I recently watched the film ‘Nelson Mandela Long Road to Freedom’ and was struck by his very human capacity to choose love over hatred, freedom over the experience of imprisonment, trust over fear, and all of this within very remarkable circumstances. Mandela’s story provides us with some insights and shows that we have options if only we choose to look and act differently.
In recent times, I have been weeping like many others, as I watch the televised scenes with the shooting down of Flight MH17 and the needless loss of life. We have heard much about the impact of such a tragedy on so many lives here in Australia and overseas.
We are also seeing the fighting, naked aggression and fear unravel in Ukraine, as innocent lives are sacrificed in the search for power, land and retribution; all the while, people dodge bullets to retrieve bodies and belongings.
The same images of destruction, terror, extreme violence and brutal death are repeated in Gaza and Israel, Syria, Afghanistan, in many countries around the world and it is a long list! The children and adults weep endless tears. We are creating future generations of resistance fighters wielding retributive violence and the prospect of more deaths, and yet we are apparently unable to stop the horror.
Last week, in an emotional statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said the “destructive cycle of violence has caused untold suffering”. He said: “You can’t look at the pictures coming from Gaza and Israel without your heart breaking. We must cry to God and beat down the doors of heaven and pray for peace and justice and security. Only a costly and open-hearted seeking of peace between Israeli and Palestinian can protect innocent people, their children and grandchildren, from ever worse violence.” The Archbishop called for a renewed “commitment to political dialogue in the wider search for peace and security for both Israeli and Palestinians”.
In our own faith tradition, Jesus Christ chose love over hatred and death. We have a clear and unequivocal example to follow for those that proclaim this faith and there have been many others, including Mandela who chose a different pathway towards peace.
There are moments in our lives, and we all have them, where we can make a conscious decision to choose life over death, peace over violence, honesty over hypocrisy and manipulation. When we can take revenge out of our hearts and put it aside as being of no further purpose. There is always a time when we can put down our weapons, our bullets, our bombs, our words and feelings of hatred, our despair and grief, and ask instead for peace. There is a stillness which allows us to reach for words of acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation rather than vengeance, retribution and death. In seeking revenge, someone always suffers, there is always collateral damage and it is always the ones whom we consider disposable, of no account, the little ones, whose voices and lives we disregard and make invisible in our increasing demands for total recompense, for a scapegoat, in the desire to win at all costs.
It is a time for all our leaders of whatever faiths and religions, to change the course of history; to reach for peace and unity rather than death and despair. I call on our governments to put down the rhetoric of war and the invocation of images of retribution, terrorism and death, in their constant search for another enemy and instead choose pathways of peace and true leadership and love of humanity.