34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
At a leadership conference for handpicked sailors, a lecturer from the ANU made the commented that the reported incidence at Abu Grahib prison by US military personnel couldn’t happen in the Australian forces because we were so well trained to behave otherwise.
After a moment of mouth open bewilderment, I spoke up and suggested that he was either being reckless in his confidence in our troops (us sitting in the room) or he was deluded into believing that we were, somehow, superhuman and therefore would not act irrationally or emotionally if the circumstances were right. Both of which I knew from my understanding of myself to be possible.
On this eve of ANZAC Day, arguably Australia’s national day, let us keep an informed mind about war and those who find themselves involved in them. War is not rational, it is irrational. Killing others, especially your own, to achieve a politically ordained solution to an intractable problem is irrational. To ask people who find themselves in the midst of the subsequent conflict to act rationally is irrational. The war fought in our country for control over the land and its resources, the unnamed and unremembered war, was irrational. The wars fought on other shores for the political and power needs of others have been irrational. The wars we continue to fight are more so.
Why do we expect people who find themselves caught up in the big business of mass killing not to behave irrationally on the ground just as those who are behind the scenes, governments, corporations and media do? Why do we elevate these young men and women to a level of sainthood they never sought and can never live up to?
War is abominable. Being caught up in it at the ground level is horrific and can never be forgotten. Society appropriates war and the outcomes of war for its own purposes, to give meaning to an event that was often a failure but was so costly it needs to be elevated to the spiritual to allow us to live with its memory. This ANZAC Day it is worthwhile unpacking the fairy-tale and taking a peek at the legend for what it is, the disastrous plans of misguided men who were willing to sacrifice fellow men, women and children to feed their own political, economic and power delusions, be they on the shores of Gallipoli or on the plains across the states of Australia.
The truth is we live between betrayal and denial, between upholding our values and respecting others, between hate and love. In todays shortened Gospel reading Jesus gives the well recognised, oft heard call for love: “34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” In light of tomorrow James Hillman says we have tried brotherly love for 2000 years and it has failed, humans have an insatiable appetite for war.
It is interesting to note where John places Jesus command to love. Paul S. Berge notes, “In the midst of his betrayal by Judas and denial by Peter, Jesus calls the community to live in love with one another, a pattern expressed in his own life and death.”
It sits squarely between the betrayal of Judas who had, according to John, just left the room to carry out his dastardly deed; and the denial of Peter, the denial that abandoned his teacher and companion to face the foe alone. One does not hear this command and behaves badly, the other behaves badly even though he heard it. Both had been well trained and taught by Jesus. Both had seen the evidence of Jesus identity and mission. Both had participated in the various miracles and events, eyewitnesses to the capacity Jesus had for his fellow humanity.
Yet, when the bullets started to fly, they failed him spectacularly. One went over to the other side, deserted to the enemy and the either denied any involvement or knowledge and refused to stand up when he was called upon to do so.
Love, love in the style of Jesus is tough love. It is the hardest thing to do. To stay fully engaged in relationship with others and self in the midst of life takes a resolve only grace can give. We, like Judas and Peter, fail to keep this commandment, not just once nor 7 times, but 70 times 7. Regardless, it is a our cornerstone, without which we find ourselves slipping into despondency and permanent failure.
The new commandment is to love one another as I have loved you – accepting and respectful of all that goes to make up who you are. Jesus love for both Peter and Judas remains despite the disappointment. Jesus love recognises we are not perfect but that we do endeavour to live out his commandment.
In the midst of the chaos of life in the world, the chaos that sits with in us as we deal with the stuff that comes our way, and the chaos that arrives unscripted and unwanted to turn our rational world into an irrational world.
As we unpack the legend of ANZAC and all the wars fought either side of the Gallipoli encounter we discover people who stay true to Jesus’ call. They carry out acts of bravery, sacrifice, comfort and camaraderie with those they stand beside and those they stand against. They do the incredibly rational in the midst of the unthinkably irrational. They put legs on Jesus command in circumstances most of us would find impossible.
Jesus command is a command to love in tough circumstances and to love those who are tough to love, particularly ourselves. It is to exhibit such love without violence and to find a way to reconcile us to others in the midst of the irrationality of their circumstance and ours. It is how we engage with people who have hurt, isolated and alienated us. It is how we engage with those who oppress, control and incarcerate others. It is the way we get on with creating life in the midst of a society committed to death.
How do we do that? There are no 5 steps to success, but we do begin with a clear mind and understanding of who we are and what we are capable of. It then follows that we work to retain that understanding in all our engagements with others. Love is the capacity to retain our humanity and to ensure others retain theirs despite differences, conflicts and blame.
Jesus lived such a paradigm into our imagination. We are to live that paradigm into the imagination of the world, starting right where we are.