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  • Mike


Updated: Sep 15, 2023

How many of us are following the news coming out of Ukraine with the same attention as we did at the beginning? More drones. More attacks on entirely innocent people going about their business. More ‘collateral’ damage. More body bags. A certain war-weariness sets in, and minds turn towards ways of fixing this, of getting out of this terrible stalemate. Enough is enough.

There are those on the hard shoulders of both left and right, like former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who are now saying that Ukraine should accept the loss of Crimea and other occupied territory and not be admitted to international organizations like NATO. Not only is this a price worth paying to prevent further bloodshed but it will respect the historic integrity of Mother Russia and calm their fears about the threat from the West.

One the other hand there are those who support Ukraine in its defence of its rich culture and modern borders. If Putin gets away with a square kilometre of Ukrainian soil, he will not be satisfied and there’s no knowing where this megalomaniac will stop. Immovable force meets unstoppable object. And the body bags will mount up.

Is there another way?

Earlier this week, in the first of this year’s series of Autumn Lectures at St Martin in the Fields, we heard the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, argue the case for Christians to be involved in the work of reconciliation this time in Israel-Palestine, another place of seemingly unending violence over land and culture. Post-apartheid South Africa has shown the way after a fashion. Is this just wishful thinking or clerical naivety? Has this sort of shedding of blood over disputed lands not been the human story since time immemorial? Can one reconcile without capitulating? Who will blink first? Can you play chicken when the stakes are so high?

In both war zones there are claims on all sides to be standing on holy ground of some kind, ground made holy in the stories which all sides like to tell about costly sacrifices made by their bold forbears. The idea of ‘holy ground’ which has survived into our modern lexicon comes from the Old Testament story of Moses in the desert standing before the burning bush. The first thing he was told to do was to remove his protective clothing, his shoes. Only then could he feel the warmth of the burning bush ‘that was not consumed’.

The message to us is clear. Only when we slowly dismantle our protective defences can we possibly enjoy the warmth of close relationship. It is not just in families and among friends that this holds true. It can be true of larger social groupings. And there are people in Gaza and Jerusalem, in Kyiv and Moscow who are trying to point a way forward towards reconciliation. They do it through their art, their music and dance, through friendships which cross divides, through simple listening to another account of things, through attention to the stories of the pain of the stranger. In doing so they sometimes take considerable risks.

It is not easy to be optimistic about geopolitical stalemates. And the no-go zones in our own families can get equally ‘stuck’. Perhaps the only way forward is to follow the biblical advice that only when you remove your protective emotional clothing will you feel the warmth.

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We all know that it is only by stepping outside our comfort zones that we grow. Thank you for this reminder that the principle works on a much bigger scale.

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