Monday, 14 November 2011

Thoughts from the discussion last night

Something unexpected happened to me last night: I agreed with someone who’d once stood as a conservative MP. Her name was Hannah Foster, and she came for discussion about the role of the church in politics at the Cathedral last night which was attended by some people from Occupy Exeter, people who were part of the cathedral, and some students as well.

I came to the discussion, if I’m honest, feeling very negatively towards her, unable to conceive of how someone could be conservative and Christian at the same time. And with all the cuts and chaos that eventually the Conservatives came to power has left me feeling very angry, and seeing anyone who is Conservative as the enemy. I came with the assumption that her background would be, as David Cameron’s is, privileged and that she’d never experienced what I call “real life”. But then she talked about how she left home at 16, and was very badly dyslexic and it hasn’t been picked up, and that her parents were alcoholics and I realised her life had not always been easy.

When I talked to her, (and more importantly when I listened to her), I realised that she was motivated by the same things that I am: a desire for a fairer world, and a more equal world. In something as we were very different, and I did not agree with a lot of what she said about how to bring about positive change. But I did agree with some of it.

And she did listen to me and other people, and not in the way where people listen just long enough to work out how to argue back, but in the way that people listen because they want a genuine exchange. She was, in her own way, the 99% too.

Personally, I don’t feel that being Christian (or being spiritual in any way) and being conservative are easy bedfellows. They are not things that fit comfortably together within me. But I also realise how easy it is to be blinded by preconceptions, and what we bring to our own views of what it means to be “Conservative”, “Christian”, “capitalist” or “anticapitalist” “secular” and many other things. It is easy for it to become “us” and “them”, And I think the media tends to encourage these divisions by labelling people and pigeonholing them. Complex situations cannot be understood in a twitter update, a Facebook post or a slogan.

And that’s why I like 99% movement, because it acknowledges the complex mesh of beliefs, experiences, and individual needs without feeling the need to oversimplify them into a single rigid belief system. We are not united by what divides us, and yet it is easy to get caught up in those divisions, rather than by what we have in common. And often we can’t learn what we have in common with others until we talk to them and listen to them.

I say this knowing that I’m not always very good at listening, and sometimes just don’t want to do it, especially if I feel strongly about something or if it seems urgent to me! But I think that listening to other people is the most radical thing people can do to bring about change. I think change will only come one conversation at a time. So for me Jesus would be inside AND outside the church, because he would want to talk to everyone!

1 comment:

  1. I was referred to your post by Ian Adam's Facebook status.

    I was particularly interested in what you had to say as I'd taken part in a similar event at Occupy Bristol on Saturday afternoon. People of various faiths, and none, were invited to a shared picnic and discussion with members of the camp. It was a very informal unstructured affair and took some time to get going, by which time some people had drifted off. However more turned up and there were about 20-30 people in the end. Most were Christian, including a number of Quakers, but there were also some Buddhists, a few agnostics/atheists and a pagan. The facilitator invited people to share some of the values advocated by their faith and explain how they shape their view of the current economic situation. Most people who spoke sought to find common ground but there were a few (sadly all Christian) who insisted that their faith was the only one which offered all the answers. Happily they were outnumbered but I was disappointed by the divisions that separated us, even in the face of such a crisis. Also by not being given the opportunity to progress any further. I'd hoped to be able to discuss how our various faith groups could seek to address the issues raised by the occupation and how we might show solidarity with their call for a change in the way the world does business. However this discussion is, hopefully, for another day.

    So I agree with your appeal for us to ditch our prejudices and listen to what other people are saying. It may take longer but it will ultimately be far more effective.