Since last week the whole country has been united in a way we have never seen before. We find ourselves bound together, in sheer disbelief. Whether you voted Remain or Brexit (or nothing!), the chances are you're as surprised as the next person that the UK has voted to leave the EU.
Since then the surprises keep coming - in seismic doses. The Prime Minister has resigned. The leader of the opposition looks like he needs to resign. The pound reached a 30 year low. The Scottish First Minister has called for Scotland’s independence and the leaders of major European countries are telling us to 'get out...and be quick about it!' As a cartoon in one of our newspapers said: 'Aliens didn’t land on earth and we didn’t find Elvis – but everything else happened'.
Not bad for a week’s work.
The leadership issues will settle – maybe in ways we haven’t seen before, but they will settle. The important question is not so much 'what will our leaders do?' - that is largely out of our hands - but 'what will you do?' How do ordinary folk such as you and I engage constructively in the politics we see unfolding?
Jesus and politics
One morning in college, our tutor asked us to think about a question over coffee: 'Was Jesus political? Come back with an answer', he said with a smile.
Not so easy! The question comes up now and then and is answered in different ways.
The best answer I have heard is that Jesus wasn’t party-political - he would never have voted Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Brexit or Remain. But he was highly political in every other sense.
He was one of the most political figures ever to walk the earth. Political in his stand against unjust authorities. Political in his vision for a new order. Political in his undermining of accepted social practices, and he was especially political in his scathing critique of hypocrisy whether that hypocrisy came from the religious elite, or, in case we think we are in the clear, from ordinary individuals.
We don’t have a choice about whether we are involved in politics or not. As Christians it’s our job to not only be involved but in doing so to scatter some salt and to shed some light.
Healing the divide
We are starting to realise that EU laws and procedures have shaped our country in fundamental ways that now need to be untangled and re-cast in the form of UK laws. As we go back to the drawing board we will find that ideas and policies which have been held in check by EU law for decades, and to which we have all become accustomed, suddenly come up for discussion.
The way we pay taxes, the manner in which we view immigrants, the way we share wealth across classes of society, and which areas of our country require special assistance and which do not, are just a few of the sensitive topics which will now be thrown open.
As well as prayer and unity, which many have sensibly called for, there are a couple of things to keep foremost in our minds:
First, we must be alert to extremism in all its forms and coming from any direction, left, right or religious, in whatever reasonable clothes it turns up in. It’s unacceptable. The problem with extremist views is that we sometimes don’t know we’ve got them because they seem so reasonable to us. Suddenly when it’s my hospital, my kids’ education, my taxes, people moving into my town, the rubber hits the road. We will be tested in new ways.
Second, we need to reach out to understand the people we don’t understand. The referendum revealed deep divisions between old and young, city and suburb, and disturbingly between haves and have-nots. If I don’t understand people’s reasons for not agreeing with me, mine can only be a negative voice.
Nothing has changed
Many of us just a few weeks ago (though it seems a lot longer) celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday. We sang and spoke of the Queen’s steadfast faith, and of God’s unending grace, his unchanging nature, his faithfulness through the years.
None of that has changed. It was just easier back then because our world looked settled, unchangeable.
Living the Christian life is mostly straightforward for those of us living in the affluent West, because the stakes are low. When changes of this magnitude come we feel shaken-up. Let’s pray that with this shaking-up comes a waking-up to things we have stopped thinking about, or caring about.