Kosovo, Women Bishops,Sierra Leone,Northern Ireland, Gay Marriage,Iraq.
Good, you sucked your breath in, too. It’s pretty uncomfortable list of conflicts that are seen as divisive, and often seen as rooted in religion. To be fair, some of them are, but mostly radicalized war-mongers adopt a banner under which they give themselves the divine right to annihilate others. But that’s another story.
I’ve just been talking with Graham Boxer, the newly appointed Director of IWM North and his team as the piloted their newly created film Building the Truce. With footage from the now ‘peaceful’ areas of the countries mentioned, and interviews from people working with the civilian survivors as well as those combatants who escaped the conflict with their lives, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the countries are still at war.
Poverty, lack of infrastructure, hatred, radicalized youth, graffiti, bombed buildings, rubble scar the landscapes, town and cities, not tot mention the scars of war wounds across riven bodies and the feral terror of PTSD sparking unprecedented levels of domestic and social violence in once jovial, loving and kindly husbands and fathers.
There is little infrastructure, there aren’t any jobs, and many wonder if the years of conflict, imprisonment and fighting for one’s own belief system, religious, political or otherwise, was really worth it, particularly when the only option now, is Building the Truce.
Two ‘sides’ still exist; two distinct groups of people must now learn to co-exist, with less than they ever had before, and from places of great pain, suffering, loss and grief. Hardly a recipe for a peaceful co-existence, with the potential for new conflict flashpoints now more likely than ever.
And yet… and yet, the cost of war has so impacted the people that they will stop at nothing, at nothing, to prevent it happening again. And so they sit together and listen to one another.
Listen. To the pain, the frustration, the impact on their lives and the lives of those they love.. To the loss and the howling emptiness of a grief that cannot be assuaged, whether it is for a son, a wife, a new-born child, a limb or the happy-go-lucky nature that has been battered into a fragmented psyche that now knows unbounded rage and terror.
So, why did I put women bishops and gay marriage in the list of conflicts that have torn countries and peoples apart?
It strikes me, that all the talk of division and conflict is hyperbolic and insensitive in the extreme. This isn’t a life threatening situation, but it is life-denying. As people of faith committed to peace, surely we aught to be listening to the victims of exclusion and opening the doors that have kept them imprisoned for two centuries.
We ought to be mature enough to listen to what survivors of war called ‘the uncomfortable’ stories of those who have had breakdowns because they dare not name their love or share their joy, who have lived in fear of hellfire and damnation, or just a friend at church knowing who they really are.
We ought to listen to the stories of women who’s own relatives have never spoken to them since ordination and yet have attended the ordinations of priests in neighbouring parishes – male, unrelated priests of a certain integrity.
And I feel I can say this, because I have heard the pain of those who find women in religious leadership untenable. It strikes me as the pain of having a joist removed from a house that you have spent years building, decorating and making into a home, only to find you need to tear out something in the bathroom that is going to disrupt everything else around it and seems to stop key functions of normal everyday life from continuing undisturbed. Having literally experienced that myself, I also know that it begs the question, ‘if that joist needs removing, what about the others? Surely if the whole house is built on this either my joist is in the right place, or the whole house is going to fall down around my ears?’ It’s hard to believe that removing that one foundational belief will not bring the whole house crashing down.
Then, of course, there is the cost, and the personal ramifications of seeing men and women, gay or straight, in a different light. It’s not an easy task, it’s no one-stop-shop, but a journey involving dust and detritus, inconvenience, fear, cost, resources and the jolly hard work of replacing a joist without allowing the house to collapse around it, but rather to reintegrate the new joist within the existing structures.
What struck me as being most sad about the cost of war in the film Building the Truce, was that the listening process worked; the indaba methods, active listening, reconciliation, call it what you will, but it works, just like it has in Northern Ireland, in Sierra Leone, in Iraq, in South Africa most notably. What is sad about that? The fact that it wasn’t until we’d run out of ammunition, that force fell, and lives were decimated that people began to.
Women bishops? Gay Marriage? <insert your own personal nemesis here> Perhaps it’s time to listen first, to work through the uncomfortable truth of another person’s experience of our hatred, exclusion, control and power before – as all war-torn post-war civilizations will tell you – we simply shoot ourselves in the foot, no matter where we think our sights are aligned.
Peace isn’t agreeing. Peace is agreeing to disagree, and loving your neighbour anyway.