Remember Who You Are
The news that post-Brexit British passports would return to their former blue was greeted with indifference by most, joy by some, and spluttering fury by others. Brendan O’Neill brilliantly dissected the snobbery of the latter:
The blue passports hysteria has made one thing very clear: only certain identities are acceptable in modern Britain. To the extent that some people are happy to have a more traditional British passport – I’m not one of them, by the way: I don’t care what colour my passport is just so long as it doesn’t say EU on it – they are surely only expressing their identity, their national identity. And yet they have been excoriated by the kind of people who obsess myopically over their own identities. The kind of people who ostentatiously smother their Twitterfeeds or writing or political style with declarations of their sexual, racial, trans, non-binary or whatever identity now laugh uproariously at those who think a blue passport might be a nice expression of their identity. You may only have an identity the chattering class approves of, it seems.
Of course, whether a passport is blue or burgundy is of no fundamental significance – it is what that passport represents that is important. This is central to the very concept of a passport: the passport means the bearer is a representative of a particular political state, and in turn can rely upon the representation of that state. As UK passports (even in their EU incarnation) rather magnificently proclaim:
Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
What is a passport? Nothing but ink and paper. And an authoritative symbol of citizenship.
So those who hanker after the days of British global power hanker for the ‘traditional’ blue passport that represented; and those who despise the days of British global power hold on to the ‘modern’ burgundy of the supra-national EU.
Christians know this – or should. What is the manger? Just a rough-hewn stone trough – and the resting place of the incarnate God. What is the cross? Just splintery lumps of wood – and the scene of the death of death in the death of Christ. What is baptism? Just water – and the certainty of new birth. What is bread and wine? Nothing but flour and grape juice – and the declaration of Christ’s death and sure return.
It is easy to ignore – or mock – symbols, but properly understood they are what give shape and coherence to the human experience. The shift to the psychological (“My reality is my experience. My happiness is my sense of safety and well-being. Transposed into politics, this model conceives of oppression in psychological, rather than more traditional economic or legal, categories.”) has made identity all about personal feeling, and therefore subjective. In contrast, symbols offer something external, and objective. Symbols are easy to despise but they can actually be a far more reliable guide to life than current identity politics. Symbols provide something outside ourselves by which we can be measured.
So this Christmas, whatever the colour of our passports, let’s come to the manger and come to the cross, consider our baptism, take bread and wine, and remind ourselves who we truly are – because the symbols point to who He really is.