I have never been on an anti-nuclear march. I have never been on a protest march of any kind, for that matter, and expect I never will. Not that the issues don’t concern me. They do. But I have never felt, for me, joining a protest march or sit-in, was either a relevant or effective way of making a point and of influencing opinions and decisions. The issue of Nuclear Weapons, a big thing in many people’s mind with the possibility of an independent Scotland, presents a particularly vexing dilemma
You don’t need to have much imagination to grasp the unspeakable horror that would be unleashed in the event of a nuclear conflict. I have read the books and watched films. One of my closest friends comes from Nagasaki. I have a very vivid imagination and these images and records have been indelibly printed in my mind so that they won’t go away. Because of the scale, the might, the inevitable indiscriminate nature of the beast, no cause could ever be important enough to justify their use. And if you have no intention of using them how can you ever justify having them? That the other side have similar weapons is, for me, no argument either. I would accept facing a major nuclear assault on my own nation, my own people, my own family, with all the horror that that would entail and still refuse to respond in kind. But then, nothing is ever that simple. Or is it?
When you look at the issue dispassionately, (if you can) a curios but relevant fact comes into play. While millions of people (2-3 million) have been killed in wars since 1945 with bombs, missiles, rockets, shells, kalashnikovs and machetes not one single person has died as a result of a nuclear weapon being used in anger. This is an astonishing statistic and despite current East/West jumpiness and the possibility of a terrorist group laying hands on the goods there is nothing to suggest that these weapons are ever likely to be used. Many would even suggest that the presence of these weapons has, in fact, kept us from all-out war over this period. If that is so, and it is a big if, then the argument shifts from morality to money. Maintaining a nuclear arsenal, or being covered by a nuclear umbrella, when there is never the intention of using either, does seem quite insane. It can only be regarded as a foolish and obscene waste of money, time and expertise, resources that would much better be employed in more worthy causes.
But to the dismay, no doubt, of many of my friends and family, I am still not convinced that the campaign for nuclear disarmament is a necessary element in the pursuit of world peace. At the end of the day, a nuclear missile is an inanimate object and of itself has no moral character. It is certainly a weapon and the vilest kind. (Although I expect evil minds can and will produce even worse). The person behind the weapon is, on the other hand, a moral being, capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. In a way it doesn’t matter if they are pushing a button, or firing a shell, dropping a bomb or wielding a machete, the end result is the same. The difference is only in method and scale.
So the campaign that I want to be involved and committed to is for the changing of hearts and the resistance of evil. This is essentially a work of God and of His Holy Spirit but I believe that Jesus has called his followers to be part of and instruments of, that work. This, for me, is the most relevant and most effective way of engaging in this struggle. The struggle: the campaign, the fight and the battle, which is not against people, or governments, or political parties or societies, or nations, but against the spiritual powers of darkness.
Sin is a troublesome word. Like so many words in our vocabulary its meaning changes over time it mutates and takes on other baggage and selective nuances so that it can mean quite different things to different people. Preachers and communicators of the bible often struggle with this and try hard to find a new word or words that would resonant better with the original meaning. Rebellion is one, missing the mark and being messed up, are others. The problem, of course, is the word itself and the idea it imparts. It is offensive. It is the implicit suggestion that there is something wrong with us – whoever we are. That cuts to the core of our self. It is a blasphemy against the ego. It is strange that there is such a revulsion against this approach when we are very relaxed about using the same approach with other more acceptable wrongs. The first step on the recovery from drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual offending, or any socially recognised disorder, is to admit it. No one has any problem with that. Yet we have enormous difficulty in owning up to this core problem. Preachers, who have tried to avoid the issue for fear of coming over too censorious or self-righteous, or worried that it presents too bleak and pessimistic a view of humanity, have not helped either. The focusing on nice things like the celebration of love and positive affirmative strokes, to the ignoring of this essential truth in the Christian faith, has been disastrous. Because acknowledging the reality of sin is one of the most liberating and essential parts of the good news. Now we understand that there is a reason for the way things are. And that must be good to know. Pretending that there isn’t a problem or that it is one that with enough willpower and the right conditions we can overcome is pure fantasy. The Gospel, on the other hand, exposes the problem and reveals the solution. But of course it is not the small slightly naughty unimportant thing that it is so often made out to be. It is not just about making bad decisions or errors of judgement it is deadly serious, more than deadly serious. Sin at its core is a vile, corrupting and corrosive thing. It is not good. It is destructive and left to its own will continue to degenerate and destroy all and everything in its path, everything that is good. It contaminates everything and seeps through the personal, the social and the institutional. It is that bad. It is that serious.
