On 23rd June 2016 I celebrated my 28th birthday. On the same day I also voted to Remain in the EU. My wife and I celebrated another year of life with a good old fashioned Northern Irish chippy, followed by French cheese, Spanish wine and Italian bread, and I went to bed really hoping I would get the birthday present I voted for. Alas, it was not to be and the contentment of an evening of good food and company soon passed away to be replaced by a feeling of unease.
I’ve never really been a typical Northern Irish unionist voter so I am well used to seeing elections come and go without my chosen parties doing well. You could say I had never been on the winning side and that I should have been well equipped to deal with defeat the day after a vote.
But something about the referendum vote was different. Perhaps it was that I expected a ‘Remain’ win. Perhaps it was the ‘once in a generation’ feeling (in contrast to the ‘once every year’ feeling we have in NI) about the vote.
Maybe it was something about the tone and nature of the debate, which seemed to appeal to our most base instinct – so often lacking compassion on both sides. Whatever it was, I woke up on the 24th feeling a deep sadness unlike anything I had experienced before.
And so I grieved the result and reflected on the new world we found ourselves in. Things seemed more complex than ever but I was soon struck by a desire to keep things simple.
As a follower of Jesus I was reminded of my primary task – Love the Lord my God. Love my neighbour as myself. Could I be an agent of selfless love and Kingdom transformation as a non-EU citizen? Of course I could.
I remember the moment well – it was almost as if I shrugged my shoulders and re-committed to getting on with the important business of following Jesus and living for him. Not out there in the ether of grand political debate, but in my own home, on my street, among my friends.
Did this amount to a withdrawal from the world of news and politics? Perhaps a little, which is hard for this news junky to say. In fact at the height of the US election campaign later that year I took a month off the news in all its forms. I wonder now if I have lost that last bit of hope that, if left to our own devices, we might just be all right in the end.
Certainly in the year that has followed I have had plenty of opportunities to return to that Spirit-given reminder to keep things simple: Trump; Groundhog Day at Stormont; more and more violence on the streets of Syria and Europe.
We might be tempted to think that following Jesus looks a little different than it did a year ago. Maybe in some ways it does. But in an important sense it’s the same: Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbour as yourself.
Chris Thompson is a development worker with a Christian youth work agency.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.
Tomorrow: Esmond Birnie writes, one year on, on the perspective of a ‘Leave’ voter.