Tag Archives: Peace

A language of peace (part 2)

So on a related theme to my previous post, I think I have found the one place in which this language of violence I speak of seems not to be used.

Whereas in almost every sphere of life violent imagery seems to be common place, there is one area where, as far as possible, it seems to be studiously avoided … when we’re talking about actual violence.So wars are described as “conflicts” because it is a bit less scary, the bodies of the innocent dead are described as “collateral damage” because it doesn’t sound too ghastly, and aggression is described as “security”; a word which used to mean safe but somehow doesn’t any more.

Has any one seen an armed forces recruitment film recently? They are truly terrifying … because they are not in the least bit terrifying. At no point do they seem to think it necessary to mention that you might get killed or seriously injured by the violent acts of others, nor that your soul will be scarred for the rest of your life by the violence you will perpetrate yourself.

They speak instead of adventure and excitement, of opportunities and education, of comradeship and personal development. And guess what: those are all things I approve of and values I espouse. They are things I think every person; including every young person who has had limited options thus far who are those primarily targeted by these insidious campaigns; should be able to access.

I’m just not sure that the military is the best placed institution to be providing them. No, hold on. I am sure. I am absolutely sure. I think they should be found in independent art projects: in theatre and dance and and creativity; I think they should be found in community activism and the service of one another; I think they should be found in a context of peace and hope.

Just as it is dangerous that we unthinkingly describe our everyday circumstances with the language of violence; it is equally dangerous when we fail to call out violence and aggression for what it really is. So let’s call a spade, a spade. And a war, a war.

And then, named as such, let’s choose to say no.

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A language of peace

It was a hymn we sung in church, a few weeks ago now, which reminded me I wanted to write a post on this subject … although it is a theme I have considered writing about previously, but never quite got round to it.

I can’t even exactly remember which hymn it was now, but it was one of those “onward Christian soldiers”, “fight the good fight” type ones which always make me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

I know others will tell me these are not songs which condone violence, that they are simply using familiar, evocative imagery to explore spiritual themes which defy easy description.

That though, is precisely the problem.

As my involvement with the peace movement has become increasingly active, and as I have engaged with and reflected on what it means to be truly non-violent, I have become increasingly aware how unhelpful the language and imagery we use, often entirely subconsciously, can be.

I have long been uncomfortable with ‘warfare’ hymns and the constant rhetoric of the ‘war on this that and the other’ from government ministries and media outlets but the first time I remember being stopped in my tracks by something I said myself was when I described the Quakers as “punching above their weight”… and realised how entirely inapt the image was.

It was a wake up call to try and think more carefully about my choice of words and images, and to become aware of how often we fallback on images of violent conflict to explain or evoke a whole range of situations and experiences. We “fight” or “combat” the things we are against, take “a shot in the dark” when we just don’t know or “give it a shot” when we think maybe we do.

Perhaps it is all entirely innocent and I shouldn’t be concerned about the words we use without a second thought: but I don’t think so. I believe in the power of language and I worry that by our constant exposure to the language of violence we reduce our sensitivity to what these things actually are and actually mean. Desensitised to the reality behind the images, our everyday language becomes one of many factors helping to perpetuate a culture of violence.

The language we use certainly helps shape the way we think; so I can’t help wondering what would happen if we shifted our rhetoric to more peaceful images.

I am not pretending I have been entirely consistent in changing my language use since I first started to reflect on this idea After all, my starting premise was that often these language choices are so ingrained that we use them entirely sub-consciously. But I guess I have tried to be a little more conscious, at least some of the time, of the words I choose and the images I describe.

It is one of the tiny steps I am trying to take towards the road of peace I want to walk.

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No Faith in Trident

This morning, five members of Put Down the Sword helped to shut down  Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment. Other affinity groups – a group of Quakers, and a group from London Catholic Worker – were also involved, and between the three groups all entrances to the base were blockaded. Eight people were arrested, five members of PDtS and three from the Quaker group. The day was part of a whole month of action organised by Trident Ploughshares. As well as the blockades different faith groups held vigil outside the site.

Burghfield AWE is the final assembly site for the warheads used in the Trident nuclear weapons system. It was recently reported that the site could be being used to develop even more powerful warheads, and has seen upgrades costing billions of pounds, despite no final decision being made in parliament on whether or not Trident replacement should go ahead.

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In Memoriam

downloadYesterday, Daniel Berrigan: Priest, Poet, Peacemaker and Protester died just short of his 95th birthday.

If, even in the face of vast American military might, he never lost sight of the hope of an alternative, it was perhaps because of his recognition that while the commitment to war was total, those who spoke for peace so often did so half-heartedly, without the commitment and energy that others dedicated to the power of war and death. All it would take, then, for peace to win, is those of us who call ourselves peacemakers, approach the task with the same energy and commitment, and prepared to take the same risks.

Through the anti Vietnam war protests, the anti nuclear weapons movement and onwards to an active stance against more recent American military interventions, Berrigan did exactly that, living what he believed and inspiring others along the way.

I don’t know enough to write a lengthy biography, nor do I feel the need to, I’m sure Wikipedia can do that. But I know enough to know he was an inspiration and that the peace movement, and probably my life, is infinitely richer for his commitment, his faith, his energy and his courage.

