Words have power. ‘Taking back control’ probably swung it for the referendum Brexiteers, but there’s a little problem wrapped up in those three little words. Because we’re not in control. You won’t be choosing the next Prime Minister. You, personally, have no control over migration or the NHS or national sovereignty or any other of the hot topics bouncing around the airwaves or newspapers- and neither does Boris or Theresa or Andrea or Jeremy or anyone else. And that means, whatever you were promised and voted for about ‘Taking Back Control’ ain’t gonna happen, not really. You were sold a bum steer.
We vote for politicians who will hopefully bring their honesty and intelligence to solving the problems of the day, but let’s face it- whoever they are, they can only do so much, based on the limited power they have available- and that’s not much. Regarding migration, the only way we’re going to get 100% ‘control’ of our national borders is by building a massive wall all around our shores and then covering it with barbed wire and sentry towers. (Remember what happened to East Germany in the end?) And that’s not going to happen, not if we want to be able to keep drinking French wine, eating cheap food, enjoying the company of foreign visitors, or going off on our holidays, or accompanying the England football team hobbling towards their next defeat.
But what is it about Taking Back Control, that so many, want it so much?
It’s because we are frightened of what’s happening ‘out there’ in the wider world. Stuff happens, people do stupid or crazy things, and our best plans don’t run according to plan. Despite the best efforts of our doctors, our lives have a limited span, and we are all going to reach a point some day in the future when the batteries can’t be replaced anymore. Members of our family will sometimes fall out with each other. Friends might fall away. Promising prospects and careers might come to a halt, savings could lose their worth and homes could go into negative equity. Stuff happens, because that’s the way of the world, and you can’t rely on stuff for security- although it certainly helps.
Sometimes, our world might seem to be falling out of control. But the trouble is- it never was in our control. We’ve enjoyed the fruits of 70 years of comparative peace, and that gives us the illusion that we were in control of our lives because we’ve had cars and refrigerators and holidays and the internet. But we weren’t in control. We’d just got used to the latest state of things and thought that was normal, when the actual state of things is constant change.
On Lindisfarne (Holy Island), archaeologists have been digging up the remains of the first Anglo-Saxon monastery founded by St Aidan in the 7th century. When Aidan arrived here from Ireland, our own little patch of Northumberland was simply one small patchwork kingdom amongst many. Aidan’s influence probably accelerated the slow progress towards the unification of the different kingdoms under the banner of Christianity, as he painstakingly shared peoples’ lives, hearing their stories and sharing his own story about a God who cared deeply for people, despite whatever mayhem was tearing up their lives. He offered Hope in difficult times, not Control. Because the struggle for control was the very thing tearing up so many peoples as their rulers fought for dominance over each other. And after the Anglo-Saxons came the Vikings, and after them… well, you get the picture.
We can’t control our lives. We can take thoughtful decisions based on what we know. But let’s not fool ourselves. The more we try and ‘take control’, the more we’ll pull ourselves apart from each other until we’re all trapped on our own little kingdoms, glaring at each other. From the moment we each leave our front door to go about our business, we lose control of what’s happening. And the answer isn’t to hide behind our doors and build stronger locks and higher fences. It’s to go out and meet those strange random elements that make life so interesting, called ‘other people’. And if any of them weren’t born on these islands, please don’t forget to try and greet them with a smile. This week, they probably need it.