Author: Martin

To Brexit and Back Again

uk-and-eu-flag-with-brexit-text_1017-3488 (2)I woke up at 5 AM on the morning of Friday 24 June to find my world had changed in a way that I didn’t want, wasn’t expecting, and, in my opinion, then and now, for the worse.

The UK had voted to leave the EU!

When I went to bed it all looked good – the Remain camp were expected to win, easily; Nigel Farage had already admitted he felt the result would go against him.

All was well in my world. I had no problem getting to sleep.

But them I woke up early and picked up my phone to confirm my expectations…..

I couldn’t believe it.

There was no way I could get back to sleep after the bombshell that had just been delivered. Thoughts ran through my head. I started to worry what this meant for my family, my country and for Europe. In fact, it got so bad that around 7 AM I had to wake up my wife because I needed to share the news with someone. She was equally horrified – and then she couldn’t get back to sleep either.

We got up at 8 AM in silence – both of us sad and upset, starting to grieve for what we felt we’d lost.

The days since the result have been full of mixed emotions.

Some comedian once defined ‘mixed emotions’ as the feelings you experience as you “watch your mother-in-law drive your brand new car over a cliff”. For me, at times, it has felt like my country, and possibly Europe as well, has been driven over that very same cliff by people who have a very different world view from me.

Mixed emotions indeed.

Do I think those people who voted for Brexit are stupid, racist or xenophobic?

No. That has never been my thought.

My thought has not been about them – my anger and grief are not directed at them.

As a Jesus follower, a Christian if you like, my overriding concern is that Brexit will make things worse for the poor and dispossessed in my country. That justice for them is now further away than before the Referendum. That rather than being a poke in the eye of the establishment, a ham-stringing of the elite, it will be the opposite. That things will become more polarised; that the pay gap will get wider not narrower; that the rich will end up getting richer off the backs of the poor and marginalised in our society.

That politics will swing to the right.

This has made me angry. Not angry at those who voted to leave the EU, but angry at the probable injustice of the result. Angry at the politicians who lied and schemed to get the result they wanted. Angry at the hate and violence that has already been unleashed against immigrants and people from other nations who have come to the UK to work and create a better life for their families.

I am angry at the fear that has driven people to reject the other in our midst, to ‘lift up the draw bridge’, to ‘think first of our own’.

To blame the EU for everything that is wrong in our society is disingenuous at best. The reason the poor are getting poorer, that jobs are more difficult to come by, that the NHS is failing, is not because of the EU, it is a direct result of the ideological choices made by our recent governments.

Has being part of the EU made the situation in the UK worse?  Possibly, in some ways, but in other ways it has held back the worse excesses of the ideological choices that have been made.

But now, with Brexit almost certainly becoming a reality, we might have opened Pandora’s box, started on a road that will make the current situation for the poor much worse – because that will be the political will of those who are in government as we negotiate to leave the EU family.

Should Christians be involved in politics? That is a decision for each individual to make, but we all as Christians must be aware of the effect of political choices that are made on our behalf.

Politics in its widest sense is about people; about how we interact as a society as we live together. As believers and followers of Jesus, our desire for and vision of the Kingdom of God here and now must shape and influence our ‘politic’, how we act towards each other, how we influence and enable the culture around us to be one that glorifies the One that we worship and claim to follow.

I don’t understand why any Christian would vote to leave the EU in the current political climate – because, for me, Brexit, at this time, stands in opposition to what I believe are Kingdom goals.

Others will disagree. I am fine with that. We all need to pray and then follow the lead of our conviction, animated and enlivened by the Spirit working in and through us.

What I don’t appreciate is when some who disagree with my position claim that somehow I am not following the will of God because I wanted the UK to remain in the EU. That, somehow, I am disconnected from God because I am angry at what I feel is injustice, or because they think I am a middle class turncoat who voted with the Establishment, whatever that is, in order to maintain the status quo.

That somehow my vote was in opposition to the work of the Gospel because I believe in open borders, in digging wells and building bridges rather than erecting walls.

That the votes of the 48% who wanted to stay in the EU mean nothing and have no value.

I am angry, but my anger will subside, because anger is a part of the cycle of grief.

I am grieving for something I know we will now have to lose – and many of the people I know who voted Remain are grieving with me.