His is a voice which continues to resonate and continues to challenge. I know I am not yet living up to the challenge. I know I want to try.

He may not have had the media presence of some of those who facebook has mourned in 2016; but for me, he is without a doubt the greatest of those whose faces have appeared on social media on the roll call to heaven for this year so far.

Some: A Poem by Daniel Berrigan

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”

“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”

“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”

 

RIP Daniel Berrigan (May 9th 1921 – April 30th 2016

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We are nature defending herself

We gathered in the foyer of the British Museum, underneath a banner for the latest exhibition; Sunken Cities, Egypt’s Lost Worlds. We weren’t queueing for tickets; we stood in silence, in a circle, as an act of witness to the destruction being caused in the pursuit of profit by the company sponsoring that exhibition – BP.

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Holding a Quaker Meeting is a very simple protest – if that is what it even is – that means space is gently occupied by a group of peaceful people, whose presence draws attention to something everyone would be able to see anyway, if they were to look. Not just BP’s logo – that’s obvious – but casting a light on the all of the systemic violence that has brought that corporation into one of our museums in the first place. BP are not sponsoring our museums and art galleries because they have a great love of art, culture and history – they are there because they need to sanitise their image, and to ensure their view of their world remains hegemonic.

Normally in Quaker Meeting I flit between letting my mind wander wherever it goes, and gently bringing my attention back to my breath, to the flowers or water on the table, to the light coming through the window, to the week I’ve had or the week coming, or to the most recent piece of ministry. In the British Museum, I found my mind settled on the words written on a banner held aloft at the COP 21 protests in Paris:

nous-sommes-la-nature

“We are not fighting for nature – we are nature defending herself.”

In these words there is a sense of hope and interconnection that startles, baffles, and comforts. “We are nature defending herself” speaks of a radical break with the status quo – capitalism’s constant thirst for more resources and ever expanding growth, that is so often achieved to the detriment of societies and cultures, and the destruction of forests, deserts, rivers, lakes, seas, air, animals, birds, insects, fish. Deeper though, those words act as a break with the standard rhetoric of many environmental campaigns and activists; that system tweaks are all that are needed, not systemic and cultural change. I’m convinced we need a radical change in how we use the earth’s resources, and that that has to be nurtured within a radical shift in our relationship with nature, of how we see ourselves in relation to nature.

Stepping back a little, it seems violence is made possible when we are able to effectively distance ourselves from the victim. At a talk I attended recently, a member of Veterans for Peace described the psychological reconditioning that takes place in military training as as important as the physical preparation for war. In his book ‘On Killing’, David Grossman described how in the First World War many soldiers – physically prepared but not mentally reconditioned – ended up not firing their weapons, but by the Vietnam War and onwards the military had ‘successfully’ raised the kill rate, by training soldiers differently. The VfP member described being taught to ‘shoot at the mass’ (rather than the ‘body’, or ‘person’) from distances that made it harder to relate to the target.

Is it trite to suggest a similar reconditioning in terms of our relationship with ‘nature’? Have we been taught to see ourselves as inherently separate from the rest of the earth, to see the earth as an object? Has this allowed us to accept and participate in ecocide?

Have we been conditioned to see nature as an object to meet our own ends, rather than something we have an inherent, deep connection with, something (everything?!) that has value in and of itself? Do we know how to look at a tree, an animal, a river, an insect, a whole ecosystem, as something inherently valuable, regardless of whether we manage to extract resources from it, consume it, even visit it to ‘enjoy’ it? How would we (re)learn how to do that? Could we?

George Monbiot explored some of these themes in ‘Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding’, a fascinating account of how areas of the Earth’s lands and seas might be allowed to return to wild forest and ocean. He dares us to imagine hundreds of acres of forest, with wolves roaming free in Scotland and wild boar in the south of England, and at the same time imagine what rewilding ourselves would mean; indeed, he suggests it would take a degree of rewilding our hearts and minds to find the idea of boars and wolves palatable. For this to be possible, for this healing of our planet to take place, it feels like we need new stories (or to remind ourselves of old ones) about what a healthy relationship with nature is about; relearning this will be deeply spiritual, as we redetermine what and how we value, how we understand our roles and relationships. It will be a grand shift, away from capitalism, growth, extraction, and profit.

And so when corporations like BP look at our world and only see oil to be extracted and profit squeezed from the very rocks, we should balk. And when corporations invade our cultural spaces to legitimise their worldview, we should act to expose them.

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Of Sodom

The Old Testament story of Sodom is not necessarily the most obvious choice of a text to reflect on for a Christian pacifist: God destroying an entire city because of their misbehaviour can hardly be described as helpful in speaking of a God of Peace.

And yet, when part of this text cropped up in our prayer this week, I felt it spoke into the heart of at least one of my reasons for objecting to military action in Syria.

Before the destruction of Sodom, we read an interaction between God and Abraham.

Abraham speaks to God saying “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” Genesis 19:23-24. For righteous, a word that perhaps doesn’t have the same power today, we might read innocent lives.

