There are several scenes in classic hit films such as The Matrix and Inception where what seems to be reality convulses and melts away in front of our eyes.
The history of the UK in this part of the 21st century is unfolding in a similar way. We've had a financial crash, an unprecedented coalition government, referendums (on the voting system, Scottish independence and Brexit), and three general elections in seven years. And now, with the resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis, we have a government – in a time of pressing national need – almost eating itself alive as we watch.
It's easy at such times to think that there must be some quickfire solution which will change everything for the better. Some MPs might well be thinking that today; maybe you are too. But when those different options are examined, their potential for bringing genuine transformation seems less than clear. What are the 'obvious' big answers – and why might they not work?
1. A new prime minister? Some Tory MPs clearly think so. But a full leadership election could take three months: given that the UK has to negotiate and agree a deal to leave the EU by the end of March, there is scarcely the luxury of time for that. And even with a new leader, the party would still be divided over what to do, and remain dependent on the Democratic Unionists to govern. Moreover, there would inevitably be calls for yet another general election.
2. Another general election? Many Labour MPs might want one. But I doubt the country does. Indeed, I suspect the heartfelt response of the country to another vote would be a combination of heads in hands, shouted expletives and (for the more devout among us) a weary cry of 'Lord have mercy...' Most people would probably just like parliament to crack on with sorting out Brexit, the National Health Service, social care for the elderly and the railways.
3. A second EU referendum? But this too is fraught with difficulties. Suppose the result is that the UK ends up staying in the EU? Then there would be a collapse of confidence in our political system among Brexit voters, creating a gap for extremist politicians to fill. But if we voted to leave as before, all the current challenges would remain. What, then, about a second referendum not on whether we stay or leave, but on the precise terms of departure? Again, there seems little genuine public appetite for this, and while solving some problems it would undoubtedly just create unexpected new ones.
It seems to me that what we need most at this time is not big changes that are immediately visible but small changes of heart that have a big impact. Jesus once used the illustration of yeast being used to make bread: even though only a small amount goes in, it transforms the whole loaf. So what are some of those small changes that we need?
1. Wise discernment. There's too much black-and-white thinking, take-it-or-leave-it, them-and-us at the moment. In his new book, The Way of Wisdom, Christian minister Tim Keller writes: 'To be wise is to recognise multiple options and possible courses of action where others can imagine only one or two. Wisdom discerns multiple dimensions to people's motives and character, rather than putting everyone into the binary categories of "good people" and "bad people". Discernment is also the ability to tell the difference not just between right and wrong but also among good, better, and best.' How much both British MPs and EU negotiators need this. Pray for problem-busting wisdom for our leaders.
2. Healing words. There are so many caustic tweets, damaging leaks and demeaning comments in British politics at the moment. Again, as Keller comments: 'One zinger word can destroy a relationship and put up a wall of bitterness that lasts years or a lifetime.' The alternative, he says, is 'speaking patiently, tenderly, as affirmatively as possible, and always calmly'. Which of our politicians tend towards the first approach, and which towards the latter? Watch and see if you can spot just a few in the second group from across the political spectrum. Why not e-mail to affirm those who do?
3. Self-sacrificial attitudes. 'Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,' the New Testament reminds us. We really do need MPs from different parties to look beyond their own careers and party prospects in order to work together for the national good. And in fact, of course, any likely Brexit deal is almost certainly going to need a good number of Conservative and Labour MPs to vote on the same side to get it through the Commons: that's simply a fact of the current Parliamentary arithmetic. Can they find it within themselves to do this?
Perhaps all these things are summed up in the words of a Yemeni proverb: 'The master of the people is their servant.' Or, as Mark's gospel puts it about Jesus: 'Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.' Which of our MPs can really rise – or more accurately stoop – to that challenge?
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A