|Pen and Ink Reflections
How do you regard dragonflies? In the poem we heard earlier (As Kingfishers Catch Fire), the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins not only encourages us to be like them, but, in so doing, to be like Christ. Not everyone has always agreed however. In early colonial Australia for example, white fellas tried to kill dragonflies, just as they/we tried to kill so many other life-giving things that they/we did not understand. Those early colonialists saw dragonflies flying around and landing on their valuable horses, and they saw the horses moving and flicking their tails. So they thought the dragonflies were biting and making them crook. The colonialists were making things worse. The dragonflies were actually eating the mosquitoes and the gnats that were troubling the horses. They were life-givers, saviours even, not devils in disguise. In so many positive ways, dragonflies are thus evocative symbols for transgender people today. For, on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, we do well to attend to how bearers of light have been treated as embodiments of darkness. We do well, as our Gospel today (Luke 23.32-43) reminds us, to remember how Jesus was not crucified alone, and how others are also crucified today. And above all, we do well to affirm that it is only in recognising the light, in strange places, that we find salvation and hope for us all…
One of the strangest requests I received when I was General Secretary of the NSW Ecumenical Council was from the NSW Greens. They were trying to remove the saying of the Lord's Prayer from the opening of NSW Parliament and wanted support on the grounds that the 'Protestant' form used, with the doxology at the end, was excluding of Catholics, as well as of other faith groups. I did not have to contact the then Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, or Jewish, Muslim, or other leaders to know how ridiculous they would have found the argument. For what mattered to all of them was not so much the exact words as the setting of public life in the context of the sacred and transcendent. I was reminded of this at this time of year in more recent times in being involved in planning the annual civic Remembrance Service at St Luke's Toowoomba. Some of the older and more conservative figures would insist on the inclusion of what they called the 'traditional' English-speaking version of the Lord's Prayer whilst others would support the 'modern' form which has been used for many years in Australian churches. Do the words really matter however or is the real substance of the prayer the key?...
My older sister was born in 1944 when my father was fighting in Egypt in the royal signals corps of the British army. He caught diphtheria in Egypt, foolishly swimming in the Nile in the company of a dead donkey or two, and consequently did not make it home from the war till late in 1946, to face a child he had never met, a wife whose hopes for their life together had dwindled and a struggle to find employment. He had a nervous breakdown soon afterwards and would never speak of his experiences. So my knowledge of war came through my mother, who lived through the blitz in Liverpool, and told tales of rationing and lucky escapes from bombed out air raid shelters, of knitting fine wool socks and of hours of work in the munitions factory in the bitter cold of winters with no fuel. She spoke of painful partings at railway stations when Dad had come home on leave, and for the rest of her life she could not bear to wave anyone off at a train. Such were the symptoms of trauma that stretched into my childhood many years later.
War is an evil and we are not here to celebrate it in any form. Wars open up opportunities for more evil, for anger, hatred, theft and human rights abuses of all kinds. Wars can shatter the human capacity for love and gentleness. Wars do not end in peace. They end in victory or defeat or dangerous stalemate. Peace, or shalom, wholeness, healing, takes a very long time afterwards to achieve and should never be let go lightly.
So why are we here today? We are here to remember the sinfulness of war; to acknowledge our human tendency to make a dreadful mess of things and to pray that we may do better. Today and every Remembrance Day our veterans remember their friends who never came home. We remember those who died too young and we also remember those like my parents who did not die, but whose lives and relationships were irrevocably changed in destructive ways. We give thanks for what our veterans did on our account, and what our serving forces continue to do, and we mourn the waste of human life and love...