In November 2014 I returned from my African home to speak at the Hamilton Convention Centre on the theme of The Nature of Peace. This was on the invitation of the YMCA of Hamilton-Burlington-Brantford, which holds an annual Peace Medal Breakfast to honour the people of Hamilton region who work towards peace.
Now, following the unsettling news of the 12 killed at the Paris publication Charlie Hebdo, including at least 8 journalists – all murdered by Muslim extremists – here is the first of several excerpts from that Hamilton address, starting with something on the nature of war.
Here’s a story on the nature of war. It’s from my grade school, Maple Crest, where fighting was a community event. And it was always the same two guys. One guy was Enzo Coplin, a tough Italian kid who was built like a steel tank. He was the declared champ and only a fool would take Enzo on. And that fool’s name was Robin Michod, Robin, yes, Robin, like a bird.
The way we kids did it in those days, we’d form a circle and the two combatants would fight inside. And we’d cheer. And Enzo would pound Robin blood every single time. And we screamed in delight! We just loved it!
Now I’m not a fighter. I’m Mennonite. You know, we’re pacifists. But one day the three of us – me and two friends, Paul Blakely and Drew Humber – we wanted to beat up this kid named John House. And it’s all I wanted. My whole life would be complete if I could just beat up John House. And so I led the charge. We ran to his house. And I led the crowd. And then his mother came outside to protect her son and I remember I called his mother a name, something that I would never repeat here, something I’m ashamed of to this day.
But in all truth, for a moment, it … felt …good!
And maybe that feeling wasn’t much different than with that first family, when Cain killed his brother Abel with a rock, or club, or whatever he had. And he stood over his brother. And then that voice, asked “Cain, what have you done to your brother?”
Even so, for a moment, I wonder if it … felt … good!
And maybe that wasn’t much different than that one day in Yemen, when a Muslim extremist came into a hospital – a hospital where Yemenis were being cared for. And he had a blanket and got through security by saying a baby was underneath, before he got in and then pulled out a gun and shot three Americans, our friends, killing them in cold blood.
And, at least for a moment, it must have … felt … good!
The point is that we tend to see war as somewhere out there. But the nature of war is in here. It’s in our humanity. It’s in this room. It’s on this stage. The nature of war is in the very DNA of our hearts. It’s something we’re born with, the dark side of our heritage as human beings. And it’s as real and present as today’s sunrise.
It’s like the game Sorry, where you move your men around the board and knock others off, then say “ah sorry!” when you’re not sorry at all. Now, if you want peace in your home, don’t play Sorry. We play a lot of Sorry in our home.
And one day when playing Hannah was in tears and and she cried “It’s Jon. He’s just in it for himself!” And I said, “Hannah. We’re all just in it for ourselves. That’s how the game is played.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it this way. He said, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
So we have wars. And rumours of wars. And history of wars. The 20th century was the bloodiest century ever. We now have over 20,000 nuclear warheads to destroy ourselves umpteen times.
So this is the bad news. We may be children created in God’s image, but … well, you get the idea.