Archives For War

Family_Fathers_War

Royal Navy & A.I.F, 6th Lighthorse WW1, 6th A.B.G.R.O Coy WW1, 12th Reinforcements 4th Batt WW1. Papua New Guinea WW2, Royal Australian Airforce 1950’s & Army Reseve 1980’s. (Frederick Petrie not pictured).

I have a difficult relationship with Anzac day.

Firstly, I am fond of the practice of remembrance. It reminds the Australian people of their unique narrative, and place in the world. One that we can too easily take for granted, or pound into dust via political correctness.

For those of us with forefathers who were broken by war, it can be difficult to find a pathway beyond bitterness towards grateful ownership of our own narrative.

We find ourselves busy trying to repatriate ourselves into a family, in the shadow of those who found it difficult to be repatriated.

For example: ‘when the war ended, thousands of ex-servicemen, many disabled with physical or emotional wounds, had to be re-integrated into a society keen to consign the war to the past and resume normal life’. (AWM)

A personal example of this is my Great-Great grandfather, Frederick William Petrie. He was a locomotive fireman (stoker) and a volunteer, who enlisted in December 1916, at the age of 36.

From Australia he went to France, where he became a corporal in the ‘6th Australian broad gauge railroad company’ (6th A.B.G.R.O Coy). His war record shows that he served until July, 1918. Four months before the war was officially declared over.

Frederick’s reason for discharge was because he had ‘neurasthenia’. Neurasthenia is a general condition related to ‘shell shock’. That is, he suffered from ‘severe fatigue and emotional distress’. This was more than likely brought on by the trauma of spending eighteen months  shovelling coal into the belly of a steam train moving back and forth with supplies to ‘barren and bloodied battlefields’ (King).

Although Frederick was a non-combatant, as an engineer, his support role was crucial to the allied advance and it put him in harms way where he would surely have come under fire. Usually from artillery barrages, an enemy he could not see or even anticipate.

Lt. R.J Burchell in an interview for the ‘West Australian’ in 1919 illuminates the circumstances:

‘we were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even…the furthest back station of the 4th company was under fire from the 15in guns…With both planes and guns the enemy paid systematic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realise that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Coy…had the worst of it…their section of line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy…the amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and trains carry 1000-ton loads…the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised.’
(Lt. R.J Burchell 5th coy, The West Australian, June 1919)

F.W.P returned to Australia in 1918. Petrie had difficulty readjusting to a peacetime existence.

He helped raise my Grandfather, ‘Ted’, who had joined the Australian Airforce as an aircraft fitter in the 1950’s. ‘Ted’s testimony at a court-martial indicates the difficulty imposed on families by the ongoing effects of war:

Testimony_EdwardJHO

Adding to this the representative for his defence argued that:

assessmentbythedefendinglawyer_EdwardJHO

Although I have my reservations, I refuse to ‘howl with the wolves’ (Barth) and ridicule Anzac Day, deconstructing it, in an overexcited academic orgy that decries war, the evils of Patriarchy or the evils of Western civilisation.

I simply want to state that for me and my family, along with a large portion of Australians, Anzac day forces us to confront a ‘stubborn fact – the brutally elementary data’ (Arendt cited by Elshtain, 2000, p.135), that proves: causalities of war are not only the servicemen who were thrown into it’s abyss.

There is a ripple effect and it’s causalities also include the wives, children and the generations that followed these men.

Anzac day is not about a nations ideology. Anzac day is about a nations remembrance; its humanity and its theology. This is exhibited every April when a nation makes room for healing, gratitude and the acknowledgement that, those generations directly impacted by war are not forgotten.

Anzac day allows us the room to reflect and explain to others that we bear the burden of their scars, not just the benefit of their medals.

Anzac day should affect us. If the gravity of it doesn’t force us to reflect, we will end up in an ignorance which leads us to being only one misstep away from repeating history.

This also has theological relevance. For instance, we are reminded of  James’ call to look out for the widow and the orphan (Jm.1:27), and David’s reminder that ‘God is the father of the fatherless and protector of widows’ (Ps.68:5).

The benefit of Anzac day is that it allows a nation the room to grieve collectively.

According to my family history, we are the children of soldiers. We do not carry their wounds, but we do carry their scars.

