Church: there and back again

Recommending a book is a tricky business. No more so than when it comes to Christian books – especially the ones aimed at a more popular market. Recommend something and there can often be the assumption that the recommendation also means endorsement and agreement. That always seems to me to be a lazy approach to anything, let alone something so personal as a book; but there we have it. Algorithms increasingly tell us what we should read, watch, listen to next based on what we’ve liked before, and we expect people to do the same – so we get funnelled deeper into an echo chamber we may not have been aware we were making.

I value Rachel Held Evans. I don’t always agree with her; sometimes her writing on blogs or in books annoys or angers me. Which is all the more reason I need to listen to voices like hers. She is one of those who voices what many who love Jesus increasingly feel and experience. As such, whether I agree with her or not is in many senses irrelevant. I need to hear her, and through her hear those who feel she speaks for them. Her last book, A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, has been for me a key plank in establishing my own feminism. Her new book, Searching For Sunday, has challenged and enriched me deeply. Through a series of reflections around each of the Orthodox church’s sacraments, she tells her story of struggling with doubt; of leaving, trying to remake, and eventually reconnecting with church. Sometimes people who write or speak on these subjects put people like me (church leaders) on the back foot; we’re made to feel guilty, failures. It’s our fault, you see. Sometimes it is, of course, but such blame shifting doesn’t open dialogue or encourage learning. Searching For Sunday I found to be rather different. It was truthful, open, compassionate, humble. It spoke as much for the experience and concerns of someone in my role as it does for the skeptical and occasional pew-sitter.

It eschews easy judgements and blanket assertions; the book – and the author – is both vulnerable, but confident in her own incompleteness. It’s also her best piece of writing – some of the metaphors and imagery are startling or refreshing; I especially appreciated how the conscious use of voices, stories and metaphors associated with women opened up different perspectives.

It seems so reductive to ask myself if I agreed with everything she said. I don’t know how to answer that, or quantify it. I needed the book, and continue to need it. It speaks to me, and for me. It challenges me and refreshes me and encourages me and heals me. It sheds fresh light and depth on aspects of both my life as a disciple of Jesus and as one tasked with public ordained ministry, performing some of the sacraments on which she touches in the book.

It’s neither the first, nor the last, word on any of the issues it raises. It’s not trying to be either of those things. It’s more than that – it’s a beautiful, touching, and eloquent chapter in the story.

 I rated this book 5/5 on goodreads

Obsession, anger, grace and dreams: Netflix’s Last Chance U

I may have related before that a few years ago  I was co-chaplain at a relatively minor professional football team in London. The club was in the parish I was working in; the chaplain approached a robe-clad, sun drenched version of myself about 20 minutes into my life as an Anglican minister. He’d heard from a mutual friend that I was going to be serving in the parish for a while and that I liked football; he sidled up to me, introduced himself and set about pitching to me to help him in his ministry. I was enthusiastic, but needed permission from the vicar with whom I’d be working. He didn’t need much convincing, so it was I was able to give a handful of hours each week to the football club. I worked with the youth teams, attending training sessions (as a spectator), hanging around to start conversations about anything and everything with coaches, playing staff and non-playing staff. We gratefully received free tickets to matches whenever we wanted to go; we sat amongst the directors, getting to know people. We led carols on the pitch at half-time at Christmas; I scattered the ashes of more than a few fans on the pitch on cold Tuesday mornings. I was at the youth training pitch when I heard a plane had flown into the World Trade Centre. It was a ministry of pastoring and mission enabled by presence; a kind of holy hanging around, waiting for God to do something. I wasn’t especially good at it, but I learned a lot from it. It fostered in me convictions about models of mission that I’m still fleshing out.

There was an annual conference for chaplains in the sports world which I attended faithfully. It was a tremendous fun – and I say that as someone who has a skeptical relationship with conferences. As well as some good training on specific issues, we had some fascinating speakers from the sports world. I even got to meet some proper legends of British sport; if you’re British and like football, you’ll know what a big deal it was for me to have conversations with Trevor Brooking and John Motson. Sport featured as an activity; and the food was atypically excellent for a Christian conference. We found ourselves queuing for supper with athletes from many disciplines using the National Centre for Excellence (which gave us a venue) for their own purposes. I remember wondering what Andrew Flintoff was doing eating that when he was meant to be healing his injury ahead of the Ashes.

All of this gave me a real insight into the various pressures at play in the life of full-time athletes at all levels. What it means to make your living entirely through your body; the sheer number of people hanging on coat-tails to be associated with success; the boredom of most of the life of the athlete; why a massage can actually be tiring. At one conference I heard a line which stays with me to this day. “If you want to be a sports chaplain, there are two things you need to remember. First, it’s only a game. Second, it’s never only a game.”

I remembered that line again over the last week whilst watching a 6-part documentary series. The show in question is Last Chance U. It’s produced by the online streaming service Netflix, but as is the way with these things it may well appear on other platforms at some point. Whatever your relationship with sport in general or the sport it focuses on, you should make an effort to check it out. It’s about sport; but it’s about way more than sport. It’s about people of all ages growing up. It’s about grace, forgiveness, family, obsession, failure, success, apologies, anger, forgiveness and much else besides. It’s utterly magnificent and compelling and hope inducing.

(For a 2 minute acquaintance with the show, click here for the trailer)

It’s focuses on the febrile world of college (American) football. As you may know, university level sport in the USA is a world unto itself; a breeding ground for excellence, simultaneously making and crushing dreams in front of an audience of millions. The college in question – in a small town, apparently adjacent to the middle of nowhere – takes promising players who had failed elsewhere and gives them another go. The college team has built a habit of winning and getting players well onto the path to big-league success, signed the next season by big name colleges. They’ve also built a habit of not losing, and not losing by huge scores. Which makes them fearsomely unpopular with their opponents.

