the hokey cokey referendum

Embed from Getty Images

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

death is a part of life

teardropApologies for the relative silence last week – it’s been a very busy period and while I have still tried to be reflective I haven’t had much chance to put fingers to keyboard and share those reflections with you.

I also ought to warn you that this bloggage is about death, so if you are feeling like you can’t cope with that at the moment you might like to look at another of my earlier bloggages… I understand.

January 2016 seems to have been a month in which more high profile people have died than is usual. Each announcement has been met with sadness, grief, gratitude for the impact the person made on the national consciousness, and expressions of condolence towards the immediate family and friends who mourn their death. I wonder whether the amount of time and space that is given to commemoration of those who have died is partly due to a failure to appreciate people sufficiently in life. It is right that we do this. It is good that we remember and recognise that death is part of life.

It is much less healthy for us individually and as a society if death is the morbid elephant in the room of life. We know it is there but we don’t want to mention it or talk about it. Perhaps there is even a degree of superstition that if we talk about it then we will awaken death and it will rear its ugly head again so if we keep quiet, all will be well. We know that this is not true, but we seem to act as if it is. I wonder whether if we do not talk about death bereavement hits us harder because we are unprepared for it.

Death is terribly sad for those who mourn the death of someone they love. It releases many emotions such as loss, regret, grief, pain, emptiness and sometimes is so overwhelming that our emotions shut down and we feel numbness and shock. It is horrible. It is awful. In the gospel records of Jesus’ life we read how he loathed death and resented moments when it encroached into his experience of life. He grieved the death of friends, he himself did not want to die. We know how he felt.

But (and I do not diminish the impact, significance and emotional pain of death when it takes someone we love away from us) if death is not seen and talked about as a part of life we perpetuate the fantasy that it will not happen to someone we know and love… until that fantasy is torn apart by death itself. We can almost pretend it doesn’t happen.

We don’t help ourselves by euphemising death, either. We talk of someone ‘passing away’, ‘going home’, ‘leaving us’, ‘going to sleep’, ‘going to the next room’ and many more. But, and I am sorry if this is blunt, the reality is that the person has died. Some euphemisms suggest that they could come back, that they are nearby, that it’s not final. But (forgive me for being blunt again) death is final. It is the one certainty in life* – we will all die.

I am not suggesting that we cultivate a morbid fascination with death. I am not saying that we should talk about it all the time. But I am suggesting that it would be healthier for us as individuals and as a society if we talked about it from time to time. Talk with your relatives about your will. Talk with those who may have to make arrangements for your funeral service about what you would like (they will be grateful when it comes to it). Talk about how you feel when someone has died. Share memories of that person – not to pretend that they are still with us – so that the impact they made on us is not lost and the significance of their life is underlined by their death.

And if you know someone who has experienced bereavement don’t tiptoe around them, don’t wrap them in cotton wool, don’t patronise them. I think that often we say nothing and avoid people who are bereft because we don’t want to say the wrong thing and don’t know what to say. But that can add to the sense of isolation and loss. I think it is unlikely that any of you would say anything insensitive or cruel to someone who is mourning the death of a loved one, so talk with them, listen to them, ask them about the person who has died, if you don’t know what to say sit in silence with them, even pray with them (and for them).

And, as a follower of Jesus, I also want to say that although physical death is the end of our experience of this life, he promises that the life in all its fullness which begins here and now, through faith, will stretch into an experience beyond time: eternity in God’s presence. Death hurts, it stings, but it is not the last word.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*It used to be death and taxes but as some large corporations have found ways of avoiding tax we can’t rely on the latter.

the sequel

I had an interesting and helpful conversation with someone this morning following yesterday’s bloggage. They helped me realise that I needed to expand a bit more on what I had written, so consider this the sequel.

I finished yesterday by saying that Jesus offers us life in all its fullness as the Creator’s intended answer to our search for happiness. I realised after this morning’s conversation that it looks like I meant that God was offering us happiness after all. I am sorry if that is the impression I left you with (all I can say in my defence is that it was blogged on a phone on a train).

