Why I wear the Poppy, and why I’d encourage you to wear one too.

As Remembrance week draws ever closer, people from all different walks of life and backgrounds are preparing for what that means to them. For myself, I am awaiting my poppy to arrive in the post. As it’s the centenary year of the start of the First World War, I have bought an enamel poppy to remember those in my family who have served in the armed forces, and also my friends who currently serve.  I will also be planting a cross on remembrance Sunday, to remember those who died for my freedom, but also to take a moment to really think about what is important in life, and why we must look to Almighty God for direction, hope and salvation in a world that is plagued with confusion, despair and slavery to sin.

This year, one particular conversation is being had, and that is around the wearing of the poppy. It’s come after news presenter Charlene White has decided to not wear the poppy in public, and for good reasons. You can read the coverage of that on the Guardian website. She said in a statement:

In the last few days I’ve been subjected to a torrent of racist and sexist abuse as a result of me choosing not to wear a poppy on-screen, while presenting for ITV News.

It was a decision I made a number of years ago, but the backlash this year has been far bigger and more widespread than it has been in previous years…so I thought it best to write a longer explanation rather than in a series of tweets on Twitter. Or a short post on Facebook.

I support and am patron of a number of charities and I am uncomfortable with giving one of those charities more on-screen time than others.

I prefer to be neutral and impartial on-screen so that one of those charities doesn’t feel less favoured than another.

Off-screen in my private life – it’s different.

I wear a red ribbon at the start of December for World Aids Day, a pink ribbon in October during breast cancer awareness month, a badge in April during Bowel Cancer Awareness month, and yes – a poppy on Armistice Day.

I respect and hold in high esteem those in the armed forces, both my father and my uncle have served in the RAF and the Army.

Every year I donate to the Poppy Appeal because above all else it is a charity that needs donations, so that it can continue to help support serving and ex-service men and women and their families.

The messages of “go back to where you came from” have been interesting to read, as have the “fat s–g” comments, and the repeated use of the phrase “black c–t”.

Mostly because it flies in the face of everything that millions of British men and women and those in the Commonwealth have fought for for generations, and continue to fight for: the right to choose, and the right of freedom of speech and expression.

Original source: ITV Website

In a similar sort of article, David Mitchell warns against the poppy becoming a symbol of conformity rather than a symbol of freedom and hope, but also of sacrifice.

Whilst I agree with both of these views, and whilst I think that people are quite free to make their own decisions as to whether to wear the poppy or not, I don’t know that we’re doing the poppy (and what it stands for) justice. The poppy was never designed to be a divisive symbol, it was never meant to offend, and in many ways, it wasn’t designed to make a particular statement.

In Churches up and down the country over the next few weeks, we will be treading carefully as we navigate around this highly political and emotional time of year; we remember the horror of war balanced with the need to protect freedom and peace. We will be comforting the bereaved, consoling those who have been scarred from horrendous experiences of war and offering the peace that Jesus gives through the triumph he won over sin and death. These themes can only raise big and sometimes awkward questions.

For me, the poppy isn’t the symbol of a charity or a political agenda (as is claimed by many); it’s a twofold symbol

  1. For comrades who share in a common goal to bring peace to the world, often at great cost
  2. For friends, family and the rest of the nation to honour those who step up to the call to strive for peace in this particular way, and to forever remember their sacrifice that helps make our nation one of peace with freedom for its citizens.

However, I always get a  bit uneasy at this time. I think of the ordinary German family who lost loved ones in the World Wars- how do they remember at this time? Did they think daddy, son, husband was going off to fight for peace too? These and many more questions are always at the back of my mind.

Yet we shouldn’t be put off from remembering because of awkward questions.

People don’t need a poppy to remember. But in a society that’s increasingly fragmented, individualistic, and unappreciative of the work and sacrifice that others give, I think it’s even more important to wear a poppy, even if there is a risk of people thinking that you prefer one charity over another, or that people may do it to conform. The world can cope with that.

The poppy, for me, rises above our human misconceptions and hidden agendas.  No matter what anyone thinks, the fact remains that as blood was spilled in horrifying, ruined fields, poppies blossomed and one soldier was touched as he saw life in the form of a flower come forth out of the darkness and evil of war and destruction.

And so it is that the Poppy has become a national symbol, like the daffodil, the thistle, the shamrock or the rose.  It’s a symbol that transcends individual nations of the United Kingdom. It unites us in our humanness, our grittiness, our weakness and our strength. It brings us as community to remember that the most precious, earthly possession was given up by people who wanted to secure a better world for future generations.

I’m not saying that other charities aren’t important, because they really, really are. But the poppy goes beyond charity. There isn’t one person who hasn’t been affected in a personal way by the armed forces. We really need to chew on that and realise just what that means, especially in light of the real, dangerous threat that opposes our safety and peace at this time.

For all this, let’s keep safe the dignity and symbolism of the poppy rather than fight over it, trampling dead the hope it brings as we scuffle.

Lest we forget.

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about