Today the Buddhist priest raised an important question -- what message is sent when we as people of religion use our traditions and beliefs to justify war and hatred. Some have claimed that religion is not a source of violence, yet for me it appears that it is at the least a useful excuse. As one colleague once metaphorically expressed it, "if the knife was not sharp, it could not be used as a weapon." We, as people of religion, must ensure that our traditions are not even used as an excuse for violence.
Last year (and this year as well) thoughts of Bernie, my father-in-law, have come to mind. He and many others left Winnipeg to fight for freedom. Today I saw the graves of many young Winnipegers, some as young as 21. This week Bernie will pin his medals to his jacket in preparation for Remembrance Day. I have no doubt that he will think about and remember the sacrifices of his generation to create a better world. I don't think I can turn to him and say that we have yet made these sacrifices worthwhile.
Today at the service, I read the following prayer. It is my belief that its values and hopes will not be realized till we wake up as a human race, and work as God's partners to transform the world.
Grant universal peace, with happiness and blessing, grace, love, and mercy for us and all people
of the world. Bless us, our Creator, one and all with your light; for You have given us, by that
light, the guide to a life of caring, filled with generosity, contentment, kindness and wellbeing --
and peace. May it please you to bless all people, in every season and at all times with your gift of
peace. Praised are you O God, who blesses all people with peace.
* * *
Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to November 11th. Originally called Armistice Day, it marked the end of World War I at the 11th hour, of the 11th day in the 11th Month of 1918. Now in the Commonwealth of Nations (the historic British Empire) it is called Remembrance Day, while in the United States it is referred to as Veterans Day. For countries like Britain, Canada and Australia (and other Commonwealth Nations) it is the primary day set aside for remembering all of the young men and women who gave their lives in war -- in the United States, Memorial Day in May, established after the Civil War, serves this purpose.
For ten years I marked this occasion, coordinating and helping to lead (in conjunction with B'nai B'rith) the services held at the Jewish Cemetery in Edmonton Alberta. This service was made much more meaningful as I stood in the presence of my father-in-law Bernie (who served in the RCAF) and the other veterans of World War II. Their courage and sacrifice helped to preserve the freedoms that we cherish today. They also played a real part in the preservation of the Jewish people, as they each played an important role in the defeat of the Nazis.
This year I took part in a much larger service, held at the Commonwealth War Cemetery near Yokohama. It was not a Jewish service. Instead six diverse religious leaders (Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist) each prayed for peace and an end to war throughout the globe, and wreaths were laid, not only by communal leaders, but also by the ambassadors of nearly all the Commonwealth. There were also representatives from the Japanese government, and from the city of Yokohama.
The location of the cemetery was not fortuitous. Instead, it was placed near where most of the young men had died, most of illness not wounds. Nearly all had been captured early in the Pacific war, following the loss of Singapore and Hong Kong. For me, at the Canadian section, it was especially poignant to find that many of the graves marked the resting places of young men from Winnipeg -- my father-in-law's home city. As he went east to fight from British shores, these young men went west.
Quite a lot is now known of the young men and their time as prisoners of war. Two Japanese women dedicated themselves to finding and sharing all that they learned. Apparently they speak little English, but they have dedicated themselves to ensuring that each of the young men was remembered. They too were here, and they laid a wreath.
There were young men of every religion and tradition buried in the cemetery. I came upon graves with the cross of Christianity, the star of Judaism, the ohm of Hinduism, and the crescent of Islam. Epitaphs on many contained reminders that these young men fought for peace and justice. They lie together, whatever their traditions, perhaps calling on us to remember their sacrifice, demanding that we together create a world of peace and justice.
As the service progressed, there were reminders of Canada. Of course all of us wore red poppies, fulfilling a Commonwealth Remembrance Day tradition. But apparently not all poppies are created equally. The Canadian Military Attaché gave me a Canadian poppy -- like ones I have worn for the last ten years -- mentioning that these were much better than the standard Commonwealth poppy. I also noticed that the Canadian wreaths, with the name of our country emblazened, were unique among all of the standard Commonwealth wreaths. These little details reminded me of Edmonton, and connected me with Bernie and many others, who are joining together at the Jewish Cemetery today to commemorate Remembrance Day.
Yesterday was a pleasant but windy 18 celsius, and the hillside cemetery could not have been more beautiful with its forest of trees covered with autumn leaves. Even the occasional light rain did not distract from its beauty. But despite its beauty, grave after grave of young men who never had a chance to live their lives, was a reminder of the horrible cost of war. For me it was a cry of "never again." It was a prayer that one day humanity "will beat its swords into plough-shears and its spears into pruning hooks, and that nations will know war no more".