October 2019

October 10, 2019

Thoughts From The Cottage

Dear Friends

Every Sunday we light a ‘Peace Candle’ to remind us to pray for peace and to commit ourselves to working for peace. It is not simply for peace in war torn or violent places that we pray for. It is for peace in every place, every situation, every neighbourhood, every community, every relationship that we pray. Jesus did not say ‘Blessed are those who live in peace’. He said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. This was right at the start of his ministry in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, his manifesto for the Kingdom of God. You can read it all in Matthew chapters 5, 6 & 7.

When I reflect on this issue I can recall times that I have been a peacemaker and times I have been the causer of discord. The question I ask myself is when do I stand with Mahatma Ghandi  who said  ‘Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love’ and when do I stand with Martin Luther who said ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’. Declaring myself a pacifist in my teens at the end of the sixties was an easy thing to do. It was in tune with the mood of youth of the time and Britain was not at war. Thinking back I saw this issue only in relation to war and not as a lifestyle choice. My time with Church & Peace opened my eyes in this respect as I sat alongside people from the historic peace churches (Brethren, Quakers and Mennonites), at least one of whom had been imprisoned for being a conscientious objector. In conversation the ‘Just War Theory’ I had been taught in school fell apart, not least because we all have different ideas of which conflicts can be labelled just. Yet I am also mindful that the plotters to kill Hitler included at least one Pacifist. It is a complex issue, none of which conflicts in any way with the remembrance of those who gave their lives for the freedom of others in World Wars and other conflicts. We will remember them.

Back to Jesus. He told us to ‘love our enemies’ and said ‘greater love has no person than this, that he lays down his life for his friends’. Perhaps his most challenging statement on this subject was ‘if a person strikes you on one cheek don’t strike back but turn and offer him the other cheek as well’. I have been moved recently by an interview with a man in prison for knife crime who went out with a knife for self defence and absolutely no intention of using it but in the heat of the moment he did. The same is true with guns. Knife crime and street violence is increasing. Jesus did not advocate self-defence he advocated a peaceful, non-violent response. He would not have countenanced martial arts or self-defence classes. Whenever violence was directed towards him he stood there and took it and that is what we must do, after all we are the body of Christ.

It is a tough, uncompromising position but then so much of what Jesus said was just that. He promoted a different way of life to that which the world promoted. He promoted the paradise that is the Kingdom of God. Standing and offering the other cheek in the face of violence means just that. Being a peacemaker means looking for ways to solve conflicts we are involved in, stopping using weapons as children’s toys and abolishing games based on war, fighting and conflict. It also means pressurising our government to abolish nuclear weapons and cut military spending. Oh yes, you’ll also be called unrealistic, idealistic or weird but that’s a small price to pay for following Christ.

Ian Ring