I am sorry too if you have ever got the impression from me that if you become a Christian your life will be sorted and there will never be any problems. That’s not the message of Jesus. He told us that his followers can expect opposition, even persecution. He told us that we should pick up our cross daily and follow him. He told people not to worry about tomorrow … “each day has enough trouble of its own.” He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” and “don’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.”

There is much more to life than this
There is much more to life than this

‘Life in all its fullness’ is a life lived in God’s presence, filled with God’s Spirit, seeking to live in a way that honours him as a follower of Jesus. As wonderful as that is, and as amazing and positive as that is, fullness of life also includes the pain, grief, difficulties, frustrations, confusion and anxieties that life can throw in our direction. It includes all of life, knowing that God is with us in it. It includes those moments when we can look back and see that God really was in it with us when we wondered if we were alone. It includes those times when we were clinging on to our faith by our fingernails. It is life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life (perhaps it’s a guarantee that life will not be easy) but it is life as it was created to be. It’s not all doom and gloom, there is also brightness, joy, peace, laughter, fun and so much more – don’t read this and think that it’s all bad. God is with us by his Spirit in the light and the dark, in the laughter and the tears, in the joy and the pain.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

feelings…

On Sunday evening at our church we will be having another of our Film Nights. They are relaxed occasions when we gather together and watch a film, with an invitation to reflect on some of the deeper meaning of the film and what it means for our lives.

This Sunday we will be watching The Bucket List. I will endeavour not to give out any spoilers, but the blurb on the back of the DVD case describes it as, “A hilarious and deeply touching tale. The Bucket List charts [Edward and Carter’s] journey across continents, to building a friendship and discovering their own identities.”

The two main stars are Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and I think it is a lovely, moving film that makes you laugh and consider deep questions. What is it about the arts that they have the capacity to do that to us? Music, even without lyrics, can move us. Poetry can touch deep within. Paintings and sculptures can speak to us in ways that words cannot. Film and theatre can engage us in unexpected ways.

On Saturday I went to the cinema and watched Les Miserables with the two main women in my life (wife and daughter). I had seen it at the theatre in the past and was moved by it, but the film production of it left me with a lump in my throat.

I am sure that wiser and deeper thinkers than me have pondered why the arts can move us, and probably have been awarded PhDs for their troubles. But here’s how I see it. God has made us with emotions as a way of helping us to engage more deeply with him, with each other. with his world and with ourselves. We are moved, we feel joy, we express laughter, we cry because we are created to be affected by all that is around us. It is an essential part of being human. It is part of being created in God’s likeness. It is part of understanding the world in which we live and ourselves within that world.

We respond emotionally to the arts because they meet us on an emotional level that is underpins intellect and cognitive ability. Stories resonate with us. Images remind us. Sounds and melodies stir us more profoundly than knowledge can.

I think that it’s part of us growing emotionally as well: we have a safe place to ‘rehearse’ our emotions so we can know how best to respond to them in other circumstances. It can help us to empathise and sympathise with others.

One of the messages for me in The Bucket List is that there is more to life than we often allow ourselves to experience. In our morning services we are exploring what it means to follow Jesus and live life in all its fullness. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that God wants us to explore what it means to be fully human in a relationship with him: allowing ourselves to be emotionally affected by many different aspects of his world and allowing him to speak to us through them.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A film crew was on location deep in the middle of Dartmoor. One day a wizened, weather-beaten old man went up to the director and said, “It be gwin ter rain termorrow.”

The next day it rained. A week later, the old man went up to the director and said, “Termorrow there be gwin ter be a hoooge storm.” The next day there was a hailstorm.

“This man is incredible,” said the director. He told his secretary to hire the old man to predict the weather. However, after several successful predictions, the old man didn’t show up for two weeks.

Finally the director sent for him. “I have to shoot a big scene tomorrow,” said the director, “and I’m depending on you. What will the weather be like?”

The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Oi dunno,” he said. “Me radio is broke.”