Conflict & Connection: Remembrance Sunday

A New Unity Sunday Gathering

 

In a world where hatred too often plunges us into darkness
May this flame bring love
In a world where the shadow of suspicion so readily blocks our vision
May this flame bring understanding
In a world where clouds of fear separate us and keep us apart
May this flame bring trust
May this flame bring light to all of the dark places -
In our world and in our hearts
May this light lead us toward love


Readings

 

Making Peace, by Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
“The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.”

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses. . . .

A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

 

From Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

“In a scene from Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, aliens have obtained a film from WWII. They are showing it to better understand earthlings, but they are running it backwards:”

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation. 

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers , and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again. The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby.


Message, by Andy Pakula

 

Today is Remembrance Sunday - the closest Sunday to the 11th of November - the anniversary of the end of the First World War. 

Three days from now, on the 11th, the queen and many dignitaries will lay wreaths at the base of the Cenotaph - the memorial originally created in honour of the British dead of the First World War and now also used in remembrance of the British dead from other wars. 

The First World War was a tragedy. No matter the outcome, it was the first time the world had seen human beings slaughter one another on such a massive scale. It is no wonder that rituals were created to ensure that this horrific event would be remembered.

But, over time, one of the great challenges that has arisen is how this war - how any war - should be remembered.

The issue shows up each year in the poppy question: To wear a white poppy, a red one, or none.  A red poppy honours the fallen. A white poppy is for peace. Of course, these intentions need not be mutually exclusive, but the symbolism has become important.

There are some who see a red poppy as a glorification of war - a suggestion that war is necessary and that all those who engage in it are to be praised. They see in the red poppy a suggestion that war is justified and is essential for our well being. They recognise that the red poppy takes account only of our own war casualties and not the millions who are or were not on “our side.”

And there are those who see a white poppy as an insult to soldiers who gave their lives for this country - as an affront to their courage, a denial of their sacrifice, and an insult to their memory. They see a white poppy as a sign of cowardice - an unwillingness to fight when it is necessary.

You can not be a politician and go out in public at this time of year without a red poppy. It would be scandalous.

Where do you stand? Where do we stand when we are asked to either honour the dead OR to support peace.

We have been focusing here on our connections and relationship with other beings - present and past. Our relationship to those who fought in war is a complicated one. They fought and died because they were told do - ordered to. They fought and died - many of them - because they were convinced that it was the right and honourable thing to do.

We cannot help but be in relationship with them - the warriors. 

Whether the battles they fought were just - whether they were necessary - whether in the light of hindsight they were completely misguided - the dead soldiers are still connected to us and we can not break our relationship with them.

But we must also know that the connections of conflict are far broader and far more intricate than our connections to the British soldiers who died.

In our interconnected world, deaths in Syria, Iraq, or anywhere else, touch us here in London.

The death of each individual is tragic - the vast number of deaths in wars over the past century is truly beyond comprehension - 300 million people. It is a number so large it defies comprehension. If each of those people was represented by a single grain of rice, the total would amount to 6 metric tonnes of rice - six thousand one-kilogram bags of rice.
And it is not just the individuals who died, but the connections between individuals. Each person killed was connected to others - each one was a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, husband, wife, beloved, uncle, aunt, nephew, friend, teacher, student.

The relationships amongst us define an intricate network - a fabric - a life-giving and life-sustain cloth that holds us. And each life lost creates a hole in that fabric. Each stitch dropped affects many others to which it was connected and the tears spread throughout the fabric of our lives.

When life is lost, it is not limited in its scope in space or in time - the pain spreads and the fabric is weakened there and then, but also here and now. 

Our duty today is not simply to remember, but also to weave and sew and knit. As we honour the lost lives, we also feel the pain of the tearing of the fabric of our lives. 

And our response must be more than simply remembering - more than simply honouring. We can be weavers. Every relationship we build and sustain strengthens the fabric of life. Every broken connection restored, every suspicion overcome, creates a stronger, warmer fabric to hold all of us.

Let us then be grateful to every person whose life was taken in war. Let us honour their loss by working to ensure that war will never again take another life. And let us weave a fabric of connections so strong and so all-enfolding that war becomes only a memory. 

 

Let us stand in remembrance of all who have died of violence
In war, in peace, soldier, and civilian
May their suffering teach us that there is no victory in war
All war is defeat
The only victory is peace
And the only effective weapon is love