November is for me, very much the beginning of winter, signalled by times stood outside in the cold: in darkness to watch the "whizz-bang" of fireworks that have now almost lost their association with Guy Fawkes, gunpowder, treason and plot; and by daylight as we stand in silence to remember those who have died in the international conflicts of the last 100 years.
NOISE and then silence.
Jostling crowds around the light of fires and fireworks, the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahhhs’ of small and not-so-small children, eyes fixed on the sky, hands often over ears; then the precise ranks of service personnel, past and present, with whom we stand, the red poppies of remembrance set against the backdrop of tidy uniforms and almost leafless trees. A month of contrasts.
There are whizz-bangs in both commemorations. In the original plot to blow up Parliament, there would, if all had gone to plan, have been the whizz and sizzle of a powder trail leading to the barrels set to go up to make the opening of Parliament go with a bang. But, behind Guy Fawkes's combustible knowhow, was a political and religious argument about how, and by whom, the country should be run.
In the First World War, a "whizz bang" was how British and Commonwealth troops described much of German artillery; the whizz of their shells being heard nearby before the bang of them being fired from enemy lines. The defending infantrymen therefore had almost no warning of the whereabouts of the deadly incoming shell fire.
Today, the whizz-bang of fireworks is probably largely regarded as a thing of beauty, and the phrase "whizz-bang" has been hijacked to be an adjective meaning excellent or first-rate, rather than a noun describing an instrument of destruction. Worse still it is also slang for a nasty concoction of illegal substances that packs a double punch.
So as we travel through the coming days of contrasts, what might the whizz-bang of fireworks and artillery fire lead us to consider?
The inhumanity of people's urge for power, and the determination to destroy the opposition to gain it, could be one reflection. When we read or watch the news today we realise nothing has changed, there is still so much violence and destruction as people strive to gain power or wealth. There are so many situations in which we feel powerless to effect change. Closer to home, we may find that we are in destructive situations ourselves, where, behind the whizz-bang of arguments, lies if not a quest for power, then perhaps a determination to have our own way, or a need to have our viewpoint heard and understood. In both cases, internationally and in our own lives, Christ offers us hope. Rather than the whizz-bang of explosions, he died to the sound of hammer and nails.
Jesus' resurrection was the only form of retaliation in God's armoury, overcoming the power of death by the power of love, to offer hope. Perhaps an overpowering love for our fellow humans is the biggest contrast that the world needs to experience this month, and on into the future.