the hokey cokey referendum

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There has been a lot of heat generated by the EU Referendum in the UK. The official campaigning period started last week but the rhetoric has been flying for many months beforehand and, in my humble opinion, has generated more heat than light. The news has been full of headlines that I summarise as ‘hokey cokey’ – “in, out, in, out, shake it all about”!

So this little bloggage is my attempt at offering some reflections that are not intentionally ‘yes’ or ‘no’ biased. It is intended to ask some Bible-based questions that may help me make up my mind: to consider what the issues are.

“What is truth?”

This question is not from Jesus, but was a retort from Pilate when he was questioning Jesus after his arrest (John 18:38). It’s a pertinent question, though. What is truth?

There has already been and will continue to be plenty of spin – so much so that our brains will be dizzy by the time we come to vote. One campaign will tell us that there are benefits to voting their way, or that there are negatives about voting the other way, and the other campaign will respond by telling us that this is not true.

In response to a lot of spin and conjecture about his identity Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The ‘truth’ he’s talking about here is himself – the truth about God – but for those who seek to follow him we seek to hold to his teaching and then we will know the truth that liberates.

So much of the rhetoric and discussion is about an unknown future. We don’t know what life would be like if Britain voted to leave the EU any more than we know what it would be like if we voted to remain. The future is uncertain and unknowable. So I ask myself, “What is truth, what is conjecture and what is spin?” And I will try to make my decision based on truth. And what aspects of Jesus’ teaching can help me?

What is the most loving option?

This is not about romance! This is about agape – the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe God’s love for us, and the way that he wants people to love one another (especially, but not limited to, followers of Jesus). Jesus taught about this love being a radically different way that seeks the best even for those who oppose us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Agape is gracious not greedy; servant-hearted not power-hungry; and selfless not selfish. My question about the EU Referendum from this is two-fold: “Who are we to love, and which outcome will enable us to be most loving towards them?”

Who is our neighbour?

When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) he shocked his listeners by making the hero of his story someone whom they hated by virtue of his nationality. This was in response to a question, “Who is my neighbour?” and that in turn was in response to a summary of the Old Testament Law: ‘Love (agape) God wholeheartedly and love (agape) your neighbour as yourself’ (my paraphrase).

At the end of the story Jesus bounced the question back at the person who’d asked it – “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The (perhaps reluctant) answer was “The one who had mercy on him” and Jesus told his listeners to go and do likewise. So my question about the EU Referendum is, “Which approach enables us to show most mercy on those in need?”

“I have come that they might have life… to the full.”

Jesus made this statement (John 10:10) when he was teaching about himself and contrasting himself with people who were only looking for what they could get out of life and of others.

What does ‘life to the full’ look like? Many of the arguments I have heard so far are about economics, but there is much more to life than money. Accepting that part of what Jesus was talking about was a relationship with God (which neither ‘in’ nor ‘out’ can offer), but also that Jesus was talking about more than that too, my question is: “Which approach will enable people to have life to the fullest?”

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Jesus said this in response to an attempt to trap him into a position that polarised opinion (Luke 20:20-26).  He refused to allow people to label him or push him into a corner. He refused to allow himself to be manipulated.

My question here is not about taxation. It’s based on a recognition that a ‘yes/no’ referendum is, by definition, polarising. However, deciding to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ does not mean that you have to agree with everything that is associated with that campaign. “Which outcome is least likely to mean that you feel manipulated into a position that you do not wish to be associated with?”

 

These few questions are not intended to be the exhaustive list of questions I am asking myself about this referendum. But they are intended to help me think beyond the rhetoric, beyond self-interest and beyond economics and think about how I can engage helpfully in the politics.

Be blessed, be a blessing

sunglasses

So, it has been a while hasn’t it my bloggist chums? I hope and pray that you will have had a wonderful Easter, and not just because of a surfeit of chocolate.

