a fairly volatile temperament at times, and one who is not a naturally pacific person. Yet I am deeply impressed by the realisation that we are all human beings, given life by God. What right have others to take that life away? What cause can possibly justify it?
A friend of mine sums up the arguments for and against pacifism as follows:
"The fence on which I seem to sit is this:
- That I am dedicated to the proposition that love will ultimately (but not consistently or progressively) triumph over hate.
- That by the same token peace will triumph over war - but not consistently or progressively.
- That there are some things one must do, not believing in their success, but because doing them is essential to one's integrity (actually I'd say 'for the sake of my soul')
- I know quite well that my blood can be fired by the beat of a drum or the skirl of pipes - just as I can be moved by 'Last night I had the strangest dream'. I am not one of the world's instinctive herbivores."
It is the responsibility of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead. Most wars are allegedly fought to bring peace - a most ingenious paradox! We should pledge ourselves to make our world a better place - to end all wars, to relieve world debt, to feed the hungry, to find a cure for AIDS, to stop destroying our environment. It is still a beautiful planet, or it could be, if we could only learn to live together in peace.
Rev Sue Woolley