Author Archives: Ricktopher

Reflections on ANZAC Day

Today, on ANZAC day, I will be wearing a poppy badge as a sign of remembrance.

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on war over the past few months.

For a long time I have taken a position of pacifism. Many of the people who have inspired me most are those who have had the courage to actively resist war and militarism whether they be the conscientious objectors that demonstrated courageous sanity in the face of global madness in World War I and were prepared to face the full force of the law (often being sentenced to death) to do it, the masses of people who resisted the war in Vietnam or the Ploughshares Activists who break into military bases and weapons factories to disable the tools of death. I’ve heard similar views to my own described as Nonviolent Action. My position is not a passive position, it’s actively attempting to resolve conflicts with a belief that violence is never the best solution.

I never came to this position seeking to disrespect those who made a choice to join the military. My ancestry includes people who fought in World War I. One of my great-great grandfathers was an Australian soldier who served at Gallipoli. After falling very ill at the front he was eventually discharged. Within months of his return, one of his sons signed up and went to the western front where he was wounded in the head during the Battle of Ypres. On my mother’s, side another great-grandfather, still really a child, was sent into the forests of Estonia armed with an axe and the orders to kill Germans. He would later serve in the Australian Air Force as an airplane mechanic in Townsville during World War II.

Both of Emily’s parents served in the US military and her family connections to the American military, as far back as we can tell, include someone who fought in the Battle of Machias, one of the first armed engagements of the American War for Independence. By no means do I speak for Emily in any of this (she can speak for herself), but I mention her family by way of honouring the experiences of people I know well and care about.

Currently, I have a cousin in Afghanistan with the Australian Army. It’s interesting. I’ve always been told that our personalities are very similar. One of us signed up for the Army, the other is filling in forms to ensure his status as a conscientious objector. I think about him often wondering what his experiences are like there. I bring with those thoughts all of the deep concern for peace and wholeness that have led me to be a pacifist. After all, it’s not soldiers I oppose, it’s what puts their lives at risk that I oppose.

Now I work at the Australian War Memorial store in Australia’s capitol. Thankfully the memorial’s approach to war avoids celebrating it. I do find myself uncomfortable with the attitudes of war as a fun adventure that I see from some kids, but then I also realize that those were my own attitudes at their age and that time, maturity, and education can make a lot of difference. I frequently come across members of different military services from around the world (so far including the US, Canada, Singapore, Israel, Indonesia and New Zealand) and have found myself reflecting on the reasons people join militaries. Very often they are for very noble reasons. (I may not agree with all of them, but I respect them as noble.)

What I have found as I explore my feelings on war is that I can maintain my opposition to violence and militarism and remain comfortable being supportive of those who have made different decisions. I do not necessarily agree with their choices, but I recognize that we all make our decisions based upon our varied understandings and life experiences.

War is an awful thing. ANZAC day is celebrated on the 25th of April because that is the date that, in 1915, the battle of Gallipoli began in Turkey. Gallipoli was a massive disaster. Thousands of lives were lost for no gain. Some suggest that Australia was founded on the shores of Gallipoli. I wouldn’t say that’s entirely the case, but in the disaster of that conflict I would like to think we learned something about the senselessness and horror of war and learned to be a little less trusting of those who would make the decision to send living, breathing, loving, and courageous people to die senseless deaths.

As I have spent a little bit of time researching my ancestors’ war history, I found a treasure trove of files and documents on the National Archives website (most of the World War I documents have been digitized and can be easily perused). Most poignant to me of the documents in the records was a letter one of my great-great-grandmothers wrote after hearing that her son had been wounded (they had told her basically nothing other than that he was wounded).

It’s not a very emotional letter at face value (perhaps filled with British restraint). But as I read the words “very anxious” I get a sense of the grave concern they had that they might never see their son again and that he would be lost in a blaze of mud, blood and chaos somewhere on the Western Front. Those words “very anxious” are very emotional. To me, this is what war is about.

