WAR! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
I love watching Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker singing this soul classic by Edwin Starr in the Rush Hour films. A powerful song that resonates with many of us.
We hear of so many dubious decisions by Western governments, so many civilian deaths and too many other atrocities in the Middle East and around the world, and we readily say ‘Amen!’ to this pacifistic statement.
Hold that thought for a moment while I tell you about my Dad….
My Dad was a stiff-upper-lipped Brit, who didn’t easily express sorrow or admit fault. My relationship with him from childhood and throughout my teens was one of heated, warring exchanges and mutual lack of understanding, contributing ultimately to my impulsive escape from the rat race to the highways of America with just a rucksack and not so much as a goodbye, just an acrimonious postcard from Gatwick airport (see My Life’s Soundtrack).
My reconciliation with him surprisingly didn’t come as an obedient response to having received forgiveness for myself when I came to faith in Jesus in ‘87, but earlier, while I was still an atheist, through a spontaneous, supernatural Holy Spirit moment (as I see it in hindsight).
One evening, sitting in my tent during my second (this time solo) trip round the States, I was suddenly overcome with remorse for the hurtful ways I’d treated my Dad and with forgiveness towards him for the failings in his fatherhood. I realised for the first time that we all (including my Dad and me) have faults and he’d done his best to be a father to me.
When, some months later, I returned to the UK with a seedling of Christian faith in my heart, reconciliation had already happened. From that moment on, our relationship grew and grew, and we enjoyed each other’s company through his later dementia-inflicted years until his death in 2006.
I now remember my Dad with immense fondness.
He liked a laugh, he liked the ladies, and he embarked on youth-oriented skiing holidays right into his 70s! He was a character. Yet he also retained a real sense of dignity about him.
My Dad, at about 70
Perhaps it was simply his upbringing, his generation, but I wonder also whether his service as an air gunner and then flight lieutenant with the RAF through the Second World War had instilled in him a sense of honour. He experienced loss and tragedy both in war and in his personal life. His inability to express grief may have been a psychologically unhealthy relic of a bygone era… or perhaps a particular facet of his character. Or maybe both.
He and I were very different. Our differences, together with my Dad’s stoic exterior, made for a difficult relationship in my early years.
And yet… maybe such stoicism had been a necessary survival technique through the horrors of war and the losses in his own personal life.
My Dad had fought for his country – and won. I enjoy the freedoms of Western democracy that he and countless others had struggled for, and many died for, during that dreadful war.
He had served a greater purpose. He had fought for the common good.
He had risked his life for his country and for generations to come.
After the war, working as a lawyer for the magistrates’ courts, he saw himself as a servant of the state.
There was incredible dignity and honour in his service to the country.
WAR! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
When I see the indignity, the dishonour, in much of our British culture, I mean the kind of culture that revolves around self-interest, acquisition of stuff, junk TV and alcohol for example, this thought crosses my mind, like a guilty secret:
This generation has lost out by not having experienced war.
Now of course, that isn’t true. We don’t need war. We don’t need bloodshed, hatred or mindless destruction.
What we do all need is a greater purpose to fight for.
We do need a higher reason for living than simply satisfying our own needs and watching reality TV.
We need a reason not to emulate Jim Royle (of the Royle Family)!
A reason not to be an A&E statistic, another casualty admitted with a debilitating alcohol-related disease.
A reason to realise there’s more to life than Facebook and drawing attention to the trivia of our own lives.
A reason to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to love our loved ones enough to find a way to overcome relationship problems, to work for peace.
I remember reading John Bird explaining in his autobiography Some Luck how he didn’t want to live as his parents had done, simply coming home from work every evening to watch TV. An endless, futile cycle of work, TV, work, TV. He wanted something more, to achieve something worthwhile.
That desire, that passion, resulted in The Big Issue, an incredible organisation that has given thousands of homeless people the opportunity to work and begin to regain some self-belief.
I have the privilege of working with a great many professionals serving vulnerable people. I have huge respect for them all, each having his or her own motivation for their work, but each striving for the common good, each one seeking to make a difference in our broken world, many of these giving their time voluntarily.
My own motivation lies in my stumbling faith in Jesus. Or in his non-stumbling love. When I took my first faltering steps towards him way back in ’87… my life turned instantly from hedonism to altruism. From sex & drugs & rock ‘n’ roll (and travel) to the pursuit of a caring career.
That breath – that life of Jesus in me – has always, since that day, inspired me to care for others. The nursing career came supernaturally naturally. The need to work with homeless people flows inevitably from a profound sense of being saved by grace and out of my own experience of living rough.
I’m inspired to attempt to show others, through my life, my work and this blog, who I believe Jesus is.
I’m inspired to use my energy for the needs of others, in my own imperfect way. Perhaps, in some sense, I take after my Dad after all!
This is my war, my act of service. Battling against marginalisation, against inequality, homelessness ill-health and feelings of worthlessness in the people I meet. I have honour and dignity in this.
What is this kind of war good for? Quite a lot.
At the same time…
because I do this out of love, out of gratitude for extreme grace,
knowing that I can never earn the Father’s love, that there are no brownie points in heaven,
because Jesus won the greatest battle ever at the cross on my behalf,
knowing that he’s loved me furiously and unconditionally from the start, means that…
it’s no burden!
It means that at the end of the day I can watch junk TV! I can spend time on Facebook, reading and posting mindless trivia. Although most of the time I’d rather be running…
Because that trivia is not what I live for. I have a cause to fight for, battles to win, which carry me through the working week.
It means I don’t burn out.
Because although I have a cause to fight for, even to live for, my battles are not the ultimate thing that define me.
My identity is ultimately as a child of God, at rest in his Father’s arms, who doesn’t need to prove anything. My battles are fought with peace. The peace I’ve received (with God / with myself) is an effectual weapon in these battles.
Other people I know, who achieve incredible things, fight similar – and different – battles. Some work hard for peace and reconciliation with God and others. Some war against sexism and discrimination. Some raise funds for those in need, highlighting causes. The mission for some is simply to put a smile on someone else’s face each day, to speak a word of encouragement.
Some have very different kinds of motivation to mine. I have huge admiration for all of them.
I just still happen to believe that they, you and I, all need the life-giving, life-affirming, source-of-all-grace, Jesus.
Back to the question…
WAR! What is it good for?
Depends what kind of war we’re talking about.
What kind of war are you waging? What gives you honour and dignity in a self-obsessed culture?
Or are you living for the next payday, for reality TV, Facebook and an even smarter phone? Do you need to find a cause to fight for?