On poppies, footballers, flags and Remembrance Sunday (part 2)

It seems a long time ago since I wrote this post.

Living in Dublin which has a much more complicated history with the British Empire, things are very different. Here it causes a stir if a TD wears a poppy.

In the UK, Derry born footballer James McClean has also been causing a stir for the opposite reason by refusing to wear the version of his club shirt with the poppy on it.

I recognise this is a sensitive subject and I mean in no way to dishonour anyone. It is important as Christians that we ask the questions about remembering those who have died and where it crosses a line into nationalism or justification of the use of power that does not sit easily with the Kingdom of God. Perhaps where something noble gets subsumed into nationalism. War is ugly and leaves many innocent victims. it is right to remember those who have lost their lives – on both sides of the conflict. For me the purpose of remembering is to honour their sacrifice and also to learn and pursue peace and reconciliation.

As a northerner now living in the very different context that is (the Republic of) Ireland I believe more strongly that national flags have no place in churches  - especially Northern Ireland where they carry such loaded meaning. My friend Kevin writes very articulately about this here.

Flags are different to the wearing of poppies and remembering those who have lost their lives – often family members. Archie Bland caused some controversy with this article in last week’s UK Independent about the pressure to wear a poppy – certainly if you watch the UK media you rarely see anyone on TV not wearing one.

Finally an interesting perspective from across the pond in Canada where Sarah Bessey wrestles with remembering her grandfather and her pacifism.

For Ireland North and Republic this will continue to be an issue in a land where flags are political symbols and carry loaded meaning, where the British state and British Army have been seen and experienced as instruments of oppression. The poppy is the symbol of the Royal British Legion – a name alone which can cause issues in Ireland.

So in 2012, as Christians what should our questions and response be? I don’t think it begins with should we wear poppies or remember soldiers who have lost their lives, or even should we have flags in churches.

It begins with what is the kingdom of God and how is the kingdom of God demonstrated? What will it look like for the kingdom of God to break into current reality in a place like Ireland marred by violence and sectarianism? Those are the filters that will answer our prayer of ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ rather than the primary filters of political allegiance and even personal experience of loss, no matter how great that might be.

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