Sunday, 7 May 2017

Polls apart

Over the last 3 years, I count 6 votes that have affected me (5 in this country, in which I voted, one overseas, in the United States). I think only one of these actually went my way. In the other five, the outcome was not what I wanted, not what I anticipated, or both. In fact, in some cases, the result was a shock. I was shocked at the lurch to the Right evidenced by some of these polls. I felt the world a more divided and dangerous place after some of the results. Yes, I was shocked.
But a comedian - those great observers and commentators - on a topical panel show rightly pointed out that liberals have been shocked and disappointed by the outcomes of recent votes mainly because they are out of touch with people who vote the opposite way. The truth is, we often live in echo chambers, where we are soothed and affirmed by voices and views similar to our own. We read papers or media that mirror our beliefs. And this isolates and insulates us, increasingly, from diverse opinions and attitudes. It leaves us with, at best, grotesque caricatures of those elsewhere on the spectrum. And I get the sense that this is exactly what someone wants, as though some force or movement is trying to divide and polarise society, penning us in, apart, adrift, from one another. It's like we are being cast away onto islands, with a expanding sea in between. And that sea, it seems, represents fear, suspicion, misunderstanding.
It's perhaps not unlike the sea might have appeared to the Hebrew mind. When we look at Palestine, 'The Holy Land', on a map, we will notice it has a considerable coastline. Yet, the Hebrews don't seem to have ever been seafaring. In fact, if you read the Bible, the sea is usually presented in negative terms, as a home to fierce monsters, the scene of shipwrecks, terrible storms, raging and foaming. Lands across the sea, or islands, are portrayed as being very far off, almost unreachable. I get the sense that the sea, for the Hebrews, also represented fear, suspicion, misunderstanding.
I think the way to cross our sea, to close these fissures in our society, and in our electorate - between us - is to engage one another, in dialogue, in journey, and in action too. We want things to change, let's see what we can agree on and work toward... Only in this way can we begin to understand each other's points of view. The apparently prevalent division and lack of understanding and respect for the other, takes us further away from God's kingdom vision, not closer to it.
In Revelation 21, the penultimate chapter of the New Testament, we read of a beautiful image of the new heavens and the new earth, and in this state of affairs, "the sea was no more". With no more sea, we don't need to be cut off from one another. There will be no more islands. Less to divide us. We simply step from here to there. And in doing that, we discover common ground.
Our lowest common denominator is (stating the obvious) that we are all human beings, made in the image of God, with the potential for greatness, individually but also collectively. How, then, do we work together, with the system or against it, to ensure fairness for all, to facilitate human flourishing? That, it seems to me, must be my response in the wake of any poll, irrespective of the outcome: how do I, how do we, work for God's purposes now, in this new context? The political climate was far from favourable for the earliest Christians, yet they stood their ground, dug in, and even made strides, in their missionary endeavours.
So, with a snap general election fast approaching, in the midst of a political maelstrom, I vote that we who dare to take the name of Christ work with him as he brings heaven and earth - and all who live in it - a little bit closer together.