The challenge of remembrance

By Simon Barrow
October 28, 2014

This year Remembrance Day and the Sunday events associated with it will have an added poignancy because of the marking of the centenary of the First World War and all the discussion and debate that has occasioned.

Next week Ekklesia will release an updated version of its report on ‘Re-Imagining Remembrance’, which looks at how respect for all who have died in the tragedy of war can be teamed up with a deliberate attempt to chart a path away from violence and armed confrontation. The point is not to replicate the past, but change the future.

As always, I will be wearing a red poppy as an act of respect for the victims of war, military and civilian, alongside a white poppy that symbolises a clear rejection of war as a ‘solution’ and what theologian Walter Wink has called ‘the myth of redemptive violence’ (in an essay which is one of the most viewed that we have ever published). More and more faith groups are promoting white poppies for that purpose. Some wear them as an alternative to a red one, some wear both.

Another powerful attempt to encourage appropriately critical reflection around the language and symbolism of Remembrance is the video of a new song, ‘On Remembrance Day’, written by our friend Vincent Burke.

In a way that some will find uncomfortable, but which is also surely necessary, Vincent’s words and images raise the question about simplistic narratives around 'the good guys' and 'the bad guys' . He also directly questions the way in which churches have been drawn into endorsing and blessing – directly or indirectly – a whole range of wars over the past 100 years. This is a particular problem for the one remaining Established church in these islands, but the Church of England, and the Church of Scotland, which styles itself 'a national church', are by no means alone in being embroiled in a history of religiously legitimated militarism.

The answer to this is neither to deny the history nor to condemn from a position of moral superiority, but to seek together the fresh path the gospel calls for: one of repentance, the struggle for conflict transformation (not simply ‘resolution’), mutual support in the difficult communal task of learning not to kill, the search for reconciliation, courageous acts of nonviolence in the face of anger and revenge, and positive steps like offering chaplaincy to peacemakers who operate without the protection of arms.

These are some of the themes Ekklesia will be seeking to pursue over the Remembrance period this year, as a prelude to more work on peace chaplaincy and other practical measures in 2015.

In the meantime, you can see Vincent’s passionate, personal video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPLtSkILwvs

The lyrics are as follows:

on remembrance day
when the army prays
and the flags go up
to remind us that they do it for us

on remembrance day
by the flower display
where the Church explains
how the heroes keep the villains away

there I'll
tell it to the careless wind
there I'll
tell you when the good guys win

on remembrance day
I should stay away
from the BBC
where they tell you what a real man should be

and the children watch
as the vicar walks around with a cross
'cos to love is fine
if you do it at a sensible time
there I'll
tell it to the careless wind

yes I'll
tell it to the careless wind
yeah I'll
tell you when the good guys win
yes I'll
save it for the next of kin

on remembrance day

* More on remembrance from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/remembrance

* Walter Wink on 'the myth of redemptive violence': http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/cpt/article_060823wink.shtml

-----------

© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.