What we need is some space to grieve.

What we don’t need is mockery, self righteous comments or to be patronised with calls for ‘unity’ from fellow believers who voted for Brexit.

Please don’t get upset with me because I am taking time to ‘get over it’.

I need to be allowed to come to terms with how my world has changed as a result of the Referendum. I need to be allowed to exhaust my democratic right to try and reverse the Brexit decision – even though I know it can’t be changed.

But I will be fine – all will be good again in my world. I am by nature a positive and optimistic person.

By the way, thanks for asking how I am, listening to how I feel, trying to understand where I am coming from by looking at the situation through my eyes – and if you haven’t done that yet, then at least try, because it will make the whole process easier for all of us.

In finishing this post I want to quote from an article that was posted by a friend on my Facebook news feed – it is by David Robertson, from his ‘theweeflea’ blog.

I disagree with so much of what he wrote in his assessment of ‘What Brexit tells us about the Church in the UK‘.

We come from different places in our Christian journey, we have different world views – not that I think mine is better or worse – it is just different.

Some of his comments I found patronising and self-righteous, some of his generalisations a bit broad and his stereotyping a bit strong, but, for me, his final paragraphs are spot on and sum up where we all should be a Jesus followers in a post-Brexit world:

“The Church of Christ is still here and still being salt and light. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York said, “As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contribution to human flourishing around the world.”

What we need to ask is how that comes about? If what the Bible says is true…then human being are ‘dead in sins and trespasses’. Not mildly sick. Not a little confused. Not falling a little short of our true potential. We don’t just need to Remain with the status quo, or to Leave a particular political system. We need to be made alive. We need new birth. We need a new beginning. We need renewal, revival and reformation.

I thank the Lord that all over the country there are churches where ordinary pastors are proclaiming faithfully what the Bible says, not changing their sermons to suit the political circumstances; where ordinary Christians are faithfully seeking to serve and minister Christ to the poor, hurting and hungry; and where people from many nations, languages, classes, genders and ages are worshipping together as the Body of Christ. We are not the spiritual wings of the Convertative/ Liberal/ Labour/ Nationalist parties. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, his body, his family, his bride, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Let us be!”

…..and some of us in The Church of Christ voted to Remain.

Just give us time and space and we will be fine.

In or Out? Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism?

hulahoops4It’s a serious question.

Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism? Who decides who is ‘evangelical’ and who isn’t? Who decides who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?

I ask this, because I have read a number of posts around the blogosphere over the last week or so that claim that so-and-so is no longer ‘evangelical’, or that someone should not call themselves ‘evangelical’ anymore.

Is the edge of what is considered acceptable evangelical behaviour being hardened – are the boundaries of the ‘evangelical’ set being fixed more firmly into position?

Whether you are ‘in’ or ‘out’ seems to be very important at the more ‘traditional’ end of the evangelical tent – I’ve recently read comment by Kevin Miller in Leadership Journal on Rob Bell, Brian Maclaren and Don Miller’s decision to ‘give up’ church (which has now been removed), and Brian Maclaren gracious response, Adrian Warnock’s pronouncement that Steve Chalke is “no longer an Evangelical by any realistic definition”, and now all the fuss over the World Vision decision to employ gay and lesbian Christians who are legally married – and then its decision to change its mind on the matter.

I can’t help but feel that lines are being drawn.

And not, it seems, lines drawn on the traditional theological areas of contention, such as the nature of the atonement, the centrality of the cross, methods of evangelism, the conversion experience and the ‘social gospel’, but on new issues that have become important within a wider post-modern cultural context, namely, the value of church structure and community, the role of women, LGBT rights and the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture (what ever that actually means).

Benjamin L Corey on his Patheos blog yesterday made interesting comments and observations about the World Vision controversy, reflecting on what it means for the wider evangelical community:

“Although it may not have always felt this way, Evangelical Christianity was a relatively large bubble that had room for a range of perspectives. Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mainstream Evangelicals, and Progressive/Emergent Evangelicals were able to all be in the same space – though there was usually friction in areas of overlap, for a time it was big enough for everyone.”

Over the last few years, evangelicalism has become more and more centre set rather than bounded set – with boundaries becoming more and more blurred around a main central point of agreement, namely the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and His bodily resurrection.

