On Veteran’s Day this past week, I stood outside of a local grocery and handed out red “Buddy Poppies” for the VFW. I normally tend to avoid people nowadays, but this was a different matter. Asking people for donations and giving them a tangible reminder of the cost that the freedoms that our nation enjoys is worth some un-comfort. The truth is, especially now, that we must never allow ourselves or our future generations to forget the sacrifices that so many service-members and their families have had to give. The gentleman that was assigned to the same table as me was a Navy veteran of Desert Storm. A really rather talkative guy, actually. But there was one thing that he did with people and especially children while giving them poppies. He encouraged each of them to search the internet for what the Buddy Poppy means. It was a simple and easy way to get the kids and parents to have some background into why the VFW does this periodically throughout the year.
What truly surprised me, however, was the amount of people that had no understanding as to what the poppy represented. Time and again, I had people asking what it was for. “Why are you doing this?” was a common question. Of course, I don’t mind when people ask questions. Questions are the first step in gaining understanding. In fact, I would prefer that when people (myself included) don’t know something that instead of trying to pretend that they do, that they admit that they don’t and ask for the missing knowledge. In this case, the Buddy Poppy symbolizes the red flowers that grew along the graves of Soldiers of the First World War, in a place called Flanders Field which is actually the name of a number of battle fields in Belgium. But, specifically, it is from a poem written by a Canadian Lt. Col. John McRae for a fallen comrade of the Second Battle of Ypres. The red poppies that adorn the graves of the fallen became one of the most recognizable symbols of the cost of conflict. But, that symbol will be meaningless if no one remembers.
Symbols are like that. They can very quickly become just a trinket, or a pretty piece of jewelry, or something my grandparents used to talk about. There is a phrase that I have seen in news articles, blog posts, and even commercial advertisements: “Go the extra mile.” My bank, apparently, goes the extra mile for me. But, would it surprise you to find that this is from Matthew chapter 5, verse 41? And would it also surprise you that when Jesus made this statement that it was shocking and contrary to what the understanding and practice was of the day? See, in His day the Romans were in charge. They were the ultimate masters of all they surveyed. And everyone knew it. It was a law among the legions to require a non-citizen Jew to carry the belongings of the Roman for one mile. You can imagine how they felt about this. If this were a law today that I had to obey, I know that I would be dropping the stuff at exactly one mile and then getting on with my day. But Jesus said to go the extra mile. Why? I can’t take credit here, but in a blog by Nicholas Casey (http://nicholasccasey.blogspot.com/2017/06/changing-perspectives-go-extra-mile.html) he points out that the Roman soldier could force you to go one mile at risk of lawful action against you, but couldn’t force a second mile without risking lawful action against himself. His point was that by taking the second mile willingly that the person shifted the demeaning humiliation from the carrier to the soldier. Jesus was basically saying show them you are a willing servant and you will shame them into recognizing your dignity.
So, why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with Buddy Poppies? In the matter of a generation, our society has become post-Christian. The biblical foundation that was a part of our society has gone. Common phrases that are referencing an assumed understanding of a Christian worldview are now just relics without meaning. Take the cross necklace for instance. It is now an accessory, and while a large number of people realizes that there is some connection to religion in general and with Jesus specifically, do they understand just exactly what they are wearing? The cross is horrible. It was an instrument of execution in one of the most horrible ways possible. It is ugly, and was terrifying. The reason that Christians initially used it as a symbol was to remember the massive sacrifice that Christ made for all of us. The image is one that is supposed to remind that the cost of salvation is high and that the Christ willingly paid it. Most people who display a cross today would describe it as beautiful. And it is, but only because of the true meaning behind it. Without Christ, the cross is just a symbol of torture and hate. With Him, it is a symbol of forgiveness and grace. Without the sacrifices of the Soldiers of World War I, poppies are just pretty flowers. With their sacrifice, it is a beautiful symbol of what they stood and died for. And that is why it so important, that we pass on the reasons for the symbols that we cherish. For if we don’t, they lose their luster and their resonance.