In the middle of the busy-ness of holiday club at church, which we were all part of (proud mummy week!) we made time to sit and watch a film together that A had seen and wanted to share with us. Now this was not, obviously, one to share with T so late one evening the rest of us sat down to watch Hacksaw Ridge (rated 15). If you are looking for a feel good, easy on the eye movie this is NOT it. It is hard to watch, gritty and violent. It is based on a true story of a conscientious objector who was awarded the US medal of honour in America during WWII, showing his decisions and people’s reactions to him. It is a film of inner struggle, the way we are shaped by our circumstances, of principles being lived in the extreme context of war. I’m not sure it would have been one I’d have picked out for a family film night – even though we do almost always discuss what we watch together in the light of our faith and our values.
The most obvious discussion point was of course is there a ‘right’ Christian view on war? Of course this isn’t one neat question and our discussions ranged from ‘What is pacifism?’; ‘What is Just War theory?’; ‘Tell me about conscientious objectors’; ‘Is there a right answer?’; ‘What should we listen to, the God of the Old Testament who sends his people to war or Jesus in the New Testament who doesn’t?’ right through to talking about the Quakers, religious freedom and unsurprisingly Bonhoeffer. None of these are easy questions, with straight forward answers. And in a way as a parent sharing faith I could not escape the background question – ‘how am I supposed to get from what the Bible says to an opinion or a principle that I can live by now in this world?’. So much for a light family movie night, or a bit of time out from the busy schedule! But we do discussion in this family, tired or not we love to grapple with the tough questions together. But don’t be under the impression we discussed until we were content with the answer and then went to bed at peace with it – this is ongoing, and I’m sure we’ll talk together about the same questions from many different angles and in the light of different contexts over the years to come.
These are not clear cut, neat and tidy discussions with a definite outcome or answer. These questions yet again challenge us to cope with that and live with that – not at all easy especially when life in general is shaped by definites and routines, clear cut thinking. In a way growing up in a vicarage is a tough call for my amazing autists, from an early age we have had to cope with and live with a certain amount of uncertainty, flexible routines and have had to regularly adapt family life around Andrew’s (and mine) fluid working patterns. But when we come to discussions like this I am so very thankful for it, because from an early age we have established (unwittingly) categories, or ‘boxes’ in our thinking to put the maybes, not-yets, perhapses, and yes-and-no’s of life. If we hadn’t we might not have coped with the stresses of the necessary flexibility of our routines! I guess in a way we did the same thing we did for metaphors and similes, we named them and that gave them a box to be put in which made them manageable. The ‘grey area’ discussions need a box in our thinking too, a ‘we-can’t-see-the-big-picture-but-God-can’ box or an ‘its-a-paradox’ box.
We also discuss in the context of faith, not in the abstract (if there ever can be), in the context of both what we know about God and what we have experienced of God, within the balance of truth and experience. What we know of God from the Bible – all of it, the big story – and the community experience, including our own personal experience, of the people of God in the past and now, all in the light of the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
In order to grow a healthy relationship [with God], we need a good balance of truth and relational experience. It is important that we learn to wrap one around the other, viewing one in the context of the other, so that they are inextricably linked, instead of compartmentalizing them as separate elements. (Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner)
And importantly we discuss together – there is very little point in me pretending that I have it all sorted out, or that I know all the answers even though there is a feeling of pressure as a parent to give an answer. Discussing together is authentic, grappling with tough questions acknowledging there is no easy answer is real. Modelling real faith to our children is not always easy and neat let’s face it!
So, to the questions!
What is pacifism? I have written a little about this before when reflecting on Remembrance Day . The Mennonite ‘Truth and Justice Network’ have some interesting articles about active pacifism, and the Quakers also have some useful resources.
Bonhoeffer It is easy to find out about his life, and the painful decisions he had to make during WWII. His wrestling and his response to the unfolding circumstances around him, and his internal, faith values are a powerful testimony of faith and of real relationship with God that shows us the depth of difficulty we have living faithful, faith-filled lives for God and also the peace we can find when our lives our deeply rooted into God.
What does the Bible really teach us about war? What about the differences we seem to see between the Old and New Testaments? There is a really interesting article about historical context and anthropology by L.Stone which gives a context for us to read the Old Testament passages within. It challenges us to think what is different about the people of God to the people groups around them. There is also a useful discussion on Biblica which tackles the question head on, and explores how we can understand God’s holiness and judgement revealed to us in Jesus.