Our copy of the Presbyterian Herald came through the letterbox this week.
The front cover had a picture of a painting and the words ‘Repulsing a frontal attack with rifle and bayonet‘. It is a painting of soldiers fighting in a war. A horrific thing.
Then there was a headline:- ‘Presbyterian fallen heroes’.
The picture above is the article about Presbyterian fallen heroes. Maybe I should just say nothing but I want to say that I struggle with this every year.
I don’t want to commemorate and pay my respects to a war that claimed 16 million lives. If I am going to remember war (which we should do) I’d rather it would be to pray for the wars going on around the world at the moment, for healing for nations and people now.
I also find it hard that soldiers are being singled out as heroes. The extracts talk about the Presbyterian soldiers being unselfish:- but is it that simple? One of the soldiers unselfishly jumps on bombs that were about to accidentally explode and dies a result. That is a brave act no doubt. But if there hadn’t been the accident the same soldier and his comrades was about to go over the trenches with bombs to try and kill Germans. I’m uncomfortable thinking of that as heroic. I’m not sure I’d even use the word heroic of Jesus despite him being completely faultless and perfectly self sacrificial.
As a Presbyterian reading this in the Republic of Ireland the phrase ‘to serve King and country’ jars. What does that phrase mean if someone is Irish and has never had a king? It seems to assume that the people reading are loyalist and obedient to the British royal family.
The phrase ‘to pay the ultimate sacrifice’ jars as well. Who decides that this is the ultimate sacrifice? Maybe the ultimate sacrifice looked more like this sort of thing? Or is it not the truth that Christians believe that Jesus alone paid the ultimate sacrifice?
Why not a mention of those who refused to fight because they believed it was incompatible with the teachings of Christ. I find this narrative much more in line with Christ’s death. The Romans are the occupying force yet Jesus doesn’t fight them with swords.
I find the poppy to be unnecessarily divisive for a church that covers two countries, especially with the whole divisive history of Ireland. I find it too linked with the British Armed Forces. If you’re reading this in the Republic of Ireland an appeal which raises funds for ‘our Armed Forces’ suggest something to do with the army of another country. Or if you’re reading in some parts of Belfast or Derry The entry on Wikipedia about the Remembrance Poppy in Northern Ireland and Ireland reminds us that they are divisive to some people. Yet every year there is a poppy on the Presbyterian Herald.