While at theological school in Pennsylvania in the nineties, a debate emerged around the practice of churches displaying the American flag prominently at the front of worship spaces. The question was asked, “What happens when the priorities and principles of Christianity/Jesus/the Gospel are at odds with those being demonstrated and espoused by the state?” Although there was vigorous debate in the halls of academia, I knew of no congregations nor denominations that actually dared remove flags from churches. Instead, most local leadership agreed that flying the Christian flag (something that I had no idea was a thing) next to the American flag was symbolic enough of the relationship and balance between the two.
In Canadian circles, I have never experienced either of these flags in any worship spaces that I’ve known or visited. Yes, this demonstrates a marked difference between the two countries and the prominence of an American civil religion that runs deep and strong south of the 49th parallel. However, we in Canada have our own unique places where these civil issues of pride and place make their way into the conversation of our spiritual communities. Next to Canada Day, November 11th has one of the strongest pulls toward national themes and subscribed adherence to its liturgies and practices.
As people visit cenotaphs, lay wreaths and observe silence this weekend, I join them in gratitude for those who have served in all the diverse ways that contribute to the free and democratic life that we now enjoy. There have been times in our past when action was necessary to prevent (even further) atrocity, injustice and cruelty. Action is always necessary to prevent these evils of humanity whether on a global stage or on the smaller scale of our very communities, families and particularly within each of us. But what are those to do who wish to be thoughtful of the many issues that Remembrance Day raises? Speaking an alternative emphasis on such a day is often met with harsh criticism. The reaction against the white poppy a few years ago that sought to promote peace and remember civilian casualties was so strong from those who promote the red poppy that the issue got re-framed into an us vs them scenario, painting the peace promoters as disrespectful of the men and women who died in war. That the red poppy is now a trademarked symbol held by one organization who controls the use of the image of the flower is a sign of the national and financial strength of this civil religion around November 11th.
It’s our goal as spiritual communities (and those of us who call ourselves spiritual) to promote the values and wisdom that strengthens our collective movement toward love, compassion, justice, peace and care for the Earth. Speaking these values however, does not necessarily mean that the act of remembering is diminished. There can be both gratitude for the time, work and sacrifice of those who have served and currently serve their nation while holding our country to the high standard of finding just and peaceful solutions, engaging in vigorous diplomacy, and working toward a vision of global community that seeks harmony and humanitarian living situations for the world’s population. Let’s remember…not just because it’s the acceptable ritual…but so that we can build a different future based on our best and highest aspirations.