Remember to respect and resist

10 November 2017

 

poppy

 

 

We remember so that we might pay our respects.

We do so by silence.

We do so by wearing poppies.

We do so by hearing stories.

32 years of ministry have provided me with many privileges; none more so than sitting with those who have made great sacrifices, with those who have been present at some of the key moments of the last century.

30 years ago I wept with Annie who sat in her chair and described how 7 decades previously her brother had surprisingly walked into that very room taking the family by surprise. Their mother had been cooking in the kitchen Annie had been ironing by the hearth and. It was his last leave before his death at Passchendaele.

I remain good friends with a number of Holocaust survivors including Anne Frank’s posthumous step sister, Eva Schloss, who saw the very first Russian through the gates of Auschwitz Birkenau on the day of liberation.

I have had the great privilege of listening to the squaddie who patrolled the streets of West Belfast in the 70’s, to the officer that replaced Colonel H. Jones as CO of the 2nd battalion of the parachute regiment in the Falklands, and to the Chaplain in Helmand who held the hands of many as they slipped from this life.

I remember these and many others whom I have known personally and pay my respects to today.

But let me tell you one story in a little more detail.

Harold and Elizabeth were an unassuming couple. When I met them in 2002 they were in their 80s.  We got round to chatting about their story.  It was clear that Harold had served in the Royal Navy during the war.  When I showed some interest Harold said that Elizabeth’s story was the most interesting. She was reluctant to tell it, so Harold told it for her.

In 1944 Elizabeth had become the first female PA to a Chief of Naval Staff.  When she met Harold, a young naval officer, the Admiral invited him to his office for tea and biscuits. Giving the impression of exercising a role of fatherliness toward his young charge his real intent was to cast an eye over the man whom his PA was courting, after all she knew many military secrets.

One Thursday evening Harold and Elizabeth, now engaged, went to the pictures. At the end of which Harold informed Elizabeth that he had a pass for the following Thursday and would she like to do the same again.  Her reply was simple, ‘that would be lovely.’  But as the PA to the Chief of Naval Staff Elizabeth knew something that Harold didn’t and that was when he returned to base that night thinking he would be seeing her again the next week, Harold was to be confined to barracks. Because within days the invasion of Normandy was to be launched.  But Elizabeth throughout that evening, as she sat with her fiancé in the cinema and kissed him goodnight as they parted, knew that she may never see him again. However such was Elizabeth’s sense of duty and extraordinary discretion Harold not once guessed that something was on her mind.

Today I remember Elizabeth, the courage and the sacrifice she was prepared to make.

So, we remember to pay our respects.

Secondly we remember so that we might learn from the past and be more equipped to resist some of the things of today.

There are two aspects to that resistance.

Firstly, knowing the huge cost of conflict in terms of human life and damage to our world, its infrastructure and environment, we should always resist any rush to war.

I think this was the noble pursuit of those that sought to avoid another conflagration after the Great War. No sane person would have wanted to repeat such a catastrophe.

But, and this is where the second element of resistance comes into play, there are occasions in human history when a threat has to be met full on with all the force we can muster, lest it overwhelm us and destroy that which has been achieved over generations.

 

There can be no war more just than the Second World War.  Out of disillusionment and anger a great evil had garnered enormous strength.  It had won over the hearts and minds of millions. Millions of normally rational and sane people.  This great evil was spreading its racist ideology across the continent.  It destroyed in a matter of a few years what centuries had taken to build.

Today we remember those that resisted the nationalism that threatened to overwhelm us.

Today we remember those that fought for a better Europe.

Today, if the past means anything at all to us, we should ask of ourselves, what should we do to resist the rise of xenophobia, the rampant populism of our times and the short-sighted isolationism that suggests we can go it alone?

British, Commonwealth and Allied blood was spilt across the battlefields of Europe so that we might create a continent, indeed a world, egalitarian in opportunity and resoundingly clear in its belief that we are better when we strive together than when we forge a lonely path.

The Jesus I seek to follow urges me to be, yes, as gentle as a dove, but doesn’t overlook the fact that I should also be as wise as a serpent. And a serpent is always alert and ready to strike in defence of the ground it occupies.

There are those that would, in the interest of the economy, have us turn a blind eye to the suffering of our neighbours

There are those that would reject the stranger at our door, to ignore the plea of the widow and orphan, the refugee and victim.

There are those who no longer see the world as Christians are called to see it, the envisioned world which those who went before us fought and died for.

This is why we remember – to pay our respects to them and to resist the slide into the abyss which they so sacrificially managed to avoid.

This is our challenge today:

  • to build a world where no one should have to go hungry or homeless.
  • Where being and not wealth is the measure of our value.
  • Where public office is about service and not personal gain.
  • Where social justice reigns and where the righteousness of both the individual and the corporate body is an honourable pursuit.

This is the world our ancestors strove for.

This is the world to which we should be committed.

 

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2 Responses to “Remember to respect and resist”

  1. Only found your blog fairly recently and am equally moved, uplifted and challenged by it. Thanks.

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