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Epiphany 3 – Where do we go from here?

I read a story this week about being part of something but not really belonging.

A monk joined a silent monastery. After ten years he was invited to his first audience with the Abbot and was granted two words. He said: "Food cold."

Ten years later he was granted his second audience and was allowed two more words: "Room cold."

After 30 years the monk was granted his third audience, and announced, "I’m leaving."

"Good riddance," the Abbot replied, "you’ve done nothing but complain ever since you’ve been here."

The story was in the context about how our European partners might feel about us.

Just before Christmas I spent a few days in Salisbury and at the cathedral before a service, a prayer was said that God would guide the politicians and that there would be a spirit of reconciliation and generosity in public debate.

On the news last night a journalist was talking about the potential crisis of democracy and the dangers of people losing faith in politicians to deliver the demands of the people.

Although things can change very quickly, maybe it is more the case that a divided parliament is a true reflection of the state of the nation.

A wide range of different perspectives with no clear consensus and waiting on something that might provide a focus of agreement and unity.

A good question is where do we go from here as we seem to be caught in a web of uncertainty.

The options that you hear on the news sound many and diverse.

From, “we need a general election,” “suspend Article 50” to “no-deal,” “customs union,” Canada or Norway model or “People’s Vote.”

As it stands, we are due to leave on March 29th so the time is limited.

The prayer for a spirit of generosity seems very important as some MP’s have been insulted and ridiculed.

I was speaking to someone who had met an MP recently who told him that she had been staggered by the level of abuse on social media and had even received two death threats.

It is only a few years since Jo Cox was murdered and being interviewed outside parliament involves running the gauntlet of abuse then something is very wrong.

Maybe in part the whole issue is bound up with a sense of identity. Who we are? Some of the people who are interviewed on the media often speak about a sense of sovereignty and taking back control.

At the time of the referendum there were not many voices identifying themselves as European even in the remain camp.

The remain camp was pretty much shaped by a simmering discontent against Brussels but seemed to suggest that we would be economically far worse off being out than being in.

I was listening to a report from a former mining area this week and the people being interviewed voted to leave. Part of the reason was that they felt that they had been ignored for years.

Sam Wells wrote in an article about the miscalculation of calling the referendum on purely economic arguments without any positive vision of Europe and the importance of being part of it.

The Remain campaign in the 2016 Euro vote fought on the basis: we’ll be better off if we stay.

“It was a huge miscalculation. Those who voted to leave said, “I’m not sure I’m a part of your ‘we,’ and then, “This is about identity, not economics—I don’t feel European, and I want my country back.”

“Now we have a voice and we won’t to be listened too.”

As a church we do have a message on the issue of identity. In the baptism service we welcome people into the family of God.

“The message is that our dignity derives from God’s longing to be in relationship with us. Our freedom derives from Christ’s cross, in which he frees us from the curse of our past, the damage we’ve inflicted and the hurt done to us. Our hope derives from Christ’s resurrection, in which he opens to us the promise and prospect of eternal life, releasing us from the prison of death. The purpose of life is therefore to exercise that freedom and build on that hope, creating communities that demonstrate the reconciliation they together make possible.” Sam Wells

There must be to quote Martin Luther King, Jr a way of “disagreeing without being disagreeable.”

You can passionately argue your case and stand up for what you believe without believing that anyone who disagrees with you is somehow deluded.

I voted remain for a number of reasons but have had conversations with people who voted the other way and who feel that they have to stay silent. That is a great shame and part of living in a democracy is that we are able to respectfully listen and disagree.

The headlines suggest that as a country we are split down the middle. Whatever the truth of that we are still in the future going to be living in the same communities and we have to find a way forward.

One of the most difficult parts of the last few months is that the way Brexit has been presented is that we are in a race against time. After the passing of Article 50 we officially leave the European Union at the end of March. This has raised the issue of a “no deal” and huge questions and uncertainties about the implications.

Yet the emphasis on deadlines is simply a reflection of how we live and the pressures that we are put under. We live in a world where there are constant demands to deliver and be accountable.

This is something that is not necessarily going to change but there is a cost in terms of emotional and mental health that seems to particularly impact on young people.

Part of the national debate might involve a discussion of building a society in which people can thrive rather than struggle with pressure and anxiety.

At St Mary’s we will continue to pray for harmony, generosity of spirit and reconciliation. Whatever your views on the crucial issue we will seek together to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable.

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