Will we remember them?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA‘We will remember them’. That’s what we promise. And every year  since 2002 (when CCB was planted), we have. It’s not always felt comfortable doing so. It feels slightly odd to listen to ‘The Last Post’ played through an iPod. We meet inside a secondary school gymnasium. It hardly creates an atmosphere conducive to a formal act of remembrance. Wonderfully we’re not all British. In fact many have come from countries against whom our country has fought in the past. Few of us have ever done  any military service. And not many of us have any military connections. And yet, every year we say the following. 

Let us remember with gratitude those who, in the cause of peace and the service of their fellow men, died for their country in time of war.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

And no one complains. I’ve occasionally wondered why that is. After all, we don’t tend to be tub thumping right-wing warmongerers (though they, like anyone else, are always welcome). We live in London amongst the left-wing liberal elites. And some of that has to rub off on us even if we don’t identify unreservedly with their ideology. Post Iraq II and the protracted and painful campaign in Afghanistan, most people are cautious of military intervention. We understand the necessity of the Armed Services. We’re glad that they do what they do. But we’d prefer not to dwell on it too much. It’s like death. We want to keep it at arms’ length and out of sight.

I would imagine that there’ll be a host of reasons why people at CCB are content to commemorate Remembrance Sunday. But chief amongst them must be that we’re Christians. It seems to me that Christians, of all people, ought to be among the strongest supporters of Remembrance Sunday. For we see in the death of our servicemen and service women an echo of an even braver and more brilliant act of self-sacrifice. We know, more than anyone else, what it is to benefit from someone who went to their death in order than we might have life. 

In Neil Oliver’s book Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys, he writes this,

‘The older I get, the more I realise how easy I’ve had it all my life. Having been born white and male, into a loving family, living in Great Britain in the last third of the 20th Century, I’ve been dealt what amounts to a winning hand from the cosmic deck of cards. All the opportunities of life have been available to me since day one. I’ve never had to live with poverty, or endemic disease. I’ve never experienced any kind of prejudice or disadvantage born out of race, religion or creed. I’ve been kept safe all of my life by nameless strangers, from dangers both foreign and domestic. Our politicians are as keen to send our soldiers into wars in foreign parts as they ever were, but having been born beyond the grasp of conscription or National Service, as I have, such dangers have always been the other chap’s problems. At 40, I’ve lived long enough to be too old for conscription even if they reintroduced it tomorrow. My safety has been provided for me by people I don’t know and whom I haven’t bothered to thank. I have effectively enjoyed an endless childhood. I’ve acquired certain responsibilities along the way – jobs, mortgages, partner, children – but nothing on a par with the responsibilities borne by men of all generations before me. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s deluded colonel in A Few Good Men, I’ve slept under the blanket of security provided for me by other people’. (p63)

I’ve slept under the blanket of security provided for me by other people. I’ve done so as a citizen. And I’ve done so as a Christian. I formally remembered Jesus Christ’s death only last night as I shared the Lord’s Supper with my church family. And I’ll be formally remembering the  death of my fellow countrymen on Sunday when I listen to ‘The Last Post’, stand silent and give my thanks to God for those who  self sacrificially gave themselves in war so that I might know peace.

Will we remember them?

I hope so. 

4 thoughts on “Will we remember them?

  1. Phil Allcock November 7, 2013 / 2:36 pm

    Brilliant.
    We’re not a culture that does nuance very well. But this requires it. The wearing of a poppy and the act of remembrance is not a way of saying that we love war, or that every war this country has fought was a just war, or even that every soldier who died was noble and conducted themselves with justice and courage. But it’s still right to recognise that in a confusing, morally compromised world, we who enjoy peace should remember those who died so we could do so.

    • theurbanpastor November 7, 2013 / 2:38 pm

      Thanks for those qualifying comments Phil, very clear. Right with you.

  2. Phil Allcock November 7, 2013 / 2:48 pm

    Not qualifying – I agree with everything you wrote. Just thinking through the underlying unease of the liberal members of our churches and I don’t want them to feel like the EDL has taken over church for 10 minutes. Equally, however I don’t think I should be in any way embarrassed about the fact that my grandfather fought with lethal weapons against the Nazis because he was a Christian. I think it’s one of those issues where we are doing the same thing but suddenly find our cultural context has shifted under our feet.

    Thanks for thinking it through for us. In a week when I’m behind on sermon prep (yes, I know, that’s tautology) I just wouldn’t have gotten around to thinking carefully about what to say until I realised after the service that some people were really uncomfortable.

    So do please keep on churning out the articles for us!

  3. AndyWoo November 7, 2013 / 5:02 pm

    Hello chaps. Thanks for this. I have been thinking such things a lot this week as I help put together the Remembrance Assembly, Last Post and all, at my (very liberal, non-military) school. I am moved at the way in which all still come together to be silent, sincere and grateful, despite the ambiguous relationship many present have with every war fought by Britain in their lifetimes. I also value it as the one time of the year where I can unselfconsciously bow my head and pray in the school environment…
    One thing I wonder is; once the imminent 100-year anniversary is done, and given that no combatants remain alive, will the time have come to move on from the WW1-focussed character of this event? Can that war and its horrors retain a significance above all else once it has shed the status of ‘modern’ history? The reassuringly evil character of the Nazis means that, in the foreseeable, that won’t raise too many difficulties. But a few more years down the line, it may be hard to invoke such solemnity when confronted only with the examples of The Falklands, Iraq etc – and war increasingly fought by unmanned drones.

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