Have you noticed today’s date? September 11th sticks out in all our minds because of the awful events in New York in 2001. We can never forget that day.
But what you might not know (at least, I didn’t until a few weeks ago) is that something else significant took place on September 11th 2001. That very same day, Defence Security Equipment International, (DSEi) or simply the Arms Fair to many people, set up camp at the ExCeL centre, in London’s docklands. This massive international trade fair for weapons manufacturers and buyers has been held at the ExCeL every two years since that day, and it’s back there this week.
There’s something strange about having the instruments of war brought so close to the here and now, and glorified before our eyes. Of course, we know wars happen. But they’re usually in the past, or in some region far away from our comfort and stability. But when there are warships being displayed in the same docklands that were bombed in World War II, when there are tanks and torpedoes being displayed in the same venue as the Doctor Who 50th Celebration is being held in a couple of months time, it all becomes very real.
For me, the most troubling passages of the Bible, the ones I sometimes wish weren’t there, are the ones that describe war. Those stories of the people of God apparently rejoicing at the deaths of whole cities, men, women and children, are never easy to swallow. But I think a good starting point is to say that they’re there because the Bible reflects back to us our own story, the story of humanity. The story of humanity so far is one riddled with conflict, violence and war.
But there’s another thread in the human story, one that the Bible comes back to again and again. It’s the promise that God is making the world right again, and that we’re called to be part of that amazing transformation.
The prophet Micah looked forward to a time when the people of the world “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)
Isaiah told of a person to come who would be called “Prince of Peace”. A few centuries later, Jesus came teaching his friends to turn the other cheek to those who hurt them, to love their enemies, to pray for their haters and oppressors. As Christians hold on tight to the vision of Revelation that one day, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, we’re called to be people who wipe away the tears now, just like God will do.
When the weapons being used to commit the acts of violence we see happening around the world are brought to our doorstep, some Christians feel called to direct action. Some have protested, some have prayed, worshipped, and read Scripture together outside the event. A few have found themselves arrested for objecting to a trade that enables so much violence.
I want to be deliberate in my response too, small though it might seem. I want to make sure I’m being a peacemaker in my day to day life, praying for patience and being quick to forgive. I want to take every chance to say sorry when I’m wrong, to put relationships and reconciliation above my pride. Whether or not we choose to take action against the Arms Fair this week, let’s be those who make God’s kingdom of peace and justice a reality in our own communities.