Invictus? Really?


I am troubled by the Invictus Games. Not just the strange ways the Latin participle ‘invictus’ gets used, but by the normalisation of the warrior spirit. The propaganda around the Games makes war seem good.

In a world where it has become part of the culture to thank every member of the military for their ‘service’, and the Invictus Games seems set to increase such thoughtless commentary even more, I know I need to be precise in my criticism.

War is the way of the world. And the world is divided into nation states. I would be crass indeed not to recognise these realities and fail to acknowledge the sacrifices that the military make to keep our nation safe.

I respect individual sailors, soldiers and airmen for their choice and for their part in my freedom. I am in awe of the peace-keeping that Australian forces do around the world. I recognise that much of the activity of the Australian Army in Afghanistan was building schools and hospitals, surely a good legacy.

But war is a sub-optimal activity for humanity. Partly because the nation-state is an imperfect institution – nations both create conditions for our flourishing and also create artificial divisions between human beings – and mainly because the aggression and killing war involves means that we should not consider war the final best way of relating that human beings can find. We live in a fallen world, and war is a symptom of our sinfulness and not of our glory as human beings.

Much of the lethal activity of war is sly. Drones fly invisible above their targets, and ‘clinically’ murder only the targets. Insurgents, who consider themselves patriots, leave death-dealing devices on roadsides. Proxy wars are fought in countries like Syria between the US and Russia, condemning millions of children to a half-life in refugee camps.

I look forward to a world in which nations are superseded by a common humanity and war has given way to peace, where swords are beaten into ploughshares, and the trillions of dollars we spend on armaments are diverted to the benefit of humanity.

This is why I think we should take care with the language we use, and the language we accept, around the Invictus Games. The fighting spirit that restores the wounded to purposeful lives is to be admired. The positive attitudes to disability the Games foster are to be encouraged. We should applaud the new appliances which improve the lives of those living with disability. The contributions the participants made through their service in the armed forces are to be commended.

But any implication that war itself is unambiguously good needs to be challenged. Let us ‘normalise’ disability, by all means. But let us not ‘normalise’ the fact of war. Let us in all ways and in all circumstances question its place in our common life, and decry the death, destruction and waste it brings. Let us aspire to a world without war, a world without the need for warriors, a world where we embrace, not fight, our fellow human beings.

My open letter to the Hon. Julie Bishop MHR


Dear Ms Bishop

I am presumptuously early in congratulating you both on your election, the Coalition’s accession to Government and your appointment as our Foreign Minister. But I do wish you well in representing all of us in the wider world.

Like you, I am appalled by the use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons. I am appalled that they should use such inhumane weapons and I am dumbfounded that they should use them against their own people.

I agree that the rest of the world cannot sit by and by silence condone their use.

However, I cannot see the logical step by which President Obama and the Australian Government believe that the appropriate punitive response is a response of force. A military response, apart from the illegality of attacking a sovereign nation that is not attacking us, reduces us to the level of the Assad government.

Non-violent response to the use of chemical weapons makes a more powerful and far more ethical statement. The rest of the world should not bomb, strafe or murder Syrians. Rather we should

° firstly state our opposition and disgust in response to the Assad regime’s actions through diplomatic channels.

° Secondly the West should better target humanitarian aid so that the real victims of the civil war can at least survive in safety. Standing by the least powerful Syrians, whether in refugee camps or cowering in suburbs in Damascus or Aleppo is a strong condemnation of the war.

° Thirdly the world can use mass media and social media inside and beyond Syria to condemn the actions of the Assad government. Humiliating a tyrant with words is more effective than killing his cousins, which only inflames the situation.

As our future Foreign Minister, Ms Bishop, please avoid adding to blood-shed by urging the world to act ethically and non-violently.

Yours sincerely

(The Rev’d) Ted Witham
Busselton

Episcopal theologian Frank Kirkpatrick has a similar take on Huffington Post.

The Hearth of God


My new translation of an old prayer:

Fill this house with your presence, Loving Lord, and keep far from us all the poison of the enemy. With your holy angels around us, protect us within the circle of your peace, and bless us always with your love. Through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[The Original:

Visita, quaesumus, Domine, habitionem istam, et omnes insidias inimici ab ea longe repelle: angeli tui sancti habitent in ea, qui nos in pace custodiant, et benediction tua sit super nos semper. Per Christum Iesus Nostrum Dominum. Amen.]

