Turtles, Poppies and Jesus Only image

Turtles, Poppies and Jesus Only

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Has any domestic object ever gone from unobserved ubiquity to mass condemnation so quickly as the disposable plastic straw? Plastic is the enemy. We’ve all seen the pictures of turtles and other marine life gagging on the refuse of throwaway humans. We know things need to be different.

Yet a friend pointed out to me the irony of our local yummy mummy brigade who would regard giving their child a plastic straw as tantamount to murder sending those same children out on Halloween to trick or treat dressed in costumes made of – Plastic! The human capacity for blind-spots, hypocrisy, and plain old self-deception knows no bounds.

Halloween is a strange one. A recent tradition in the UK there is now considerable pressure for parents to allow, or encourage, their children to take part in it. One child came to my door who very clearly didn’t want to be there – her mother standing in the background urging her on. This is the power of the crowd, which we humans find so hard to resist, even if we haven’t really thought about what it is that the crowd are doing.

This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday and there has been a huge focus on the centenary of the end of the First World War. To not join in with this focus – to not wear a poppy – is almost heretical. Yet I am not convinced many people could give a thorough account of the causes or effects of WWI or of the rights and wrongs of that conflict. In our post-Christian age observance of Remembrance Sunday seems to have become one of those rites which pulls together the crowd, and by which the crowd feels a sense of justification.

And all those plastic stems on all those disposable poppies will go into the same landfill as all those Halloween costumes and all those plastic straws and doubtless some of them will end up in the belly of a turtle.

A poppy is a badge of identification and from a theological perspective is a matter of indifference – which is not to say that what is identified is unimportant but that it makes no difference to our standing before God whether or not we wear one. If Paul can say that, Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation (Galatians 6:15), then surely we can say the same about poppies, and two minutes silence, and all the rest. Our gospel must remain Jesus Only, not Jesus Plus – whether that be Jesus Plus Circumcision, or Jesus Plus Poppies, or Jesus Plus Turtles.

At my church we always acknowledge Remembrance Sunday in some way (we are a military town, with the Special Forces based here, so it is important to recognise this reality) but don’t make a big thing of it. This year because Armistice Day actually falls on Sunday and because of the significance of the centenary we’re choosing to make much more of it and observe the silence at 11am. I think we are free to do that, just as we would be free not to. Most importantly, I think not doing so this year might actually set back our mission to some degree, as it would have set back Paul’s mission had he not circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3). But I’m not planning to wear a plastic poppy. Think of the turtles.

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