So should conscription ever be reintroduced in Australia, you will find me with those burning their draft cards. But to those who go willingly, you have my respect and love. I will be resisting war, and will be very anxious for your safe return.

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Toward More Useful Responses to Suffering

“God is in control.”
These words are often used as an attempt to comfort people going through hard times. More often than not, to that person, it seems like they’re trying to comfort themselves.

The last few years have been tough on us. We’ve teetered on the edge of poverty for sometime now and it’s extremely difficult. I once heard the experience of poverty described as being like that moment where you see someone suffering and you’re desperate to find some sort of solution. It’s like that moment, but all the time. Now, I willingly admit that, while we’re having a rough time right now, it is harder for many of the billions of people around the world living in poverty. But saying “God is in control”, just says to me that you think God wants it this way. That might be ok if poverty were only a short-term experience, but understanding the nature of poverty in this country, and around the world, we know that many will live in poverty for the rest of their lives. Does God want that?

In my view, this is why the concept of human agency is so important. God allows humans to make their own decisions, and out of those decisions comes the cruel injustice of the rich having their ‘beds of ivory’ or luxury cars, while the poor are trampled. It also means that the solutions are not as simple as “God will fix it.”

The key question for those of us who believe in free agency is, “Where is the comfort in that?” (In fact, as Christians, how to comfort the afflicted should be a central question anyway). How do we find hope and comfort in the midst of suffering? Simply saying “it will get better” or “your prayers will be answered” is not satisfying. God hears the cries of the afflicted all of the time.

Perhaps some of the answer comes from what God is doing. We can find some solace in God’s creation, and the small moments of joy amidst the desperation.  We can find hope in the message of the resurrection: justice and peace will win, in the end. But those things can only help so much in the here and now.

For me, when I consider my own sense of desperation and fear for the future, I feel the most helpful thing is to allow myself to allow myself to feel loved and cared for – by my Creator and by those around me. Being loved helps you feel worthwhile, and feeling worthwhile means when the world treats you like shit, you’re going to start taking action to stop it. Being truly loved also means you’re not alone in confronting the cause of your suffering.

As friends and disciples we can minister by simply offering our care and love without suggestions and self-serving attempts to instill hope that their suffering is going to end soon. Offering your solutions is actually a really bad way to show someone you care. Listening and accepting a person’s feelings is far more important. You can’t be part of the person’s solution until you have stood in solidarity with them. At that point we can collaborate with them (and God) to end their suffering (whatever may be the cause).

A compassionate response must always be focused on how the other person is affected and empowering them. Often, our response to suffering in the world is to make ourselves feel better. We see children suffering in poverty, our response is to throw money at it – to offer our solutions so we can start feeling better. Poverty is best overcome by the poor organizing in solidarity with each other to overcome their challenges.

It is the same with our relationships. When our friends or members of our families are going through hard times, our first response is often to offer our solutions or to say something that helps us feel better. What we should know is that we don’t do any good without first fully accepting that person and their experiences, helping them know that they’re loved, and then being prepared to stand in solidarity with them. If you do this, they will truly know you stand with them. Without this, it is harder for that person to be reminded that they are loved, and that God too is standing in solidarity with them.

Why I Stopped Eating Meat

I love meat. Most of my favourite food experiences have included meat of some variety, whether it be the chicken, mutton and other meats used in the curries I ate in India, the delicious barbecue pork I’ve had amongst Americans or the amazing flavours of the Brazillian churascos. I see meat eaten every day, and I want it.

The thing about vegetarianism is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t enjoy meat, and that you don’t want it – you just choose not to give into that temptation.

I’m learning to recognize my cravings for what they are: my stomach saying “feed me” and my thoughts turning to foods I have become used to craving at such times. 90+% of the time, I find that a delicious vegetarian dish will be every bit as satisfying by the time that I’m done eating, even if I had been craving meat before that.

