“I’m in love with the idea of connecting people. Bringing people together is to me, the most important thing we can do in this life.” singer/songwriter Rachel Platten, quoted on her website
Like Ms Platten, I see the idea of human connection as fundamental to our existence, and have previously written about her song “Stand by You”, which for me is a kind of theological anthem. I have just attended a course at Gladstone’s Library led by the pastor, academic and self-described “Christian Atheist” from Oklahoma Robin Meyers, and was fascinated and delighted at how central this idea is in his thinking too. Drawing on quantum theory as a corrective to Newtonian physics, he encouraged us to think boldly about this, “What if there is no separation,” he asked, “only the illusion of separation?” He thinks of God as a name we can give to “the mystery that connects us all”, enabling us to take a further step of faith and affirm that all actions, whether moral or immoral, have consequences in the world. By acting morally and refusing to give up on each other, we have at least a chance to create a better world.
As always at these events, the side conversations were also interesting and thought-provoking. I was unusual, maybe even unique, among the attendees in not being a practising Christian of any sort – indeed many were active or retired clergy. This perhaps led me to frame questions a little differently to other attendees. Many of them are grappling with questions about how the church needs to change in the modern world in order to still have something to say. My personal question is more whether the church has any place in this sort of new spiritual understanding, or whether we need something different altogether. For me, the jury is out on that one, but I believe very strongly in the need for collective action if we are to achieve anything, Indeed, as I have written elsewhere it increasingly looks as though, if the human race is to survive, we need collective action on a scale we have never yet witnessed.
All of which goes some way to explain why, somewhat to my surprise, I ended up spending a significant chunk of the last few weeks campaigning as a candidate in my local council elections. It started innocuously, as these things do, with my joining the Liberal Democrats last year as an expression of solidarity and support with the values that are most important to me. I volunteered to help with social media and went on the local Executive Committee. Then they needed a candidate in my home area of Belle Vue. And so on. I was not ultimately successful, but improved the vote share from the last election and turnout was substantially up, so it seems the lively campaign got more people engaged. And I learned so much in the process – it turns out knocking on the doors of strangers and asking them about their voting intentions can give fascinating insights into what is important to people, and what makes a difference to their lives. It has always been easy to be cynical about politics and politicians, but if we bring it down to local issues – road safety, the built environment, the local swimming pool, parking, social care – it becomes clear that these things make a difference. More than that, it becomes clear that local and national governments, for better or worse, are often the best mechanisms we have for working together to solve problems. They facilitate the human connection that is the core truth about our existence, or at least they have the potential to do this.
One striking conversation I had was with a person whose initial response was that she would probably not vote, because she felt politics needed to change radically. I told her that I agreed with her – I was standing for office because I wanted to see changes and felt this was the best way of bringing them about. I could have added that, in our system, it is difficult to bring about change by not voting, whereas change can, and often is, brought about by voting, but that might have been tactless. By the end of our conversation, although our views were not identical, she had pledged her vote to me. Perhaps the church needs to do something similar – spend more time talking to those who don’t see the point in attending, feeling that it needs to change. Maybe things would move forward if some of those people got involved, and then were permitted to make change happen.
All of which is why, strange as it may sound, I think there is something important, even sacred, about politics and why I would encourage anyone who can to get engaged in support of their values. It’s why my first campaign won’t be my last.