Although we share different contexts, we still feel the effects of the price they paid.

Today, there are  serious interpersonal conflicts. These are largely caused by the hidden effects of a trauma still echoing through the generations. Because this goes unacknowledged, it is like watching ripples spread out from a point of impact in my family’s history. Anzac day helps me to frame that drama in a very real context. War, although now distant, is in large part the cause of that dysfunction.

Anzac day disturbs my complacency by confronting me with the story I am handed. It reminds us that we are given the gift of choice, and the chance to not make the same mistakes.

The Anzac pilgrimage each April is a paradox of thanksgiving grounded in the dialectic outcomes of war. War disinherits. Through the sacrifice of freedom it sets up an inheritance of freedom.

War costs families. It diminishes the potential for healthy and holistic relationships. Yet it opens the door for grace, forgiveness and gratitude.

Anzac day also brings us to find some deep sense of solidarity with Jesus Christ and the cross He was crucified on. It reminds us of His resurrection (Jn.15:13), and brings, by this fact, families to a place of hope, saying that through Him they can rise from the ashes of war.

Anzac day allows each generation to move forward in courage. It allows room for people to own their stories, leaving at the foot of the cross, the psychological, spiritual, emotional and financial dysfunction that war causes.

The hope of Anzac Day is Jesus Christ. It compels us to align ourselves with the table turning Messiah (Mt.21:12),  who, through His Spirit, is constantly at work in ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, even when we don’t see it.

It is here that we can catch our breath and find hope among the ashes.

#LestWeForget.


References (not otherwise linked):

Elshtain, J.B 2000 ‘Who are we?: Critical reflections and hopeful possibilities Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

25th April 2016 007Anzac Day comes with a caveat.

Absent of any understanding about what causes war and the case for just-peace. Absent of the moral restraints of the message about Christ’s act and command to love God and love one another as we love and care for ourselves, Anzac day becomes a celebration of chaos, not life; a day of hero-worship, not sincere remembrance and gratitude.

We surely remember the sacrifice of our ancestors, but with it we remember God’s summons to hear the importance of His commandments that empower us to stand against the continuing brutality of war. It’s because God comes to humanity that this word can be received as true word. A word we did not speak ourselves. A word that we’re encouraged to test and try out, because God is not insecure about who He is or anxious about what He has planned.

Anzac day is for humanity to stand before the past, under God, towards the future. It’s a time to mourn, a time to recollect, a time to reconsider and lament the effect of war.  Not only on those who didn’t return, but on those who did.

Traditionally, on this day Australia and New Zealand commemorate, not war, or the sins of it, but engrave, through Christian prayer, a deep gratitude and remembrance, of and for, the freedom and life given by those who sacrificed their lives to give it.

But, Anzac day comes with a caveat.

If we jettison Jesus Christ from Anzac day, our remembrance spirals into the worship of chaos, hatred of our enemies and as it deteriorates into the empty worship of our ancestors. Without the Prince of Peace and those He represents, Anzac day has no real message of peace or hope, only war, the hype and devastation of it.

This is exemplified by the words of Anti-Nazi German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in 1932 preached to a solemn gathering of Germans,

‘when the church observes Memorial Day, it must have something special to say. It cannot be one voice in the chorus of others who loudly raise the cry of mourning for the lost sons of the nation across the land, and by such cries of mourning call us to new deeds and great courage. It cannot, like the ancient singers of great heroic deeds, wander about and sing the song of praise of battle and the death of the heroes to the listening ears of enthralled young people. On this day the church stands here so strangely without ceremony, so little proud, so little heroic. The Church is like the seer of ancient times who when all are gathered… is wholeheartedly present but suffers because he sees something that others do not see and must speak of what he sees, although no one wants to hear it…the one who loves most is the one who sees deepest, sees the greatest danger. A seer has never been popular. That is why the church will also not be popular, least of all on days like this.’[i]

“Jesus is victor.”

Any real human victory begins in Him.

In no other way and by no other name can Anzac day be what it should be, a time and place when our hearts are directed, not towards human ideological constructs of peace, but towards the Prince of peace and therefore towards just-peace. Our memory and treatment of those who gave up their very lives for us is only enriched by this. Our mourning turns into hope, as we hear from chaplains, pastors and Christians, throughout both nations, at most remembrance services, we are asked to carry away with us the challenge of the message of just-peace.

