Recently I read an article in which the author referred to Fiji as in danger of becoming the “Burma of the South Pacific.” I was reflecting on this as I sorted through some books over the weekend when I found an old favourite, “Tales Worth Telling,” by Asian evangelist, G.D. James. In this book, given to me by my late father, when I found an interesting short story that resonated with the article that I had just read. However after reading, laughing and putting it aside to include in this week's column, it was promptly repositioned by either the matron of the house, or her “energizer bunny” of a grandson. Below then is my interpretation of the story:
The benevolent dictator of a developing country was walking along a river, when he saw a shiny coin at the bottom of the river. Thinking the river shallow enough he waded in but soon found himself out of his depth. Soon treading water in combat boots began to tire him out and just as he was about to go under, three little boys passed by and, seeing a man about to drown, jumped in to help and succeeded in pulling the man to the bank of the river. The rescued man was so happy to be alive he promised the three boys anything they asked for.
“I would like a bicycle please,” said the first boy.
“I would like a bicycle too please,” said the second boy.
“And I suppose you would like a bicycle too,” said the soaking wet dictator to the third boy.
“Actually, I would like a military funeral, if you don't mind. I'm sure you can arrange that,” replied the third boy.
“Of course I can arrange it,” said the dictator, “but why on earth would you want one?”
“Because,” answered the boy, “when my parents find out who I just helped rescue, they're gonna kill me!”
As someone who believes himself to have heard and is doing his best to respond to the call to speak truth to power and act for and in peace, one of my personal struggles in trying to understand our political situation in Fiji continues to be the concept of a Just War and the Doctrine of Necessity. As human beings who for the most, yearn to live in peace and harmony with each other, the question is, “Do the ends justify the means, or a the means and methods used just as important as the desired result.”While for me the answer is and always will be the latter, I understand than many of us may wrestle with this question for a long time.
Recently someone labelled me a hypocrite for supporting a peaceful resolution to the current political, social and cultural conflict in Fiji and a return to democracy, while still often wearing a polo shirt given to me during my visit to the 2FIR “Fiji Batt”in Sinai as part of a visit to the Holy Land. I point out to them that it was a gift given in love and appreciation for a sermon I preached and as a fellow Fijian in the Holy Land. It is one of the only souvenirs that I have to mark this pilgrimage and I remain firm in my support of the peacekeeping role and abilities of the RFMF, although I continue to pray for the same level of peaceful negotiation, conciliation, and compassion which they display as Observers in the Sinai Peninsula, could be practised in their own homeland which they rule through superior force.
I then asked my accuser, if he had a Fiji rugby jersey. As a die-hard Fiji fan, his response was a resolute “yes!” accompanied by the sort of look reserved for members of the family who are a little “slow on the uptake”, or to coin a common Fijian expression, “tubelight.” He challenged me by asking if I also had one, and I professed my allegiance by regaling him with a rather long and winding story about how my dear mother-in-law had given me one as a gift and how I wore it with pride in England.
“So what's your point?” asked my now curious accuser (and possibly you the curious reader). I asked him what he thought of the recent situation at FRU House regarding Serervi, the Fiji Sevens team and their recent Serevi-less performance. Once my accuser vented his frustration and calmed down. He asked me again, “So what's your point?”I asked him if he still cheered for Fiji during the recent IRB Sevens tournaments. He answered, “Of course!” I asked him if he still wore his Fiji rugby jersey when he watched. The answer was the same. I responded, “It's the same with me, we may not like the coach or the management, or the members of the team and all the problems they have at home, but when they go out to represent the country, we support them all the way.” I'm not sure whether the look in his eyes, as he walked away, was one of illumination or confusion.
US President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. commented that this statement was an example of “the power of redemptive love.” But loving our enemies is a very difficult thing to do. We may do it once, we may do it twice but if our enemies continue to treat us badly, it becomes harder and harder to keep loving them. Initially we may speak truth in love, but eventually it becomes truth in anger, and things spoken in anger, even the truth are often received in the same anger.
So for us to love our enemies, to remain kind and conciliar in the face of oppression, repression and somewhat forced liberation, requires perseverance. The kind of perseverance that can last five or ten years.
An obstacle of persevering in the face is of adversity is the fact that many of us have a lifestyle of giving up, of apathy. A little boy was promised an ice cream cone if he was good while accompanying his grandfather on some errands. The longer they were gone the more difficult the boy was finding it to be good. "How much longer will it be?" he asked. "Not too long," replied the grandfather, "we've just got one more stop." "I don't know if I can make it, Grandpa," the little boy said. "I can be good. I just can't be good enough long enough." As children we can get away with that, but not as mature people, and certainly not if we expect to succeed in what God's called us to do. We are a people who live with hope. We must continue to hold on to hope.
Key to perseverance is resiliency. Harvard professor George Vaillant identifies resiliency as a significant characteristic of people who navigate the different seasons of life from birth to old age. In his book Aging Well he writes, "Resilient people are like a twig with a fresh, green, living core. When twisted out of shape the twig bends but it doesn't break; instead it springs back and continues growing." That's an excellent description of perseverance. Another is the coconut tree. It gets knocked back and forth by the cyclones we face, but it never breaks. We must not become dry, brittle and inflexible. We must draw on God's grace and endeavour to bounce back no matter how we feel.
World champion boxer Mohammad Ali said, "Champions aren't made in the gyms, they are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. They have last-minute stamina. They have to be a little faster, and they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."
May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, and peace!