This, of course, begs the question, if it is that bad why has it not destroyed good already after all it has had plenty of time to do that and yet good still seems to survive. Many, I suspect, would believe that it is because humanity is essentially good, that evil with all its manifestations is a temporary blip and that in time this unfortunate character trait will be resigned to history. But, to hold on to this view must take extraordinary faith and a remarkably optimistic view of human nature without any real evidence to support it. The reason, I believe, good continues to survive, is because ultimately it is to do with God. He is good and merciful and he has put in place at certain times restrictions so that we do not yet destroy ourselves -The angels with the flaming swords at the garden, the confusing of the languages and scattering of the people on Shinar’s plane, the flood and other events throughout history. He also chose a man and a family and a people to be witness of him and tell the world. He gave them the law in the Ten Commandments and other regulations to help them in their approach to him and in how they relate to each other. Finally he promised and sent his son, who would be the one who would reconcile people to himself and once and for all deal with the problem of sin.
Last night I was sitting with the small group of internationals, who meet each week in our home. They come from countries in all parts of the world, with backgrounds in all types and shades of faith. It is a precious moment in the week. After sharing a meal, we spend the time reading, studying and discussing the bible. We had just begun to read through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and it is hard to describe the sense of joy and liberation as we touched base with the cosmic reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The dawning of this truth is like a massive door being opened to let light flood into a stale and dingy room and we could understand why Paul was able to say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”.
The overnight bus from Lima was an experience I would try and avoid, if I could. We drove along the coastal plain on a muggy hot night, stopping to pick up passengers and sellers of choclo, oranges and bottled drinks, on the way, before beginning the long climb up into the sierra. It was a continual zigzag. On the upper floor we were constantly thrown from side to side which put an end to any idea of sleep. All windows were tightly closed and condensation from the heaving bodies dripped down the glass. A cockroach was trying to get into a bag of vegetables. Some passengers had already been sick and the worryingly thin sick bags were sliding around the floor. I was hoping that one didn’t burst just at my feet and I was praying that the driver would not fall asleep at the wheel. It was a long nine hours before the glimmering light of dawn eventually brought relief and the appearance of small farms and dwellings in the hills, now dotted with eucalyptus; cactus and pampas grass lightened the spirit. Then suddenly, we were there, over the hill and looking down on Ayacucho, spread out in the valley below us just coming to life and waking up to a new day.
I had a number of places on my wish list to visit during my trip but this was the one at the top. There were a number of reasons why this was so. It was here in 1824 that the battle of Ayacucho was fought and the victory that not only secured Peru’s independence from Spanish rule but signalled the end of the colonist’s power in South America. Simon Bolivar credited with the victory, changed the name of the city from Huammango to Ayacucho “the corner of the dead” or “field of blood” as a tribute to the many who died on the battlefield. It was in this city in the late 1960’s that the Sendero Luminoso was born under the inspiration of their charismatic leader, Abimael Guzmán. The “Shining Path”, was a Maoist guerrilla insurgent organisation representing pure communism, whose aim was to destroy the existing bourgeois state and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat which would in turn precipitate a world revolution. The brutal war between the rebels and the government force, that continued throughout the 80’s and early 90’s , resulted in thousands of deaths. Many innocents were caught in the crossfire. After the murder of one of their lieutenants, the Shining Path took revenge and massacred a whole village including old people, children and pregnant women. Guzman was unrepentant. “We responded with devastating action, neither we nor they have forgotten it, because they got an answer they didn’t possibly imagine, to be sure. lucanamarca, More than 80 were annihilated, that is the truth…. The main point to make is that we are a hard nut to crack and we are ready for anything , anything” The Christian church was a specific target for the terrorists. They refused to take the side of the revolutionaries and suffered terribly as a result. Many congregations were slaughtered and pastors killed. One of those was Rómulo Sauñe Quicaña. He came from a rural community and it is possible that he was descendant from the Inca royal household. He heard about Jesus as a teenager and gave his life to serving his Lord as a pastor among the Quechua people introducing new hymns in the Quechua language, using traditional instruments. As a gifted linguist, he assisted with the translating of the bible into Quechua. The effects of this work were truly revolutionary. The Quechan Christians now had a confidence and assurance in their faith that the Maoists with their dehumanising philosophy could not match. When you know that you are loved by God, being sold the idea that you are an economic unit as part of the proletariat mass holds no attraction. Because Rómulo Sauñe and others refused to bow the knee to the ideology of the Shining Path or to their methods, he was hated. Coming home from visiting a local church in 1992 his bus was stopped at a road block and he and four companions were murdered. Two weeks later Guzmán was captured in an apartment above a dance studio in a fashionable suburb in Lima and the war was effectively over.
