Monday, 15 November 2010

A fragile flower being crushed by heavy agendas

The poppy may be persistent in appearing each year but it is a fragile flower. It is not a chunky, robust flower. Its petals are light and open wide. The red petals may be redolent of the bloodshed of battle but its structure speaks of vulnerability.

The Royal British Legion has taken ownership of the poppy as a symbol. The British Legion is a charity which must maximise its income in order to fulfil its objectives. I have strong feelings about a country that sends women and men to be maimed and killed and then fails to take full responsibility. However the question why so much care has to be undertaken by fundraising is another issue. The reality is that many of those we have willed to suffer rely on the work of the British Legion. One must admire the way the marketers of the charity have re-energised their fundraising, particularly under the challenge of newcomers like Hope4Heros who are competing in the same sector. Those former and present members of the armed forces who have protested against the increasing show-biz aspect of remembrance are right and wrong. Quiet reflection does not put money in the bank. Concerts, celebrity endorsements and attention grabbing events do. The red poppy now takes its place with the wristbands and pins of other charities.

There are those who are intent on getting us to accept (or at least not criticise) involvement in Afghanistan and before that in Iraq. To question, the subtle message is, would be to deny the bereaved a sense of noble purpose in death and to say to those who have been terribly maimed in body and mind that it was all for nothing. This says much not just about a cynical ability to manipulate public opinion but about our general paucity of understanding of meaning in living and dying. The red poppy used to legitimate wars.

Remembrance is both passive and active. It is about bringing into the present the things of the past. It is also about reshaping the present in the light of the experience of the past. The poppy, red and white, calls us to be quiet in the face of the horrors of war both for combatants and for the myriad others affected directly and indirectly. The human lust for power and economic advantage takes us into war and it does us good to shut up and reflect. The delicate, fragile poppy calls us to go on to ‘seek the ways that lead to peace’. Is that the poppy that we have crushed by the other agendas?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

What's the real question?

There are some questions it is difficult to answer because of a wrong set of assumptions behind them. When the issue was newsworthy, I was asked whether I was in favour of the ordination of women. It was assumed that the problem at issue was the women part of the question. For me, though, the question was about the baggage that accompanied the idea of ordination. I am not in favour of men or women being ordained if it is seen, for example, as conferring power and privilege over other Christians. There are what I would consider to be unhealthy view of ordination among the churches. The concept, implications and content of ordination need to be thought through. Women should be equal in aspiration and opportunity in their vocations. It is how the churches often package those vocations that’s the problem for me. So a question about whether women should be bishops would raise the same problems.

I feel a similar response to the current challenges in England to a legal framework that allows civil partnerships but prohibits marriage to same sex couples. Am I in favour of same sex marriage? I cannot just say yes or no - which is fortunately really because as a minister of the Baptist Union of Great Britain I am not supposed to advocate such things. Such a question almost certainly assumes that the problem is the same sex bit and the marriage bit is unproblematical. There are many views of marriage in the churches and in society and some of them are downright unhealthy for women and men or for same sex couples. A trend for marriage to be seen as lovey-dovey happy-ever-after needs to be examined if relationships are to survive. Older traditional views of marriage as being about property and control are equally in need of examination. Husband and wife are not neutral words that just happen to be applied to a man and a woman. They each carry with them unspoken sets of assumptions about the nature of the relationship. These are just examples of the need to be clear what we think marriage means. Until we are clear what we mean by marriage, questions about who should get married are unanswerable.

That God’s love is inclusive and that healthy community requires equal opportunities to participate seem to me to be unexceptionable. It is how we package our roles and relationships that we need to think through.