But this now seems to be changing, as Corey explains:

“Yesterday however, we saw a merger between mainstream evangelicals and fundamentalist evangelicals. Together, they were able to merger to the point that it fractured the [evangelical] circle, sending the rest of us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] outside of what used to be a diverse evangelical tribe.

[….] What we saw the death of yesterday obviously wasn’t the theological category of “evangelical” but the culture of “evangelicalism”, it was a death of the tribe as we knew it. The fundamentalist and the formerly ‘main stream’ evangelicals drew hard lines in the sand, merged together, and made it clear that they are not interested in big tents or leaving room for the “other”.”

Interestingly, he drew parallels to Jewish Temple worship in New Testament times:

“Basically, if evangelicalism had a Court of the Gentiles, the other two groups [fundamentalist and mainstream evangelicals] just set up a bunch of tables and told us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] to go wait outside.”

In other words, the fundamentalist and mainstream evangelical ‘elites’ have decided that they want to control who is allowed ‘in’, and who should be left ‘out’, of the evangelical tent, and they are using cultural issues, rather than traditional theological issues, to draw the line.

As Corey concludes his reflection on the pressure put on World Vision to withdraw its diversity policy with regard to employing married gay and lesbian Christians:

“As a result, Evangelicalism as we knew it, died. Instead of affirming the trinity and the inspiration of scripture in order to be called an evangelical and leaving all other theological debates open for charitable disagreement, the New Evangelicals have now added neutrality on same sex marriage something that must be disavowed before signing on. When leaders wished World Vision “farewell” and declared this “apostasy“, they made the lines dark and clear: you can’t be an evangelical if you don’t agree with them.

It was a requirement that didn’t need to be added and has at best, created a “New Evangelicalism” with very little room for diversity, let alone outsiders.

It’s clear they’ll now go in their own direction– without us. Not by our choice, but by theirs. Not because we left, but because they left.”

You can start to see what will happen in this ‘New Evangelicalism’.  Soon, progressives and emergents will not be welcome anymore – opinions will harden, the questioning of central dogma will no longer be allowed, those who disagree will be asked to leave, or asked to stop using the evangelical ‘brand’.

It also shows that these ‘New Evangelicals’ have missed the cultural move away from authoritarian and static structures to relational and fluid structures – they are mixing up holding to theological truth with maintaining a cultural expression – saying you can only be theologically true if you stick to our fixed cultural understanding – hold to our traditional position or you are can no longer identify yourself as evangelical.

I think this is a mistake – and once again shows that evangelicals are as influenced by the worldly culture as anyone else – it’s a power trip, a land grab, trying to put a wall around land that doesn’t belong to them.

Mainly because it belongs to Jesus.

It’s His church, not theirs, and they need to wake up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, He wants ‘in’ those that they want ‘out’.

New Wine Cellar

20140317_191055299_iOSFinally, I’ve finished decorating and fitting out my new wine ‘cellar’ (cupboard).

It looks great – a nice and cool space – and capable of holding my whole wine collection – with enough  racking to hold up to 286 wines.

I have been been interested in the collection and tasting of wine since I was at University in the 1980’s – and have always collected a varied cellar, currently holding around 200 wines from around the world, with vintages going back 10 to 15 years.  I collect wine to drink, rather than as an investment, so only keep wines until they are at their peak for drinking – hence the lack of very old vintages.

It’s great to be able to see them all in one place at last.

Tony Benn (1925-2014)

TonyBennTony Benn (1925-2014)

It’s a sad day for me – one of my true heroes has died!

Tony Benn epitomised for me what socialist politics should be about.  He was passionate; he was articulate; he cared for his fellow citizen – and he did something about it!

The UK is a weaker place with his passing!

Photo  from ‘The Third Estate’ website

Current reading list – March 2014

Mutiny_thumbnailI’ve had Kester Brewin’s ‘Mutiny!  Why We Love Pirates, and How They Can Save Us’ in my book pile for a while, well, since it was first published,but  I have finally got round to reading it.

Brilliant so far – giving the history of piracy and how it can be relevant to our spiritual lives as Christians in the twenty first century.  I will give a full review once I’ve finished the book.