In 1987, at the height of the conflict, the Ayacucho Quechuan bible was first published but because of the upheaval and migration over the years, this had to be fully revised and republished. It was dedicated in May 2013 . Those who were there at the dedication describe it as a very moving scene, when massed choirs approached the city square from four corners and thousands joined the celebration, among them, many who had lost family members in the war and who had come through great suffering. I wanted to see the site of the ancient battle. I wanted to walk down those streets. I wanted to be in that square.
Arriving at the bus station that morning my thoughts, however, were not so much with the history and the events that unfolded in this place but with how dreadful I felt. This was brought on partly by the overnight journey and partly on account of the altitude. I was told that when you arrive at altitude the first thing you should do is nothing: no lifting, no walking and no work, just rest, for half an hour or so to allow your lungs to become accustomed to the thinness of the air. I wanted just to sit, but my companion was insistent that we find a hotel first of all. So we took a taxi to the city and called on a few dubious establishments. Each was regarded, by my companion, as too expensive so we searched for other equally disreputable places. Finally she settled on one. It was very tawdry, lacking linen, towels, soap, toilet paper in fact just about everything you would expect in a hotel, apart, that is, for a bed and a remote control for the TV. I was past caring. It was somewhere to rest. I threw myself on the bed and passed out for an hour or so while my companion went looking for a friend she knew. When she returned she had found somewhere better so we paid off the man behind the grill and left. The other hotel was luxury by comparison. But there was something more. The place had an atmosphere. It was hard to describe. Perhaps it was the little things that make up the whole, perhaps it was the way the staff went about their business, perhaps it was just fancy, but it felt a good place to be. My weariness had quickly evaporated and had been replaced with a surprising sense of well being and excitement at new discoveries. I was introduced to the owner, a man in his early seventies cheerful, warm and friendly and later, to his daughter. She ran a small clinic from some small rooms within the hotel and was the first and only person that I met on my trip who spoke English. She was Quechuan and was fluent in four languages. She studied in Brazil and the UK but her life’s work was as a medic among the desperately poor villages that surrounded Ayacucho. For seven years she had worked to provide proper sanitation in this region and was able to witness the astonishing improvements to health, particularly amongst children. Previously there was a very high level of infant and child mortality due to contaminated water supply. We had just met, but I felt I had known her all my life and I had this strange conviction that I had come here for a purpose. She spoke about a clinic she ran in a town outside the city and asked if I would like to see it. It was in Quinua, the site of the battle and a place we had actually planned to visit. Immediately we went looking for a combi bus to take us there.
The village is about an hour and half by combi and much higher up in the mountains (3,300m). Above the village is a large impressive plateau. You can stand here and look out across the valley, down to the city with the Andes circling around and that wonderful gasping sense of space and scale and beauty and the crystal clearness of the air like the purest water you drink or the finest wine. It had all the beauty we associate with the Scottish highlands but on a far far grander scale. At the edge of the plateau is a rather ugly obelisk, a memorial to the battle that was fought on that field. Inside there is a small museum telling the story of how the loyalists in red were defeated by the rebels in blue with the help of the local rural population wielding pitchforks and axes. A young boy acted as our guide and explained the significance of the various artefacts. After some hours the sky began to darken and we knew that rain was about to fall. This was the rainy season after all. We made our way back down to the village and reached the market just before the clouds burst open and heavy rain descended, loading the thin tarpaulin roofing sheets and scattering waterfalls in arbitrary directions. Lunch of cuy (guinea pig) rice and beans was followed by a look at the work of the artisans and their famous pottery.
