Be nice to canvassers

The Guardian recently ran a piece an anonymous local councillor under the heading ‘What I’m really thinking‘:

When I knock on your door, you tell me you never hear from me, despite the fact that I go to all your local meetings, send you regular letters and have knocked on your door several times before. You hold me personally to account for everything, from the state of the nearest tree to the war in Iraq. Some of you have awful, heartbreaking stories, and I do my best to help with the ever-decreasing resources we have. Others complain that the local high street doesn’t have any hanging baskets. The range of issues we deal with is surreal.

I had a fair number of experiences like this when I was a councillor myself. And I resented them as much as this elected representative with no name does. However, looking back now what actually seemed worse were the people who were rude or judgmental to me when I was an overly keen teenage volunteer looking to make a difference.

What I find both offputting and bemusing is people sitting at home, who think they and not the person giving up their time to try and change politics are the one who has the moral high ground.

I often found myself having to resist asking an irate voter, why if they were so disgusted by what my party was doing, they weren’t out knocking on doors for a rival party? One of the great blights of contemporary British politics is widespread sense that everything is completely terrible combined with a general disinclination to do anything to remedy this situation.

Now a fair chunk of these irate voters would claim there is no party for them. To which I can only respond that there are more than 400 parties registered with the Electoral Commission: can they really not find one whose platform they broadly agree with?

And even if you don’t agree with the people who are knocking on your door, you should probably still be glad to see them. Political parties are an indispensable part of a healthy democracy. Where you have weak parties, that creates a void that tends to be filled by unsavoury actors. Politics may come to revolve around individuals like Vladimir Putin or Silvio Berlusconi, or the role of organising political life may fall to other institutions life the church or military (e.g. Egypt and Iran).

None of which, is to say voters are of course free to tell canvassers where they disagree with the party they are representing. It negates a large part of the value of the exercise if they don’t. But they do have an obligation to be polite and reasonable. The canvasser is after all engaged in act of public service from which the ordinary voter benefits.

Why Thomas is my favourite Disciple

What with it being Easter and all, I thought now was the time for a Resurrection themed post.

There is one figure in the Bible (besides Jesus obviously) who gives me more comfort in being a Christian than any other. He’s the Apostle Thomas. He’s the one of the twelve men Jesus chose as his disciples and who followed him during his ministry. All four gospels mention that he was a disciple but beyond that we know very little about him and basically nothing about his life before meeting Jesus.

Nonetheless, he is one of the most recognisable figures from the Gospels on account of an incident that occurred shortly after the Resurrection. Jesus has been reunited with the disciples but at a time when Thomas was away:

…the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But [Thomas]..said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (1)

Indeed making leaps of faith does not appear to be Thomas’ strong suit. Take for example, the Last Supper where Jesus predicts his own death and tells the Disciples:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (2)

Hearing this beautiful sentiment, Thomas’ obstinately practical response is:

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way? (3)

I find it immensely reassuring that his scepticism did not put Thomas outside Jesus’ flock. On the contrary, tradition has it that he would be the one to take it to India.

I imagine I would have responded to the events of the Gospels very much like Thomas did. I would almost certainly want extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary claim that someone who’d suffered the grisly fate of crucifixition was now walking about meeting people. Indeed a large part of me suspects that’s the only response and finds believing without seeing rather suspect.

That there’s a place (and indeed a rather important place) for Thomas suggests there’s one for me too. Indeed, I wonder if besides being Patron Saint of India, he could also perform the same role for people who watch Derren Brown documentaries, are incredulous that homeopathy is a thing and make themselves unpopular correcting the viral photos their friends post on Facebook.

Thomas is the cornerstone of my conviction that a Christian faith need not be a blind faith.

(1) John 20: 24-29

(2) John 14: 1-4

(3) John 14: 5