The coach is obsessed with winning, and winning big; the life of the town revolves almost entirely around the team. The real hero, though, is the remarkable Miss Wagner. She is tasked with the job of keeping the players on the academic straight and narrow; if they don’t pass, they don’t play. If they don’t play, they don’t get signed. If they don’t get signed, they’ve lost their dreams – which for many of these guys is all of they’ve got left. Watching her reminded me of my wife and her endless capacity to work with people to help them discover what they’re best at and can achieve; part of her that I first fell in love with.

I’m a fan of the sport who is denied the affordable ability to watch it due to where I live, so I ate up the sporting side of it all. The game sequences – a relatively small part of the 6 hour series – are brilliantly directed. If you appreciate this sport, you’ll see just how good these guys are and you’ll feel the hits, the scores, the highs and the lows. But it’s all about the people, in the end. The story of individual hopes and dreams, and what this all might mean for their futures.

It being a documentary  with no narrator, the series allows the people and the events to speak for themselves. Events can be presented a certain way, of course, but we’re intimate spectators to a roller-coaster ride on which we can’t see beyond a few feet in front of us. Events take a startling and unpredictable (unless, of course, you know American college football especially well) turn in the last two episodes; we see success and failure, anger and forgiveness at their most raw and life-changing. We end with an act of grace so kind that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t all set-up for the cameras. Except of course, we know by then it can’t possibly have been.

Sport is only a game, right? Maybe. There are times when all of us  – players, fans – need to know that and remember that. It means nothing in the scheme of things. Yet it also means everything; sport, like all art, is unpredictable, messy, glorious and infuriating and utterly irreplaceable. Watch Last Chance U and you’ll use those few words of well-meaning diminishing with much less casual ease.

Which of us have never been obsessed? Never had a dream? Never hoped? Never got angry? Never needed grace?

Only a game?

You sure?


Proudly No Nation

Proudly No Nation

The Olympics are in danger of helping me forget that 2016 is, fundamentally, rubbish. It’s tempting to think of big sporting events like this as bread and circuses (minus the bread); the ancient Roman tactic of staging magnificent spectacles of blood-sports in the Coliseum to distract from some inconvenient facts of life. Used the wrong way, such events can be just that. Put them in their right place, however, and they can serve an important purpose: a kind of holiday from the depressing full-time difficulties that occupy all of us, that when it’s over may leave a bit of a hole but as a result of which we will find ourselves somewhat refreshed with a bit more lightness in our spirits to help us navigate these dark and troubling times.

There are few absolute goods that are of human creation, however. Big sports events in general and the Olympics in particular can fan the flames of the sort of love for nation and exultation in nationhood that can be hard to resist. When a lifetime’s work – most of it away from the public eye – is rewarded on the big stage, it can feel good to wave or wear or post to social media a flag and enjoy the shared afterglow of one person’s achievement. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the acheivement per se – especially if it inspires us to more unseen commitment to our own goals and callings.

I’m a British person who lives in South Africa. For many years I thought myself proud to be British. I’ve let go of that, however. I’m still proud of some of what British people have and do achieve; over the last week I’ve been freshly staggered, for example, by the almost routine commitment to excellence from the British cycling team. It inspires me, and I believe it deserves to be celebrated and rewarded; I want to learn about it, and apply it my own fields of endeavour. Increasingly, however, I find that I can’t call myself proud to be British. Not when I consider a history of colonialism, a present of racial and economic inequality, and much else besides. I’m not proudly British. 414eztpwzkl-_sy450_

This drive to exhibit national pride easily tips over into hounding good people for not doing what others think they should be doing. Think of American gymnast (and champion from the London Olympics) Gabby Douglas, hounded to the point of tears for not putting her hand over her heart during the playing of the American anthem (read about it here). It starts with criticisms of what this supreme athlete does with her body whilst a piece of music is played; it soon becomes the dog-whistle racism of criticisms of the texture of her hair. In other contexts I’ve lost count of the number of social media posts I’ve seen criticising a South African rugby coach for not being ‘#proudlysouthafrican’ because of his team selection (interestingly, I rarely see that particular criticism made when the coach has white skin). It seems that the message is this: be proud of your nation, and make sure you show that you are in the way I demand – or you’ll be hounded until you change or you’re gone.

This should be especially problematic for us who follow Jesus. When God chooses a nation in the Old Testament, he doesn’t choose it to be ‘great’ in terms of its achievements, victories and international power or fame; He chooses it to be a blessing to other nations. Blessing, in Bible terms, is about speaking well of others (or God) and enabling others to move into the fullness of what they can be, doing and being good towards them. In New Testament terms, Jesus models a use of power and status that empties itself rather than draws attention to itself; that wraps a towel around its waist and washes dirty feet rather than pride in self. We’re invited to take pride in a stigmatised death, a seeming capitulation to power, a use of one’s own power to open life in all its fullness to those who would snuff it out. Jesus, Paul, John, Peter – they all seem to have very little time for the very idea of a nation; let alone taking pride in an accident of birth. The identity and pride of a Jesus follower isn’t Israel or Rome or Britain or South Africa or America; there’s no true greatness in any of those, and there can’t be whilst they consist of sinful people. Identity, pride, greatness for us is in the new creation, in eternity and the way of the cross – suffering, death, sacrifice for others, that leads there.

The flag has no place above, or next to, a cross. We live in the here and now – and that means in a nation, yes. But we die to self that we might live for others; we invite the awareness of the reign of a king who rules over a kingdom that transcends physical borders and breaks down the divisions of race and country and everything else of human construction.

We live under the rule of a servant king, who calls us to serve and love and carry a cross; not wave a flag.


The storm is gathering; first, do nothing

2016 is exhausting a lot of people. The trickle of deaths of well-loved celebrities has seemed unchecked; by April social media was already awash with people asking to ‘turn 2016 off and turn it back on again’, or wanting to hibernate until 2017. Dark events stalked the mainstream news as well. In the last 30 days the news has seemed to have become unendingly bleak – or at least potentially world-altering: the Turkey coup, the Brexit vote, shootings of young black people by American police, Bastille Day attacks, Nice, Baghdad, shootings of American police, Oliver Pistorius’ sentencing, the American elections, a week of violence in Germany. Add to the mix ongoing issues in other countries: the famines, droughts, diseases, corruption, poverty. Many feel the world is increasingly dark. It may be so; or maybe we just know more about what’s going on. Either way it, is overwhelming many.

