remembering ‘our armed forces’

I know that this is a hard day for many people because it is a chance for them to reflect on loved ones who died in the horrors of war. Coming from Northern Ireland and a Protestant community in Northern Ireland I know that it has special significance because of the victims of terrorism, some of you reading this, maybe all of us who grew up in Northern Ireland know victims no matter where we grew up. If I’m being honest though I would mainly know victims on the Protestant/Unionist side of the community and none on the Nationalist side of the community.

I know that yesterday many churches in Ireland incorporated some type of  Remembrance Sunday aspect into their morning service to remember (amongst other things) those who gave their lives in war serving their country.

When I say that many churches in Ireland incorporated some type of Remembrance aspect into their morning service I probably mean ‘many Protestant churches in Ireland‘ and ‘their country‘ usually means something to do with the United Kingdom or Commonwealth.
I haven’t seen a single poppy out about in Galway whereas up in north in Lisburn or Belfast I would have seen many, it is part of story of Northern Ireland
In fact this is the first time that I can remember without seeing any poppy worn by a member of the church or around the city. There wouldn’t have been that many around Dublin when I lived there, but you would have seen something. Perhaps poppies in a box on the way out of church or a plaque on the wall with the name of some young men who died in the Great War.

That is not because of anything anti-British or not remembering about war in Galway but a reminder that Ireland has two different countries with all the history, hurts and baggage associated with that.
It is also a reminder that my particular denomination, the PCI straddles two very different countries. So if someone where to speak at the Presbyterian General Assembly about chaplains in ‘Our Armed Forces’ they would be wrong. For members of the PCI there are two armed forces.

Actually, that isn’t even right.

Because for members of the PCI from different countries around the world what does ‘Our Armed Forces’ actually mean?
For those members of PCI who might come from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Hungary, South Korea, USA, India, Malaysia, Brazil etc who are ‘our armed forces?’ We live in such a globalized world now that our church might easily have members from countries that fought each other in World Wars. We might easily have someone from Argentina or Iraq in  church.

The Republic of Ireland does hold a version of Remembrance Sunday on the Sunday nearest the 11th July, the ‘National Day of Commemoration’ but I don’t know of any church that holds an act of remembrance on that Sunday to remember those Irish soldiers who died in past wars or United Nations peacekeeping  missions. Perhaps there are, but I am unaware of them.

When I see video clips of people wearing poppies on the BBC down here it seems very obvious that it is a largely a symbol or remembrance for the British and Allied Forces. Some people might dispute that it is something bigger than a British, Commonwealth or Allied Forces thing, it is about remembering all those who died in the madness of war. Perhaps so, but the British aspect seems to main thrust of it to me, if only for the reason that the Poppy Appeal is organised by the Royal British Legion.

According to Wikipedia Remembrance Sunday is held:-

“to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts”

Under the section about Northern Ireland the Wikipedia entry says:-

‘In Northern Ireland, Remembrance Sunday has tended to be associated with the unionist community. Most Irish nationalists and republicans do not take part in the public commemoration of British soldiers.’

For years I have found Remembrance Sunday to be the hardest Sunday to go to church as a Presbyterian because it is a Sunday that seems to say (even if that is not the intention) that being Presbyterian is somehow tied up with being British and Unionist.

The reason that I find that so hard is that I think it puts a barrier up between my neighbour and I in the one place that should rise above national identity.

Lots of Irish people aren’t Unionists and ‘God Save Our Queen’ (whether we like it or not) in their ears is the national anthem of a foreign country and to some a foreign country of the oppressor, not the soldier who fought for our freedom.

Personally I think that church has to be neutral ground, a place for the healing of the nations and not just our nation, or those who identify with our nation. That is why I feel sick anytime the British National anthem is sung in church as if it was a hymn of praise.

If a German Christian or Irish nationalist Christian would feel uneasy at coming to our Sunday morning worship to come and worship Jesus because of the way we remember the horrors of war from a British perspective I think we are in the wrong. That is not because of wanting to lessen the hurts of war and death or help people deal with their hurts, or to remember the victims of war.

The other thing is that there  are many other wars that our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to live through and are living through right now that have nothing to do with the fields of France where the poppies grow.

What does the poppy symbolize for the people in Congo or Syria, for the people in Iraq? Or if your grandmother is blown up by a remote controlled drone airstrike what does wearing a poppy mean for them?

The phrase ‘our armed forces’ seems wrong to me as a Christian. Would we feel comfortable in a church service in Berlin where there was some act of remembrance for members of the German military?
If we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven   can we go to church on a Sunday morning to celebrate that unity we have as brothers and sisters in Christ then go home to support ‘our armed forces’? The Germans Christian supporting ‘our armed Forces’, the Irish Republican Christian supporting ‘our armed Forces’, the American Christian supporting ‘our Armed Forces’ and the Iraqi Christian supporting ‘our Armed Forces’? What does that even mean if we’re supposed to be peace bringers and united in Christ? This video clip from Tony Campolo comes to mind.


Voices Against War

the last tycoon336‘Violence is concerned with power and greed; people seek their own advantage to the detriment of others in the world. The financial people who swindled pensioners out of their pensions showed violence towards these people’

Leslie Hardie, CO, Second World War

So I finished a book I’ve been reading, Voices Against War by Lyn Smith a book based on the testimony of ‘those who participated in protest – from the Great War of 1914-1918 through to….the ongoing conflicts in Iraq in Afghanistan’

So much to think about. It’s all very well thinking you’re against war, but what if a Nazi with a gun came for Helen or my mum, what would you propose to do about the concentration camp?

But that is the theoretical side of things, what about the violence of our daily lives, the violence that we experience every day? The voice of Leslie Hardie above reminds me the violence I commit by merely being human in a very complex word.

