"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

The Cowardice of (safe) Belief

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I’m angry, and frustrated and as a result, my thoughts are a bit scattered.

What angers me most of all is the demonstrated lack of commitment to sacrifice on an individual level I’ve experienced in the past couple of weeks.  You can critique the government’s decision to extend foreign policy by force, but there needs to be some honesty in that as well – honesty that recognizes that others risk their lives regularly to protect the rest of us.  I speak here of all those in the helping professions, police, military, fire, paramedics, hospital staff (RNs in particular) who regularly place their self-interest aside to provide assistance to others.  Today, however, I’m speaking primarily about our police and our soldiers.

In one week we have the murders of two Canadian Forces members, one with a vehicle, and one with a shotgun. The first act was carried out by apparent “home grown” radicals in lone wolf style attack.  The second by an obviously disturbed man, whose personal history is still being uncovered. [Late edit: The RCMP, based on a review of the video he left, are now calling the motivation for the second attack primarily ideological.  StratFor, an intelligence analysis service, calls all three ‘grassroots jihadists in North America’.  The third was a hatchet attach in New York on Oct 23.  These things travel in threes.]   That he targeted soldiers and government is without dispute.  We’ve been comfortable in the peaceable kingdom longer than anyone else in the first world, and now we have our own local terrorists.

When I recently made a comment about the violence present in elements of Islam, someone commented that Christianity had been quite violent in its past. I’m tired of this come back – it’s a banal platitude that seeks to sound even, fair and accepting, but it’s just a cop-out.  It’s a statement that frees you from any need to act or to decide.  It’s so Canadian.

Christianity has lots of blood on it’s hands is usually the second reply…but the last time I checked the Christian church hasn’t led a holy war in a number of centuries.  By contrast, we have these new words added to our daily talk: Jihad, Sharia, Quran…and have heard them again and again for the past decade. Blaming a lack of action on Christianity’s questionable past is an excuse designed to free you from the responsibility to take some form of a moral stand.

Some elements of our media are already downplaying the linkage with radicalization, asserting there were “other” reasons that contributed to these individuals taking such action.  I’m not sure why our desire to avoid offence to every possible person results in us wilfully ignoring the facts.  The attacks we’ve seen around the world, and the rise of ‘jihad tourism’, have not been attempted by seemingly random individuals, but consistently by those who have been exposed, and coverted, into a radical form of Islam.  Our call as truth-tellers needs to make this plain.  To not do so, is to promote a lie, and ignoring this reality will not bring us peace.

Yes (in answer the the third standard objection) there are lots of moderate practitioners of Islam, which means nothing more than there are lots of moderate practitioners of Islam. This is another empty reply, which leaves me perplexed every time I hear it as a response. When a “Christian” shoots an abortion clinic physician, you don’t hear the moderate Christians say – hey, there are a lot of moderate Christians. What you hear is an outright condemnation of someone who has corrupted a peace-centred teaching into something unrecognisable and evil.

Moderates have never made any difference in the face of any great evil that has ever existed in the world.

Moderates bring the Neville Chamberlain theory of dealing with evil into reality.  If we appease them enough, maybe they’ll go away.

I’m not sure what else you can call such attacks except cowardly. There is a code of honour between warriors, that involves a mutual understanding of conduct on the field of combat. Shooting an unarmed person, or running someone down with a car…is the act of desperation that arises out of cowardice. The high ideals contained in the concept of Jihad, end up with sorry, lone wolf losers, trying to achieve some measure of glory by bringing pain and chaos into other’s lives. An honourable struggle? Not a chance. [unarmed because, as most don’t realize, the military doesn’t permit soldiers in ceremonial posts to use loaded rifles…so those weapons they were carrying at the war memorial were no better than clubs]

A soldier who has lived will tell you that violence is always the final option to be avoided at all costs – when someone has seen their friends killed right next to them, or made the decision to take another person’s life, it has a way of bringing the theories and careful academic discussions crashing down.  When that violence is facing you, like today, the real question is what are you prepared to do about it?

