“You’re a Brit,” someone said to me the other day. “So explain Brexit to me.” (Brexit is the recent decision by voters in the United Kingdom to exit the European Union.)
All righty then; okay; fine; here we go.
First – wait for it – I’m not “a Brit.” I’m an American.
I certainly grew up in England; my parents are as English as they come; I was born in Kent and lived in Folkestone until I was 19. Then I took a three-month, 17-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East, followed by a two-week trip to the USA, and I never really made it back.
By the time I was 29 I’d been living this side of the Big Pond for a decade, had been married to Rebekah almost six years, had two amazing children, and could proudly announce I was a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. My U.S. birthday is February 15, 1985.
Today I drive on the right without thinking about it, I call the world’s most popular game “soccer”, I haven’t played cricket in 42 years, I’m about to vote in my 8th presidential election, I don’t believe in dual citizenship, and – even though I still know what a googlie is and I still (occasionally) crave clotted cream and strawberry jam on a scone – Queen Elizabeth II probably doesn’t even ask about me any more.
Additionally – and this is important – I have to acknowledge that my working knowledge of the British way of life is limited to childhood memories, infrequent visits to the UK, six seasons of Downton Abby, and my birthright skill of being able to make a smashing cup of tea.
“TEAR DOWN THIS WALL”: However, and this is an important lead in to what I have to say, today I consider myself very much a Citizen of the World. I have an international perspective that I believe is critically important to consider if we are to make sense of our future as people who stand against this new – and disturbing – tendency to reinvent nationalism and build new walls.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” Ronald Reagan famously said in 1987, speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate. What’s happening in the UK – but primarily England – is just one more example of a current day wall-building movement that isn’t that much different to what’s going on this side of the Atlantic.
It’s my belief that wall-building is a symptom of fear, because being open to others – ideas, opinions, friendships, traditions, and even the people themselves – is very difficult when you lack confidence in your own sense of self. When economic times are challenging, and when security is an issue, when things don’t come so easily, then it’s easy to blame those who are not like us, and we retreat back into what we know best.
So I believe the choice is a clear one: Do we reach out our hands in friendship, sit down and talk, get to know one-another as fellow citizens of this world we all share? Or do we retreat into our own space (or what we like to think is our own), dig a moat, build a wall, pull up the drawbridge, and continue to set our world on a trajectory back toward the feudalism of the Dark Ages?
I believe the U.K. has chosen poorly.
DARK AGES: “The Dark Ages,” I wrote in The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian (my favorite book), “were defined by the absence of education, institutionalized ignorance, limited travel, a lack of worldview…”
The story (in the chapter Where Grace Shatters Darkness) focused on my concern that the middle school students I taught were – by virtue of their refusal to learn and to grow – fixing a path that would guarantee their effectual return to the limitations of the Dark Ages.
That is my concern today, when I see so much political rhetoric devoted to turning the clock back, so many people jumping on board reactionary, nationalistic, isolationist bandwagons, and so much of the world retreating into “I’m right – you’re wrong” ideologies and religious exclusivism.
CONCLUSION: So I guess the whole “Brexit” situation troubles me. It’s symptomatic of the new politics of wall-building. And that – my thoughtful and hopefully prayerful friends – is a significant step away from the kind of peace Europe has worked so hard to forge since anywhere from 50 to 80-million were killed during the ravages of World War Two.
Peace – and I mean that in every way – DEREK
(The photographs in today’s post are from my most recent trip to the UK)