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Why I will wear a red poppy today (but only today)

I

When I was growing up, each remembrance Sunday Dad and I would drive out to a village a few miles away where my brass band was taking part in the parade.

Tucked beneath the memories of waiting around in a rainy pub carpark and trying to play the trombone in the choir stalls lies a deep sense of the significance of the occasion. 

Reflecting back, however, I don’t think I ever thought of this as an act of worship, this was an act of remembrance which was somehow something different. 

Perhaps it was because we never went to our own church that weekend. Perhaps it was because I was with my bands friends not my church friends. Perhaps it was simply the unique familiarity of that particular liturgy: “do this in remembrance of me” replaced by “we will remember them”.  Whatever the reason, I could never quite place this in the same category as our usual Sunday worship.

II

When I was sixteen I applied to join the RAF. I didn’t have any great desire to join the military but my Grandpa had taken me for a couple of flying lessons at the airfield near their house and I’d really enjoyed them so this seemed like a good way to be able to carry that on.

I can’t remember now quite what put an end to that.  I went for a few interviews and did some aptitude tests which were quite fun but somewhere along the line my interest just fizzled out.

I don’t know why but that feels relevant.

III

One of the things you learn to do at theological college is to reflect on just about everything.  We have reflected on relationship dynamics, on whether altar candles should be placed together or apart, on the significance of the number of single ready meals sold at the local co-op and I have even written a reflection reflecting on the amount of reflecting we have to do!

One issue that comes up every year to divide the community is that of whether to wear a red poppy or not. I have friends who are serving or have served in the military or who come from military families for whom this day holds painful memories of lost comrades. I also have friends who are died-in-the-wool pacifists who actively and eloquently resist violence in all its forms.

My problem is that I genuinely have sympathies with both sides.

IV

“Why are we dressing up smart for church today daddy?” Charlie asked me as I buttoned up his shirt this morning (you can guess what our Sunday mornings are normally like).

I explained briefly how it was a special service to remember everyone who had died in wars.

“You mean like knights?”

I told him how there were no knights anymore but that soldiers are sort of the same.

“Well if there was a war I would help out. Look at my amazing superhero moves!”

As I watched him jump around fighting off an imaginary baddy my heart ached within me. How many children, not really that much older than Charlie, have gone off to fight imaginary baddies with the same sense of invincibility?

How many parents have wept over the telegram, letter, phonecall, bringing them that very worst of news? How can that ever be called good?

The lesser of two evils is still evil.

V

“Greater love has no one than this: that they lay down their life for their friends”

It is too easy to idealise or romanticise the military. For millennia governments have appealed to the hearts and minds of many a potential Jolly Tar by painting a less than realistic picture of the soldier’s life.

However there is something inherent in the soldier’s calling which does involve a willingness to lay down your own life for someone else, even if, at the critical moment, it is your buddy next to you rather than some higher ideal of ‘king and country’.

Greater love has no one than this.

VI

We live in a messed up world. A world that is ravaged by the consequences of violence.

Part of the call to follow Jesus is a challenge not to accept the world as it is but to point towards a different way of living. A way of peace, grace, love and hope.

But another aspect of following Jesus is to care for those whose lives have been affected by this violent world. Bereaved parents. Widows. Orphans. Veterans.

This is why I will wear a poppy today, but only today.

I am concerned that, in our society today, wearing a poppy is seen as an act of solidarity with the armed forces. This may not be everyone’s view but it is my perception and I have too many issues with this to go along with it.

However, on this day, as we gather together to honour the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, I will make my donation and wear my poppy with pride.

Not a pride that cries “Rule Britannia”, but a pride that sees the work of the Royal British Legion to care for those who have sacrificed their health, both mental and physical, on behalf of others. A pride that sees Christians and Muslims protecting each other’s prayers in Egypt. A pride that sees men and women, old and young, standing up to tyranny the world over. people willing to give up their lives that others may be free.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

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