Monday, April 12, 2010
Review: Ordinary Courage
My journey to Baghdad as a human shield
I love going to book launches. They provide the opportunity to hear a writer speak of their latest book and for a bookoholic like myself, the treasured gift of a signed edition for that special set on my bookshelf. When I went along to the Brisbane Launch of Ordinary Courage by Donna Mulhearn at the Christian Brothers Centre I also got a night of inspiration and challenge.
The inspiration came from Donna’s story as a human shield in Iraq during 2003 and the introduction to Ordinary Courage by local Christian activist and community elder, Dave Andrews. The challenge came in Donna’s refrain to find our purpose and live it with ordinary courage!!
I started reading “Ordinary Courage” during Holy Week. From the pages of this intimate journal I re-discovered the traditional Easter images of hospitality, communion, betrayal, political exploitation, suffering, death and hope in the midst of despair.
Ordinary Courage is a pilgrim’s journal that challenges our dominant cultural values. Less than a month after Holy Week we remember ANZAC Day. I have never marched in an ANZAC parade. My father was a WW11 Veteran who refused to be part of the ANZAC tradition and left instructions that the Rising Sun badge to which he was entitled was not to be placed on his grave. He was buried with the untold horror of what he saw in Borneo and Papua New Guinea.
However, I have marched for peace and raised my voice for social change from my early teens in the Vietnam moratorium movement to the awe-inspiring march against the invasion of Iraq on February 15 2003 in Brisbane. To read the power of such solidarity for Donna and those who volunteered as human shields in Iraq confirms my belief in the process and action of non-violence and political activism in the midst of the horror of war.
There is another cultural value that Donna speaks of with intimacy and candor. It is the value of children and the senseless suffering they experience as a result of abusive power. Donna writes of the devastating impact of political and military abuse on the lives of the vulnerable kids in Iraq. Reading Ordinary Courage in Holy Week with the explosive revelations of a culture of sexual abuse and cover-ups by those with power in my Church raises questions about our failure to promote the ancient tradition of non-violence as a lifestyle and core value in the living of the Gospel.
Donna writes with the keen eye of a journalist tempered by the compassion of a heart formed in disciplined meditation. Ordinary Courage is not an easy read. It brings tears and anger as much as joy and hope in the unfolding of the dreadful days leading up to the Invasion of Iraq.
Reading Ordinary Courage was something of a personal pilgrimage. Many of the community connections that Donna treasures are common ground with my preferences in spirituality. The discipline of World Christian Meditation and life within L’Arche communities both challenge and nurture our shared faith. The popular Peace Prayer of St Francis takes on a new urgency in the devastation of bombs and missiles. Like Donna I have known the warm embrace of Michael Franti, whose lyrics and music inspired and encouraged her journey to Baghdad.
There is no “happy ending” in Ordinary Courage because war never has a happy ending. There is hope and there is an invitation to the reader to continue the story Donna has begun. The acknowledgements at the end of the book read like a useful litany of community programs and web sites that promote the values and practices Donna reflects on during her experience as a human shield in Iraq.
And, yes, I got Donna to sign my copy. It now sits between the signed copies of Richards Rohr’s “Soul Brothers” and Dave Andrews “A Divine Society”. However it will probably have a short shelf life here as I have already promised it on loan to one of my impoverished student friends. I will be buying more copies as I intend to give it as a Christmas gift to members of my family this year.
My journey to Baghdad as a human shield
Published February 2010
272 pages, trade paperback
153 x 234mm