poppies, flags and should churches celebrate Remembrance Sunday?

poppy.jpgNow from the outset I want to say I have the utmost respect for those who have sacrificed and put their lives on the line for their country. I get a lump in my throat watching the veterans of the First and Second World Wars and hearing their stories. It outrages me that those who do their country – or government’s bidding at great cost aren’t properly looked after. What i’m about to say is in no way about not valuing the sacrifices of those who have bravely laid down lives

I must confess i’m not a poppy wearer. I have a poppy application request sitting waiting on facebook poppy_card.jpgthat I haven’t done anything with yet and am not sure if I will. It does seem to be a bit of a political statement for many to ear a poppy or not, and it seems that on TV everyone is wearing one. Is that because its what they are supposed to do or because they choose to as individuals support the poppy appeal? To seen Juande Ramos – the new Spurs manager wearing one as a Spaniard seemed slightly bizarre. I’m not sure if Spain have poppies there. To be honest if I was to wear one it would probably be white poppy. It does seem as if in some circles its the done thing and not to do so is frowned upon. Obviously some people make it too much of a political issue.

My problem with Remembrance Sunday is that often to me it seems to forget about the millions of innocent lives also lost in conflict, and the lives of those on the other side. In remembering our fallen heroes do we also remember the thousands of Germans killed by the RAF’s firebombing of Dresden (labelled a war crime by some), or the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who have died? Even those combatants from the ‘other side’ are people who have/had mothers, fathers, children, friends, siblings. I was struck when in Berlin that our tour guide emphasised the point that the Nazi were not superhuman monsters – but people like us who did commit evil acts. As we remember wars, there are heroic acts, but war in itself is brutal. Remembering or commemorating military battles in church also seems strange to me, and is something I am extremely uncomfortable with. In many protestant churches we don’t take any time to remember some of the great heroes and martyrs of the faith yet we remember those who gave their life in battles? It seems incongruous at the least. And how does it all square with being peacemakers, with loving enemies and some of the crazy things Jesus called us to? Is this something we really give thought to or is it just something that’s expected, that we always do, and aren’t willing to ask hard questions of?

Which brings me on to flags in church. Now it may be to do with the political sensibilities of living in Northern Ireland, but I don’t think there is any place for national flags to be flown or hung in churches. Think about it – what is the church? The church as a whole is the bride of Christ – God’s people – citizens primarily of heaven but seeking the good of the cities they live in here on earth. Surely for churches to fly national flags symbolises a national allegiance that goes against our allegiance as brothers and sisters of the worldwide church. For many flags are political symbols, and associating churches with political viewpoints is dangerous. For many a certain flag is a symbol of oppression. So to go to the church, where according to Paul, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection all who are in Christ are equal, that national identities are no longer important, and find that in fact those national identities are still there seems strange. Especially in a place like Northern Ireland. The church is supposed to transcend national, political, racial and cultural allegiances. When will we learn that our primary allegiance is to God and his kingdom, that we are part of his reconciling the world to himself, and simple things like political symbols in church are huge barriers to that reconciliation?

the soapbox – biting off more than he can chew with these thoughts in progress

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14 thoughts on “poppies, flags and should churches celebrate Remembrance Sunday?”

  1. Interesting and thoughtful as always. When I’ve been in the USA I’ve always been amazed at how comfortably the flag sits in churches, and outside the church and well everywhere… it seems completely natural to them. Seems weird to me.

    But I don’t think the poppy is about that… I don’t think by wearing a poppy you are forgetting the innocents, you are remembering the soldiers’ sacrifice. There is a time for both.

    It gets a bit easy to sit in a comfortable middle-class non-Nazi country and tut at fire bombing of Dresden I think.

    [won’t somebody think of the children!] 🙂

    (in any case I find the idea of loving your enemy morally dubious – but im thining that’s a whoooole ‘nother tangent)

  2. Are you aware this post made it to the WordPress Global dashboard this evening?! But then again, you’re not in it for the stats, huh?

  3. QMonkey – point taken about the poppies. It is easy in a sense to question actions in retrospect when we’re not in the midst of bloody conflict. It’s interesting looking at how nations respond – the German national guilt is incredible, yet sometimes I think we look through rose tinted spectacles and aren’t prepared to admit that war is brutal and atrocities and brutalities are often committed by both sides. Even here in Northern Ireland we need to face up to that fact – in a dirty war no one is entirely clean. I’m thinking out loud here…
    My biggest issues here are to do with how a lot of this stuff fits within the church and how the church can best respond and speak words of grace, healing and hope…

  4. Would the Christians who so openly associate the poppy with their worship be as comfortable with me wearing my white lily* at Easter to commemorate the 1916 Rising and ensuing battles for independence?

    *I’ve never worn one but for rhetorical purposes….

  5. Not sure I’m really further on soapbox, but continuing to wrestle with the whole thing. It is such a mix of motivations and complications that involve my own attitudes to war, Irish history and sectarianism, etc. etc. And I always feel self-conscious this time of the year and glad to know it’s past. One thing I am sure of is the place of a national anthem in a worship service.

    There is none.

  6. I found your blog nearly a year on from when you posted.
    I do wear a poppy. Sometimes I wear many poppies. It’s a personal thing, not political, nor religious.
    I can’t thank my parents’ generation enough for saving us from the hideous prospect of global Nazism, for that indeed is what they did. Just once a year, it’s not too much, is it, for me to show that gratitude?
    For my own generation there is the comradeship, solidarity if you like, between us who shared certain experiences. It’s always there but for a few days out of 365, there’s no harm in displaying that strength of feeling in the form of a little paper flower.
    And of course, it’s a reminder, if such were needed, of those of my friends who didn’t come home.
    Nobody is right or wrong for wearing or not wearing a poppy. As I said, it’s a personal thing.

  7. Thanks poppy wearer for some helpful comments. I agree that it is a personal thing – I was questioning when it ceases to become a personal choice and is something that becomes expected, or as in Northern Ireland can also have political overtones, and also trying to wrestle with how we commemorate those who dies in wars and reconciling that with the way of following Jesus..

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