For instance, last night I sold a book on Amazon, something which I’ve been doing the last few years. A considerable % of the price I sold it for went to Amazon as it has with the various books, DVD’s and CD’s I’ve sold. In effect I’ve done some work for Amazon.

Yet I also know that Amazon are less than honourable in their tax affairs using tax loopholes to avoid paying corporation tax.

Because of their size and power they are able to gain an unfair advantage over those who can’t afford to move to The Channel Islands yet have to pay their taxes. I know this happens and I know that by selling books on Amazon or buying books on Amazon I am swelling their coffers.

Of course our lives are so complicated these days. Not that lives weren’t always complicated, but now everything is comlicated because we can find out about stuff at breakneck speed with electronic communication.

Everything is so complicated and it has to power to depress you (well me at any rate) because you’ll go mad. Can we go around worrying about how every action has consequences? Perhaps one of those virtues that we need most but rarely talk about is wisdom. Not training, or education, but wisdom, the power to make wise decisions in day to day life. I know I need more of it.

trying not to boil away

I was reading this book in Belfast today as PSNI choppers hovered above, riot police blocked roads with white landrovers and  ‘peaceful’ protesters went  protesting about east Belfast with a healthy slice of rioting and destruction.
I am trying to deal with contempt for these people, to understand their issues or show compassion but it’s hard as most of you will probably understand.
At one point I was imagining the police helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles to fire into the streets of east Belfast and unleashing something that would really encourage people to give up and go home.


Still, violence isn’t going to halt violence.
This testimony from a medic serving in Syria during World War II reminded me of that, maybe also of my responsibilities if I claim somehow to be a Christian. If we can’t offer something radically different from an eye for an eye then what’s the point?

‘Once we heard of someone giving information about us to the Germans. We thought we knew who he was, so my gang went and captured him and brought him in front of me. He was very frightened. The boys said, ‘Let’s beat him up.‘ I had absolute power over this man and I felt the desire rising up inside me to smash him, to break him. It was really a terrifying feeling because it went against all my instincts, a violence erupting out of the very depths of myself. And I came to realise that this was the Hitler in me. That was a fundamental, mind-changing thing. I suddenly knew that the violence I was fighting against – the concentration camps, the sadism, the torture – was boiling up inside my guts. That has been a profoundly important insight for my life – that one should recognise the darkness. I sometimes feel that if you become a total pacifist, the danger is that you begin to think that you haven’t got these things in you. You become very gentle and smiling, but underneath you’re boiling away’

(Bishop) Stephen Verney, medic with HSU, Syria

Blessed are the Munitions Makers

A new year and new start so it was time bite the bullet and pay my library fine. (And it was fine… £4..90). The first book I’ve borrowed is a book about war protests in the 20th century. It is full of testimonies from people who objected to conflict for different reasons. 

‘At nineteen, I found my standards of conduct obsolete, my ideals shattered. I had lost faith in all institutionalised religion. My church had authorised me to break the sixth commandment in the name of patriotism. The ‘Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself’ part didn’t fit in; ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’? No! Not in 1917. Blessed are the War Winners, Yes. Blessed are the Munition Makers, Yes. Twice blessed, for they lined their pockets and kept their skins intact at one and the same time. These are the thoughts that I couldn’t dismiss from my mind during those dreadful months. I wouldn’t have stuck a label on myself as belonging to any category – then. But I know what I had become now. It’s a word that is distasteful to many. Pacifist.’

J.R. Skirth, NCO, 239 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, Battle of Messines, June 1917, from his memoir


I was away last week and took some time to reflect, to think about life and what it should or shouldn’t be about.

The best word for life I could come up with was ‘flourishing’.

Life seems to be a tug of war between the kingdom of death and chaos,
between darkness and disease,
between the blackness that grabs you by the throat and wants to choke the life out of you (and your loved ones)

and (on the other side)
life and beauty,
a flourishing care and encouraging of my neighbour (human and non human)
to grow and bear fruit.
Or Jesus, to put a Christian spin on things.

So on one side flourishing, fruit and the other side death, murder, chaos monsters.

The command not to kill seems to me to be more than going out and shooting someone, it would suggest to me a deliberate action to take away somebody else’s life in it’s totality,  to stump their growth, to try and harm them.  A.A. Milne writes

‘The Church, we may assume, regards murder as a sin against God. In most cases murder is an attempt by an individual to end a situation which can only be ended by the removal of some other individual. The sole reason for the murder is that the death of this other will preserve or increase the wealth, happiness or safety of the murderer.’

I guess that so much of our economic life puts us into competition, violence and war with our neighbour.
As I’ve mentioned before and struggle with, applying for  jobs and hoping that I get it before the other applicants takes me to a place were I’m putting my/our wealth, happiness and safety before that of those who also applied.  It’s like a battle except that the strength of military might  is replaced with C.V. might.


oil drone

Oil Drones

I was pondering the invasion of Iraq today, after reading the article above when it appeared in my Twitter feed. The invasion of Iraq kicked off when I was living in Dun Laoghaire so I watched in unfold from a different context.

But I was wondering how I would react if it had kicked off today with Thiepval Barracks nearby and me living here and armed forces being sent to fight in Iraq all in the name of ……well what exactly? The security of my family? Justice? ‘My country?’
Or lets face it, keeping the oil flowing.
Could I do anything about it? Should I do anything about it? Or would I just have to resign myself to these things happening and happening again.

All the churches here in Lisburn and what would we say about it? War is terrible but we just have to support the families and soldiers as best we can? Say that because we’re living in a different kingdom we don’t want people going over to another country fighting on our behalf.

I can’t think anymore, it’s depressing me.