Sunday, 20 March 2011

Stitching Peace - while war rages ...

GrasYesterday afternoon I took the catechism group around the Stitching Peace exhibition. I've shown groups of children and adults around the exhibtion during the four weeks it has been in the Ecumenical Centre chapel. It's been a really good and meaningful experience.
Tomorrow we take the exhibition down, pack it up and it will travel back to Northern Ireland and rest before transferring to Jamaica in May when it will be at the core of the International Ecumenical Peace Convication.
Each of the pieces in the exhibtions tells a story of ways individuals and groups can build non-violent and committed societies based on values like solidarity and respect. These are stories born of pain, anger and often deep poverty and oppression. Powerfully though the pieces selected show that even in such situations it is possible to choose to stitch peace.
Showing the young people and some of their parents the chapel yesterday we also looked for a while at the icon of the stoning of St Stephen which the WCC received at the outset of the Decade to Overcome Violence. And again, as I do week in week out with visitors groups, I asked them to consider the physical stones and violence we may each be capable of doing with our hands - the icon shows two people throwing large stones down on St Stephen. And the violence we do with our words - the icon shows Saul (later to become St Paul) looking on, his words have encouraged the violence which makes St Stephen a martyr.
This morning I woke to the news of missile attacks on Libya ... is this where my prayers for the people of Libya lead? Unbearable thought. Is this what is really needed? Will it work - what is hoped for from this?
Pictures of fighter jets and macho military paraphernalia have replaced pictures of the devastation in Japan. These bombs and swift response units make us feel we are powerful. The reality of war is deeply sickening. And of course part of that reality is Ghadaffi having already chopped off water and electricity supplies to whole cities - an act of war as deadly as any missile.
I know myself well enough to know that I am not a true pacifist, but I do not believe in the ease of war nor in retributive violence, (read a reflection from Phil Wood on that). Of course it is hard to weigh up the responsibility to act and defend the innocent against the resort to war, but do we tend towards military solutions more easily simply because the armaments are available to us?

I know that tomorrow as we take down the fragile textiles I know that shall be thinking about how terribly tiny and insignificant, how poverty stricken yet beautiful and creative our efforts at stitching peace are. One missile probably costs more than the whole budget for the peace convocation in Jamaica. When the the women under Pinochet took their flour bags and started stitching their stories and pain in simple powerful ways, they showed that despite horrific oppression and poverty, the human spirit will find a way to express anger, pain and the desire for justice. That same human spirit will also find a way in the depths of distress to dance, laugh, celebrate and make music. To stitch peace we need also to push those values to the fore.
I shall try to go on believing in the small "signs of the kingdom" type of peace building, which relies on flawed, hurting and wonderful human beings telling their stories with creativity. I'm still enough of an idealist to think that "retributive reconciliation" can begin with needle and thread much more effectively than with exhorbitantly priced precision armaments.

And I should add that some of these thoughts are also triggered by conversations with one of the teenage boys about his future plans. He really wants to become a fighter pilot. And it is of course a really great career. Needle and thread or the creative arts don't quite offer the same attractive adrenaline highs ... do I want to package Christ's gospel of the Beatitudes in a similarly attractive way - might I even have the capacity to do that, to understand contemporary culture well enough to be able to do that?