Saturday, 5th March, 2022 - Part one

The common chord of humanity uniting us, while often strained and anaemic, has been—in these days of brutality and heightened international concern—revived and nourished as one, our heart has gone out to Ukraine, not only in helplessness and fear, but in hope and love.

Russia's illegal war on a sovereign, European nation has received widespread condemnation from over a hundred nations. Thousands of Ukrainians and Russians (I speculate) have died in this needless war, and many more daily risk their lives to protect their country from further Russian invasion.

I had suspected, but I never thought that I would see this in my lifetime.

The first couple of days after the initial invasion were days of unfolding horror.
They were also days gently dripping with dread. How might such aggression be experienced here, in London, in the 21st Century? Had Putin just lit the fuse on World War III? Is what we were watching on our screens but a preview of what was to come? Had he just struck the match that would set Europe, not just Ukraine, on fire? And should war reach us in London, how might I respond? What would I do?

The life of relative comfort I had imagined to lie ahead, punctured by episodic, maybe even long term bouts of suffering, sure, now seemed even less certain. Had I been protected, cocooned in my Western consumerist individualism, believing the lie that if I worked hard enough, I could have it?

Evil resists such calculations. It seeps under doorways like a bubbling mist, a nocuous gas, the scent of rotten eggs rousing us from our slumber. It cannot be locked out. We cannot hide from it. It is there. Its presence permeates the room.

As I mulled on these things and others from the history books, I recalled this poem by the German theologian Martin Niemoeller:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

How easily this poem can be adjusted to describe, instead, an escalation of aggression:

They came first for the Georgians,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Georgian.
Then they came for Crimea,
and I didn't speak up because I didn't live in Crimea.
Then they came for the Syrians,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Syrian.
Then they came for the Ukrainians,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Ukrainian.
Then they came for world,
and by that time, it was too late.

Perhaps the bite to Niemoeller's poem is that he names groups hostile to himself, groups he failed to speak up for as a result.

Oh Lord, sharpen and guide my voice in the face of escalation or none, so that I may speak up in defence of others, even those who may hate me, as a good neighbour. Thank you for positioning me, here, for such a time as this. I do not know what to do or how to do it, but please, through my prayers, lead me to better surrender and submit myself to your plans and purposes, and not my own. Amen.

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