So the plea is for good people to act; for Christians to speak and work and do. We must. History – not to mention God Himself – has a habit of judging the church’s silence and inaction harshly. It’s vital we speak for the oppressed or threatened, act for justice, confront prejudice. All these things and more.

But tired people don’t get much done. If we look closely at what Jesus says we don’t find someone who drives people, who needs to whip up motivation. We find someone who calls, who invites, who beckons. And who travels with people. He invites people to do things, yes; but also to rest, to try on an easy-fitting yoke.The life He invites to is a life of the pendulum swing of rest and work, abiding and bearing fruit. Neither one makes sense without the other. Rest without work is laziness; work without rest is unsustainable. Either rest or work without the other is disobedience to Jesus who calls us and sustains us.

Late last week I experienced a wave of post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by the reports of the shopping mall shooting in Munich. I woke up on Saturday edgy, tense, nervous, sick in the stomach. I had work I had to get done for Sunday and I was on childcare for most of the day. Neither happened very well. I switched off for a while and was fine; took the child out with me and we were together. We got home, the child was over-active, I was still in the grip of PTSD. I was good with the child, but no so much in communication with my wife. The result was a row with my wife that was unresolved at bedtime. I barely slept on Saturday night. I managed the Sunday morning of work just about intact; a good day with family but still sick in my stomach and nervous. My wife and I only managed to speak late on Sunday. We were back in sync. Still, on Monday I woke exhausted and still tense. A day of reflection, prayer, some task-based work and a little family time got me through to bedtime in one piece. It’s only on Tuesday that I’ve felt rested and restored, capable of being who I need to be and doing what I need to do.

We can’t wholly retreat from the world. There is much for Jesus’ people to do. But we do it out of a place of radical rest and restorative recreation. Our invitation is not to find what drives us but to listen for the still, small voice of God’s call in the midst of the storms around us. Then to follow, and to see Him at work and join with Him as He does the heavy lifting. We are not made to be driven people, working out of motivation and compulsion; we are healed people responding to an invitation, identifying our unique call, walking in humility and obedience with the one who strengthens us and through whom we can do all things.

We need to work, to do, to weep over the state of things . But to do that, do nothing first. Be with family, play games, watch a bit of t.v., take in a movie, read, enjoy some good food. Take the dog out. Pray and enjoy silence and good music. Get lost in playing or watching sport. Laugh until you can’t laugh any more. Turn the news off for a bit; refrain from commenting on everything. Ignore some stuff. You can’t feel about everything, be informed about all events, do something about everything. You’re one person. You’re part of Jesus’ body for many reasons – a very important one being that you’re not responsible for everything. He is, and He distributes callings amongst His church as He sees fit.

We are called to act, respond and do. But only if we first rest, trusting and enjoying grace; and then having worked for a time go back to that rest, trust and enjoyment. Rest as re-creation that we might work for the new creation is subversive; it says there’s Someone and Something else; it says there’s a call on me but it’s up to Him not us.

If you belong to Jesus you are not driven and worked. You are called, kept, loved, invited, adored.

There’s much to do. So first, do nothing.


Brexit: Leave and Remain build hope

After giving both Leave and Remain supporters the chance to speak and listen to each other (see the 2 previous posts), I invited supporters of both options to say “What are you (personally) doing to build hope where you are? Give us examples of little steps you are taking that can inspire others to do the same.” Answers below, edited only for typos, without identifying the authors.

  1. Good question! I want to talk the country up, not down. I want to challenge lies – let’s stick what we said. And I want to pray for truth, integrity, wisdom in our leaders. But would love to hear from others. I’m not sure I’m very developed in my thinking yet.

2. As Chaplain in an Academy, I have plenty of opportunity to build hope (indeed, it’s kind of in my JD).
Today I spent an hour talking to some of the most ‘difficult ‘ about the immediate and long term affects of racism, and how they can identify and deal with it in others and themselves.
I get to remind staff almost every day that hope is real, and worth pursuing – and to (hopefully) help them see glimpses of light shining through even on the darkest of days.
Outside of work, i help my daughters look for the good in situations and people.
Inside my head, especially at the moment, all of the above is quite hard sometimes…

3. Showing friendship to those from other EU countries who face an uncertain future.

4. I am actively taking time to talk and encourage the people I meet every day around the school and the town and on here to maintain balance, to ignore the constant barrage of negative fear mongering that is everywhere at the moment, particularly on social media. Words are powerful things, they bring life or death to both the speaker and the hearer. I choose to bring life where I can.

I am meeting lots of people who are scared but who have a lot of misconceptions and have been unable to distinguish between the truth and the lies out there, often being terribly afraid of something that actually isn’t true. I don’t have answers. I just believe that what you keep feeding will grow so it is important to counterbalance the negative stuff out there and unpick the untruths where possible, so I tell them not to give up hope, not to focus on only the negatives they hear but to seek out the alternative viewpoint. I tell them I believe there is hope and will hold on to that regardless.

I am telling my 15 year old son that his future is not destroyed as the media are busy telling him. That there are turbulent times to get through first but the potential for new things to come is enormous. That he still has a future to aim for and take hold of. To quote a poster on his dad’s wall that “those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t get in the way of those who are doing it.”

I don’t need to tell him to continue to accept the people at his school who are immigrants because he does anyway. He has never distinguished them by skin colour, only by their behaviour. I continue to cheer him on for that attitude.

5. Personally, checking my rights to Irish citizenship & starting to investigate life in Ireland.
Looking out some safety pins (can’t put them on waterproof jackets though).

6. Sharing the idea and offering pins to our members at St Stephen’s E17 this coming Sunday.

7.  Intentionally talking to Eastern European neighbours (previously: neighbours) and people we meet checking they are ok.

8. Continuing to try & teach myself some polish, checking in with school to make sure kids and parents are safe and happy, wearing a safety pin, challenging dickishness.