And God replies that for the sake of fifty he will not destroy it.

The dialogue continues, with the number of innocents gradually reducing until God answers “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it” Genesis 19: 32

And this is where, suddenly, the Sodom story is not so inaccessible to those of us who want to speak for peace.

Will ten innocents die?

Because if so, God’s answer is clear, even in the midst of one of the most violent biblical stories; even in the very earliest days of this people’s walk towards understanding the true nature of the God who loves them; even here, for the sake of ten innocents, disaster is stayed.

Why, oh why, do we still have so much to learn?

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No Faith in War

Over coming days, as those involved process the experience, I’m sure there will be more to be said about Tuesday’s “No Faith in War” day of action outside the DSEi arms fair. There will be photos certainly, and maybe some video footage too. But some first thoughts from me:

On Tuesday 8th September, Christians gathered outside the ExCeL centre in London as it prepares to host one of the world’s largest arms fairs. Travelling from across the country and representing diverse denominations and groups, we maintained a presence at the gates throughout the day.

Peacefully, prayerfully, many stepped out into the roads, successfully preventing access to the entrances to the centre where preparations for next week’s exhibition are underway. Multiple blockades through the day were part of a whole week of creative action to disrupt the set-up of the DSEi Arms Fair. Informal prayers sat in front of a growing tail-back of lorries and a funeral procession for the unnumbered victims of the arms trade were among the powerful moments which took place in the approach roads to the ExCeL gates.

Supported by those maintaining prayerful vigil on the surrounding verges and pavements, the atmosphere remained one of respectful peace and of passion steeped in gospel values: a stark contrast to preparations for an event which will contribute to the continuing escalation of instability and conflict; the human cost of which is becoming increasingly evident.

DSEi takes place every two years and brings thousands of arms manufacturers and dealers together with representatives of global governments including those from some of the world’s most repressive regimes. As the refugee crisis in Europe draws our attention to increasing global conflict and instability, there is an almost sickening irony in knowing many of those conflicts are fuelled by a trade which being encouraged here, in our capital.

The theme of the Beatitudes reverberated through the day, with different groups independently choosing their inclusion in their liturgies. The power of Jesus’ words, spoken to an audience living under a military occupation, resonated through acts of repentance and resistance, in the face of a system which continues to perpetuate violence and oppression.

The sense of joy and community, which pervaded the day, even in the seemingly impenetrable face of death and destruction, allowed us to experience the truth of the blessing, that the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice will know happiness.

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War Starts Here

In a month’s time, the DSEi arms fair will take place in London. Once again, our capital will play host to arms dealers and military personnel – the arms dealers there to sell their wares, the military there to browse the weapons and other equipment that will be used in the wars of the future. The global arms trade is worth billions of pound20130910_090118s – in 2013, global military expenditure was $1.75 trillion, and DSEi is one of the biggest events of it’s kind.

The scale – of DSEi, of the arms trade, of the sums being spent – is almost beyond comprehension. The economic and political interests behind the global trade in weapons can seem insurmountable. Yet, what this industry is really, really reliant on is our acquiescence, our sense of powerlessness  – as soon as people refuse to allow such an industry to take place in their own backyard, it runs into trouble. Like in 2008, when the Australian government cancelled the APDSE arms fair due to the massive opposition mobilised against it, or kayakers set off into the Thames to slow down advancing war ships, or protesters sit down in the gates and hinder access to the arms fair. The arms trade relies, more than anything, on our silent complicity – as soon as we decide to get in it’s way, it slows and falters, we see it vulnerable, and we can imagine new futures, a different way, something new, vibrant, light, and beautiful.

In September, members of Put Down the Sword will be praying for peace outside the DSEi arms fair – come and join us!

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Silent Witnesses

Sometimes being peacemakers is about grand gestures and loud voices. Sometimes it is about powerful people making difficult choices. And sometimes it is about the tiny gestures in the places where we are. The outstretched hand, the smile at a stranger, the cup of tea. The choice to love instead of judge, to forgive instead of retaliating. Sometimes peace needs to be loud. Sometimes whispered. Sometimes silent.

Silent Witnesses

These are the silent witnesses

Who stretch out a hand in love, Who feed the hungry so that they can live Who teach the young so that they can grow Who create a space so that you can be you And I can be me

These are the silent witnesses

Whose message is one of love That tells the forgotten ones they are not forgotten And the unlovely they can still be loved Whose message is shared in a smile A spark of the joy of life

These are the silent witnesses

Who say there is more to life Turning away from economic profitability Trusting rather in human value Who say You cannot put a price on love

These are the silent witnesses

Who say Though I cannot do it all Yet will I do what I can Who know they offer only a gesture But know that gesture is already enough The gesture that says I care The gesture that we call love

These are the silent witnesses

This is the silent witness Arms stretched wide on a wooden cross With a sigh of lonely abandonment And a waiting in silent love

We are the silent witnesses To the mystery of our faith.

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Oscar Romero on Peace

Today is the 35th anniversary of the death of Oscar Romero, shot while celebrating mass in a hospital chapel for daring to challenge injustice and poverty.

Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.

I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence which lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, the exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression.

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