‘Memorial day in the Church! What does it mean? It means holding up the one great hope from which we all live, the preaching of the kingdom of God. It means seeing that which is past, and which we remember today, with all its terrors and all its godlessness, and yet not being afraid, but hearing the preaching of peace […] Now pass on the message of peace, for the sake of which their death had to be, and preach it all the more loudly.’ [ii]

The one whose own broken body was laid in a tomb guarded and then, against, and to the shame of the chaos and all that stood in proud victory over Him, was resurrected from the dead.

Any real human victory begins in Him; all just-peace follows the Prince of peace who was judged become judge.

‘Where the power of darkness wants to overpower the light of God, there God triumphs and judges the darkness.’ [iii]

Any real peace follows from the one who is peace, not the one who through media, machine or human, only gives lip service to it. Or who through a mask of peace seeks through a will to dominate, only to expand a human empire.

The importance of Christian participation in Anzac Day is the reminder that peace comes to humanity from outside itself; from outside our ability to save ourselves. Through conviction, through just-justice, through covenant, through commandment the chaos is answered with purpose. It’s lifeless ‘mass, rebellion and tumult against true life is conquered, transformed as the One who ‘hovers over it speaks [and because He does, decisively acts].’[iv]

Jesus the Christ doesn’t seem to be. He is, was and will be.

That is our starting place and EVERY Anzac day what was once their march, but is now ours, must begin and end here.

For as Bonhoeffer noted:

‘wherever the word of Christ is truly spoken, the world sense that it is either ruinous madness or ruinous truth, which endangers it’s very life. Where peace is really spoken, war must rage twice as hard, for it senses that it is about to be driven out. Christ intends to be its death […] Memorial Day in the church means knowing that Christ alone wins the victory! Amen.’ [v]

Sources:

[i] Bonhoeffer, D 1932 National Memorial Day, Berlin, Reminiscere, Feb. 21,. In Best, I. 2012 The Collected Sermons of Deitrich Bonhoeffer,  Fortress Press

[ii] ibid, (p.21)

[iii] ibid, (p.17)

[iv] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW:3 Creation and Fall: A theological exposition of Genesis 1-3, (p.41) [parenthesis mine]

[v] Bonhoeffer, D 1932 National Memorial Day, Berlin, Reminiscere, Feb. 21,. In Best, I. 2012 The Collected Sermons of Deitrich Bonhoeffer,  Fortress Press (pp.20 & 21)

Remembrance Day: 11 11 2014

November 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

Marking remembrance day for homeschool with some PDF cut outs, construction paper and a pair of my dad’s old ’80’s standard issue Australian army boots.

One of the few things I am gifted with by my father is a sincere reverence for the costs paid by those people and their families who gave their all.

We don’t glorify war. Instead, in this moment and it’s minute of silence we are reminded of the fact that what ultimately separates us and them is time.

It is in this and it’s reverberating echo that we remember the great need to work towards negating the ideological arrogance which makes just-war inevitable.

Link to PDF: http://www.awm.gov.au/…/prog…/prepost/PRIM_makePoppy.pdf

Rememberance Day 2014 Old Army Boots 2

#Lestweforget

Related posts: Remembrance day (aka armistice day)

‘Throughout the blissful throng,
Hushed were harp and song:
Till wheeling round the throne the Lampads seven,
(the mystic Words of Heaven)
Permissive signal make:
The fervent Spirit bowed, then spread his wings and spake!
”Thou in stormy blackness throning
Love and uncreated Light,
By the Earth’s unsolaced groaning,
… Seize thy terrors. Arm of might!…
The Past to thee, to thee the Future cries!
Hark! how wide Nature joins her groans below!
Rise, God of Nature! rise[i].” (abridged)

Ever since my first encounter with Kubla Khan, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and Frost at Midnight, I have felt a certain intellectual connection to this wild –at-heart[ii] eclectic and sometimes abstract prose.

Cover of "The Complete Poems (Penguin Cla...

Cover of The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)

Coleridge was a man of faith. Untouchable. Almost unreachable. . He moved from orthodoxy towards Unitarianism and back again.Someone who cannot be placed neatly in a box.

On a personal note, I have my journey into the depths of a Christian theological degree to thank for reintroducing Coleridge’s work to me, beginning with this poem:

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?