9. Using FB – Posting a sermon following the referendum results from All Saints Church, St Margarets, Nr. Twickenham. Sending it in messages to FB friends who have commented about referendum.
Trying my best to gently calm the angry responses closer to home – family!

10. My heart is raw, heavy and deeply unsettled so forgive me but Im trying to engage with your question. I have decided that I’d rather be beaten up than allow abuse of other foreigners. I’m actively sitting near people speaking foreign languages so that I can defend them if needed. Sadly in my current emotional state I’d probably not be averse to physically confronting such racism. Probably not exactly what you were hoping for but it is honestly where I am at present. Apologies to my vicar and parents who may choose to have read something more grace filled.

11. I tread carefully until I know which way a person voted, I reign in my comments when talking to friends who voted the other way. I am struggling with this current situation.

12. I have to say that I am at quite a loss here, Rev. The whole process dragged so many memories of the divisions after Indy Ref to the forefront… which is where a substantial part of my discomfort comes from. At least, this time, Scotland seemed to be speaking with (more or less) a united voice. But the in-fighting; lying through statistical propaganda; leaders with faces I would never tire of slapping… it was all too reminiscent.

I teach my children tolerance (acceptance of another’s viewpoint, but not necessarily agreement with – )and a firm belief that God loves everyone – no matter what – but in a country where I can be arrested at a football match for singing sectarian songs, but have to wait in a traffic jam in the middle of my own town whilst the Unionists march down the high street, waving orange banners and playing those tunes on flutes, it often seems pointless. If we can’t sort this type of stuff out, what hope of getting the bigger picture?

I don’t see the benefits of leaving – sadly, all too many people don’t accept the reality that the free movement of people goes both ways. UK citizens can go and work in mainland Europe; the barrier is often language. Other countries are willing to learn English, our shouty people who don’t like immigrants don’t want to go to Italy and learn Italian. In order to continue being successful, we are going to have to accept some kind of free movement: which is going to upset people all over again. Yet, maybe there is hope for our farmers (if they don’t rely on those evil immigrants to work for them – doing jobs the British kids don’t want). If we are not putting into the Euro Food Mountain, then maybe we will stop growing so much oil-seed rape and start growing real food again which can be exported.

There will be Indy Ref 2 – although Nicola is taking her time about it: she’s far more canny than Pie-Face Salmond, and her biggest issue during the next Referendum (other than proving the economic case – which may involve loss of the pound) is to keep Alex Salmond out of it. I am convinced he lost it for them last time – insincere and smug as he was. I don’t want to go back to that bitterness. Yet, if there is hope, it is maybe there. We might be poor, we might have sky-high mortgages, but at least our kids will have access to a free Europe.

I don’t want to imagine another war in Ireland – although with a solid, militarised border that will (almost certainly) have to be put in place to protect the UK (!), there will be many who think that will be something that can happen. We were in Belfast a few years ago – and the divisions are deep and hurting (kerb stones painted red/white/blue or green/white/orange depending on the flavour of Christianity practiced in the town). A united Ireland may not appeal to all, but it will be a debate to come…and maybe that’s the hope – that Ireland will go through a long process of debate and talk, and come out more peaceful than ever before.

Gosh, I sound so fed up – and maybe I am. Political leadership is at a premium, and we’re floundering into the dark. I don’t think the Lord has a political side: he lets us choose our path, and meets us along the road. My prayer is that we find him, and walk with him; hearing his voice and living to full the situation we have cooked for ourselves.

13. It’s a bit like my best mate being an Arsenal fan whilst I’m a Spurs fan. Friendly banter whilst respecting the other’s view.

Brexit: Remain speaks, Leave listens

After letting Leave supporters voice their reasons for wanting to Leave the EU without fear of retort, I gave Remain supporters the chance to speak. The question I asked was “to say what they feel have lost and why and/or what they fear as a result of this referendum”.

I have posted the responses below without identifying the author (apart from my own), only edited for typos.

  1. I supported remain, but the biggest thing I fear is the labeling of leave supporters by remain supporters. By saying they are racists, or ignorant, or even that they stand with people who are racists – or any of the other things that have been said, it legitimises racism; If we say leave voters were racist is suggest 52% of the population – the majority are racist and thus those who truly are, no longer feel alone, but feel they have the country behind them – which I very strongly do not believe they are!!
    I have spoken to quite a few people who voted leave and the biggest thing I have heard is “I want more say” often more say in business or local money or environment or something else, but it is about being heard. My fear is that they will not be. There will be a second referendum pushed through, there will be an overturning of the decision or there will be a burying under the carpet of all the problems.
    The shock, outrage and anger shows a country who is not listening and who is at odds with its population – It seems to be that people are looking for a reason without understanding, and without listening and have taken to condemning simply from fear. This vote should not have been a surprise. There have been signs of it for a long time, and no one has answered it.
    As an example to tackle the thorny issue of immigration, I worked in Hertfordshire with many schools for 10 years, over that time it went from being the exception to the rule that there was at least one student with English as a second language, I say that not to say it was wrong, or right, but to give my observation (in fact it was actually great for me as what I was doing was accessible to all, and teachers said it really helped, and many of their parents got involved – giving them an outlet to show they cared and me a fab assistant – win-win all round! ;-)) However, I remember in 2012 (I think) a labour MP stating that immigration had not increased. That did not sit with my experience. To me it was a lie; one that was not based on everyday reality. Thus there had to be something wrong; the statistics, the MP; the area; my perception. My perception was not incorrect, by looking at school record it is possible to see this trend. The area was known as being very white middle class; why would this suddenly change and nowhere else? Thus this can be thrown out. Therefore, either MPs lie or their records are wrong. Either way, MPs are not to be trusted when it comes to what they say on immigration. If they had admitted immigration had gone up – and given a reasoned approach that would be one thing, but instead anyone asking a simple question was, and still is labelled as racist.
    There is also, a slightly linked area of over population. We have one of the highest population densities in Europe, but I know many people have shared posts entitled “how to spell check a racist” or “what to say to a racist” that states “only 1% (or in some posts 2%) of the UK is developed.” This is to me symptomatic of a townified, ignorant and bullying attitude, that seems to have been legitimised, most especially amongst the educated. To look into it deeper – First – someone raises a problem, you (and by “you” I am talking in the abstract) don’t like it so you label them as “other” and come up with a word that is loaded with hate (racist), this immediately ensures their views are held up to be extreme, can be belittled and ignored. Next you ignore their real concerns (I want to be heard, I am concerned about the environment, sustainability, my children) but boil it down to a single, arguable case and them, without hearing the actual concern. Next you use made up (I assume) figures to justify your view – after all there is a huge difference in the two figures -one is double to other, and finally you show your utter ignorance with a belief in something that is so patently untrue, and can be torn apart easily – I mean what does “developed” mean? Does it mean it has a house on it, concrete – what? Does that mean our farms, fields, woods are not developed (which of course they are)? Does it mean you believe that we do not need to eat? Does it mean you believe that the only species to value is man and other species are dispensable? Does it mean you believe there is no place for requiring green space, for valuing mental health, just as long as we survive? But of course this can’t be said – the other person has been labelled a racist and thus their views have been denigrated to the floor. I find this truly worrying.
    To me the leave vote was a vote for change – to change politicians, and to change the media, and, speaking as someone who is more countrified than townie, a vote against urbanites and in particular a vote against London; London is remote, irrelevant and a waste of space, so somewhere like Brussels must be even more remote, irrelevant and a bigger waste of space.
    I am most afraid this will not be heard and things will continue as they are, with people having less and less say. Being more and more disenfranchised. My biggest disappointment is David Cameron’s to be resignation. If he would stay then at least 1) he could show he was listening and even though it wasn’t what he wanted, could show he accepted the voters say 2) being pro Europe I think he could probably negotiate a new European deal that was neither in or out – a compromise, a person who wants the UK to leave is not the person to do this, 3) He could show his fortitude; On one of my posts this morning an 8 year old was reflecting on her learning for the year “I am better than David Cameron, as when things go wrong I keep at it.”


