The Summer seems to have flown by and now we are in September with all that that entails as far as new beginnings, returning to school and work after holidays. And it is also the time when Parliament return to the debating table, hopefully refreshed and reinvigorated after the summer recess. This forthcoming parliamentary sitting seems so momentous knowing that within its span key decisions will be taken about the future of this country.
Before you stop reading, let me hasten to assure you, this is not a Party Political broadside, but it is political in so far as I attempt to reflect upon the question in all of our minds … what will life be like post Brexit? Given the divisive public discourse, the divisions evident in family, neighbourhood and society at large, how can we move beyond what divides and embrace again what unites?
There is an old Irish proverb that is written in the halls of Stormont: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” If there were any society that has grappled with the challenge of coming together after years and years of entrenched and bloody conflict then it is Northern Ireland. The Corrymeela Community, a Christian community who sought to work for peace and reconciliation in the midst of ‘the troubles’, has a lot of wisdom to share with us as we seek to look beyond our differences and unite around what can build and strengthen community.
Pádraig Ó Tuama, former leader of the community, has recently commented on the state of the Brexit negotiations and public discourse.
One of the interesting things about the Brexit project in Britain is that it is people in Britain having civic discussions, the likes of which they haven’t had to have. We’ve had to have this for 100 years … so we know that here. And actually I think that Northern Ireland does have a key to providing something about what civic discourse looks like … what will save us … is the capacity for a community to hold itself together and to speak to each other rather than ripping each other apart.
So how can we foster that capacity in our families, our neighbourhoods, our towns and villages? Could we begin to view difference as an opportunity to understand a different perspective? How can we embrace the other as made in the image of God? How can we find common ground that provides a firm foundation for the common good? How can we discover together that love can go beyond the border of similarity, entering the places where we are strange and foreign to each other and there discover something of the possibility of being human with each other?
In the gospel reading this week, Jesus shares with his friends the costly conflictual path of peace (Luke 12:49-56). When we seek a Kingdom that is based on mutual flourishing, on wholeness and fullness of life for all, then we will find that we differ from those whose kingdoms are less roomy and welcoming than the one God is growing here on earth. When we find we are invested in different futures, the way ahead is not to retreat in our silos and throw stones but to reach out to the other in an attempt to share, to connect and transform.
Life after Brexit offers us an opportunity to transform divisions with human encounter. It invites us to cultivate the art of good conversation which makes space for difference and transformation. I came across these guidelines for the art of dialogue that we may find helpful in the days to come:
Say what you actually think and say it to them, looking at them in the face. Talk, talk to them. Tell them how you feel, describe what it’s like in the space that you inhabit. And then sit back and listen.
Life after Brexit is a future that is only just emerging and we are co-creators of this new reality. So let’s embrace all the opportunities available and engage in powerful, courageous, brave, risky conversations in the present that might create the very future we say we want.
On the 22nd November at 7:30 Dr Anna Rowlands will be coming to Keswick Methodist Church to talk to us and facilitate a public conversation on ‘Brexit, a Christian vision of the common good’. Suggested donations £5. This is an Engaging Theology in Cumbria event. Further details are available from Nicki.