Honest Politics

As we draw closer to the General Election, one wonders what the latest bribe promise to the electorate will prove to be. I am not myself allied to any political party, so the ya, boo, sucks type of argument many enjoy tends to leave me cold. Unless I have been looking in the wrong places (quite possible), I have not yet seen any really thoughtful analyses of what the next government must tackle and how. For many of us who believe we have a duty to exercise our right to vote responsibly, 7 May looms uncomfortably close without our being any the wiser about the choice we should make.

I myself have a very specific, personal interest in the future of the NHS, but I wouldn’t make promises about that the litmus test of responsible government. I have a keen interest in business and economics, but I wouldn’t make promises about that my sole criterion, either. I also  have strong opinions about what are generally termed ‘pro-life issues’ but I can’t stomach the other views of some of those who espouse similar pro-life ideals. Single-issue politics do not do justice to the complexity of modern society, nor does looking at our own country in isolation from all others help us make wise decisions. I am thrown back on prayer, as always, and a tedious search for something more than electoral promises: commitment and challenge. An honest warning of more blood, sweat and tears beats a specious hope of jam tomorrow any day.

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Rich and Poor and Purity of Heart

As we draw closer to the General Election, politicians of every stripe are anxious to be seen as good guys. Unfortunately, that often seems to mean bandying around claims and counter-claims about poverty and wealth which foster division and envy. We do not have to hate the rich in order to be concerned about the poor. We do not have to despise the poor in order to desire a prosperous society. Dives and Lazarus in today’s gospel (Luke 16.19–31) are not to be interpreted in black and white terms. Wealth is not condemned nor is poverty commended as such. Dives is in agony because during his life on earth he failed to be charitable, not because he was rich. Lazarus enjoys bliss because he was patient in adversity and never railed against God, not because he was poor.

Very often at the monastery we are invited to support some good cause or other, and we have learned to be wary. Sometimes the cause isn’t good; sometimes it is presented in a way that makes us uneasy. It is possible to do an ostensibly good deed in a way that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Bitterness, envy, hatred, jealousy — these are not Christian values but they can be the wellspring of our actions. St Benedict borrows a verse of the psalmist to remind us to be on our guard about our own motives: ‘my every desire is before you,’ he says, and that includes those we prefer not to acknowledge. It would be a useful Lenten exercise to spend a few minutes thinking prayerfully about the things that matter to us and, without becoming tied up in knots about it, scrutinising our own intentions. A pure heart is only attained through constant watchfulness.

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