Why I'm with Brenda from Bristol on #Election2017: There's 'too much politics' these days
A woman named Brenda, from Bristol, captured the heart of the nation on Tuesday, after Prime Minister May announced a snap general election to be held on June 8.
'You're joking – not another one!' she said in response to the news.
'I can't stand this. There's too much politics going on at the moment.'
Brenda from Bristol has become a viral sensation. Her outburst has captured the zeitgeist of the people because it's both funny and true. It's an amusing, but also remarkably apt outburst.
Political junkies and residents of the Westminster bubble may delight in the prospect of another nation-changing vote, but most people can't imagine anything worse. This election comes less than a year after Britain's divisive but decisive referendum on the EU, which followed the country's last general election in Spring 2015. In Autumn 2014, Scotland (and by proxy the UK) faced a bitter referendum on whether it should pursue national independence. We're exhausted.
I suspect most Britons, like Brenda, aren't depressed by this looming event because they're uneducated or don't care about the world. They've rather glimpsed something many politicians would do well to learn: that politics can be a great good in society, but it was never meant to dominate our lives. When it does, it becomes a corruptive force rather than a healing one. It promotes conflict, unkindness and deep polarisation.
Such a view – wary of the great potential and dangers of political life – is one that resonates deeply with Christian theology. Christians should lead the way in not succumbing to polarisation, but forging a radical way of living that seeks the good of neighbour, while knowing that party politics can't save the world.
Satirical comedian and Catholic TV personality Stephen Colbert expressed this well at the close of the astonishing US election in November.
'We are more divided than ever as a nation...both sides are terrified of the other side...how did our politics get so poisonous?' he asked.
Colbert said Americans had 'overdosed' on politics: 'I think the people who designed our democracy didn't want us in it all the time.
'Informed? Yes. Politicking all the time? I don't think so. Not divided that way... now politics is everywhere.'
For Christians, there is another way. You're gifted with both a passionate call to participate in the world and 'seek the welfare of the city' (Jeremiah 29:7), while also possessing a lightness that knows that redemption isn't up to us.
Contemporary politics, exacerbated by the social media echo-chambers of Facebook and Twitter, is all too quick to label those who think differently as 'the enemy'. This is a human disposition, often done unthinkingly: we dismiss those with whom we disagree. It is a disposition that God calls us to transcend. We're human beings, made in God's image, before we're Conservative, Labour, or Liberal Democrat.
We all have hopes and dreams, daily struggles and fears for the future. We laugh, we cry, we delight and despair – and we can do all these things together before knowing our neighbour's opinion on Europe, taxes and the NHS.
The issues of our time matter a great deal – they affect real people's lives. For this reason they must be taken seriously by the Church, and always have. But the Church has also shown how 'politics' can be far deeper and wider than occasional electioneering.
The humble, often unseen service of homeless shelters, food banks and foreign aid is a fine example of this. It serves the needy, it blesses the city (the word 'politics' derives from the Greek polis meaning 'city') and may be seen by only a few. So too the everyday deeds of kindness, patience and love for our fellow citizens (often harder than we think), build a better world without picking a fight.
Many fear elections because they are inherently adversarial – they demand that we pick a side, and curse our enemy. Most people just want to be safe and happy, to live in peace. Rolling news and constant national debate threaten that tranquillity, as politicians demand we seize this next seismic 'moment' at the ballot box. They bombard us with questions we're not remotely equipped to answer and play on our fears. Is it a wonder that most people shut it out, and don't care to vote?
In these ceaselessly political times, it's easy to lose hope, and turn to cynical indifference. Christian wisdom offers profound hope to the world: Jesus, beginning his ministry on earth announced 'good news for the poor...to set the oppressed free' (Luke 4:18).
The polis matters, but party politics mustn't consume our lives. Christian hope also points to God's transcendent grace, granting us a wisdom that knows when to step up, and when to step back. Paul offered a simple but beautiful ethic for Christians living in a world at war: 'If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone' (Romans 12:18).
The anxiety of #Election2017 may threaten our peace, but it doesn't have to. Care about it, pray about it, vote if you can. Then let it go.
As Catholic mystic Thomas Merton once wrote: 'If you yourself are at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world.'
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