Five Ways to Live Post-Brexit

by Nick Coke and John Clifton

Let’s get a few things straight from the outset.

One of us voted in, the other out. Neither of us are racist, nor are we members of a sneering elite. We’re not interested in blame, counter-blame or accusation. We agree on this: neither remaining in nor leaving the EU is the answer to all the questions that the people of the UK are asking.

We both live in London although we’re not from London. One of us grew up in the post-industrial north of England, the other in various countries around the world. We have both spent years investing in people at all levels of society because that’s what Salvation Army officers are called to do. We both love Jesus and try to follow him. We both love politics and get involved where we are.

Whilst we voted differently we share a vision of what’s next in a post-Brexit Britain. It is not theory. We know it works because we’ve done it, experienced it, seen people empowered by it, tasted God’s kingdom in it and seen communities changed by it. We describe it here as a picture of hope.

And, of course, hope is an action.

5 ways to live post-Brexit:

Start with the world-as-it-is: There have been so many words since Friday’s breaking news. A polarised debate and polarised in/out question has led to a polarised analysis. Opinions have divided into two perspectives – one of an idealistic future in the European Union and one of a perfect post-Brexit Britain. These fanciful visions fail to make space for the other and everything in between. Whatever bite-sized narratives we try to construct and put our confidence in, we live in fantasy land unless we start with the world-as-it-is. And the world is complex, diverse, multi-layered and impossible to understand from a single viewpoint.

Living in the world-as-it-is means that we have to look beyond just our perspective and those who think like us. This takes humility as we admit we don’t know everything, this takes honesty as we come clean about our own anxieties of self-preservation and somewhere down the line it will likely require repentance as we begin to take responsibility for how our lifestyles may have contributed to the marginalisation and caricaturing of others.

Walter Brueggemann, in his book Reality, Grief, Hope, describes this analysis of the world-as-it-is as being a ‘contemporary prophetic task.’ Both the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ ideologies need to be called out for what they really are – deficient – and there are some really good articles that do this here. In addition, Luke Bretherton’s article on Brexit points us to some more constructive discussions on leaving or remaining, but he also helps us understand the failures of state- or market-centric solutions:

…what state and market centric solutions ignore is another aspect of the problem: the distribution of power. States concentrate power in hands of bureaucrats, while markets concentrate power in the hand of plutocrats, while both concentrate resources in the hands of technocrats, thereby deskilling us and stripping us of the agency through which we can solve our own problems.

We need to take power – the ability to act – seriously. We need to recognise that is how the world works. We need to work to stretch power towards the world-as-it-should-be, which is love. We need to overcome the binaries that were represented by the question in the referendum. In her recent article, Anna Rowlands says:

“…any credible Christian theological response that desires to resist and overcome the binary Manichean logic of good and evil so prevalent in our culture needs to handle the presence of both a felt sense of loss and aspiration, suspicion and resilience, betrayal and pride, as Augustine might say – ad permixtum. The fault lines of the referendum result run through the human heart, not simply between classes and communities. A Christian metaphysics requires us to handle the complexity of these mixed up motivations with care.”

Move to listening: If there is one word that surely needs to rise to the top in these tumultuous times, it is the word listen. When we vent our frustration on social media we are not listening. When we resort to finger-pointing or defensiveness we are not listening. When we read and share opinion pieces that we know will only re-enforce our position we are not listening. Listening doesn’t take place in the virtual world. It happens in the flesh, face-to-face, one-to-one. If you want to contribute to a hopeful, confident, creative and life-affirming Britain then start by listening to people different to you. Every single local authority in the country had people who voted in and out. It shouldn’t be too hard to find someone who thinks differently to you. Find them, make time to meet them and have a relational conversation that focuses on who they are, what their interests are and what makes them tick. Angus Ritchie’s comments on this are really helpful:

It is tempting to respond to this week’s vote with shrill denunciations, flattering ourselves that this counts as a “prophetic” response. But Harris’s essay suggests a more appropriate reaction. We need, first of all, to listen – and to listen in particular from the Nazareths of England and Wales; the unglamorous, left-behind places, which modern capitalism does not value.

For, as these areas will soon discover, the triumph of the Leave campaign is unlikely to address their plight. The challenge for Christians (however we voted in the referendum) is to listen to their genuine and justified grievances, and to help them organise for justice – making common cause with the migrant communities which the worst of the Leave campaign encouraged them to scapegoat.

None of this can be accomplished by pontificating from afar. It requires a patient engagement; listening and building relationships. Such patience was of course the practice of Jesus himself – not lecturing the people of his own day from afar on the need to welcome Samaritans, but living and working in Nazareth for thirty years before living out that costly hospitality.