2. In summary the stable future of the UK is in doubt. British universities will be hollowed out as we are shut out of European initiative e.g. the European Space Agency. All the spin-outs and other jobs driven by that will go to EU states. Global companies will look to invest in the EU.
The peace in NI is at risk & if the peace goes so will any hope for prosperity.
Scotland will go it alone, which will be bumpy but we know we’re a small nation & need to be in the EU for global clout.
I could go on.
Boris said empires rise & fall and I can only see this as the final fall of the British Empire.
The other prospect is this precipitates the break up of the EU and then I fear for the lasting peace across Europe. Binding ourselves together economically has given us the longest period of peace between member states ever.
Weather in Scotland or Ireland my family will be OK but all our futures are now more volatile & less prosperous.

3. My response.

So a word from me. I can’t even begin to properly articulate how all this feels, living as an expat. I don’t regret my decision not to vote; it’s a hard decision to take and live with that I know some disagree with violently, but I feel my conscience is clear. But that doesn’t inure me to what’s going on. I feel that I woke up on Friday morning and the country I grew up in had disappeared overnight. I suddenly feel rootless and adrift. I have always despised nationalism in all its forms, and have advocated for ‘devo-max’ for Scotland. But I now find myself in the strange place of feeling that it would be immoral to ask Scotland to stay in the union. I am deeply angry that the country has been lead so badly for so many years by politicians of so many stripes, resulting in such deep generational/geographical/economic divides. I have lost much respect for people who – though by no means racist – have voted the same way as racists and are doing so little to distance themselves from that racism. I am deeply fearful that the resultant power vacuum will, over time, be filled by right-wing politicians that will lead to a drift to fascism. I find it beyond insulting to be told that such fears are far-fetched and groundless and that it could never happen here. It could, and if strong and wise leaders don’t step in, it may well. I do not love the EU, but I do celebrate Europe and the closer ties the EU brings; Europe has formed part of my identity that I now feel is lost. I think it’s good for people, churches, countries to be part of something bigger, and that this vote is an act of wilful isolationism which can never be good. I am deeply fearful and angry at the racism that this vote legitimises; I had longed to bring my (foster) children to the UK (they, in South African terms, are coloured); I am now fearful of doing so. I have lost respect for some Christians who I feel are using their faith and the Bible to prop up a political view, and to use Scripture so poorly. There are people I want to be relationship with whom I will struggle to rebuild love for, for what I see as short-term, selfish, myopic thinking. I feel rootless, lost, like part of me has been amputated; it’s a real experience of grief. Grief is not hurried through, and to suggest that it can be by simple platitudes such as ‘It’ll be fine, you’ll see’ or Pooh memes is deeply insulting. It is very, very hard to be fully present where I am; concentrating is hard, I feel on the edge of tears much of the time. When I’m not close to crying, I am close to shouting.

4. You did something good here. I have lived in the UK all of my working life, well over two decades now. I don’t feel that I can bring a “German” perspective. But I am not a UK citizen either and so cannot bring the perspective of a voter. I love Britain. I do not feel threatened by this vote. Ever since we decided against me taking up a job offer in Germany in 2005, it seemed likely that we would spend the rest of our lives here but if I were a betting man I’d say the odds on us leaving the UK have shortened.

5.  I’d like to be able to answer this sensibly and not melodramatically – but I’m eating chips with mayonnaise European and I feel my identity is being ripped away from me. Maybe ask again when it all isn’t so raw. . . .

6. I voted remain as a vote for security. I feel the positive aspects of the EU have never been promoted. There seems to be a perception that we can keep the perks of the EU without the responsibilities. What has happened since seems inevitable. The whole focus on money for the NHS seems a complete red herring rather than a proper focus on the pros and cons of the EU membership. It feels like we are in no man’s land. The immigrant argument has brought out the worst in some people…ironically a trade agreement seems to imply movement of people too.

