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The Old Lie...

At yesterday's Bible Study we had a wonderful conversation about poppies, the reasons for white and red poppies, the uncertainty we felt at the glittery 1918-2018 Poppy Scotland offering (there are others of a similar nature e.g. sold by supermarkets etc.) and so on.  With fresh eyes and clear minds, our Iranians quickly grasped the danger of triumphalism, of the potential for accidentally offending or shaming those who are German or Japanese or Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi and so on.

We had a wonderful conversation around the great hymn of Philippians 2 - and the self-emptying of God in Christ.  Although we did not link it to poppies or Remembrance, the connection arises quite naturally, I think.

Today, the radio tells me, is 100 years since the death of war poet Wilfred Owen, just days before the end of the Great War.  When I was at school we were made to learn by heart his poem 'Dulce et Decorum Est'.  Although it is mostly now buried deep in my subconscious, I was struck by the truth it expresses, and especially 'the old lie' that it is is sweet and beautiful to die for one's country.

It isn't sweet, it isn't beautiful, it's terrible and ugly, but, in our broken and disordered world we still send young men and women to far away places where they will kill, or be killed, in the name of powerful nations, rulers and governments.

One hundred years ago, and just before the 'war to end all wars' didn't, a prophetic voice was silenced.

One hundred years later, the freedoms I enjoy are inextricably linked with that reality.

Next week we will mark Remembrance Sunday, and will hold the tension expressed in poppies red and white, between shame and honour, and we will pray for peace, the rule of the one called the Prince of Peace.

Oh, and here's the poem...


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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