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What Brexit Means for the Kingdom of God

What Brexit Means for the Kingdom of God
There is only one way to describe my feelings when I learned that the United Kingdom would be leaving the European Union: Astonishment. Disorientation. Shock. Could this really be happening?

I didn’t expect to feel so emotionally invested in the outcome of the Brexit referendum. I had barely paid attention to it in the months leading up to the vote. The fact is, I assumed the outcome was a foregone conclusion: Of course Britain would stay in the EU. To think otherwise was almost as silly as imagining the secession of Texas from the United States.

Obviously, I was quite wrong. Britain has been part of the EU and its predecessors since long before I was born, and it seemed only natural to me that they would remain. It seemed inevitable. Shows you how much I know!

In the days since Britain voted Leave, I’ve been gone through several stages of reaction and reflection. My first response was disbelief and disappointment. I didn’t want the UK and the EU to break up. I have friends across Europe, and I’ve always had a deep admiration for the political, economic, and cultural union that they have built in recent decades.

I was also deeply disturbed by the anti-immigrant sentiment that drove at least some of the Leave voters. I felt frustrated that right-wing parties throughout Europe are using the Brexit vote to further their authoritarian, hyper-nationalist agendas.

As I processed my grief, I also had the opportunity to read some alternative perspectives, which highlighted how the elitism and greed of global neoliberalism has set the stage for Brexit. I came across a particularly eye-opening piece written by Glenn Greenwald, which helped me gain a better understanding the structural brutality of neoliberalism in the European context. There are real injustices being perpetuated under the flag of the European Union, similar to those being experienced by billions of others under the neoliberal economic regime.

And yet, I’m still mourning Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Despite all of the problems with the European Union – and there are many! – I remain inspired by the European vision of an open society, where citizens can travel, work, and trade across national borders. The borderless society of the EU is something that I wish the whole world could experience.

Even as I mourn a setback in this dream, I’m also feeling grateful. The fact is, before Brexit, I had a lot of false assumptions about how the world works. For all the pain and discomfort this process will cause, Brexit has helped make me more aware of the real hardship, frustration, and emptiness that is driving the populist backlash that we are seeing around the world.

Even in the midst of this unraveling, I’m finding reasons for hope. Illusions are falling away, and we each have an opportunity to witness the truth. Our global society is convulsing in birth pangs. Something new is struggling to be born, though we can’t even fathom what it is yet. In the midst of Trump vs. Clinton, Leave vs. Remain, and all the many For and Against arguments that face us, we are invited into an alternative way of love, mercy, and justice.

It’s scary. Nobody knows what’s about to happen, whether it’s the birth of a new age or the escalation of a global war. We’re living through an unpredictable, highly combustible moment in history. We didn’t ask for it, yet here we are. What role will we play?

For those of us who have chosen to follow the Lamb, now is the time for courageous open-heartedness. In these times of growing crisis, the world around us will continue to whip itself into a fever pitch of fear, accusations, and violence. If we’re not careful, we’ll go right over the edge, too. But we have a greater calling, if we’ll choose to embrace it.

In this time of panic, we can be loving helpers, people who see through the smoke of confusion with the eyes of hope. We can tend the wounded, comfort the brokenhearted, and continue the work of building a new society in the shell of the old. Never before has kingdom of God been needed so much. It’s a shimmering, life-giving reality that bubbles just beneath the surface of these dark times.

The political authorities of this world – the EU, the UK, the United States, and all the other entities that vie for our allegiance – are passing away. What is emerging? It’s hard to describe it. But to use the old words: The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.

The kingdom is coming now. Can you sense it? It’s right here, bubbling up in our child-like hope and joy. The kingdom is alive in us, refusing to let fury and fear have the last word. Will we take the next step?

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  • flofflach

    From inside it all it is hard to feel settled. MfW on Sunday was a jumble in my head and heart. The rise in xenophobia and racism is horrifying. How to face the world with love as Jo Cox is quoted as having said. I know the downside of the EU but in someways the UK is worse. And now the one politician with compassion and a willingness to attempt reconciliation is being vilified – Jeremy Corbyn. A man who has brught civility and quietness to politics has been put down since he came to be leader.
    It is a time of great need. People are in turmoil – and I include the ones who are showing blind hate/rage and voted for in a way that had nothing to do with the EU.
    How to be open hearted and in the world…

    • It’s a difficult moment for all of us…

  • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

    praying

  • David H Finke

    Thank thee, Friend Micah. This is a perceptive, well-informed, thoughtful essay. I can feel some of your grief, but also am led to join you in Hope. These are the times to be reminded of Early Friends’ perspective on political turmoil. Perhaps one of us can copy here the testimony of Young Friend Edward Burrough, about not being for men or parties or forms of government.

    Do you know that gem? It was providentially shared with me by Kale Williams, executive secretary of the Chicago AFSC office, who hired me in the chaos of the Vietnam War (1967-73) as a 26-year-old into the Peace Education program. Such guidance served me well.

    Gratefully, -DHF

  • David H Finke

    Here it is:

    In 1659 Quaker Edward Burrough wrote the following:

    We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other…but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound.

  • Thanks for the link to Greenwald. I posted this to another list: For those of us following Bonhoeffer, I am impressed by the similarities between the elites then and now. Greenwald’s sentiments, quoted below, echo Bonhoeffer’s near the end of the war. DB realized, as did almost everyone, that his country was coming down in a spectacular collapse — and passionately hoped people could learn from their mistakes. As we know from people as diverse as Bethge and Crista Wolf, plenty simply learned nothing, buried their heads in the sand, asked why is everyone blaming us, burned their Mein Kamp one day and donned red kerchief the next without missing a beat, or tried to go back to 1932 as if none of it had happened, but despite all that, the devastation was so complete, the catastrophe so immense, that since 1945 we have thought differently than people used to about how society should be organized. That is what made my project so challenging and interesting. But what is happening now is the same boiling up of a new way of thinking (I will deliberately not say a new paradigm) that comes from current elite ideology having failed, which is what Greenwald is talking about (elite failure, eg). I am afraid though (it doesn’t take a genius to see this!) that we might have to face something as catastrophic as WWII for real change to come. I hope that is not the case. Greenwald writes:

    despite all the harm it (Brexit) is likely to cause and all the malicious politicians it will empower — could have been a positive development. But that would require that elites (and their media outlets) react to the shock of this repudiation by spending some time reflecting on their own flaws, analyzing what they have done to contribute to such mass outrage and deprivation, in order to engage in course correction. Exactly the same potential opportunity was created by the Iraq debacle, the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Trumpism and other anti-establishment movements: This is all compelling evidence that things have gone very wrong with those who wield the greatest power, that self-critique in elite circles is more vital than anything.