The clinic is in the centre of the village: a single storey building, up from the road, typically concrete and bricks, and incomplete with reinforcing rods stretching to the sky. Our friend was in the middle of a consultation, so we took a seat in the waiting room. It was the same room and we could hear the discussion that was going on, although busy with our own activities, my companion checking on facebook and me scribbling notes. Quite suddenly, the conversation stopped and there was silence. I looked up. There were three medics, the patient and a relative around the table. All heads were bowed and there was prayer for the situation with the words, I heard many times, “nothing is impossible to God” When I remarked on this to my companion afterwards she was surprised. “Would medics in the UK not pray for their patients?”
Most of the building construction I had seen, apart, that is, from the major public building and the malls, was shambolic, unfinished and in a permanent state of disrepair. The clinic was no different but here the situation was much worse. The actual construction was poor. It wasn’t working. Two columns, hastily inserted in one of the rooms to save the concrete roof from collapsing, bore testimony to this. The junctions between the various parts of the building allowed water to drip down the walls of every room with dark damp stains turning green. Amongst the faded health posters and basic facilities it was a most depressing scene. On the concrete roof in among the debris of water tanks and make shift solar panels, we talked about the work. The need for the clinic was obvious. It was the only one. The government did not have the resources to provide anything here and so it was left to voluntary agencies to run and support this work. It often boiled down to knocking on doors to find someone who would help. The people themselves were desperately poor. Added to this was the spectre of domestic violence and the migration of young people to the cities often leaving the old people to die in desperate conditions with poor shelter. This was the summer and it felt quite cold. I shuddered to think what a winter would be like in these open concrete dwellings with tin roofs and no insulation. While our friend was describing the terrible conditions of these people and their basic needs, she broke down. I felt so helpless. I was a passing visitor a fleeting stranger. What could I do? I wanted to get out my height rod and measure up. I wanted to draw up sketch proposals for accommodation and improvements to the building. I wanted to get the materials, gather some workers, pick up my tools and get started right away. All I could do was to show some sympathy, buy some gifts from the craft shop and leave.
On the final leg of my journey home, all the experiences and memories were cluttering up my mind. They were too many: too many people, too many situations, too many memories to make any coherent and consistent sense of what it all could mean. As the miles and time and climate and language passed and moved into more familiar territory, the idea of helping with the clinic seemed nothing more than the craziest of ideas, an interesting interlude, a story to tell. The realistic possibility of it becoming a serious project, one that I could be part of, seemed more and more fanciful. After all it was in a remote part of a country in the southern hemisphere, on the other side of the world, it was three languages removed, it was among a different people and in a completely different culture. I had learned too much about the disasters that happen when people with misguided zeal blunder into situations to help and leave, having made it so much worse. Yet something niggled and it still does.
I came to see the place of so many memories but left with a memory of a cry of desperate need. One that would not go away.
When I started this weblog, this subject was one I didn’t want to be writing about. It was one controversy I was happy to avoid. If I had to, I would try and skirt round it as best I could and leave it to the reader to work out where I stood, but things have changed. I feel continually pressed, corned and nagged into coming out and making clear what I believe is the truth of it.
I never liked and still don’t like talking about sex. It is something so precious and intimate and delicate, too much talk crushes the flower and smudges the image. At school you knew that the boys who were always talking about it were not doing it. But with the relentless battering from the media, from self-appointed pundits, celebrity clerics and experts, in almost every minute of every day, from almost every angle, having the thing shoved into your face with virtually no escape, and possibility of respite, there comes a time when you have to say “Enough is enough”. I can’t be silent any longer. I have been bullied and intimidated for too long. I am wearied to distraction at the constant bleatings of those who claim to speak for others, for those who are hurting because they are not able to find sexual fulfilment in the way that they want. Yes I know and don’t doubt that people are hurting, that always will be, but when you think of the world of suffering people out there, the people who have to face the rest of their lives with crushing disability, with unbearable loss, with unbelievable deprivation, or simply the desperate human longing for a partner or soul mate or for a child, a longing that will never be fulfilled, it barely registers on the scale.