As we say, our Facebook and Twitter feeds have been full of political commentary. There have been rants, pontifications, petitions, discussions, jokes (particularly after England got knocked out of the European Championships – read some more here about the dangers of the political giggle), and there has even been the occasional commitment to get more involved in everyday political life. This has usually taken the form of saying they will write or meet with their MP, or take part in a march or protest. However, we’d suggest that the most radical and effective political action to take is this relational meeting. One of the best descriptions of the relational meeting is in Ed Chambers’ Roots for Radicals. We would recommend it as a must-read. He sums up the relational meeting as:

“…the glue that brings diverse collectives together and allows them to embrace the tension of living in-between the two worlds [as-it-is and as-it-should-be]…its an art form…A good relational meeting wakes somebody up…an encounter that is face to face – one to one – for the purpose of exploring the development of a public relationship…its narrow in compass – one person face to face with another – but significant in intention. It is a small stage that lends itself to acts of memory, imagination and reflection…the most important thing that happens in a good relational meeting is the telling of stories that opens window into the passions that animate people to act.” (pages 44-45)

This video is also really helpful from Ernesto Cortes. These relational meetings really are the key to building the power to compel the change that we’re all seeking. Do them, practice them, evaluate them, take them seriously. Set yourself a goal of holding at least one relational meeting a week, otherwise you won’t do it.

Build power: Many on the remain side of the debate have been left incredulous as to why huge swathes of the country have voted leave. As this piece by John Harris shows, many of the ‘out-ers’ are from communities that have been neglected and overlooked for years. One thing is for sure and that is when people feel powerless, it festers. If we are really serious about building an inclusive, participatory society then we need to build power with those who feel marginalised. Jesus knew this when he empowered women, children, Samaritans and others. Our country’s ability to forge a new inclusive future is directly proportionate to our ability to build broad-based alliances constructed with relational power. That is what real democracy looks like. An occasional referendum or election is really the minimum and most basic level of participatory democracy. What is required is a mechanism for many people to sit at the table and determine their future together. This takes us way beyond the ballot box and can happen in every community across the country where there is relational activity taking place.

Taking responsibility for the result, whichever way we voted is going to be a key part of how we move forward. We have been complicit in allowing others to have dominant, unilateral power over us. One of the themes of the slogans of the Leave campaign was ‘Take back control’. This provides a good indicator about the way the world is now. It operates on the basis of power – the ability to act. Ed Chambers, again in Roots for Radicals, recognises that ordinary people have little direct experience of exercising power in public life beyond voting and jury duty. However, he points out that power always plays out in the context of a relationship, even in its most dominating form. In its most dominating form, power is exercised one way. But there is another way, which is building power through the relational meetings that we described just now:

“People who can understand the concerns of others and mix those concerns with their own agenda have access to a power source denied to those who can push only their own interests. In this fuller understanding, “power” is a verb meaning ‘to give and take’, ‘to be reciprocal’, ‘to be influenced as well as to influence.’ To be affected by another in a relationship is as true a sign of power as the capacity to affect others.” (page 28)”

Also take a look at this video from Ernesto Cortes teaching on power, where he says that power is “two or more people coming together with a plan to take action.”

Show leadership: Some of us are positional leaders by virtue of our job, vocation or in a voluntary capacity. Others may not feel like leaders but in reality are more connected and networked than many positional leaders. We would suggest that almost all of us are likely to be relational leaders of some sort. We will have influence somewhere and a following of some description. This, then, is the moment to show some leadership. If not you, then who? We’ve already hinted at the kind of leadership required. People who take a risk to cross self-imposed borders and build a public relationship with someone different through relational meetings. People who take their anxiety, frustration and anger and turn it from a negative into a positive. People who understand that things change when they contribute with others and build collective power in their community. Collective leadership is the key. We don’t need ‘lone wolves’. We don’t need demagogues. We need people willing to work in a team and lead with, and be led by, others.

Construct hopeful alternatives: Protest is a very limited form of politics. It has its place when there are no other options left. Some people may have used their vote as a protest in the referendum. Others, unhappy with the outcome, are resorting to a knee-jerk form of protest. But we contend that this is not the moment for protest but the moment to construct hopeful alternatives.

Jonathan Cox, one of the organisers for Citizens UK, posted this on his Facebook page and we think it’s a few helpful steps on the way to constructing these hopeful alternatives:

If we want to counter a rise in unhealthy nationalism or an increase in the alienation that clearly some of our neighbours feel then we need to fill the vacuum with something more dynamic and creative. This is the moment for the prophets to stand up, speak up and show up. This is the moment for some prophetic imagination. As the Bible shows again and again, the prophets come in many guises – more often than not from the edges.

Let’s bend our ears to the ground and hold our gaze to the heavens for God is surely speaking.

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