My journey to vegetarianism has seemed somewhat abrupt, but has been coming for a while. For over a year now I’ve become more and more interested in what industrial farming has done to our food. There was a big part of me that did not want to know, because it might lead to a seemingly large sacrifice.
MLE read all of the books we had purchased on the subject. I shared her enthusiasm for the subject hesitantly – enough to know a lot of bad stuff was going on, but not really prepared to delve into it. I has horrified at the things she described, but guiltily wanted her to stop telling me.
To reassure myself, I began to take the position that we should avoid factory farmed meats and buy from local food sources. We’re poor, and the idea of spending an extra few dollars per pound of meat seemed daunting at first, but when you consider that the average Australian/American eats much more meat than they need to, we figured we’d eat better and eat less.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a good approach. It recognizes the cruelty and injustice inherent in the industrial farming system where big corporations are willing to sacrifice animal and human well-being for profit (a great introduction to this is the movie Food Inc). I know a lot of people who take this approach and their diets are undoubtedly better for doing it.

What helped me to make the decision to stop eating meat altogether was a conversation with MLE (who urged me to consider the matter further) which led to me reading the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Not only was this my first step into learning the grotesque details of factory farming, but it asked the question: What goes on in the human mind to make one animal a pet and another animal food?
It describes the dominant philosophical approach to the question as “Carnism” and compares it to patriarchy in that it is a position so ubiquitous within society we don’t readily recognize it. As science leads us to understand that there are few nutrients that we can get from meat alone, the slaughter of billions of lives every year has become unnecessary.

I began discussing the questions I was dealing with on facebook and received some useful feedback. It was helpful to understand that plants can also suffer, and to see it from the perspective that all life relies on the destruction of other life for its survival. In the end though, I came to the conclusion that while plant life can suffer, animals can think and build relationships and experience emotion (including the terror of impending death).

I have taken this step as an act of faith. Consistency of action with belief has been something I have admired greatly in others, and I have decided to pursue it myself. As my beliefs cause me to grieve over the suffering that exists in the world, I need to live a life that reduces that suffering and promotes the most good.

On top of this, I have learned more about what it is to sacrifice. I have sacrificed most of my favourite foods for a greater good. I have recognized that the life within a cow, a chicken, a pig or a fish carries more worth to me than eating those foods. I also now take more time to recognize that whatever I eat causes the end of something’s life. In doing that, in preparation for eating I prayerfully recognize that a sacrifice of life has been made, that I might have strength and life to do some good in the world. I figure that if my life is going to be extended by the killing of other life, I had better not live wastefully.

This is also the most counter-cultural thing I’ve ever done in my life. It has really brought to me a sense of being ‘in the world, but not of it’. There is a certain awkwardness that comes with eating vegetarian. Most restaurants do not cater to you with more than a couple of dishes. There is also a noticeable difference between how people respond to your food choices. When you eat a non-meat dish without identifying as vegetarian it’s no big deal. For some, it seems like my choice to eat that same dish becomes more threatening when I identify myself as vegetarian.
I have greatly appreciated the support where we have received it, but have been somewhat surprised as some people just seem to wish we would be “normal” again.

Overall, I’ve found it to be one of the most worthwhile and meaningful decisions I have made. I understand the impact of my daily life with increased clarity, and it has felt like a major step toward becoming the more consistent Christian I have long intended to be.

Most of the people I have talked to about where meat comes from recognize that there are some terrible things that go on in meat production, as I have. Many don’t want to know the details because it would cost them the enjoyment of treasured foods, as I did.
I encourage you to learn the facts. Ignoring problems don’t make them go away. For those who choose to eat meat, I encourage you to find local sources of meat and animal products (in America Local Harvest is a great source). Most of us could eat less and eat better.

When you come across vegetarians, be supportive – chances are they are taking a difficult action based upon deeply held beliefs.

Grace:
Creator of all,
We give thanks for the miracle of life and honour the life sacrificed in the preparation of our meal.
May we eat giving thanks, committing to use the energy and life we draw from this sacrifice for the good of the world, that we might create with you a world in which your gifts to us are honoured always.

Amen.