An Awkward Thanks
I've effectively been offline for a couple of days thanks to ongoing technical difficulties together with a lack of time in which to address them properly... I'll be back on the phone tomorrow...
Anyway, that has meant I've missed a couple of days of "thanksgiving" as per my most recent self-imposed blogging discipline... Had that not be the case yesterday I would definitely have been thanking those who helped out at our Coffee Morning at the manse and those who donated to the Save a Heart Campaign which we were raising money for, a scheme whereby a team from the Royal Victoria Hospital Cardiothoracic Department are helping to revitalise cardiac care in Nigeria. In the light of that, on Friday I had planned to put on record, yet again, my thankfulness for our own wonderful, if much-derided, National Health Service and the privilege it is to work as a chaplain within it. But I may well come back to that later in the month...
But for today I offer an awkward thanks, that is "Thank God it wasn't me..."
I've already explained to my new congregation this morning how uneasy I, and I believe many of my generation of ministers, feel about Remembrance Sunday... Not because I am wary of glorifying war or getting caught up in some jingoistic celebration of the military greatness of our nation… Neither are likely on my watch. No… the reason is that I constantly feel that I, and many of my generation could easily be told “You don’t know what you are talking about.”
It was Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in
Europe at the end of the
Second World War who said:
"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."
Dwight D. Eisenhower
I, by contrast have never been a soldier, or served in the armed forces; I have not lived through a major war, and even our recent troubles only affected me in a general sense: I lost no-one close to me… But for many to whom I minister that is very different… And so I tread very warily…
But as I look at the loss of life in war down through the years, and particularly the past century that has run up a colossal butcher's bill, and is still adding to it alarmingly all around the world... I breath a huge sigh of relief that I have not had to go to war or known the full effects of war on those closest to me...
Yet others have, and my thanks is not of the order that "thanks that they died so I didn't have to..." because I believe that they shouldn't have had to die in the first place...
I am fascinated by war, indeed I am a keen student of military history, but am convinced that at the end of the day it is a sign of failure... failure to confront evil early on by other, non-violent means... Indeed my overall feeling about war is best summed up by a pastor who did not manage to avoid going to war... Rev. G.A. Studdert Kennedy, who served not as a chaplain in a cushy hospital, but in the trenches of northern France in the First World War, where he was known as Woodbine Willie, because of his habit of handing out cigarettes to the soldiers under his care... He was a poet as well as a pastor, and in a short poem which we will be using as part of an evening series of reflections... he described war as follows:
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God,– War!
G. Studdert Kennedy