7. I felt physically sick when I flicked my phone at 5am on Friday and found the results, which I truly did not expect. What have I lost? To be honest, I simply do not know yet. I feel like I am in the spinning house with Dorothy in the whirlwind. Sooner or later it will land on the ground and I have no idea what it will crush when it does. I feel everything is up in the air and nothing is certain. I may find I have lost things I really didn’t want to in the long run. I may find our economic outlook is as gloomy as some say or I may find it is as bright as others say or somewhere in between. No Man’s Land is where I live at the moment. I simply do not know what to honestly expect.

8. It is almost impossible to write this without crying. I fundamentally believe it is better when nations work together, and as we all know, true partnership (be it in community, or marriage, or in church) involves the hard task of working together and not always getting our own way. That the EU has kept peace in the continent where former enemies work together, in a shared partnership and have a stake in each other’s future is nothing short of miraculous. Yet these achievements, and the stability of Europe, has been traded for a completely false prospectus. The most persuasive argument of Leave was that we would “take back control from unelected bureaucrats” when actually we have shed loads of unelected bureaucrats in this country, who are currently running the show whilst the PM and Chancellor have gone AWOL, and will be running the negotiations with the EU soon. What this was code for was “foreign unelected bureaucrats”. And what were we going to take back control for?? Well it seems simply to spend the same amount of money on the same things, and (as the most honest and authentic voices on the leave side admitted) try and stay in the trading partnership and probably even the single-market. And yet the MOST painful thing for me to see was that this “whole charade about taking back control” was achieved through the specific targetting, lying about, and demonizing of immigrants and refugees. YES, I know it wasn’t the only reason people voted to leave (and definitely NOT a key reason for the many Christians I know who voted to leave) but looking at the campaign it was DEFINITELY the most effective and powerful reason that made the difference (Remain was 7 points ahead before the unrelenting focus on immigration, “the Turks are coming”, “We’re at breaking point”). It is no co-incidence that this was the time where MPs were getting death threats, hate attacks were going up, and I believe it is no surprise that this was when Jo Cox was killed. Parts of the Leave Campaign (who didn’t even believe it ANYWAY) fanned the flames of racism for political ends and this was shameful (I expected it of Farage, but I know Johnson didn’t even believe it). So for the sake of being able to have our own unelected bureaucrats deciding the wattage of our own kettles, and our own fishery policies, we have given a boost to the far-right in Europe and given legitimacy to racism at home. And at what cost – the economy crashing down around us, worse than 1992 and 2008, and at the end of the day we may STILL have to follow rules of the unelected foreigners to stay in the single-market. It has been the biggest political lie sold to the country and it will take years to recover (if we actually decide to leave in the end). I would also briefly add that I have spoken to many foreigners in my congregation who are deeply upset, uncertain about their jobs, some who feel that through the last three weeks “the country doesn’t want me here”. Friends of mine and [my wife] have been shouted at to “go home” because of the colour of their skin. Jobs are already being shipped out of London, jobs are not going to be created here, and the poor are going to suffer. But it’s OK because we are sovereign (which of course we were before, as the Ref showed).

9. What we’ve lost up to this point:
– The ‘United part of the UK: This is an unneeded referendum, the result of internal tory politics. It has split us apart as a country, brutally.

– Regard for the truth: The Leave side were campaigning on a platform they knew to be untrue. Days after the result they are admitting there won’t be control of immigration and there is no £350 million to spend. Quite the opposite. We’re about to have tax rises or even more austerity to pay for the damage to the economy (so far).

– Respect for visitors amongst us: Hate crimes reported to the police have increased by 57% so far. We need more immigrants in this country, not less. We’re an aging population and employers say that UK people are unwilling to take on a range of jobs.

– Respect for human dignity: We have a basic duty to look after those least able to look after themselves, those fleeing persecution.

What we’ll lose if article 50 is triggered:
– Economic prosperity: Article 50 is designed to punish those using it. We have little to negotiate with. The EU does not want us to benefit from leaving and will try to make an example of us. Companies will leave, not having uninterrupted access to the 450 million people in Europe. We don’t have the people to renegotiate the hundreds of trade deals we would need.

– Options: It’s not a pick & mix. The Europeans have been saying very clearly it’s all or nothing. The best we can get is roughly what we have at the moment, without a say in making future laws. That’s a huge step backwards. If we want to trade with the EU, we need to follow their standards anyway, or our goods and services won’t be let in.

– Wise stewardship: £5 billion a year in Euro membership is a wise investment to get many, many times that back in trade. Tax will have to go up and austerity will never end if we’re billions worse off as a country. We can’t get the benefits without paying the cost.

– Our country: The United Kingdom will disintegrate. Scotland will leave. No question about it. I’m British. That’s my identity. That is where my family is. It would be like losing a limb.

– Security: United we stand, divided we fall. Cooperation with others is vital. European security arrangements aren’t perfect, but we need everything we can get in the fight against international crime and terrorism.

– Potentially peace: Europe has had much bloodshed over the past centuries. We’re not natural good neighbours. The EU contained that old aggression and misunderstandings. The far right and far left of various both want out of the EU. They are not good company to be in. Anything that Donald Trump is for, is unlikely to be pleasant.

The Leavers aren’t *for* anything. I’ve read many of the leavers arguments and they are very wide-ranging. They are not for a single thing in common. It’s like cutting off your nose because it itches a bit. Leaving is the wrong diagnosis for a variety of ailments.

Yes, modern life can be difficult to many, but we’re not going back to the days of coal mines and shipbuilding. For many, if it apparently wasn’t about immigration, it was a protest vote against the Conservatives or against politics and politicians in general.

The majority haven’t actually spoken about the EU, they’ve expressed anger on all kinds of issues.
I don’t love the EU, but it is much better than the alternative. This is not a black and white issue and never should have been put as such. We had just about the best of both worlds. We were semi-detached from Europe, but able to enjoy it’s benefits. Yes, there was give and take, but that’s fair enough. If we leave we’ll be giving, giving, giving for no benefit. All of the chaos was predicted and it’s happening

There is still time to prevent the total disaster from happening. We must not trigger article 50. Its’ up to parliament to if they want to do that however. We therefore need to have a general election once the parties have sorted themselves out. However, whoever is put into the tory leadership does not need to call an election. They can rule for another 4 years if they wish. I seem to remember something the leavers said about not wanting unelected people having power…..

