Tag Archives: War

10 February: O is for Oswestry

Stoswaldaskingnyplspencer1f89r.jpgThe Empire builders drew a straight line in the sand dividing Syria and Iraq, and all those similarly ruled boundaries in Canada and Australia. Was anyone asked would they rather be in Manitoba or Saskatchewan? Thank God those boundaries cause little friction.

The Welsh border with England has very few straight bits, and the area around Oswestry is a case in point. On the map England seems to have taken a huge bite out of Wales, and place names in English and Welsh turn up on either side of the border. Maesbury is a mishmash of the two, and Welsh Frankton is definitely in England.

The New Saints Football Club play in the Welsh Premier League but have their ground in Oswestry, England, and so it goes on.

The Old Saint of Oswestry was King Oswald of Northumbria who died at Oswald’s Tree – or Oswestry – in the 7th Century, battling against the pagan Mercians and their Welsh allies – who of course were more than capable of going to war against Mercia when the fit was on them. Or of marrying across the border as seems to have happened more than once in my own family.

Let us be grateful for peaceful co-existence along the Marches of England and Wales and pray for peace along the many borders that divide rather than unite people in our world today.

Oswald from a Ms in New York Public Library:
File:Stoswaldaskingnyplspencer1f89r.jpg From Wikipedia
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25 January: Christians together: the four chaplains.

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The research which took me behind the garage door we saw the other day led me to George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, Clark V. Poling, and John P. Washington. They were American Army Chaplains in World War II. They were travelling together, accompanying troops on their way to battle, when their ship, SS Dorchester was sunk by enemy action on February 3, 1943.

The ship went down rapidly, but the chaplains worked together to organise their flock onto the lifeboats, making sure each had a life jacket. When the supply ran out the gave their own jackets to others. Then they linked arms, and together went down with the ship.

Circumstances, evil circumstances, led to their ecumenical witness. during Church Unity Week, and approaching the anniversary of the four chaplain, what is the Spirit asking of the Churches – of you and me – today?

MMB

Photos from Wikipedia

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24 January: Praying together.

 

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At primary school before the Second Vatican Council, we learned, even if it was not expressly taught, that we should not pray with Protestants or non-Catholics. Yet the witness of the four chaplains was not a mere straw in the wind, but a sign of the Spirit at work.

In May 1941, no less a personage than the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Arthur Hinsley, publicly led a mixed gathering of Christians, including Bishop George Bell of Chichester, in the Lord’s Prayer, when they heard the news of an air raid. His fellow bishops disapproved, but the Spirit was at work there too. Throughout the war, Christians worked and prayed together under difficult circumstances. Even then, the Spirit was at work.

May we all be one!

MMB

Arthur, Cardinal Hinsley, from Wikipedia.

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22 December, Christmas 1914. Father Andrew at Christmas, I. The ending of all wars …

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Here is a passage from Fr Andrew’s book, Carols and Christmas Rhymes, Mowbray, 1935.

We have been told that on Christmas Day in the Great War from rival trenches English, French, and German voices were united musically in Christmas hymns. That should have been the end of the war. It should be the ending of all wars, and all slum conditions, and all bad treatment of the childhood that the Christ-Child has blessed. With such practical intention these poor verses are laid in homage before the manger shrine of the Holy Child.

We will share more from the introduction as well as a few of Fr Andrew’s carols during the rest of Advent and Christmastide. Fr Andrew had a great devotion to the Eucharist, expressed in the title of this poem (O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee) as well as its theme.

Adoro Te Devote Latens Deitas

Who could refuse the appeal
Of Baby hands stretched out caressingly,
Or patter of Baby feet upon the stair?
It was like Love to deal
So with us in His sweet humility,
To be a little Child amongst us here;
And at the last, when those same hands had borne
The scars of labour and the pierce of sin,
Faithful at eventide as in the morn
Of His first Coming, still to seek to win,
With bleeding hands held wide in mute appeal,
The acceptance of His own unchanging love.

This slum courtyard in Birmingham has been cleaned and tidied almost out of recognition. Imagine no running water, no sewerage,  thin walls, coal fires amid the industrial fumes, rats, mud, disease…

 

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November 11: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xi – ‘ sinners feel at home with him’.

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Jesus is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table. Tax collectors and sinners feel at home with him – not a male with soft edges, but one who is radically different – relational rather than rational. But there’s more – a dimension that has eluded scholars for centuries. His is a presence that transcends space and time. The stereotypical dualism of male and female is transcended in favour of an integration that relativises both the male and female as seen in basic biology.

Redemptive Violence – Women shed blood to give life; men tend to shed blood in order to take life. Ancient cultures saw blood as containing the life force – a force often misused and abused for an angry god. Thus emerged the notion of sacrifice. Shedding blood as an act of appeasement can be traced back to shedding animal blood so that humans could survive. It is said that humans have always hunted for food and killed animals to get it. But research going back 40,000 years has uncovered evidence that the initial gathering of food was from plant life, and animals were killed only when such was unavailable.

Slaying animals does not seem to have been practised during early agricultural times [around 8,000 BC]. Although more food was gleaned from the land, the desire for meat was also present; and during this time the shedding of blood acquired religious significance. Governance was by fiercely aggressive males, who validated what they did through belief in a sky god, who rapidly became like themselves – domineering and demanding; and so pacifying strategies came into play. Animals were the primary victims along with first fruits of the seasons. On rare occasions humans were sacrificed. In this way the notion of the scapegoat came to the fore.