So where am I?
I believe in God, who created this world and who keeps it going. I believe he has communicated with us and speaks to us. I believe he has been doing that from the beginning of time in different ways but especially by coming and being one of us. I believe he speaks to us: to me, now, today. I believe that all we need to know of him can be found in the Bible, if we listen to his voice speaking through it and allow his Spirit to make it clear. I believe that it contains the only truly good news, the only truly accurate assessment of our condition and situation and the only real and genuine hope.
In it the pattern: the design, the beauty of the relationship between man and women is clearly shown. It is a picture of his love for us. It is something so holy that any variant, anything less, any spoiling of that picture, he abhors. That is why idolatry, adultery, fornication, homosexual, bestial and incestual practices are condemned. It is the spoiling of the picture, like the misuse of his name, or the abuse of his children. That is the offence.
That is where I am, this is where I stand and that is why I will not be celebrating.
No matter how you try the bad news gets to you. You can anesthetise yourself for a time, then the horror of it all grabs you by the throat. You can be cushioned for so long and then the rock bites. The mud slides, the floods and waves rage on the land. The earth’s crust moves for a couple of seconds and cities are flattened while the lucky ones escape to shiver in tents in the cold mountains. The famine never ends and peace still does not return to the villages. The merchants ply their evil trade in poison and guns and the wars continue: wars and stories of wars.
This week it was Syria and two distressing reports. One was by the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN ) “Violence against women: Crimes of impunity” highlighting again the despicable nature of modern warfare, where women are targeted and rape is an instrument of war. The second was even more harrowing. It was by the Oxford Research Group “Stolen Futures: the hidden toll of child casualties in Syria” The statistics alone are damning. During the conflict, 7,557 children were killed by explosives, 2,008 by aerial bombardment, 2,806 from small arms including sniper fire and summary executions and 112 were tortured and killed with infants among them. That means that picking out children to be tortured and executed is, like the raping of women, just another instrument of war. It is almost impossible take in or believe. We have come to accept that children will inevitably be caught up in conflicts and suffering, but to specifically target children as this report, if true, clearly shows, represents a new level of horror a new depth of evil. It is hard to come to terms with it. Immediately there is white hot anger and utter contempt for those who are behind the killings. There is also deep shame and guilt at our impotency. The great powers in the world with all the resources at their disposal can do nothing other than make noises and carry off a few chemical weapons to be destroyed. Our parliament having voted against intervention, has kicked into touch any possibility of standing up to the bullies for some time to come. It is almost as if behind a veneer of liberal niceties we are with Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz “let the brutes exterminate themselves” “It’s not our problem”
But what can you do? What can I do?
Inevitably I am back crying to God who can do something and I find the voice of the sons of Korah in Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging……Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’
Another suicide bombing, another church, another group of worshipers men women and children, another 75 dead and 120 injured, another round of condemnation, another pledge to fight the terrorists and win and just another incident that barely makes the pages of the morning’s newspaper. It is now just one of these things, the suffering is far away, the reality is dim, the unanswered question “where was God?” is put to bed and we get on with life. But sometimes you can’t.
This from a previous outrage:
TO A SUICIDE BOMBER
“o yes …I am afraid”
To you suicide bomber who I will never meet/I have but one thing to say though I know you won’t hear me now/I too, like you, believe in commitment /It can’t be halfhearted /It has to be all the way/I too, like you, believe in spiritual things/The material world will pass away/What is seen is temporary/What is unseen will last forever/I too, like you, stand dismayed at what I see/At times disgusted with our seedy western ways/I too, you like, you believe in life after death/When our brief short stint is passed/Then will be eternity/Where no sacrifice will ever be too great /Or can compare with the glory that is to come/I too, like you, believe in God /He is one, /All powerful /All merciful/But I fear /I fear /I fear /For you/When I think of how you will stand before him now/And how you will answer /When he hears the blood of the /The women men and children/The babies and the children yet unborn/Crying out from the ground and the underground/And I know/It would be better much better for you then/That a giant boulder was hung around your neck /And you were drowned in the deepest part of the sea