I’ve also got a few more books over the last few days to add to my book pile – andI  am looking forward to reading all three of them – see cover photos below.

Mark Sayers and Neil Cole are both long standing favourite authors of mine – both inspiring and compelling writers who make me want to act rather than just think.  Their new books, ‘Facing Leviathan’ and ‘Primal Fire’ do not look like they are going to disappoint!

The third book, ‘A Letter to my Congregation’ by Ken Wilson looked interesting and I can’t wait to get my teeth into what he has to say.

Again, I will post reviews of all three once I’ve finished reading them 🙂

51znKERQODL._SY445_ Lettercongregation_thumbnail PrimalFire_thumbnail

Becoming immune to Facebook

I must admit, I am slowly but surely becoming more and more disallusioned with Facebook.  I love the community feel you can get from communicating with old friends, from being able to share things you like and are passionate about – but, for me, I always feel an underlying sense of conflict and competition, as if there is always someone in my friends list who is just waiting to pounce, ready to point out things that aren’t in line with their theological dogma, somehow wanting to prove that they know more, or are somehow more faithful to Scripture than me.

And, it really annoys me!

Not that I don’t think challenge is good – in fact, I truly believe that if we are not open to criticism or feedback then we will never grow – intellectually or spiritually.  But it does get me down to realise that some are just ‘friends’ in order to gain information so that they can point the finger and ‘tut-tut’  at, in their view, how unorthodox my theology has become.

If I’m such a stinking ‘liberal’ in their eyes – why don’t they just unfriend me and move on?

So I enjoyed seeing this cartoon by David Hayward today.

JESUS-FB1

Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus.  No, I’m not that arrogant.

I liked it because it reminded me that popularity is not the main purpose of my life – that, actually, searching for truth, justice, love and hope in Jesus should be my goal, and, sometimes, others won’t like what I say or do, for the sole reason that they are in a different place to me.

But that shouldn’t stop me searching,.

Even if it does mean losing ‘friends’ on Facebook.

David Harwards comment with his cartoon are worth repeating:

“It does often feel like Facebook is a popularity contest. It sometimes feels like high school all over again.

The gospel accounts, as diverse as they are, still communicate the radical focus of Jesus to something more than popularity, winning a crowd or gaining a following. He wasn’t interested in fans.

We can live the same liberated life… free from the scrutiny, judgement and even admiration of others.

It is not easy experiencing loss. It’s sometimes not easy experiencing gain.

If we can find that centered place that is immune to the ups and downs of the opinions of others, then we know what it means to be at peace.”

That is so true!

The paradox of choice

I love these short videos from RSA Animate, they are so inspirational and really make me think.

This one, ‘The Paradox of Choice’ by Renata Salecl, is a really good observation about ‘choice anxiety’ and why, culturally, we are never satisfied with what we have…..and for me, this is as relevant in the church as it is within our wider society.

If we think that we are not influenced by such things in the church then we are naive – one of the big issues for me is how consumerism and choice anxiety, and the search for the ideal choice, are pulling faithful people away from a scriptural experience of life, mainly, one based on service, community and ‘body’ ministry.  We all think we are living scripturally, but in reality we are living tribally, being influenced by the same societal pressures and drivers as anyone else…….which, when you think about it, is frightening!

Back again…after a break

Back-AgainI haven’t blogged for a while.

In fact, I haven’t blogged properly for nearly two years. I was drained of enthusiasm, and didn’t feel I could write with any conviction.

It’s a long story of how and why it happened, but in a nutshell, I was feeling discouraged and sore, and it would have been too easy to turn my hurt into a rant against those who I perceived had hurt me. It’s too easy to be critical of, and spiteful towards, others during conflict – to come out fighting.

So rather than hit out, I just stopped blogging.

But I’m back!

My enthusiasm has returned. I’m ready to write again.

Amongst other things, I want to write about what has happened to me over the last few years, and tell my story, but also reflect on why things happened the way they did. Inevitably, that will spin off in many different directions – so let’s just see where it takes us.

As before, I’ll be working the interface between church, theology and culture, but there will be some fun and factual stuff as well, and inevitably, I’ll be sharing what I’m thinking and reviewing what I’m reading.

I hope you find it useful, encouraging and stimulating.