In the aftermath of Brexit, I had a Twitter conversation with a friend (hello, @stephensuthes!). It lamented the way in which divisions in the UK had opened up like crevices, how the uncertainty of the future runs the risk of killing hope. He said it felt like social armageddon; being a smart alec, I reckoned it was more of an apocalypse in its literal sense: an unveiling of what was already there, a drawing of the curtain. Either way, it feels like things are crumbling – not because of leave voters or remain voters, but because of the racism and the chaos and the lack of a plan and things falling apart. Maybe that’s why my friend alluded to Yeats’ The Second Coming. This morning, I had a similar feeling as I lay in bed watching the results of the US election. The post below is only slightly edited from what I wrote in July.
I’m a Christian. The idea of great spiritual forces on the move isn’t alien to me. But I’m not going to use religious language here, because this post isn’t about theology or philosophy or whatever (that was this post). This is now about how we treat one another, how we draw together to rebuild despite our differences. This isn’t the end of the world. It’s a time of change and confusion and transition, and right now we’re all trying to ride out the earthquake. But the fact is this: the centre never holds. There are many rough beasts that have slouched their way towards Bethlehem. Empires, states and kingdoms rise and fall, then rise and fall again. This is a lesson of history. This is an apocalypse.
Because all this was there before the election, before Brexit. Recent events have unveiled them, brought them to the surface. There are cracks in our society, and I’m as guilty as anyone of letting my privilege blind me to the realities faced by those around me – the racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia. And that’s the wake-up call, the need to listen, to listen out for what’s really going on, beyond the white noise of the media and the pundits and the pub gossip; to see where the hurt is, and to be alert to the powers and principalities that are on the march.
And that’s why looking to the centre may be a distraction right now. Look to the margins, the corners, the doorways and shelters and crisis lines. Look to the camps along the borders, to the edges and the cracks and the wastelands. Because that’s where we need to be, those of us without political power and vast economic influence.
We need to seek out those who are scared and then bring hope. We need to be with those who are vulnerable and offer protection and sanctuary. We need to understand the difference between speaking truth to power and telling lies to the powerless. We need to find out where the vacuums are and fill them with the good and not the bad.
We need to deweaponise words like ‘freedom’ and ‘control’, ‘power’ and ‘borders’. We need to hold an amnesty for all the swords that have been forged over the last few months and find a way to mass produce ploughshares. We need to say these things and do these things. We need to stand, and proclaim, and be brave.
Where there are words of hate painted on walls, we need to rewrite them with words of hope. Where we hear other languages being spoken, we need to hear them as a pentecost, not a babble. We need to laugh, and take the mick, and tell better stories around our campfires.
Statistics get manipulated. Theories can be disproven. Philosophies can be poisoned, memes become drones, identities confined by words on a page or lines on a map. In a post-truth society, all of this is true.
But it’s people who matter.
Everyone around us matters.
And I write these things because this is my voice. And though it’s quiet and wavering and imperfect, I’ve still got to look my children in the eye, because although I’m not American this affects the whole world, and though a million voices may become a rabble, I’m still less scared of that than the things the silence may bring.
(Pastor Jonathan Martin has written a far more detailed, insightful post on the election-as-apocalypse here.)