A few weeks ago, my little family (my husband, my baby son, and I) celebrated parent/child dedication along with our church community. Though it’s obviously a different sort of event than the infant baptism practiced in other Christian traditions, I still felt like it was a significant occasion in this new aspect of my identity: being a mother. It’s no small thing to promise before our community to try to raise our child in the Mennonite, Christian faith that’s so important to me. Of course, a key component of that faith for me is its peace position – something that takes on a certain poignancy when raising a son.
Now I’m certainly not advocating gender stereotyping. I’m not about to make a case that boys are “naturally” more aggressive, and that it’s somehow harder for them to be peaceable people. But I do think that in our context, boys are socialized to understand masculinity as synonymous with aggression and to find violence acceptable and even entertaining. It’s something that’s particularly evident at this time of year, once the gore of Halloween has passed, and Remembrance Day is here.
When it comes to Halloween, I’m not one of those Christians who avoids the holiday – in fact, I just learned this year about its fascinating Christian origins (read all about it here). I really love the creativity of dressing up and actually talking to and getting to know your neighbours, cause there aren’t too many opportunities to do the latter these days. But I’m concerned when a little boy shows up at my door dressed up as a murderer, complete with a fake bloody knife, as happened this year, and I cringe at the goriness of so many of the decorations. Does a holiday that’s focused on kids really have to glorify violence to this extent? No, it really doesn’t.
And then there’s Remembrance Day. I’ve read a couple of articles this week from Mennonites who feel conflicted about wearing the Mennonite Central Committee “To remember is to work for peace” pin as an alternative to the red poppy pin, since the poppy pins raise money for a good cause and not wearing one can be misunderstood as a sign of disrespect for the sacrifices made by veterans (see here and here). While I’ll admit that there are veterans who promote remembrance for the sake of never repeating the past, and I celebrate that connection, I think it’s really dangerous to assume that the red poppy represents that message of “never again.” In my opinion, it’s a pretty slippery slope. When people talk about “honouring” the “heroes” who “served their country,” it usually doesn’t take long for present-day soldiers and present-day wars to likewise be deemed honourable, not to mention the wide-eyed cadets waiting to join – and perpetuate! – the romanticized tradition of going to war (i.e., killing people, including many civilians, in response to conflict – let’s not forget what that word actually means!). Clearly, all of this completely undermines the idea of “never again.”
So when Remembrance Day comes around, I wear my MCC peace pin, as well as an old “Swords into plowshares” pin I found at my parents’ house (see photo above). I also learned about a white peace poppy campaign that comes from the U.K. through my friend Peter Haresnape, who works for Christian Peacemaker Teams (see a video and article here). I’m working on getting one of those white poppies to wear, too. And I know these alternative peace symbols are offensive to some, or at least controversial and open to misinterpretation (also apparent in the video). But for me, wearing the red poppy is open to more harmful misinterpretation – that I in some way support war. And to be honest, I’d rather risk offending those who romanticize war than send mixed signals to my son
about where I stand on war.
There’s one important value that I’d like to pass on to my son, which is to define peace as more than non-participation in violence, more than just the absence of war. It’s something to be actively made in following the example of Jesus. I think there’s definitely something to be said for clearly distinguishing ourselves as people of God’s peace at this time of year, to work at loving our neighbours and those we disagree with – our enemies – by speaking truth to them instead of trying to blend in. We owe that alternative witness to the next generation.