Just as Lent gets underway and Christians reflect on Jesus spending 40 day and 40 nights in the desert (I believe the number 40 represented ‘a very long time’ to the Jewish people of the day), Northern Ireland will go to the polls again. Political parties will hold their breath and once the votes are counted they will begin their journey into the unknown. Some will be returned, some will not. Some will be voted in for the first time, some will lose their jobs. And all will be tasked with bringing our society forward in prosperity- tough stuff.
During Lent, Christians (and I guess everyone for that matter) are urged to work on three areas: prayer, fasting and good deeds. So, if I may be so bold, here are three areas I would urge our politicians to take up this Lent.
1 Prayer or reflection: I know that not all of our politicians are believers in God. I believe in a healthy relationship between but ultimately a separation between the state and churches. So, I’m not urging politicians to pray unless it’s their thing. What I am urging them to do after the results roll in is to adopt a stance that is more reflective than reactive. I would encourage them to consider that, even when others say or do things we deeply disagree with, they are doing the best they can with what they have. Some self care here for our politicians might encourage a more reflective stance.
2 Fasting: I’m not urging the parties to give up alcohol or sweet things (unless they need to). What I am urging them to do is to give up an overly adversarial model of politics (I know, I know, politics is by nature adversarial, but it has become so belligerent as to be almost useless of late). I am also urging the parties to look at what beliefs and stances they are holding on to that could be given up for the better of all of our people.
3 Good deeds: Generosity is the name of the game here. I would ask that the parties (in the spirit of what Ian Paisley did in his comments about Martin McGuinness a month or two ago) reach out a hand of friendship and get to know each other differently. As individuals and parties, I would encourage them to bear with one another in peace, listening to what the other party position is and reflecting on where they can reach a consensus and then going and doing something about it. Getting our institutions up and running here in a way that honours all traditions and that is free from scandal and the whiff of scandal would surely be a good deed.
Our politicians get a hard time. Someone said to me today that it isn’t easy to step forward into leadership- and that is right. They deserve our admiration for stepping forward, even if we don’t agree with what they say and do. Of course, as with us all, our politicians must be held to account for their words and deeds, but we have to recognise that unless we’re one of them, they are stepping forward for us as a society. If we feel none of them represent us, then we should step forward or seek to engage with them. Sniping from the sidelines is not in the spirit of the reconciliation our society do needs and deserves.
We are probably going into a period of ’40 days and 40 nights’ direct rule after this election. Hopefully the politicians will use the time wisely and emerge from the desert fitter, leaner and ready to make politics work.