Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Remembrance Day 2015

An Act of Remembrance

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream – Ed McCurdy

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
Filled with women and men
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

Setting a Stage

I remember always wondering what my grandfather did during World War II. It was pretty much the one thing he never talked about – sure there was a story, but it was the details that were missing. My grandfather was a train engineer and joined the North Shore Regiment. He trained as a Bren Machine Gunner and fought until September 18th 1944 when he was shot in the head and left for dead. He was not, though, and was found, recovered and returned to Canada – paralyzed on the right side. He could no longer work with trains so he became a teacher.

That is as far as I ever heard the story. I have filled in a few of the details… They landed in Juno and fought their way through France into Belgium, taking a few towns on the way. There was one sunny day when the allied planes bombed them by accident on a nice field in Normandy – and shortly after they reached Belgium my grandfather was shot… The Regiment continued to Germany, crossing the Rhine and fighting until the end.

See – that was the thing, my father was in the Navy, my grandfather the Army, my great great great great grandfather was even a ships surgeon in the British Navy – or so the story goes, he is the first one to emigrate to Canada – if by that we mean jumping overboard and swimming up to the Gaspe as his ship made its way to fight the French in Quebec.

When I got old enough, I enlisted and made my way through basic training in the Armoured Corp. There was a sense of honour, a sense of family pride, a sense of the idea that our family fights for queen and country.

But I still did not know what it meant.

What does it mean?

When the Iraq war broke out I was 2 years out of the military. I had left my airborne armoured unit to go back to University and was deciding whether to become a minister or not. Someone put up these fake draft notices everywhere in Montreal – I was on a recall list already. I was actually scared I was going to end up fighting… the reality of which filled me with dread. I was no longer the naive and invincible 19 year old who signed up, I figured I might die. 

I had been trained as part of the reconnaissance unit of the 8th Hussars. My job would be to go ahead of the regular forces and gather information. Now, the life expectancy of an armoured soldier is pretty low – the scout – even less.

I would have gone had the draft be real; but I have to admit I was really, really frightened.
It made me spend a long time soul searching about WHY we make the choices we do, about what it means to fight for peace… which always seems like a contradiction at first glance.

And what I came to see is that there is a religious concept behind all this – there is a sense of justice and respect that comes from our belief in God’s love that makes us want to stand up for the underdog – to fight against bullies – to make the world as safe as possible for everyone!

We see it in the prophet Micah’s vision of a better tomorrow, a time when we allow God to be the judge of the nations and we no longer need swords and spears… a time when justice becomes the norm and everyone is fed and no one is afraid.

Now – this is a dream, remember, it is a vision – a goal – a hope… but it still has something do with what my grandfather thought he was doing when, as a 22 year old, he decided to see the world on the military’s tab.

We believe in a higher standard of right and wrong. We believe in the concept of peace and fairness. That is what it means to follow Jesus.

The Harvest of Peace

That is sort of why I threw James in there as a reading – to help give Micah a little backup in terms of how God sees the world. You see, James knew that war is caused by us – by envy, by pride, by us not trusting each other… and he suggest we need to accept that we are not wise enough to protect ourselves from this – we are not wise enough to always choose the best route forward… Just think of fighting with a family member or a spouse- do you always choose the best thing? So he suggests that we trust in a higher wisdom, a better way, God’s way.

Do you know the story of the Christmas truce from the First World War? It is an amazing story.
On December 24, 1914, thousands of soldiers put down their rifles and stepped out their trenches. British and German soldiers spent Christmas together along the Western font. For a moment of this horrible war, there was peace.

Most accounts suggest that the truce began with the singing of Christmas carols from the trenches. It was a beautiful moonlit night, with white frost on the ground.

Those who were there describe how the Germans would sing one of their carols in German and then the British would respond with one of their carols in English, until finally they all began singing the same hymn.

That hymn was “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, to which they both knew the Latin words. “Ades-tee fi-dell-less lay-tee triumph-antees...”

Two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war. All people singing God's song of peace together. Rumours tell of sharing chocolate and brandy – of playing soccer and in many cases, even refusing to fight when Boxing Day came back around.

It is hard to fight someone once you understand them. It is hard to hate someone when you realize they are just like you are; the same hopes and dreams, family back home, and fear of dying.

Love, Love, Love

To quote the immortal John Lennon – all you need is love.
Well, ok, that is not all you need, but it is at the heart of what you need. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love – everyone, always, even yourself. And then he said something even harder – go out and help people do that.

This is where it gets tricky. When someone is hurting someone, is stopping them an act of love? When we protect our loved ones by hurting or even killing someone else, is it an act of love? Well – perhaps. I don’t want to say I am condoning violence; I am just trying to point out a very real conundrum we struggle with and a “feeling” that is at the very heart of Remembrance Day.

I think that the people who sing the song of peace the loudest are the ones who have seen the most violence and destruction and disarray. I have never met a soldier who does not carry this vision close to their heart.

Over the bombs and the screams, over the chaos and confusion, they can hear hope.

And that's why these people do this. That is why they risk their lives, say goodbye to their families, and get on a boat or a plane to travel to a warzone. So that the song of peace may be heard throughout the world and that it might matter.

And it shows up in their letters, in their songs, in their poems, and in their stories.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row...” John McCrae heard the song in the fluttering of the poppies that grew up from the ground.

“Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, And smile, smile, smile.” With every step of the soldier's march, the song of peace can be heard.

In his song, “Take a Breath”, where David Rivett sings of Normandy, he says: “Look around this old world and See the flags are flying. Hear the voices crying out for love… In the streets they are shouting, and the guns they are firing. See the tears in the eyes of the dove.”

With every beat of a dove’s wing, the song of peace plays on.

That song of peace is what we sing out in our remembering. And it rings out into our world, like a trumpet blast, loud and clear.

This Remembrance Day, listen for it – in the prayers, in the reveille, in the silence, in the footsteps of the parade, in the murmur of the crowd…

And when you hear it, know that it is God's song.  It is a song that has rung out through the ages. 
A cry for harmony.  A rally for unity.  A call to action. 

For when more are able to hear it the world will change.  But we must never forget to listen.  Amen.

No comments: