Sunday 4 December could likely mark the beginning of the end of the EU, again. Two events occur on this day: the first is a referendum in Italy and the second is the re-run of elections in Austria. Unlike the Brexit vote, the opinion polls are already showing that the anti-EU option is likely to win in both votes.
In Italy, a referendum on centralising political power in order to make change easier to implement is looking very likely to return a no result. If this happens, the Prime Minister has promised to do a David Cameron and resign. It could also lead to the collapse or bailout of the Italian banking system (already struggling with high levels of bad debt). Such a collapse could in turn force Italy out of the Euro or even destroy the Euro.
In Austria, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party is leading (albeit only just) in the opinion polls and could become the President of Austria. His campaign is to put Austria first and end the “welcoming culture” towards immigration.
Somehow, Brexit might not be the worst thing to happen to the EU project in 2016.
Two years ago, I had just started a new job, it was a fancy career job which paid a salary and everything! For the first time in my life, I had an "adult" income stream coming in. And for the first few months I did not give a full tithe (10%), as Christian tradition suggests. There were a whole host of reasons for this in my head, most related to the uncertainty of what expenses I would be incurring and what the taxman would take from me (always too much).
For the next three months, I worried about money a lot. It was on my thoughts almost daily and my income, though much bigger than anything I'd ever earned before, just didn't seem enough for what was required. December was the third month and Christmas was a struggle not to panic at how expensive the festive season is.
Over the Christmas holidays, my conscience finally won through and I was convicted that as my God had given me a salary, so I had to make giving my first priority. So in fear of what might happen and what unplanned expenses would be incurred, I increased my giving to the full tithe.
Almost overnight, my money worries vanished. This surprised me. It should not have. For my story is not unique nor is it out the ordinary, it is the economy of God working as it always does.
For the last decade or so, come general election or referendum, there’s one comment that I always hear. More than Donald Trump, the upcoming housing market crash take 2 and the life and times of J-Dog Corbyn, it makes me worried for the future of democracy and Western civilisation.
“I wish stupid people didn’t get the vote.” It is said as a ‘joke’, you know, the one that will never get a laugh and is completely true but there’s enough residual guilt there to force it across as a lame attempt at ‘wild make believe’. Invariable, the person saying this wishes it was no fantasy, it is always an expression of a genuine desire to limit the voting rights of a certain section of the population.
It involves a line, drawn in the sand, between us and them. Us are the enlightened, the professional classes, the “educated” and “well read”, the “thinkers”, the eaters of avocado toast and the buyers of the Guardian.
As the defining voice of a generation, it is no surprise that Taylor Swift should offer such an accurate reflection on the economic prospects of Millennials. As TayTay sings in 22:
“We're happy free confused and lonely at the same time
The magic of the 21st century is that I can pick up my phone and video call a friend on the other side of the world. I can set up a virtual personal assistant who would manage my diary, travel plans and bookings for me. In a decade, I'll likely be able to buy a car that drives itself.
The misery of the 21st century is that home ownership, retirement, a good pension, a garden, free university education and, probably at some point soon, free healthcare are or will be entirely beyond the average Millennial's ability to have or afford.
Technology rich, asset poor – happy, free and confused at the same time. It's miserable and magical oh yeah.
Many months ago I was visiting my sister and at her church we sang “This I believe” a song by Hillsong Worship based on the Apostles' Creed. The chorus stuck in my head and it popped back in today, here it is:
I believe in God our Father
To burkini or not to burkini? This is the vexing question facing France at the moment and the rest of the Western world soon enough. Is it a symbol of the oppression of women or part of the right of a woman to wear what she wants? Is it an attack on liberal French society or a statement on the value of modesty? To reduce it down to its simplest level: is it a good burkini or a bad burkini?
The answer is not clear. A bad burkini, we might all agree, is one forced upon a woman who actually would rather be a little less modest and feel a bit more of the sun of her skin. Yet even in this case of oppression is it any worse than the oppression of the modern media that tells women they must dress immodestly and look amazing while doing so? A good burkini, we might again all agree, would be one freely chosen by the woman. But where does peer pressure, cultural pressure, parental pressure and societal pressure all end and a woman's choice begin? How free our are free choices?
Yesterday was a bit grim on Facebook, I will include my own response here, tired and frustrated as it was. One half of the country wailing and gnashing their teeth through a whole variety of ways: insults, calls for another referendum, prophecies of doom; declaring a burning desire for independence from the UK or leaving for other countries. And on the other side, sarcastic digs as life went on, frustration at being so maligned for voting leave and anger at the calls for another referendum (please, anything but to go through the last month again!).
In the midst of all this rubbish, between posts of anger and grief and hate, there were a few posts of great comfort and encouragement and peace. They were the ones which quoted from the Bible. Without fail, the person quoting was always so much more gracious and understanding of the division the referendum has caused. They were far more likely to expresses forgiveness and compassion rather than insults and anger.
These Christians, of which to my shame I cannot count myself, had a vastly different perspective on the shock event. The same human response was there: sadness, joy, hurt and surprise, but these were muted, in a healthy way, not given to extremes, not likely to be dominating in the person's mind.
Pausing only to fire the Polish nanny and sack the Spanish gardener, I left my East London mansion and headed with all speed to the local high street. The Bentley roared through the streets of London passing through all the red lights, because what do experts know about road safety? As I got out the illegally parked car, I shook Nigel Farage's hand, as Gove and Johnson patted my back, and laughed as he pinned a badge on my yak's wool blazer. The badge said: “Vote Leave because You're Racist”. For good measure, I punched a foreigner in the face and told her to leave the country. Turns out, it was Nigel's wife. #Awkward.
Hello, my name is Ben and I'm voting Leave because I believe Britain, and possibly the world, will be better for it. Those of you blinded by intellectual arrogance and class snobbery may be forgiven for thinking that the above paragraph is somewhat true. Such is the level that the debate has been conducted at that one can hardly express an opinion without being dismissed as an idiot. Well then, here are my idiotic words on why I finally decided to vote leave. Read them, if you want. Agree, disagree, vote, don't vote, you're a strong independent human being and you don't need me to tell you what to do.
My first reason for voting leave is that most of the arguments for Remain rest on the two great false gods of the Western world: money and fear. If we leave, predictions of doom and poverty abound. The economists and politicians of this age line up and each paint a more depressing picture than the last.
So far the only benefit I can see from the EU referendum is that it has made me more sympathetic to agnostics. As a Brexnoistic, if we must continue the habit of making up stupid words to go along with this stupid referendum, I’m finding the certainty of anyone else to be annoying. This is unfair and unreasonable but nevertheless true.
To explain why I’m still floundering around in the muddy waters of indecision, tossed around by the cruel waves of complication and consulting with lost property for an opinion, here’s the EU referendum considered from too many different perspectives.
Last month, I attended a wedding of a friend, up in Scotland and a very happy occasion it was. This wedding though gave me much pause for reflection as five days later I attended a funeral of a lady at my church. The contrast between the celebration of something new and the sorrow of something gone was stark.
I remember reading a blog post by a Scottish Presbyterian about how he appreciated funerals more than weddings (and it would be a Scot who said this) because there could be no idolatry at a funeral, only reality. While understanding this point, I profoundly disagree.
Weddings are a celebration of beginnings, they are full of hope and beauty and potential, often so very joyful, full of laughter, dancing and champagne. Funerals are an end, always too soon, with no hope outside of Christ and the promise of heaven to those who believe. There can be no dancing at funerals, little laughter and despite what people say there can be no "celebration" either, not in death.
My thought from attending both so quickly was how they so perfectly encapsulate life – so much blessing; so much sorrow and there is sorrow within blessing and blessing within sorrow. Perhaps all of life is lived between weddings and funerals.