Monday, April 25, 2016

ANZAC 2016, I Will Remember

Lots of my Christian friends struggle with ANZAC. They do so for good reason. The Christian message is one of non-violence. Jesus preached ‘love your enemies’ and ‘turn the other cheek. Despite claiming he could in an instant call on legions of angels to demolish the Romans, he did not do so. Rather, he went to the cross without using violent force in his defence. The closest we get to the use of violent force is Jesus in the Temple, making a whip, throwing over tables and driving animals and people out. However, these passages are carefully written to remove any insinuation that Jesus struck the people. Assuming the veracity of the biblical accounts, he was imbued with immense power, but never used his force to impress others, in answer to their requests for signs, in defence, or in compelling people to believe in him. In a ruthless world not unlike the Seven Kingdoms of the Game of Thrones, He taught and embodied non-violence.

Knowing this, many Christians are simply quiet at ANZAC. Although they respect greatly those (including family members) who gave their lives for the causes in the wars of the late 18th–21st centuries, particularly the world wars. They don’t go to the Dawn Services. They recognise the importance of what was done, they are grateful to live in a world which is ‘free,’ in the sense that it is democratic with ideals of compassion and egalitarianism. However, they are simply uncomfortable with the whole thing. The event that lies at the heart of ANZAC day, the attack on the Turks in Gallipoli, is more a reflection of the failure of humanity to test the limits of non-violence. It was a disaster, where the allies were resisted, an attack on Turkish sovereignty. It may have been justified in terms of the horrors of the Ottoman Empire, but it is still more a reflection of human failure than something to celebrate.

Part of me agrees with this point of view, I feel more sadness on this day, not just for the many lives lost on both sides of these wars, but for the whole spectre of war. It repulses me. It is horrific. I thought of that today as I rode my bike and saw the road kill that as always, litters the country roads of NZ. These men and women were ‘road kill’ in the hands of politicians seeking power. A visit to Gallipoli in 2010 hammered that home, as I reflected on graves engraved with biblical verses and the names and ages of young men in their late teens and twenties. Then down the road is the Turkish memorial, with Islamic texts and similarly aged deceased men. It is tragic.

But then again, it seems in a fallen world, even with Jesus’ ideals ringing in our ears, and his example vivid in our imaginations, there is a time for war. There are times when horrific regimes must be stopped for the sake of the living. It seems that while love usually cries out non-violence, at times love cries out ‘you must act for the defenceless.’ In times like the Holocaust in particular, how can good people merely protest or simply stand back praying? So, with deep reluctance, I acknowledge the simple truth of Ecclesiastes 3:8: ‘there is a time for war.’ There is a time where people must fight for the innocent and defenceless. That is why we should be thankful for the police, and even militaries where they are holding back evil.

So, while torn between a theology of pacifism and just war, I find myself giving thanks for those who heeded the call to fight to hold back the forces of evil. Yes, some of the wars and causes were less noble than others. Yes, many of our young men died because of stupid decisions. Yes, they were pawns in the game of thrones we are all swept up in, where powerful men (and the odd woman) decide their fate. However, they still gave their lives. I live in a nation that is while imperfect as are all nations, is blessedly free, which seeks to live out of ideals of goodness, love, charity, compassion, egalitarianism, and justice. I do so in no small part because of the courage of those who gave their lives on battlefields across the world. So I will remember them. I give thanks for them and to them.

But I will also be further spurred on to live out of Jesus’ teaching and example as best I can, renouncing violent malicious thoughts and actions toward others. I will do my best to uphold his call to the world to ‘love your enemies.’ And I will also remember our past as a people whereby we crossed the seas on wakas and through somewhat dubious means and power, we took possession of a land that was peopled by the Maori. My European forebears fought them. While we have come to place of some reconciliation, I will seek to live honouring the indigenous peoples of this nation. I will seek to embody and preach that the way ahead is the way of the cross—forgiveness, reconciliation, and mercy. I will remember.