Turning Swords into Ploughshears

This afternoon, I had the privilege of attending Jolyon Mitchell's Inaugural Lecture, marking his appointment as Professor of Communications, Arts and Religion in New College Edinburgh. Jolyon has been given a well earned honour by Edinburgh University. He has worked tirelessly to bring academic credibility to his subject and has sought to inspire theologians and students alike to think creatively and to engage with the power of the visual image. The theme of his lecture was a challenging one and as expected displayed a creative and imaginative exploration of ethics and art engaging with what I might call the rage of the human heart. His content didn't disappoint it certainly did what it said on the tin. How can weapons be turned into art? How can ‘swords' be transformed into ‘ploughshares'? For some scholars and practitioners involved in building peace, the phrase ‘Swords into Ploughshares' is an overused cliché that has lost its original force. In this illustrated public lecture, Professor Jolyon Mitchell investigates how this ancient text is being brought to life in many different parts of the world through artistic projects promoting peace. He analyses how various artists are transforming weapons that used to kill into tools for farming, useful objects or symbols of peace. He explores how different museums, educators and film-makers are now using these pieces to envision peace. Professor Mitchell considers the significance of these expressions of ‘Swords into Ploughshares' in local, national and international peacebuilding. I must confess that I found myself smiling at his choice of topic for I too have seen with my own eyes swords turned to ploughshears. I think he has struck a hammer that resonates with a great many people. If given the choice would not most of us beat our swords into ploughshears? While Joylon focused on the role of artist engaging with the text from Isaiah 'beating swords into ploughshears' I began to reflect on those who make the swords, those in our modern day arms industry. What happens when they catch the vision of the prophet? Lives are changed and enemies and critics become friends. It is not a dream as some critics suggest. It became a reality when a whole work force, (be it for a short time),turned from making warships to making a hospital ship.In 2004-2005 BAE Systems the maker of arms and war machines became involved with the the process,not of creating a works of art, but of literally recreating a sword and turning it into what can only be described as a "hard core ploughshear" The outcome being an ex Royal Navy Fleet Tender reshaped from transporting military equipment to becoming the carrier of hope and healing to some of the poorest and neediest people in Amazonia. So what makes a dealer in weapons become a dealer in compassion? Perhaps it is simply because deep down within the human psyche the text of the prophet Isaiah resonates with a longing we all have to be peacemakers.Its a fascinating story how Willie McPherson managed to persuade the CEO of BAE Systems in Barrow to climb on board and begin the reversal; turning his war machinery into creators of healing and hope. Its an inspiring story how over 70 apprentices turned a small ship into a hospital. Its heart warming when specialised artisans gave of their time and their money to make a dream come true. However what's even more amazing this little ship of hope was sailing the Atlantic when the planes crashed into the twin towers.Even when evil does its best the light will not be defeated. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ip5LYU2Cig[/youtube] What I'm saying is perhaps there are many more swords waiting to be made into ploughshears. I must confess when Arc Royal was decommissioned the thought ran through my head, now what could we do with this?" One thing I'm certain of "Swords into Ploughshers" has still a long way to run. I know this to be true because we at the Vine Trust have got another ex Royal Navy Fleet Tender waiting in a shipyard in Gibraltar for work to commence in a few weeks. It will be ready hopefully for Lake Victoria by this time next year. So how can swords be turned into ploughshears? The answer is simply by speaking to the right people! No doubt there are those who will hold their hands up in horror for them there can be no comprise. Others will think we have allowed ourselves to be manipulatred by a large corporate in order that they might ease their conscience. All of this may be true, but as Willie McPherson says when his life is judged he'd rather be judged,for doing something rather than doing nothing. One more little aside. When Amazon Hope 2 was leaving Barrow another surprise took place for the workers. Every time a submarine is built and leaves the port the local Quaker Church turn up and silent protest against war holding banner. When Amazon Hope 2 was leaving a little group of Quakers could be seen standing on the bridge but instead of protesting they were cheering.
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