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Remembering in London

Ana & Tod GobledaleBy Ana & Tod Gobledale

On the occasion of Remembrance Day Sunday in the United Kingdom, 14 November 2010, held on the Sunday nearest Armistice Day, 11 November.

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. --Isaiah 2:4b

Imagine these words said with a South London accent: “We didn’t ‘ear a sound. One moment, peace reigned on Greenwich South Street. The next, a ton of ‘igh explosives detonates destroying St. Mark’s Church... The only person killed was the minister’s wife...”

Settling into southeast London this summer we walk around our neighbourhood like kids in a candy shop. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed we take in the sights, smells and sounds. Some streets stand aged and venerable, wearing a patina of timelessness. But in places, like a silver tooth in a smile, new construction fills a gap amongst the older buildings. We puzzle over this and our new friends explain, “Often, when you see that sort of f’ing, bombs ‘it there. During the war enemy aeroplanes scattered bombs across the city, and London’s East End and the Docklands were ‘ammered. Being just across the Thames from those targets, we received the lion’s share of the misses.”

This late summer and early autumn of 2010 Great Britain remembers the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz fought over its skies. The march of time thins the ranks of the veterans who fought. But younger, non-combatants who lived through those years, many of them in their seventies and eighties, recollect those terrible times--the fear, the losses and the determination to carry on, even in the insanity of war.

St. Mark's United Reformed Church beside Victorian terrace homesOnce upon a time, during those terrible years, St. Mark’s Congregational Church stood silent sentinel along Greenwich South Street, reminding passers-by that God keeps watch over us all. “One moment peace reigns, the next, a ton of high explosives detonates destroying the church. The only person killed was the minister’s wife.” The replacement church on Greenwich South Street, filling the gap between old Victorian buildings, reminds passers-by of that long ago tragedy.

Whether one walks along London’s roads or gazes at Ground Zero in Manhattan, ambles the hills of Palestine or the mountains of Afghanistan, the horror of an air strike arriving silently out of the blue, delivering death and destruction, makes us pause.

A bombed church with a garden planted in the pattern of the aisle and pewsTrue, violence and violent people populate our world. Not true: we must respond as the world responds. Conventional wisdom advises: “Arm yourselves against your enemies. Be prepared to strike them in retaliation.” Many of today’s world leaders would take that a step further, stating their willingness to launch pre-emptive strikes at enemies, or suspected enemies, before they can strike. But… But…

But, for those who believe… The Biblical mandate clearly offers different wisdom, indeed proposes an alternative in direct opposition to the ways of our world. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) The Apostle Paul writes, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15) This is not news; we all know this. But instead of rallying behind the banner of Christ, we rally behind national flags. Instead of encouraging our young to witness for peace through conscientious objection, we encourage them to become soldiers. Instead of seeing Christ in our enemy, we deny God’s presence in their midst and justify our own violence against their land and people.

Two students of Christian non-violent teaching, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. followed this Biblical mandate even when they suffered at the hands of violence, even unto death.  Gandhi’s sage observation, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” points to the absurdity of retaliation and revenge.

What of us today? Where in our world today does God call us to lay down our swords and shields and study war no more? Where does God call us to wage peace and justice rather than wage war that maintains the injustice of the status quo? Where does God call us to make strides in beating our swords into plough shares?

But, for those who believe… Today, St. Mark’s Church, now a United Reformed Church (Congregational churches united with Presbyterians and Churches of Christ ) stands silent sentinel along Greenwich South Street, reminding passers-by that our still-speaking God still keeps watch over us. God has not given up on us.

Let us pray. God, make us a channel of your peace.  Thank you for watching over us and never giving up on us. Make us peace-makers in our actions, not just in our statements of faith. Remove the blinders of nationalism, religious-righteousness, and capitalism, so that we can clearly see Christ's path and follow in his footsteps, taking strides away from violence and aggression, toward peace and justice. Let us never forget. Amen.

Ana & Tod (M.Div. '83) are Associate Missionaries with the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, and serve as co-pastors at St. Andrew's United Reformed Church Brockley, London, United Kingdom.

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