(Source: Peomhunter.com[iii])

In addition, his work: ‘Aids to reflection: confessions of an inquiring spirit’ is, in my opinion, more than worthy of being called a theological treatise in its own right.

Like the ignored letters from a long lost brother, I am finding myself being reacquainted with the depth of Coleridge’s Christian thought and belief. Both of which are obvious in portions of his work.

‘Ode to the departing year’ was written near the end of 1796[iv]. It is the quintessential example of such portions. The poem is nine stanzas long and reads like a political sigh.

A groan (read prayer) turned heavenward. A plea to the transcendent one made immanent, the one who holds our hearts in a state of forgiveness and to the one whom is faithful to such promise. If only we would acknowledge.

Coleridge’s tone is sombre, firm; paralleling the same literary, very human gasps for breath, found in the imprecatory Psalms which call on the name of Yahweh for guidance and deliverance.

Reflecting on this piece R.A Foakes wrote:

‘in such poems Coleridge frequently falls into a sort of quasi-Miltonic heroics that morph into gothic melodramatics…but Coleridge was a man deeply engaged with the political problems of the time’.

In my sympathy with the theological contribution of some gothic material, I am not convinced that Foakes’ criticism is accurate.  Although, on balance, I concede that Foakes’ point is worth acknowledging.

Coleridge wrote this poem during the late 18th Century, a ‘time of great political turbulence’ (Foakes, 2009:2). Such as the ‘1789, French Revolution’; including the reign of terror, Prussia, and later England’s reply, found in a declaration of war. A spiral of conflict triggered  by the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793.

‘Ode to the departing year’ is rich in theology and I could mine it for days, rereading and discovering new insights. For now though I’ll simply just sit here and reflect on the finer points of reference that I find encouraging. I will do this whilst at the same time holding the prose in view of the historical context from which it was written.

In the closing refrain Coleridge, in his usual way, ends with an introspective note to himself:

‘Away, my soul, away!
I unpartaking of the evil thing,
With daily prayer and daily toil
Soliciting for food my scanty soil,
Have wailed my country with a loud lament.
Now I recentre my immortal mind
In deep Sabbath of meek self-content;
Cleansed from the vaporous passions that bedim
God’s image, sister of the Seraphim’.

As for Coleridge’s use of metaphor, it is difficult to ascertain. For example: our cloudy understanding of what Coleridge means by Seraphim[v] used in this context.

By referring to them as Sister, I presume he means that nations stand alongside them in close proximity to God. Something, like the Seraphim, humans can also do. Since because of Christ, we are free to approach God, upon acknowledgement, as freely as He has chosen to approach us.

As for imagery:

‘The “fiery serpents” for which the Israelites feared the desert (Num 21:6–8; Deut 8:15) become further embellished as “flying serpents” (Is 14:29; 30:6). The serpents, designated by the same Hebrew word as seraphim, are distinguishable from them only by context (Is 6:2, 6). This pairing suggests that the image of a seraph may have had more in common with our idea of dragon than of angel’.[vi]

The earlier reference to ‘Lampad’ indicates light, candle or torch. Perhaps even Light bearer. Lampad is a term found in Greek mythology, a connection that Coleridge exploits in order to paint an image of blinding light. Therefore I think it safe to suggest that, having known this, Coleridge understood the significance of the imagery in Rev.4:5. This is exemplified in Coleridge’s references to the ‘torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God’ gathered before His throne, along with the unique creatures (Seraphim) assigned to the task of protecting God’s Holiness.

On a parting note. I am digging the Lampad seven reference. It was quite a discovery.

Sources: (not otherwise linked)


[i] Coleridge, S.T 1796 Ode to a departing year in The complete poems, 1997 Penguin Classics, Penguin Group
[ii]  John Eldridge
[iii]  I have since tried to confirm this connection; it appears that it is only attributed to him.
[iv] Foakes, R.A 2009, Shadowy nobodies and other Minutiae: Coleridge’s originality in The Coleridge Bulletin,  The journal of the friends of Coleridge Summer new series 33 (NS) 2009
[v] “beings who stand before God” (see Isa. 6:1–2), McGee, J. V. Thru the Bible
[vi] Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. 2000  Dictionary of biblical imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.