The referendum in Scotland is over. The narrowness of the result has left half of Scotland relieved, whilst many are sore, even heart-broken. This is democracy by referendum I suppose – a black and white duality that gives a one-size-fits-all answer.
My FB feed is full of people suggesting that the vote was rigged or finding other reasons to blame. It seems to reflect peoples anger and hurt as well as the refusal to let go of something that felt vitalising and alive. The referendum was a blank canvas onto which all sorts of hopes and dreams were projected onto, but it lit us up like politics has failed to do for a generation. Can it really be all over?
My own feelings are very confused, for all sorts of reasons. The referendum somehow never asked questions that I could get excited about. I tried to express some of this in a previous post, but do not feel that I said it well, and in the end I was left rather sore and deflated. For all of us now however the question surely has to be, what next?
For some, the issue remains sovereignty; authorship over national fate, and so the matter of devolved powers is top of the agenda. The constitutional changes needed to achieve this, not just in Scotland, but in the whole of the UK, are likely to have far reaching consequences. It will also be a protracted process involving lots of twists and turns, dodgy deals and uncomfortable compromises. This is democracy too. We make deals with the devil and rubber stamp them with 4 yearly elections in which people vote blindfolded.
What about followers of Jesus in these interesting times? Where do we look for leadership, for inspiration, for challenge to our inertia and complicity with empire? How do we continue to seek to be agents of the New Kingdom (rather than a particular earthly one?)
I started to make a list of things that I think might be important. None of them are new, but for my own benefit, I thought it was time to restate them;
- Our primary allegiance is not to a flag or a country, rather it is to Jesus and the New Kingdom. This is not to say that we should not seek to be enthusiastic engaged critical lovers of the place where we live however, rather it is an encouragement to see ourselves as agents of something deeper, something purer and more loving. Something bigger than now, so that the now might be carried forwards into something better.
- The rules of engagement with the place we live are given to us in clues by the life of Jesus, his sermons, the stories he told, and the stories of his failing followers ever since. Our job, which sometimes seems almost impossible, is to apply these rules anew in this context, this time. We have to start with the Shalom of God, made real in the person of Jesus. We are to people a people who first of all are learning to love. A people who seek to make peace. Too often we have been easily sucked into to making war.
- Jesus had a skew towards the poor, the weak, the broken. It almost seemed as though he deliberately eschewed power in all of its earthly forms- particularly political power. That is not to say that he despised people in power- witness the ‘rich young ruler’, or the Roman Centurion – rather that he preferred the company of the small people.
- Justice. This word clearly means different things to different people, then and now. from one perspective, Jesus’ teachings seemed to focus more on our inner lives, to the exclusion of protesting injustice, but on the other hand, you might see his whole life as being a lesson in HOW to protest injustice. How to look in the face of power and take the radical alternative path of love. How to turn the other cheek. How to scandalize by simple acts of mercy.
- Community. Jesus seemed to place deep value in friendship, in shared life, in teaching and learning through close community. In a shattered society, where communality has been devalued and we worship instead the gods of individuality, personal growth, me, myself and mine. The way of Jesus might be described as deliberately putting the self (my ‘rightness’, my stuff, my needs, my art, my dreams, my own fulfillment) behind the rule of love.
- Healing, restoration, stewardship. Again, the life of Jesus that we know about tended to be transitory, always on the move; he had 4 years on the road then they crucified him. But in all those years he sought to mend what was broken- as if to return the world to the way it was made. In our time, the whole of creation might just be broken. We are all vulnerable, particularly the poor and the weak. How might we become agents of healing?
- Agents of peace and love might get angry- Jesus did after all. Because being engaged hopeful critics of culture and place might often lead to outrage. It is all too easy to forget the way of love, to turn from being people of the open hand, to people of the clenched fist.
- Agents of the Kingdom are not bound by narrow sectarian divisions. Hard boundaries and walls were never the Jesus way. Rather he looked beyond the labels, the religious and political differences and saw real people. He even formed friendships and allegiances across the boundaries- to the frequent anger and disgust of those around him. Tax collectors, Romans, Samaritans. This was not political expediency, it was love.
How do I apply this to now – to the UK, 2014, to post referendum Scotland, to Argyll, to Dunoon, to my house, to my self? One small decisions at a time I suppose. Most of the time I feel like I get it all wrong, that my hands have formed themselves, almost unbidden, into fists.
I think that whatever happens next is not my really my concern. Rather it is to seek always to form in myself the way of love. The Spirit within me will do the rest. One shuffling step at a time.
The referendum was seen by some followers of Jesus as a means by which justice might be increased, by which love could have more elbow room, by which old wounds could be exposed to the therapy of new sunlight. Hopes and dreams became wrapped up in an ideal of renewed nationhood. Amidst the disappointment perhaps all we can do is return together to the way of Jesus. The point was never nationhood, it was love.
May we followers of Jesus be part of the healing of our nation. May we try always to see through the eyes of the poor, the weak and the broken. And when others around us seek to build walls of division, let us smile and step back, hoping for the best, whilst looking for cracks, through which the light can get through.