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The Appeal of the Poppy

poppy 600CFCanon Andrew Bryant pauses to consider why he wears his poppy, and reflects on its significance.

When FIFA made their decision that the players at the Scotland v England football match on November 11 could not wear the poppy symbol on their football shirts, they showed their complete failure to understand British culture.
The poppy is neither a political nor a national symbol.  It is quite simply an Act of Remembrance; it is an honouring of the dead of the two World Wars and those of more recent conflicts.  It does not seek to make a political point nor is it an expression of nationalism.  Other countries may not wear poppies but it is our way of giving honour the dead of wars, and FIFA should respect this.
In some ways, it is strange how the further we have moved from the two World Wars the more the poppy is worn.  Far from dying out with the passing of time, the poppy seems to have become even more central to our culture.  There can be no doubting that more recently conflicts have brought home the sacrifice paid by our soldiers and helped the poppy to have renewed significance for our own age. 
Now one can almost feel guilty for not wearing a poppy; there is almost a feeling of being undressed without one.  But equally I want to affirm people’s right to not wear a poppy.  There should be no feeling of compulsion.  The freedoms for which our armed forces laid down their lives mean there should be no sense of anyone being dictated to over what sign or badge they wear; freedom includes the freedom not to have to conform.
And now poppies come in every size, form and style from the glitzy to the hand knitted as well as those from reclaimed ammunitions.   I do not doubt for one minute the sincerity of the wearers and I hope the Royal British Legion are benefiting from the funds raised by these different styles of poppies: the money raised is vital to support work with injured service men and women and the families of those killed in action.  Nevertheless, I am left uncomfortable as the poppy seems to become more a fashion icon with the ever-growing range of poppy merchandise.
 The Poppy Appeal could do well to learn a lesson from the Church.  We have watched as the Cross, our most treasured symbol, has become just another fashion accessory, worn without reference to its true meaning and significance.  A symbol of profound suffering and life-changing love has become just another brooch, one more necklace lying in the jewellery box.  In the very over-familiarity with this symbol it has become empty of its true meaning.  As the poppy becomes accessorised it also runs the same danger of becoming empty of its true meaning.
It is for this reason I still favour the original paper poppy.  It is fragile, easily damaged and all too easy to lose. And in that it is like the real poppy growing in the mud of Flanders; a ray of colour amidst the bleakness of the mud, too easily trampled underfoot, one strong wind and the petals fall to the ground soon to be lost from sight.  It is this that makes the poppy such a poignant symbol of the horror of war.
Amidst the destruction of the battlefield, this flower alone seemed to survive; its flowering a symbol of hope amidst the slaughter.  Its blood red echoes the sacrifice of lives and its fragility reflecting the fragility of human life in face of terrible onslaught.  And yes, each year I find myself needing to buy several poppies as they fall from my coat or jacket and get lost. But when this happens I remember how easy it is for memories to be dropped, to pass out of memory, and how important it is to return again and again to remember.
At 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I will stand still; and it is whilst gazing at the simplicity and fragility of the traditional paper poppy that I find myself taken to that place where I most need to remember.  It has about it an honesty that in its yearly wearing makes me deeply thankful, and demands that I do not just stop and remember but also dedicate myself afresh to the cause of peace.

The poppy image is courtesy of https://pixabay.com/


Andrew BryantCFThe Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry
here and can follow him via his new Twitter account @AndyBry3.

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