As a boy I would spend much of the summer holidays staying with my grandparents. It was always a splendid time. I would sit with my grandfather early in the morning and drink morning Camp Coffee while he smoked his pipe. I still remember the smell of the Condor Tobacco as he told me stories of his life. In some way I think telling his story was about beginning to write my story.
At sixteen, my grandfather lied about his age and became part of that great volunteer army sent to fight at the battle of the Somme in the Great War. He always called it the Great War – I guess for him nothing would ever compare. I remember many of his stories, one in particular. He told me about standing in the trench waiting to go ‘over the top’. Men standing, passing a bottle up and down the line – false courage he called that. All of them shaking with fear. The deafening roar of artillery; a young officer, revolver in one hand, watch in the other. All just waiting, waiting with the sure knowledge, in them and between them, that if they were still alive by the end of the day, the men either side of them would not be.
Can any of us really comprehend such courage?
As a boy, this story often made me a little ashamed of my own fears. My own ‘going over the top’ experience at that time was English Literature and waiting for my turn to stand and read aloud in class. The crack of the teacher’s voice, like a rifle shot getting ever closer each time.
As the next unfortunate in turn had to stand and read. I would have done anything to get out of it but there was no way out, even a timely toilet break didn’t help. That only made you NEXT when you got back.
Over the years I have come to appreciate that courage has many forms and many invisible realities. The very willingness to identify oneself as a Christian in our society seems in itself to be a courageous act in our time. Our culture, which has never been a great supporter of religion, seems to have slipped from an indifferent into an almost antagonistic view of organised religion with the rise of a new aggressive atheism.
Having said that, perhaps it’s also the case that to be a Christian has always been a courageous act. It always has, and it always will be, an act of courage to stand against the powers and principalities of this world as individuals and as a church. The injustice, exploration and dehumanising reality of the contemporary consumer world we live in is as real a source of injustice as the Empire of Jesus’ time, and we are called to mission in this world.
May God bless us with the courage we need as individual Christians and as a church.
Rev Ron Larkin, moderator of the Uniting Church in Western Australia