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40 year celebration address - The Christian International Peace Service

Thursday 30th November 2006

Address to the 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner Celebration of the Christian International Peace Service (CHIPS)

It is an honour to be able to be here and celebrate with you forty years of The Christian Peacemaking Service. In these days of healthy food and Jamie Oliver, it is good to know that there still remains a way where CHIPS can be good for you!

A farmer was seen standing still in the middle of his field, day after day after day. A passer-by, curious to know what he was doing there, asked him why. He replied that he was hoping to win a Nobel Peace prize. But how could he achieve that, the passer-by enquired, just by standing there ? The Farmer replied, "I was reading a newspaper and it said all you had to do to win a Nobel Peace Prize was to be outstanding in your field."

I tell this joke not only because of its awfulness but to honour the outstanding work of CHIPS. In Cyprus, India, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, inner-city London and Uganda, your work "for peace and reconciliation through Jesus Christ who is our peace" has been outstanding.

As external catalysts to internal reconciliation CHIPS, and particularly those team members working on the ground, must find great sustenance and motivation from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God". (Matthew 5.9)

Note that it is peacemakers, not peace lovers, who will be called children of God. Peacemakers make something. Peace lovers wait for something to happen, hoping that things will turn out all right. Peacemakers take risks. Peace lovers want to enjoy the absence of risk, so they leave the action to others.

Turning swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks requires hard labour. And tonight we are here to celebrate the fruits of that labour of forty years and the harvest of transformed lives which have been brought about by Christian Peacemaking.

Around my neck I wear a cross which bears the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a man murdered in his own cathedral for his efforts on behalf of others. The words read: 'Peace will flower when love and justice pervade our environment.' The events of the past year show how far we are, as a world and as a nation, from that place which Romero describes, and how great the challenge remains for all who would seek after peace in our world.

Earlier this year I conducted a vigil in York Mister, fasting and praying for peace in the Middle East. My inspiration for this action came in no small part from two images that had a deep impact on me during the coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

The first was of an eight year old Lebanese girl who had just lost her right eye after as a result of an Israeli air strike. Her left eye was also damaged and the picture of her made it clear that it was going to take time for her to recover from her injuries.

Over images of this hospitalised child, the voice of a reporter told of how truly desperate this child's situation had become - the reporter said that what she didn't yet know, was that her father, mother and brother had all died in the air strike.

The second image was of an eighty-five-year-old woman in Northern Israel. A Katusha rocket fired by Hezbollah had landed right next to where she was living, leaving her lucky to be alive. All her neighbours had fled the area, but some people had been left behind: the elderly, the infirm and the poor.

This woman fell into all of those categories, and so she remained in Northern Israel, wondering if the next incoming rocket was going to be the last sound she ever heard.

These images remained with me because both of these innocent victims of the conflict could have been members of my own family. The little girl might have been my own niece, the Israeli woman might have been my grandmother or mother.

We live in a small global village, and that village is threatened by violence. Whether in our own country or the countries of the Middle East, Iraq or Afghanistan bombing and violence cannot be the way in which we seek to change that which we don't like in the world. There has to be another way. Each one of us has to be the change we want to see in the world. We must challenge those great giants of evil: idolatry, materialism, militarism and race-ism.

These threats to our common humanity need to be challenged, not with more violence, but with a form of resistance borne of love and peace. As Martin Luther King wrote: "darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that". For me war is a journey of no return. We must find a better way.

Richard Wumbrand in his book Tortured for Christ tells the story after he had been severely beaten an inmate said "you say you are a Christian, can you say like Jesus 'Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing' ?"

"No" replied Richard Wumbrand, only Jesus, who was sinless, can say that. What I can say is "Father forgive us, for we don't know what we are doing".

The Very Revd A H Dammers, the former Canon for Education at Coventry Cathedral, tells the story of a group of students from the Soviet Union he was guiding around Coventry Cathedral at the height of the Cold War.

They ended up in the ruins, and he explained that while Jesus, who had done nothing but good, could say, "Father, forgive them" we dare only say, "Father, forgive" for we all needed to be forgiven.

In her speech of thanks, the students' leader, said that forgiveness had no part in their communist way of thinking, and that it was indeed difficult for them to forgive the Germans who had killed 20 million of their people. However, they had learned that day that mutual forgiveness was the only basis on which true peace between former enemies can be established. Moreover, she and others, when they returned home, would try to practice forgiveness in their personal lives.

If we are to challenge the violence that threatens our world both domestically and globally, we need to begin first with ourselves. Peace begins in our own hearts and our own homes, with our neighbours and colleagues. Peace requires each of us to make a sacrifice, which sometimes means putting our own needs second.

There is a readiness amongst people to do this, a yearning to react to the horrors of war they read about in their papers or watch on their television screens.

Many people of all faiths and none came to join with me in praying for peace in the Minster. One man from South Africa, changed his travel plans to Europe so he could spend the week here joining in with the vigil. A family from Australia said they could not leave the UK without first having come to spend time at the Minster in prayer for peace, whilst another man apologised for not being able to fast with me due to his diabetes. Rather he said he would give up his beer, and drink tea instead. The twenty pounds he would save has already been donated.

The vigil was in many ways a rallying call to people of all faiths and none, to encourage them to feel that there is something that can be done. The UN has a role, diplomacy has a role and our Government has a role to play in bringing this conflict to an end. But we as people also have a role to play in showing our common humanity with all those who are suffering. Those who work for and support the work of CHIPs know more than most the place of humanity in neutralising violence.

Whilst the journey to peace must begin within ourselves, at an international level it also requires a respect for the rule of law if we are to avoid the effects of militarism out of control. In turn this requires the United Nations to regain its place as the prima facie agency through which conflicts are mediated by international governments, rather than being seen as an obstacle to be overcome by those so ready to unleash the dogs of war.

A scant regard for international law carries a high price, not only in terms of political uncertainty but more importantly in the body count which daily increases in those places where unilateral military action has proved so costly.

In the short term such actions lead to quick victories which make for great headlines. But the hard work of reconciliation, the hard labour of peacemaking I referred to at the outset, such work never made it to the drawing board of those planning the invasion.

We only have to look at the mounting daily death toll in Iraq to see the effects of military action without a concerted United Nations backing, where the consequences of militarist solutions play out against escalating sectarian and anti-Western unrest.

As in all conflicts great and small, both sides have acquired supporters and protagonists. We as humans are prone to divide into camps named 'For' and 'Against'. Christians must continue to struggle to find ways to create communities which transcend tribalism, where we strive to love one another as God loves us.

We must not give in to the fear which is in all of us but must seek to fan the spark of divine humanity which we all possess.

We can nurture love, foster courage and seek wisdom, we can choose not to accept sentimentality, leave foolhardiness unchallenged or lapse into cowardice.

My hope is that in a world of short cuts, deception and death may we seek and find the Way which is of Truth and brings Life.

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