I was listening to a ‘discussion’ on the radio today and was struck by how it was set up and the nature of the debate. The producer had clearly got two people with diametrically opposing views and decided to put them together with the expectation that it would create an interesting / entertaining / provocative piece of journalism. But actually all we got was people shouting over one another. When that happens I tend to turn off the radio or change channel – presumably not the effect that the producer intended.

sunglassesIt got me wondering why it is that when we have a debate or a discussion or a discernment process we become more polarised than a pair of sunglasses? Why do we always have to go with a ‘yes / no’ approach? Why can’t we hold things in creative tension rather than having to have a winner and a loser?

I was recently involved in a discussion where I actually found myself in agreement with both of the apparently polarised sides of the discussion. I didn’t want to disagree with either of them. But the process forced me to choose one over the other and I was left feeling dissatisfied.

At this point you may be dismissing me as indecisive or lacking backbone, and you may be right. (Or are you?) But ‘creative tension’ was a phrase that was offered to me when I was inducted into my first church team. It is something that I have appreciated when working alongside people throughout my life. I don’t have to agree with everything someone else believes to get along with them and in the discussing and discerning process of disagreeing agreeably something creative can emerge.

And before you dismiss me completely as someone who is need of therapy to help reconcile internal conflict my understanding of God enables me to hold apparently irreconcilable views in that creative tension. The Bible describes Jesus as being both fully human and fully God at the same time. The infinite and the finite in an apparently impossible paradox. And how can one beyond time enter time? And then there’s the events of Easter when the eternal one dies (and is resurrected) – how can eternity (no beginning nor end) end and begin again? God is simultaneously a God of justice and mercy… and there are so many more. He doesn’t seem to have any problem with paradoxes, and he leaves our small brains smoking as we try to comprehend them.

So why can’t we live with creative tension? It’s more difficult sometimes. It’s messier. It means that we have to be more considerate of other people. It means we have to accept that we don’t have all of the answers. It means that we can’t ‘win’. It means that we need to listen to one another. It means that we need to honour one another.

Is that so bad?

Of course there are times when we need to make yes/no decisions. In a church recently I was asked a question: “EU referendum, in or out?”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “Yes.”

Which may have been a cop-out, or it may have been an attempt at saying that it’s important to make a decision but that my view does not need to distance me from those who disagree. Just because a decision has to be made it does not have to polarise. Surely we can disagree agreeably.

And it’s important. I wonder if one of the reasons why people switch off from church is because they don’t like it when we shout over each other.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

fence sitting is uncomfortable

I’ve been working on Sunday evening’s sermon, which will be on the second-half of Acts chapter 5. This is the occasion when the apostles were hauled in front of the religious authorities and so infuriated them with their teaching about Jesus that a majority of people there want to put them to death. However a Pharisee named Gamaliel intervened with these words: “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

I have heard people speak in reverential and hushed tones about Gamaliel’s wisdom here. The prevented bloodshed by stating that there was a clear choice: either this Christianity lark was from God or it wasn’t. If it isn’t then it will fall apart in due course. If it is then you run the risk of offending the Almighty.

To an extent I think he did demonstrate wisdom because he had a sufficiently open mind to recognise that what was happening might be from God. But he also missed the glaringly obvious – if there is a clear choice then surely you have to come down on one side or the other, there is no room for fence sitting. Gamaliel wanted to have his cake and eat it (insert further clichés here, as appropriate).wood fence in nature 1

“Wait and see” is not a particularly adventurous or godly response when we are faced with a choice like the one before Gamaliel and Co. It is risk averse and lacks faith or discernment. Certainly we do not want to get it wrong and be on the anti-God side, but I have a sense that is God would much rather we made a stab at discerning his will and got it wrong than that we sit on the fence. When Jesus told the parable of the talents the servant who did nothing was the one who was castigated and it was his inactivity that was condemned.

This is not saying that we should not seek to discern God’s will. Exactly the opposite is true. But we should not be paralysed by fear of getting it wrong – he is a God of grace after all and will forgive us if we ask: 2nd chances are his stock in trade.

Sitting on the fence is uncomfortable at best and only really makes sense in jokes about what time it is when an elephant sits on your fence.*

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Time to get a new one