This is still fixable. We need to pray that it is.

10.  Many French people I have spoken to are fed up with the UK being “half in half out” of Europe. “Either you’re in or you’re out. Make your decision and stick to it. You can’t have it both ways.” Like all points of view, there will be those who disagree. Not sure if this is in the right place. You asked for the French perspective, that’s what I have heard…

11. I liked being part of something bigger. I grew up in 70s and 80s South Africa and remember well the awful, trumping, nationalism and isolation. I remember being asked if I was foreign in the town I grew up in because I spoke English. I don’t think we’ll quite know what we have lost for a few years yet. Hopefully, though, the voting public can remain this engaged for the next general election. It’s all a bit of an unfunny joke that due to general disinterest in Europe, Farrago and his ilk were elected to represent our interests as MEPs. What a joke. How ironic.

12. I was and still am utterly devastated about the result and especially because of the age divide. My career ahead is science and conservation and a HUGE amount of funding from the EU goes into research and environmental science. This will be a huge hit for in my opinion the most important industry with ever increasing climate change. As a young person university funding is very important to society as a whole to better this world and increase our understanding. So much will change for universities and research😦. I want a peaceful future working with Europe and the ability to work and travel. I want foreign people in this country as they are the backbone to our society eg Polish workers getting the job done and paying their taxes. Economically it makes sense to stay no one wants a recession. Trade is better and easier in the EU. Not saying the EU is perfect but I think most people just don’t have a clue the benefits they see everyday in being inside the EU. The leave side wants to be independent yet they still want trade deals n all the benefits of the EU. It doesn’t work like that… you either contribute and get the benefits or don’t and don’t reap the benefits. Leaving the EU was the worst decision ever caused by a lack of education of the true facts. Being a Christian means doing what’s right for the most people. Leaving did NOT do that.

13. The politicians on both sides throughout the EUref have been citing information that is despicable and to be blunt but full of shit. Not trying to change anyone’s mind but I have some very personal reasons I voted remain and I wanted to share. They are:

a) Because real life things in my life have been affected by the EU, I.e. Woman’s rights in the workplace. The U.K. Recently fell off the gender equality list in the world. One reason we are not lower is because the EU have strict policies on equality in working.

b) Selfishly I like being able to travel unhindered across Europe, I like it that I can live anywhere. There are a HUGE amount of Britons in France, Spain, Germany and other EU countries. We export so many Brits! Some we don’t want back 😂.

c)  I want my children and my children’s children to have the legacy of community. As Jo Cox said: we have more in common in what unites us than what divides us.

d) I like having the EU keeping people like Phillip Greene in check, he is just one example of what’s really wrong with the UK. He owns topshop, DP, Burtons etc and doesn’t pay ANY UK Tax. Our friends in the government defend him as they have people like that in their pockets. The EU pressure people like him and the government to sort it out.

I could go on all day but those are 4 very personal reasons to me. I hope it helps.

Not looking for a debate as I know I could be wrong but I hold humanity, community and decency in my heart and try to in my actions so I voted remain.

Brexit – Leave speaks, Remain listens

Watching unfolding events in my home country from the other side of the other world has been an odd, disorienting experience. With the benefit of rolling news and news sites live blogging, I’ve never been out of touch. But in another away I’ve always been out of touch. The surprise at the result and the resultant fall out has exposed a fractured country to harsh sunlight. Not only will exiting the EU take years to enact; so will healing those cracks.

15 years of pastoral ministry and 6 and a half years in post-apartheid South Africa have taught me if that if fractured relationships are to have any chance of healing, some deep listening needs to happen. I may be physically separated from the country, but I thought I could at least try to enable a little bit of that. So I posted three questions on my Facebook page over the course of four days or so. The goal was not to debate, but to get people to hear each other. Over the next few days, I’m posting the fruit of that here.

The first questions was for Leave supporters to answer, and for Remain supporters to listen to. I simply asked them to comment with ‘insight into why they voted the way they did’. The responses are anonymously reproduced below, only edited for typos.

Read, and listen.

  1. a) Sovereignty.
    As Christians we believe in God’s sovereignty over nations. We also believe in the sovereignty of nations, under him, to determine their own affairs. “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” (Acts 17:26). This is also reflected in Article XXXVII of the Church of England’s 39 Articles: ‘The sovereign has the chief power in the realm of England and his other possessions. The supreme government of all in this realm, whatever their station, whether ecclesiastical and civil, and in all matters, belongs to him and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign jurisdiction.’ Why do we believe national sovereignty to be important? One word: Accountability. The further governance gets from the people, the greater the capacity for sin and unaccountability. The simplest governance is the most desirable: representatives who are the most directly connected to the people can be held most easily accountable to the people. The constant complaint against the leadership of the EU is that is it is unaccountable.

    b) Security.
    The first duty of a nation-state is the security of its own citizens, for without that security, there is no nation state: the state will be taken over by another state. Defence of the realm is therefore the primary duty of the state. The EU free movement of peoples policy is a major risk to our nation’s security, especially with the rise of Islamic terrorism – the free movement of millions of people within the EU is now so large that it is impossible to have proper vetting of all those who come into a particular state. Only by detaching from the EU will we be able more closely to screen those who are coming into the United Kingdom for our own security. It will also enable us to deport those from other countries whom we deem are a risk to our national security.

    c) Stewardship.
    Stewardship is important to Christian people. We believe we should use wisely the money that God has given us. Sending many millions of pounds a week (net) to Brussels is not a wise use of money. We are paying for too many extra layers of administration, when that money could be used for front line services at home such as healthcare and the education of our children, and also to help the poor of other nations. We want to be good and responsible stewards of our money and not waste money on expensive and needless bureaucracy.

