Far from killing their own, they gave their own lives

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 11, 2009

The Canadian flag flies proudly over Cochrane, a reminder that the nation’s well-being was secured by the blood of many sons and daughters. Photo by Warren Harbeck

The past week has been quite a mixed bag in the realm of peace: 13 murdered on a U.S. military base, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and now Remembrance Day.

How do these events measure up against words from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah I quoted in my Sept. 30 column?

“Seek the welfare (the shalom, the ‘peace’) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

In that column I discussed how the Hebrew word, shalom, often translated loosely as “peace,” has a much broader meaning than simply the absence of war. Indeed, at its heart are thoughts of well-being, prosperity, security, happiness, wholeness, reconciliation, equanimity and freedom from fear. It is closely associated with ideas of justice and righteousness.

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, it’s the quality of life expressive of what’s technically known as “the kingdom of God.”

At a certain level, this kind of peace can be understood as the opposite of  “any disturbance in the communal well-being of the nation, a disturbance which, of course, may in certain circumstances make it necessary to go to war,” as Hebrew lexicographers Hartmut Beck and Colin Brown observe.

Obviously, the November 5 shooting of over 40 people – 13 dead – by one of their own at the Fort Hood U.S. military base in Texas qualifies as a disturbance beyond belief in the communal well-being of the American nation, a disturbance felt by fair-minded people around the world. This was anything but peace. The security of many was violated; feelings of betrayal, vulnerability and fear abounded; happiness was swallowed up in shock and grief; the generosity of the American spirit was soon being sullied by radio talk show hosts promoting bitterness, hatred and revenge.

The feeling was totally different twenty years ago November 9. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Jubilant throngs chipped away at this hated symbol of the Cold War. Reconciliation and wholeness were realizable dreams for many. Those longing for nothing more complicated than their birthright of freedom could once more move from East to West, free from the fear of being shot to death at the Wall by the very people who should have been their protectors.

Protectors? Yes, now we come to the main point of this column: Remembrance Day.

Remembrance Day is a celebration of our citizens who, far from killing their own, laid down their very own lives to protect the rest of us and help guarantee for our nation the security we too often take for granted.

This year, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we pause with gratitude for the heritage of peace that is ours because so many made the ultimate sacrifice. Canada’s well-being is a gift bought by their blood. This kind of peace was possible because they did not shy from war, no matter how horrible war is.

In their honour, and using Jeremiah’s imagery, allow me to paraphrase an oft-quoted teaching of Jesus:

Blessed are the peacemakers – those who fought for the security and communal well-being of our land – for these, our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, shall be called children of God.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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