remember-fullParker-headBy Neil Parker

This Remembrance Day, we will try to look back some distance into our history as a nation, and reflect on the centenary of the beginning of World War I – the Great War, the War to End All Wars. But for many of us, it will be hard to remember back more than a few days, to the deaths of two Canadian soldiers on our streets and in our cities.

I know that "remembering" does not refer only to history, and events that happened long ago. In fact, it literally means "re-connecting" to each other, to "make ourselves members of one another" in the sense of a family or a community. Islam refers to the Ummah, or the household of God's faithful; the Christian church refers to believers becoming members of "one body" in Jesus.

So, today, I want to "re-member" myself, to re-connect myself to those with whom I am in relationship.

As a military member, who has proudly worn the uniform at home and overseas, I immediately connect with those who lost their lives such a short time ago, simply because they were wearing the Canadian uniform. I know first-hand what it is to knock on a door and announce a sudden, tragic death; I feel for the families. I feel for those members of their units, those with whom they have worked (and played, and laughed, and joked, and trained) and who now carry a casket for their friend. I feel for the chaplain and commanding officer who have to support the grieving while they themselves grieve.

These folks know, in their very muscles, that violence cannot be allowed to have the last word, and they are prepared, as have others before them, to put their own lives on the line to stop that violence. These are my brothers and sisters.

But as a minister in the United Church, I am also connected to people who don't understand, or even support, the military. I know courageous and committed pacifists who long for a world in which peace is stronger than violence, and who are brilliant and creative in their pathways to achieving that peace. They are also willing to risk their lives, committed to the belief that more bullets do not solve the conditions that lead to extremism and uncontrolled violence. These are my brothers and sisters.

I am also sympathetic to those who work for peace and justice in their local communities and around the world, and are not naïve to the reality that there are great and real inequities in our world that are profoundly unjust. They understand that even ordinary people can be driven to despair and even to violence because they see no other way to solve their problems. They do not sympathize with acts of violence or terrorism, but they can understand the frustration, and they call on us again and again to right the wrongs in our world that can lead some to lash out in anger. These are my brothers and sisters.

I am also, in a larger sense, connected to those of Islamic faith who are hurt by the association in many peoples' minds of their faith and the actions of a few. I listen to a young Muslim father who walks with daughter to school, reciting the Al-Fatiha ("All praise is due to God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.") He wonders if it is a good time to be a Muslim. I want to ask him what he is doing, as a Muslim in our community, to fight the extremism that sometimes gets linked to his faith. He has the right to ask me, at the same time, what I am doing to combat the extremism of Christian groups like the Westboro Baptist Church who hold placards at the funerals of U.S. soldiers proclaiming that their deaths are God's will, and who publicly burned a copy of the Qu'ran to demonstrate their contempt for Islam. I have to confess that I have not done enough to challenge extremists who are part of my own faith community. These are my brothers and sisters.

In my connecting and re-connecting with all these people, I am reminded that any time we divide the world into "us" and "them" we can only do so by denying something of ourselves. These are my brothers and sisters.

Major the Rev. Neil Parker is a United Church of Canada minister and a military chaplain.