Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, March 30, 2013

More on violence..

This morning until mid afternoon I have been left alone.  After a day out yesterday I was tired and suffering. I am beginning to realise why they suggest a six week recovery time after my surgery. I set to and did dishes, cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed floors. After lunch I fed the hens, dragged a goat back through the fence from the next door neighbour's paddock and fixed the fence. All the while I have been stewing more on violence. 
When we were young my older brother and myself were often bullied in the early years of primary school. My brother and myself (to a lesser extent) suffered from skin rashes so were seen as different. (My older brother was called "Flea Bags") My dad told us the old line of "sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you" which is a bit of a lie.  He also advised us about bullying. "Walk away" if you can, "don't argue, just ignore them." Then he said "If you can't and they start hitting you, back against a wall, and if there is more than one against you it is fair enough to kick, bite, scratch or do anything that can hurt them." ... his theory about the wall was that they can't get behind you and if they punch you, and you dodge, they will hurt themselves. I'm not sure it was good advice, but thankfully we learned if we were together and ignored their comments they would leave us alone. (Thats where the "sticks and stones" line came in.) Pretty soon they gave up on us and picked on some other poor sod.   I met a woman a few years ago and was introduced to her as a "Brown from North East Valley". She apparently came from there though I could not remember her.  She asked, "Which Brown's were you, the 'terrible ones'?" I told her where we lived and she said, "Oh you were the 'terrible' ones". I asked why on earth we got that name? "It was well known that if you picked a fight with one of the Brown kids, you picked a fight with all five of them. You guys stuck together." I do recall once when some local bullies picked on a visiting cousin within sight of our house, all five of us snuck out of the back or front door of the house without mum noticing, and "dealt" to these bullies. They never bullied us again! Our cousin who lived a fairly sheltered life wondered what he had struck. Both my mother and father disciplined us as kids by hitting us on occasion. Mum, who did it more frequently, used a hearth brush or spatula. (she kept breaking them on us)  Dad used his army web belt, a walking cane or any nearby stick. So there was an element of violence in our family, though certainly not really bad. It was just the way they did things back then.
Me and Military things.
My dad was a soldier during WWII, becoming a highly ranked NCO serving for four years.  He sometimes, though with some reluctance, spoke of his war experience. We were taken to ANZAC Day parades and felt the pride of military men. Of course we read war comics as we grew up, but I went on to enjoy books about the war. I read books written about notable NZ war personalities, about the Battle of Britain (A book of photographs called "Our Finest Hour") about battle ships, cruisers and destroyers. At school we had Military Cadets and I signed on to be an NCO. This meant going to a course at the Burnham Army camp for two weeks over school holidays.  The Cuban crisis happened while I was at secondary school and teachers actually warned us that we could be involved in "World War Three." At one stage as an older teenager I read up about and filled out application forms to become an engineer in the Air force. (I never sent them in because I was lazy and the plumbing apprenticeship meant less dislocation)  We had Compulsory Military Training in those days, if your birthday came up in a ballot. I was disappointed that mine didn't.  All that to say that I was quite orientated toward military things. I encountered two men who had me questioning this stance. The first was as a young teenager I met a local man called "Walter Lawry".  He was a devout Methodist and was involved with CORSO a local overseas aid agency that our Church assisted from time to time.  I was drawn to this man, he seemed a man's man, but very passionate and compassionate about assisting the poor overseas.  I was talking about him with my dad who commented that he had been a pacifist during the war. I thought my dad would not respect that, but dad commented that "Walter is a very brave man." It seemed that Walter in the face of expectations, persecution and peer pressure chose to be a conscientious objector because of his Christian beliefs. (He later wrote a book called "We said 'no' to war" )  My father, an ex-soldier, respected that immensely. I suspect dad was conflicted about his war involvement.  This opened the door to new perspectives for me, I had the tendency to glorify war. When I went to Theological College in Australia, Principal E L Williams was a pacifist who during war years went to court with conscientious objectors, debating their stance. In our class he argued his position strongly, logically and with passion. He was not an anarchist and always said the objector had an extra burden to be a responsible, community minded, law abiding citizen and be prepared to face the consequences of his stance. Here was a man who still played Aussie Rules Football with us when he was 70 years of age, a strong farming man's man who from his understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus, decided war was wrong! I have since been drawn to the teachings of Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others. I can't get passed Jesus' "turn the other cheek", "those who live by the sword die by the sword" and "love your enemy". I also learn more and more about the years of ongoing destruction and harm that have been caused by past wars. The battles may finish but the hurts, disturbances, distrust and distortions can last for generations or even centuries. I no longer enjoy war movies, glorification of war and feel only angst and heart sick over wars, tyrants and violence. Only in extreme situations can war and violence be justified and then with deep sadness. We kill our kin. I am convinced that if the effort and money that is poured into armaments and the apparatus of war was put into exploring ways of peace the world would be a better place.
Today's reading
I am reading a book by Robin Meyers called "The Underground Church" he reports this...
"Before the fourth century and the rise of so-called Just War theory, Christians were not allowed to be soldiers in anyone's army. As Butler Bass puts it, 'The strong consensus of the early church teachers was that war meant killing, killing was murder, and murder was wrong.' .... A long list of church fathers, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Origen, all specifically condemned participation in war."
And further he says,
"Scholars are now united in this important finding: for at least two centuries, once a Christian was baptised, he could no longer consider military service." 
An Active Peace...
As I thought about it today, if we are anti-war or anti-violence it is not enough just to protest these things. We need to be doing things now to break down divisions.  It is important to build bridges of understanding and empathy so that we do not see others as objects, whether that be our wives, kids, bosses, Muslims or people of other ethnicities and cultures. Let me give you some examples from my experience...

