The Right Attitude
Sam’s letter in our church magazine in December is worth highlighting for those who missed it, or sharing again for those who did see it.
From the Manse
The sight of people being scanned by guards as they entered shops and buildings in Paris brought it all back! Years of living in Northern Ireland saw the emergence of security checks, security barriers, patrols, surveillance and searches, all of which became part and parcel of daily life everywhere. When Minnie and I came to Edinburgh in 1988 we used to stop inside the door of shops on Princes Street and look around in expectation of a security guard scanning us. With no one paying any attention we hesitantly entered wondering if we were safe!
Today I feel for the people of France and Paris and hope that the extra security emerging in the wake of last Friday will allay fears and enable life to return to something near to normal, but the normal of tomorrow will not be the normal of yesterday for so many. Life for many has been changed. For one thing those affected will not easily forget. Acts of evil that affect you directly or indirectly are not so easily forgotten. There are people today who simply can’t forget Bloody Sunday, Omagh, Enniskillen and countless other acts of evil. Likewise, the people of Paris won’t forget the day evil visited their city, their families, and their way of life.
Neither have I forgotten the summer of 1978, the 12th July to be exact, when a member of the Boyle family phoned my Dad to say that Vincent, who worked for us, wouldn’t be able to milk the cows on our “traditional” holiday as young John had been shot by the SAS. John, 15, had discovered a cache of guns hidden in an old graveyard at the bottom of his Daddy’s field. He ran back and told his Dad, his Dad phoned the police. The police told them to leave it to them and to stay away. Nothing seemed to happen and curiosity drew John back to the graveyard where he was challenged by hidden SAS marksmen and ran in fear, being shot as he went. Years have passed since the summer of 78, and though that Catholic family have found in their faith the ability to forgive and the capacity to resist being bitter, no one has forgotten. But what they taught me is that attitude is everything.
On the back of John’s killing there was outrage in the Catholic community and a swell of local support for Sinn Fein/IRA especially on the back of the refusal of the SAS to accept any culpability, but in the face of it all the family called for a different path, a path of moderation, de- escalation, and dignity. Refusing to disengage with us, the unionist community, Vincent continued working on the farm and standing with us and hopefully us with them. It was great seeing him and his father and uncle at my father’s wake.
Attitude is so important. Viktor Frankl who survived the evil of Auschwitz and Dachau, saw that evil can destroy many things but it can’t destroy our freedom to choose our attitude to it. Terrorists want to poison human attitudes, create fear and suspicion, spread hatred and terror, separate and demonise communities, but one way of defeating them is to choose a better attitude. This was brought home again by the recent open letter to ISIS by a grieving widower in Paris who in the midst of pain refused to give the terrorist the gift of his hatred. Grief stricken but clear headed, Antoine Leiris wrote,
“Friday night, you took an exceptional life — the love of my life, the mother of my son — but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in His heart.
So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.
I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short- lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.
We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”
What a refreshing attitude! During Advent season we focussed in the mornings on Philippians 2:1-11 under the theme of GrAttitude.
“Your attitude”, Paul writes, “should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant….he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross!”
Let’s make Jesus Christ Lord of our attitudes now and always, and see how refreshing that will be for those around us.