Remembrance Day is complicated for those of us with a Mennonite heritage. Our belief system is firmly grounded in pacifism. Many of our ancestors were conscientious objectors and whole communities migrated numerous times in order to maintain this commitment. So each year when this day arrives, I have mixed feelings. I do not believe war is the answer, nor should it be glorified. But, there are those who have sacrificed much, including their lives and those of their family members, in wars that have resulted in freedoms from which I benefit. I do not wish to disrespect the different experiences and histories we all have with war. And, I suspect, very few wish this horrific human act upon anyone. Ever.
As I was looking for a hymn that addressed both my personal peace perspective and the reality of others’ service and sacrifice, I came upon this one. I don’t think I’d ever heard it, but the words speak to the possibility of peaceful interactions – whether we are serpent or dove.
And is the gospel peace and love?
Such let our conversation be;
The serpent blended with the dove,
Wisdom and meek simplicity.
Whene’er the angry passions rise,
And tempt our thoughts or tongues to strife
On Jesus let us fix our eyes,
Bright pattern of the Christian life.
O how benevolent and kind!
How mild! how ready to forgive!
Be this the temper of our mind,
And these the rules by which we live.
The words are by English poet, Anne Steele, written around 1760. One account indicates that she was an invalid most of her life, and spent her time writing poetry and engaging in dialogue with “Dissenting” ministers. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I like the idea that this woman was challenging the status quo over 250 years ago.
Remembrance Day is a moment that allows us to consider tremendous loss. It is a time to honour those who gave of themselves – some willingly, others reluctantly. I believe we need to respect these lives. But as we do, we need to consider that all of them, and their families, would have preferred to live out their lives in peace. It is this fact that reinforces the idea that the act of remembering is an important reminder of what we still need to accomplish. As the oft used phrase states, to remember is to work for peace.
When I think of the idea of working together for peace, it seems so fundamental to what I’ve been taught all my life. But how do we do this when we have such varying perspectives? I don’t know. What I do know is that kindness, forgiveness and wisdom are far more effective weapons than hatred. I had a conversation this week with someone who spoke with such a hate filled perspective that I was stunned into silence and felt almost sick after the conversation was over. My immediate thought was to rid my life of this person (not easy in this situation). My second thought was that I had missed an opportunity to flatten the speaker with my own retorts. I’m not sure either response exhibits kindness, forgiveness and wisdom, and therefore provides no opportunity to encourage peaceful change. As I think about the next time I must deal with this person, I am acutely aware that I have a responsibility, as a pacifist and one who aspires to be decent, to engage with them in a way that reflects my values. I can neither be silent in my discomfort nor destructive in my response.
And so, we all work for peace in our small ways. It is not easy. It can cost us. But as we consider those who gave their lives, we must work towards an ideal where no more need be lost. It starts with our small interactions. It starts with living our values so they grow – treating people with respect, kindness and love. In wisdom and meek simplicity.
Dona Nobis Pacem