  • Habitat for Humanity's approach of building houses using volunteer labour has rich and poorer folks sharing together gaining understanding of each other.
  • Our drop-in centre where we welcome the unseen, "unacceptable" street walking people of our city, giving hospitality and company helps to bridge a gap of suspicion and builds understanding.
  • A "Woman Across Cultures" meets in our Church and we have family nights with them where we celebrate our differences and learn about each other's cultures. Our Space2B is open on Wednesdays particularly to new immigrants. There for example I talked with an Iraqi man who told me of what it was like when the Americans moved into Bagdad. He also shared about the history and the tensions of his country. He's a Muslim, I am a Christian minister but when we meet in the Mall he extends his hand saying "God is good." 
  • I firmly believe that assisting the poor countries of the world, redistributing the wealth of the world whether done between governments or more informal agencies, builds bridges of respect and love. The sort of work Sir Edmund Hillary and his Trust did and does in Nepal expresses the essential unity of the human family. The work of the Fred Hollows Foundation helping with the poor who have eyesight problems does much more than improve the eyesight of a few people, but builds links of respect and understanding. 
  • Programs or opportunities which break down the boxes that we put people and ourselves in are invaluable. We slot people into categories such as "gay", "Rich bastards", "Greenies", "Asians" etc. Any gathering or mixing opportunity that enables people to look past the boxes and see each other as fellow humans on the journey of life with similar feelings, challenges and hopes is to be encouraged and breaks down walls that can lead to violent acts or attitudes.

 Secondly we need to model ways of peace. I have my son and daughter-in-law and grand daughter staying with us at the moment. It has been nice, but sometimes it has been uncomfortable for me. Parents with a young baby away from home have pressure times. It's times like this that I can see my son resorting to unhelpful ways of coping. They are strangely familiar, because they were the ways I coped as his father! He has copied my early bad habits.  (I need to assure you not real bad) If we are anti-violence or anti-war we need to be modeling less violent ways to cope with differences, less violent language, less aggressive attitudes and constructive win-win conflict management.  When I was in hospital recently one of the guys in our room tended to be grumpy with the nurses and staff. I determined to be nice and thank the nurses, because often they do some pretty uncomfortable jobs. A nurse finished dealing with me and I thanked her for her work. This elderly man opposite was watching. "Perhaps that's why they are nice to you?" he said. When I said, "What do you mean?" he responded, "You are always nice to them and they treat you well. ..Me... " he said, "I'm just a grumpy bastard, maybe that's why they leave me alone?" Modeling healthy ways of relating does rub off on other people. 

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