Here’s the text version of Rev Emily’s talk at the Picnic for Peace event facilitated by Auckland Peace Action. Picnic for Peace is held on Anzac Day and is an alternative way to commemorate with a focus on peace and justice.
You can watch the video here – which includes singing from Grant Hewison, Jenny, Jack, Ro and Peter Lange. You can also see some photos from this event at the bottom of this post.
Huhana and Sophie start by acknowledging the people of the land:
It is right before we start to acknowledge mana whenua this rohe. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, to whom this land belongs and which was taken by the military arm of the British Empire. We acknowledge this crime, and it is our hope that justice shall be done with respect to this situation.
The hill on which the Auckland War Memorial Museum stands is called Pukekawa. In the 1820s, at the height of the Musket Wars, Te Wherowhero and Ngati Whatua met there to make peace with the northern tribes. Ceremonies were held in the shadow of Pukekawa and its meaning was recast to mean ‘hill of bitter memories’ as a memorial to all who fell in the Musket Wars. So it was a war memorial long before settlers thought it a good place to build a war memorial museum.
I’m Emily, from Church in Progress MCC. Church in Progress is a faith group based in Mangere East – we are committed to provide worship spaces that accept, affirm and celebrate everyone – no matter how they identify.
Thank you to Auckland Peace Action for organising today’s event. Thank you for all being here. I’m so grateful that we have an event in which we can say ‘never again’.
We honour those who have died by declaring that we will never go to war again. It’s hard to make those kinds of statements with a military parade in the background.
We also gather here, not as a show of military potential, but as everyday people, from all walks of life and faith, to mourn those who have died in battle. But our list is longer than the one they read on the hill.
Today, in addition, we name those nameless victims of war.
The civilians killed in the cross-fire of a war they didn’t ask for. Children, parents, grandparents.
The refugees who are too many to name.
People who have lost their language and culture due to years of colonisation which was sealed by force.
The children who lose precious time with their parents and they work for the military.
We remember those military personnel who have suffered spiritual harm from following orders that their hearts could not reconcile.
We acknowledge those who look to the armed forces for paid employment as their options are too few.
It feels overwhelming – this list of victims, this list of damage, hurt and death.
As a follower of Jesus, I feel fortunate that I have prayer to help me deal with the sadness that comes with the overload of information we receive … seeing the children suffering in Gaza, watching as high school kids in America fight for their own safety and here in New Zealand the madness of building mega prisons … the list seems endless.
Christians get a hard time for #thoughtsandprayers – I get it. It seems like an easy way to do nothing. However, if we take prayer seriously it’s not about getting God to do what we want – it’s actually about asking for the courage and grace to do what God wants us to do.
How do we bring about peace?
How do we take responsibility?
That’s why leaders like Trump make me so angry. As I’m sure you are all aware, he ended his announcement about the attack on Syria with a prayer.
Using God to justify his actions.
Well that little trick might work on the deluded American Evangelicals, but I want to state – that it doesn’t float with the majority of Christians around the world.
Just like Trump we all need to be accountable for the violence we cause in the world.
Wouldn’t it have been amazing if he had said, “Due to my beliefs, I am compelled to find a non-violent way to end this conflict. Starting by following Jesus’s example and accepting more refugees.”
Now … that would change the world.
Using God as a scape-goat for our bad behaviour is unacceptable.
We need to stop blaming God and start taking responsibility.
Last night my brother called me from Australia to wish me well for today. I said I wasn’t sure what to say. He reminded me that it was part of my job description to offer hope.
So, I want to remind you that just by gathering here – there is hope. We gather here as a sign, a commitment that we will work together to bring peace to our land and peace throughout the world.
To celebrate those who have made personal sacrifices in the quest for peace.
We remember the 14 conscientious objectors that the New Zealand government sent to the western front in the First World War in an attempt to break them.
We are still in awe of the people of Parihaka who suffered imprisonment, displacement and the loss of their land at the hands of colonial forces and they still walk the way of peace.
We give thanks for the bravery of those who were jailed in Mt Eden prison for refusing to pay the fines imposed for participating in the anti-Vietnam War protests.
We remember those who were put in jail as they refused to attend compulsory military service in the early 1970s.
We are hopeful due to the actions of people who are currently putting themselves at risk in the quest for peace. Groups like Auckland Peace Action, who regularly risk arrest and personal safety during non-violent action.
We have hope due to groups like People Against Prisons Aotearoa who have made it their mission to end the violence that our prison system creates – by sharing their vision of what the world would be like without prisons.
That’s the thing about peace. It’s like faith. People think Christians are crazy because we believe in things we can’t see. I get it …
All of us here, we can’t see the peace we hope to create. However, that must not stop us working together for peace.
Be hopeful that ordinary people want peace too. I put a crowdsourcing request on our church facebook page – people are desperate for peace. Here are some of their prayers for peace …
- Love peace and harmony and not hate war and disharmony. Remember the victims of war
- May all the Children of the Universe be safe from harm & fear. Let their laughter fill our World with Love, and Peace will rule once again.
- Different isn’t wrong, different is just different May we learn to understand our neighbours, react with love and peace; respect them especially when they are different from us.
- May we be mindful of how far-reaching the violence of war can be, that the initial horrors will reverberate long after initial conflicts in the people, land & nations it scars. Let us support peace talks, anti-gun cultures, tolerance & diversity.
- May peace rule! Best for the picnic of peace as we gather in all our different places and spaces
- Syrian people. Toronto victims. Palestinians. Those living with post-traumatic stress after being posted to war zones. Doctors and nurses in war zones. North and South Korean talks.
Our challenge is to enable people to be able to work for peace together, because we are all overwhelmed aren’t we? But together we can make a difference. You see, everybody actually wants peace apart from the people making big bucks out of it.
It is my prayer that we continue to find ways to enable all people to live peacefully and discover new and creative ways to challenge the structures that allow violence to continue.