St Francis tells Br. Leo about the incident at Gubbio


My heart in my mouth I set off to meet Wolf.
He filled me with fear. He was Other.
I walked dark into the forest, so deeply looking
That at first I failed to see this Brother.

He appeared to be slinking around a tree.
In shadow, he looked all grey and black.
His eyes though lighted were lifeless,
And I froze, my feet bare on the mountain track.

I stared at the terrible empty eyes.
Brother Wolf still as a stone about to slide.
My eyes entered his and the space between melted.
We became one: my eyes and heart in Wolf’s inside.

He swallowed me whole. Yet I possessed him too.
Confused our hunger for love and humanity.
Crossed our praise of power in life and death.
Gubbio lay below in its simple vulnerability.

We stayed like that for time and a time,
Then slowly, gently in two came apart;
The same, yet different than before.
I burning with hunger and he humbled in heart.

I led him back like a lamb to the village.
Aflame, I rebuked him with voice and with prod.
“Share, show respect, live in harmony.”
The villagers rejoiced. I devoured God.

Ted Witham

Published in Assisi, Volume 2 Issue 2,3, the magazine of St Francis’ College in New York.

Picture by William Schaff.

Moshe at the Bush


***
Moshe squints as the feet
of the swirling mob raise ghosts of dust
in the desert heat.
He draws his kaffiyeh across his face.
The sheep continue to bleat,
and in the midst of their badinage
the horizon is shifting shape –
a shimmering blue mirage.

Moshe’s shaded eyes see the paradox.
The inside of everything is moving
in the dead still of the outside paddocks.
In the shifting shapes of ghosts, a bush burning:
its thermal motion outside, but within no turning –
just the Steady State. His Presence proving.

Sandals gone, veil on, Moshe hails the Shekinah:
for in the image of the shape-shifting Presence,
He is capable, even gifted, as you are,
of looking inward and outward. So Moshe assents
to being what he will be:
swirling ghost yet made of star.

***
Published in indigo:journal of west australian writing Spring 2009
***

Vignette IV on Peace


VIGNETTE IV ON PEACE.

Wading birds on leg extensions delicately pick their way through the thrice-salty shallows of the Rottnest lake as if fearful that the hyper-salinity might bite or burn it. They dip their long beaks quickly to harvest a shrimp or tiny insect. Gently they cross the shallows. This is home and they are at home. This is the eternal present of their lives, the way it always is.

We rarely see the massed take-off when they leave for Siberia.

We never see them feeding, breeding on the snowy wastes of the far northern hemisphere – equally their home.

We see only one moment. We see what is.

Vignette III of Peace


VIGNETTE III OF PEACE

The email screamed, “Nine thousand Muslims are coming! Keep them out of our Christian country! They will pervert our children and destroy our way of life.”

The chaplain should not have forwarded the email to me, her boss, whether or not she knew my views on immigration and on Islam.

I should have ignored it.

But I had a gnawing unease. Unless I did something about it, I would go on thinking that way about that chaplain. She had lost my respect, and it was important for me to restore it.

I started refuting the email line by line. Bad plan. That made me angry and made me write angrily. That way inflamed the situation. My first intuition to ignore the email had reason. I stopped writing. I waited a day. I prayed.

Then I wrote back to her, “I am sorry I cannot agree with your email,” I said, “but is it not possible that God wants 9,000 Muslims to come to Australia so that we can share our Christian faith with them?” I sent the email and waited two days.

She sent one more email, “I hadn’t thought of that. You may be right.” And then she apologised, “I am sorry I sent you that email without thinking first.”

Next time I saw her, I thanked her publicly for the commendable work she was doing in a difficult school. In praising her, I felt good about myself.

Vignette I of Peace


VIGNETTE I OF PEACE
The sun warms the western end of the shearing shed, and my back, leaning on the iron corrugations, soaks up the warmth.
Inside, rouseabouts shout, “Ho! Ho! Move up there!” and the shed rumbles with the penned sheep shuffling each other.
The diesel engine throbs on and on, and I hear it whine as a shearer engages the hand-piece on a long blow across the sheep’s back. The shouts of shearers and wool-classers are indecipherable sharp noises above the never-ending rumble. The shearing shed shuffles about on its footings; a machine at work.
But the warm wall, a smoke and a strong cup of tea in my hands, keep it at a distance. Moisture rises from the lush marshmallow plants. Yellow dandelions and green clover carpet the paddock in front of me. A bee buzzes lazily somewhere nearby and I drift drowsily in the afternoon’s warmth.