I’m beginning to understand that there are many willing to talk around the concept of sacrifice, and particularly the sacrifice of self for something you believe in.  There are much, much fewer who are actually willing to step forward and put themselves on the line to stand between those being threatened and those who bring the threat.  Ron Sider talked about this when he challenged a church group to send their sons and daughters over as an unarmed peace-keeping group to stand between the warring parties – and to die by the thousands:

But to do that, we must not only abandon mistaken ideas and embrace the full biblical conception of shalom. One more thing is needed. We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands.

Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions.

I’m not engaging in a dialogue about the way of peace versus the way of war – it’s about something more fundamental.  It’s not a call to take up arms (unless God is calling you into that profession), but a call to ask what you’re willing to sacrifice to bring about the high ideals you promote?

What is it that you’re so convicted by that you would be prepared to sacrifice your life for that idea?  Ron Sider suggests that the biblical concept of shalom requires a willingness to die in large numbers, and I find I’m really tired of talking to anyone about issues like this unless I see a similar commitment in their eyes.  Sider clearly gets this – you need moral credibility to be able to stand on this hill.

I say this quite boldly as someone who stood on guard for thee for most of my adult life. I think this leaves me far more latitude to be angry than most Canadians – I signed that blank cheque at one point that promised my life in support of my nation. I ended up giving my health to that cause, and had to leave that profession prematurely as a result. I’m not bitter about this…that was what I signed on for.

This is perhaps our great loss as people of belief in the modern age, that we’ve reduced a radical way of life (Christianity) to a safe system of belief.  Oh, we can get worked up about it over craft beer with fellow travellers in a warm neighbourhood pub, and head home afterwards to our safe homes and lives…while others stand ready to sacrifice themselves for the safety of others.  Whether we want that protection or not, it is there, and provides us with a comfortable way of life – so you can’t absolve yourself of the system by saying, ‘I never asked anyone to risk their lives for me.’

The few who actually answer Sider’s call to form those unarmed Christian Peacekeeper Teams, who go into threatening parts of the world with only the Word of God as their sure defence, have my respect.  They’ve answered the call, are prepared to, and have given their lives in support of that radical way of life.  I think we would understand each other perfectly, even while we disagreed around the form of that selfless service.

What I am is tired of hearing the same sorts of rationalizations and catch phrases that are always offered in such times…with almost no willingness to do anything other than complain about how there is a holier way of life that sets adherents apart from the rest of us…and particularly apart from those who have thrown their lot in with those in uniform.

If you haven’t watched the Globe & Mail reporter’s video from the hall of honour in Parliament today, I think you should.  It’s terrifying.  Watch carefully what every person in the video is doing, all police and security personnel…all uniformly moving toward the sound of the gunfire.  When the shotgun fires all you see is floor, because the reporter has ducked and taken cover behind a pillar. When the camera comes back up, look carefully at what is happening now.  None of those people dropped to the ground, and in fact they start to run towards the sound of the gunfire.

Now that is commitment to a way of life.


As a follow-on comment, I see a report that one of the first-aiders at the memorial was lawyer Barbara Winters, who had served in the Naval Reserve.  When she heard the sound of gunfire after walking past the memorial, she knew it was an attack, and turned and ran back to give aid.  Ran back, toward the sound of the gunfire (still serving, even though retired).

Second report that caught my eye, are a couple of retired military who are now standing guard at the memorial on their own initiative.

In my old home town, Cold Lake, a story that the local mosque had been vandalized.  I worked with several people who worshipped in that community, in the days when they met in each other’s homes.  That sort of thing is simply unacceptable in Canada, and in fact is one of the rights that I signed on to that unlimited liability to defend.  The error that many make is presuming that to identify radical Islam as the source of a threat somehow condemns all other Muslims, like my former co-workers in Cold Lake.  That’s just incorrect thinking.


Written by sameo416

October 22, 2014 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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