René Girard traces the notion of scapegoating to mimetic [imitating] desire leading to rivalry and violence; it was extensively used to counter threats of aggression. Girard and others see the death of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice that renders the scapegoat redundant forever. The notion of blood sacrifice is a child of the patriarchal system of around 10,000 years ago. Bloodletting and sacrifice evolved under an anthropocentric world view that man is the measure of all things. In the human, blood seems to be life’s energy, and so must be the life-blood of everything in creation, including God.

Blood sacrifice was seen as restoring the balance, setting things right with the offended one. The notion of victory crept into language for the vindictive God and his earthly representatives. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is pleased at the slaying of enemies, and whose glory is enhanced by victory through the sword. This is a far cry from the earlier Goddess whose bloodletting was at the service of life-creating.

These two become confused in Jesus. New life was the key-word for Kingdom living, but this tended to be lost with the understanding of salvation through death on the cross – hence understandings like obedience through suffering. For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies.

This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him.

AMcC

I had not planned that this post should appear on Armistice Day, but it is worth pondering why violence and war happen, today of all days. WT

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11 November 1918

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Suddenly, as the watch-hands touched eleven, there came a second of expectant silence, and then a curious rippling sound which observers far behind the front likened to the noise of  a light wind. It was the noise of men cheering from the Vosges to the sea.

After that peace descended on the long battle field. A new era had come and the old world had passed away.

John Buchan

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10 November: This Wreck.

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Henry James’s true country, Azar Nafisi assures us, was the imagination, in a Blakean sense, meaning the life of the spirit.  At the start of the Great War, James wrote to Rhoda Broughton:

Black and hideous to me is the tragedy that gathers, and I am sick beyond cure to have lived to see it. You  and I, the ornaments of our generation, should have been spared this wreck of our belief that these long years we had seen civilisation grow and the worst became possible.

From ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi, Harper Perennial, 2007, p216.

We must remind ourselves of the danger of anaesthetising the imagination too much, to the extent where those caught up in fighting are merely ‘little brown men killing little brown men’, as one US General memorably said. No doubt he was making the world safer, in his own mind. But as Blake reminds us:

Caiaphas was in his own mind

A benefactor to mankind.

The Everlasting Gospel.

We are brothers and sisters of the same dust, the dust of Earth, the dust of the stars, formed by the breath of God.

WT.

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November 10, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: x – ‘Not reinvention but rediscovery.’

 

Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.

All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.

Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.

The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.

But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.

AMcC

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November 9: Loving Memory.

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Loving memory hurts: an extract from a letter Henry James wrote to Clare Sheridan, a newly wed and newly widowed soldier’s wife in the Great War.

I am incapable of telling you not to repine and rebel, because I have, to my cost, the imagination of all things, and because I am incapable of telling you not to feel. Feel, feel, I say — feel for all you’re worth. and even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live, especially to live at this terrible pressure, and the only way to honour these admirable beings who are our pride and our inspiration.’

From ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi, Harper Perennial, 2007, p217. The book describes life in Tehran under the Ayatollahs and during the Iran-Iraq war. Compelling reading.
Photo from Cheriton Cemetery, Folkestone; the grave of  another of the fallen. 

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30 October, Christ walking with travellers: A journey to Hell.

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Here is part of an address given to the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of Pope Francis by Archbishop Paul Gallagher; here he treats human trafficking where people, often children, are sold into modern slavery.

Mr. President,

Another great challenge facing the international community is trafficking in persons. At the root of this and other contemporary forms of slavery are wars and conflicts, extreme poverty, underdevelopment and exclusion, lack of education, lack of employment opportunities and environmental catastrophes. But we ought to recognize that on the demand side of such criminal trafficking there is also a crass selfishness, which reaches unimaginable levels of moral irresponsibility in the case of the trafficking of children, organs, tissues and embryos and in the so-called transplant tourism. Such execrable trade is exacerbated by corruption on the part of public officers and common people willing to do anything for financial gain. Indeed, the migration and refugee crises are facilitating an increase in trafficking in persons and other contemporary forms of slavery.

The Holy See and the Catholic Church have long spoken out against the evil of trafficking in persons and through the dedicated work of so many individuals and institutions, they have sought to fight its root causes, to care for the victims, to raise awareness about it, and to work with anyone and everyone to try to eliminate it. Pope Francis calls trafficking in persons an “open wound on the body of contemporary society”[18] and an “atrocious scourge that is present throughout the world on a broad scale.”[19]

At the heart of this evil, however, is the utter loss of respect for human dignity and the total indifference to the sufferings of fellow human beings. Modern slavery happens when “people are treated as objects,” which leads to their being “deceived, raped, often sold and resold for various purposes, and in the end either killed or left devastated in mind and body, only to be finally thrown away or abandoned.”[20] Refocusing on people, putting people first in the overall work of this Organization ought unhesitatingly to support the fight against trafficking in persons and other contemporary forms of slavery.

Pope Francis calls on all, in particular the competent authorities, to address such a heinous crime through effective juridical instruments, to punish those who profit from it, to assist the healing and the reintegration of its victims, and to eradicate its root causes. Our response must be commensurate to this great evil of our time.

It is part of the Church’s mission, is option for the poor, to fight the root causes of trafficking, to care for the victims, to raise awareness about it, and to work with anyone and everyone to try to eliminate it. Tomorrow we will look at one example of this.

 

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