Pastoral Letter

Dear Friends,

continuing my thoughts on the importance of telling our stories……… Some stories are difficult to tell; painful even. There are many aspects of this last year that I would rather not revisit. As I lay on the operating table (awake), I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let me remember this or have nightmares about it”. I am now able to recall everything without adverse effect, although every time I staple paper I remember the last part of the operation all too vividly. I want to forget, or, at least, my brain is wired to filter out the nasty bits but I have realised that the entire experience has prepared me to listen to, empathise and be there for others. My hope is that I will be more understanding, more compassionate and a better hospital visitor etc than I was before. Do I want to forget? Yes. Should I forget? Not entirely — though I am glad of the filter effect.
As we approach the season of Remembrance I am aware that fewer and fewer people who were actually involved in the two World Wars are with us. Of course many who were involved in later conflicts are. In many instances those who have endured these conflicts have been unable to relate their experiences because of the trauma involved. I am grateful, though, to those who have been able to tell their stories because, however painful, we need to hear them.
There are, too, plenty of modern day examples of the consequences of brutal conflict. We only need to look at news stories to see horrific images from around the world. The problem, and this is a real challenge, is that the majority of us are so distanced from the people involved in them that we have become desensitised, anaesthetised even. This effect is made worse by the troubling array of TV series, films, children’s animations and computer games that give violent action an acceptable face for a younger and younger audience. We claim that this is ‘harmless’ because it is not real. Thus, violent action and despotic behaviour are dangerously reduced to the realm of fantasy.
The truth is that most of us haven’t got a clue, indeed dare not think about, what it is really like to get caught up in such horror and violence. But there are times when we need to be aware and need to think about it. We need to hear the real stories of those whose lives have been changed by violent conflict as well as the accounts of those whose bravery saved a nation’s life. We need to understand, and we need to be grateful, and from our understanding say, “Never again”. If Remembrance is seen as old-fashioned or not relevant then maybe we need to think of ways to re-enliven it and make it so. Why? Well, if we look at the world we live in today, especially at the disturbing exchanges between certain world leaders, we get the uncomfortable feeling that it could happen all over again. It wouldn’t hurt to sit two of those leaders down and show them the harrowing pictures of the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Crucially Remembrance is not simply about what we must not do but about how we should live and be. For Christians, and indeed a humane society, it is the choice to love that remains the key to peace. Jesus came to bring life, rooted and founded in the love of God, not a religion. One can definitely be divided over religious or idealogical principles but not over the simple choice to love. The way of Jesus calls us not only to love our neighbour but also our enemy. Tough and complex but ultimately the only way to lasting peace.

Every blessing to you all.
Stephen Ball. Email: sb113lb@gmail.com

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