    Just one of these reasons would be sufficient to vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

  2.  I Didn’t Know how to vote having emigrated but was pleased Leave won.
    a) Trade
    the EU was organising a free trade deal with North America behind closed doors so no leaks could get out. When leaks did, it was bad. TTIP was ditched in September 2015.

    b) Accountability.
    If you can’t vote out those who have power over you then you don’t live in a democracy. When the unaccountable rise to power the righteous go into hiding to para-quote a proverb.

    c) Couldn’t deport Abu Hamza
    Even the Queen was perplexed at this one.

    d) foreign policy notably Israel
    The EU’s anti-Israel stance was at odd’s with Britain’s and rather than Britain adding a pro-Israel voice to the EU, instead Britain’s pro-Israel voice was subsumed. Jerusalem Post believes an unshackled british foreign policy is best for Israel. If remaining meant having greater weight abroad through the EU this is worth nothing if the EU sides consistently against the only democracy in the middle east.


    Concern of the one size fits all policy that EU encourages, fed up with non-EU nationals being discriminated against, fed up with the non-accountability of EU decisions and the colossal waste of money on bureaucracy and the gradual undermining of our sovereignty and the disgusting way the Greek people have been treated.

4. I wouldn’t say “Remain” are anti-democracy. But a key thing for me is small government. Someone said 1 size fits all above: EU will always be centre right/left. But what if we want to nationalise industries & another country wants 1pc vat. Last election saw from 3 major parties big guns fall, far harder in EU. The way laws are passed etc all flows the wrong way.

5. a) sovereignty / democracy. Too much power over too many nations in the hands of too few who are unaccountable. Laws could only be proposed by unelected commissioners.

b) trade justice: eu is a protection racket to make that makes trade with 3rd world (particularly African nations) hard. When we joined the EU we turned out back on poorer commonwealth nations
Within the euro zone there is also no trade justice: nations that fall on hard times (Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy) cannot devalue their currency to get themselves out of the mess; string nations (esp Germany) get to keep their currency unnaturally deflated so as to maintain a massive trade surplus. In this way Southern Europe is effectively in indentured servitude to Northern Europe for the next 50 years.

c) powerlessness to influence change: we were not ‘leading the EU to reform’ but, at best, occasionally slowing down its deterioration.

6. This is a great idea – to provide an environment where people can post their views without fear of abuse. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to reply to a friend on FB about some of the reasons people voted to leave, but I didn’t want to deal with the level of abuse and vitriol I’ve seen aimed at people who had – mostly from friends of friends, but sadly a few of my friends have sunk to new lows when it comes to letting people know what they think of Leavers. My reasons to vote Leave are below, but the condescension and patronising of many Remainers before the referendum actually affirmed to me emotionally that I was in the right ‘camp’. If I could summarise my reasons, it would be this: I voted to leave the EU for the sake of freedom, both socioeconomic and democratic (or sovereignty as others would put it). Not so much for me, but for my children.

a) In my view, the EU displays some of the characteristics of the beginnings of fascism; some even argue that it is already a fascist organisation. Principally, that power and influence within the EU was too far removed from the individual and was not a key part of the democratic process and accountability. The EU has too much power and, in my opinion acts like a bully, such as the way they applied pressure to the IMF to refuse loans to Italy unless PM Silvio Berlusconi was out of power. It had a terrible effect on Italy’s economy and is an interference-too-far in a country’s national politics. As much as I really don’t like Silvio Berlusconi, he was the democratically elected PM and it should be Italian politics/people who decide whether he should have remained so. What has happened with Greece also shows that, when push comes to shove, they are willing to put the population of a nation through awful austerity measures (when there were other options for Greece) for the sake of keeping the rest of the EU ticking along. I could go on and on, but it would make this post a) extremely long and b) not really be within the purpose of the space you created.

b) I didn’t like the direction I saw the EU moving in. In the run up to the vote, I read the Interreg report, Europe 2020 Strategy, the Five Presidents Report, and various other pieces of literature produced by the EU itself. In particular, I was concerned by the EU social cohesion policy and that it would inevitably entail top-down imposition of social (and economic) values. Don’t get me wrong, I believe social cohesion is a good thing, but anything other than it being an organic, bottom-up, grassroots ‘movement’ is bad news. This also happens at a national and local level, but at least I have more power as an individual to influence change and use my vote to protest.

c) The regulatory framework of the EU favours bigger and multinational businesses which can absorb the associated costs more easily, whereas small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are hampered by it. Big businesses LIKE regulation, because it enables them to out-compete smaller businesses, and they lobby EU commissioners to introduce legislation in their favour. We need to support SMEs as they generally employ more people (especially locally) per £ of turnover, with less centralisation of costs (usually administrative labour). Enabling British businesses to more freely trade with countries around the world, outside of the EU, will make us more prosperous and secure (less dependent on trade from a single zone).

d) Any EU laws which people perceive as beneficial over UK law (e.g. working time directive) can be made (and already are) part of the body of UK law by legislating it to be so. The electorate should be holding our own elected government to account for our laws and how they treat us, rather than depending on the EU for protection from our own politicians.
I’d like to state for anyone reading this that I’m not a racist, xenophobic, or bigot, and immigration was not a factor which influenced my vote. I don’t really care how many people from other countries are here and I was born in another country, so I’m one of them. However I do think that more border control over ALL of Europe would help reduce the ability of criminals to easily traffick girls/women (mainly females, although males are also victims) into domestic and sex slavery. And if me having to apply for a visa to work go on holiday/live in another country helps fight people-trafficking, I’m more than happy to do so.

7. I have always believed that the EU would move towards a Federal State and never voted “in” back in the 70’s. Responses to the Brexit vote by EU politicians are already using the UK result as evidence that the current arrangement is far too unwieldy and there needs to be a movement to just such a Federation.

8. Here is my main piece on it- which has been read 100,000 times….there are also other articles on my blog which explain. Click here. 

9. I have nothing to add as all well covered above but nice to see the articulation of a broad spectrum of views without being ripped to shreds!! I suppose the only thing I might add is that it would be good to have views on whether or not we are “hard-wired” to feel most comfortable in a group with whom we have some affinity of culture, language and shared history?

10. Here are some of my reasons. Click here.