I was on holiday overseas when the Referendum took place. I voted by proxy and on the morning of Friday 24th June tuned into Sky News International to discover that the UK had voted to leave the EU. I couldn’t quite believe the result at first – and neither could many ‘friends’ who posted on social media, ‘What have we done?’
Whatever our view about the result of the Referendum –the UK voted for ‘Brexit’ and that is our new reality.
One of the image-rich stories in the Old Testament is that of Esther. A beautiful young Jewish woman who surprisingly became Queen of the empire of Persia, during a fragile period of history for the exiled Jews living there – or as the Bible puts it, ‘for such a time as this’.
I’m sure that we all have many questions post-Referendum, but one of the questions that arises for me is ‘What kind of people is God looking for ‘for such a time as this’ (in the UK in 2016)?
One of the things that helped me to decide which way to vote in the Referendum was an article written by Joshua Searle (Why Britain’s EU referendum is a moment of crisis for Europe)[i]. In essence he wrote (pre-Referendum) that the EU has been till now a (flawed) mechanism bringing about peace, freedom and democracy. He highlights the increase of nationalism and xenophobia (dislike of foreigners) among several European nations – and of the potential for this to increase if the UK was to leave the EU and further if the EU was eventually to disintegrate.
Sadly, the UK has seen a rise in hate crimes since the Referendum result has been announced. The Church of England’s director of communications, Arun Arora, an ordained priest, has said the UK faces a choice about what kind of country it wants to be. He commented, “The rise in hate crimes over recent days has echoes. They remind of how the seeds of fascism, once sown and left to flourish, can grow into a poison fruit, leading to a society which scapegoats, persecutes and dehumanises.”[ii] Heavy stuff – but stuff we daren’t ignore!
And so we return to the question, ‘What kind of people is God looking for ‘for such a time as this’ (in the UK in 2016)?
Broadly speaking it seems to me that God might well be looking for people who intentionally reflect the character of Jesus.
- People who speak out, and who live opposed to xenophobia. It’s relatively easy to think well, but say and do nothing. I think we no longer have this luxury (if we ever did). If we say nothing in response to xenophobic words and actions, they’ll simply become more commonplace and acceptable. I’m not really one for wearing ‘things’ (although I did for a while, wear a white anti-poverty wristband). However, I’m quite taken by an idea recently proposed by a Twitter user – to wear a large empty safety-pin, to show that you are “a safe person to sit next to on a bus, walk next to on a street, even have a conversation with.”[iii] It’s a small but visible gesture – and might lead to some interesting conversations.
- People who intentionally mix with people who are ‘different’. When we just mix with people like us – we don’t easily understand, or maybe even care much, for people who are different from us. Who do you know, near you, who is different from you – from a different race; from a different social background; of a different sexual identity; of a different generation…? What could you do to get alongside them – and learn from them?
- People who will show compassion to a stranger. People who will perform acts of random kindness – and bless (add value to the life-experience of) someone in need. These can take place in all kinds of circumstances and situations – even in the devastation of sporting defeat.[iv] Who could you show compassion to today/ tomorrow…?
- People who’s pace of life makes it possible for them to notice, to stop, and to help someone in need. This will be more a challenge for some of us (me included) than others. It’s difficult to stop to help a driver in need if you’re always flying down the outside lane on the motorway at 71 mph! Sometimes our pace of life prevents us from being the good Samaritan – because we’re moving too quickly to notice and respond to those in need.
As the apostle Paul puts it at the beginning of Philippians chapter 2:
‘If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care:
… Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Philippians 2:1-4 (The Message)
…Now where did I put that large safety pin?