A Christian Approach To Airport Security

Every time I travel, I get very anxious about the security systems. First there is the problem of the machine that goes “bing!!” I do everything to prevent it from going of, like taking off my belt, and shoes, and watch, but nothing ever seems to be enough. Last time it was my cross, worn under my clothes that had to be taken of (first time ever!). And now they have these full body X-ray machines for people! All I want to do is to know the rules in advance, and know what I have to do to get through without trouble, but nothing works. I am tempted to take off all my clothes and walk through naked, as a protest. One security officer told me that sometimes the machine just goes of at random, so there is no way of getting through!

 

And the staff! It is as if they have had a psychology test for the staff to choose the most unpleasant, authoritarian people they could find to do this job. Anyone who is pleasant, who will be will be kind and will try to lower my anxiety by talking to me seems to have been ‘screened out’ of getting a job in the first place.

 

Much of all this trouble I put down to the ‘theatre’ of security, because if anyone wanted to do real damage, they could get a job as a baggage handler or some other ‘air side’ job.

 

And then, if you actually say anything, apart from being silently compliant, like lambs led to the slaughter, the whole weight of the security apparatus is brought down upon you.

Imagine my pleasure and surprise when this week, a tidal wave of complaint was unleashed upon the talk-back radio when an elderly woman rang up to complain that, when she was called aside for a ‘pat -down’ by the security staff, someone stole her handbag from the X-ray conveyor belt, took all of the contents, and then put it back. Worse, the security staff would take no responsibility for it.

 

So the business of travelling just got a whole lot worse. They require us to be separated from our property for a ‘pat-down’ but then also require us to take responsibility for the theft.

 

The great number of callers to the talk-back radio said to me that I am not alone in my worries about the security process. It is as if we have all suffered in silence for such a long time: living with the anxiety, the sullenness and authoritarian nature of security staff: until now! It is like another “#Me Too” has begun about how we are treated at airports.

 

In the #Me Too movement, the floodgates have been opened on the alienating effect on women as they feel powerless in the face of men who can damage or promote their careers, or who are physically stronger than they are.

 

And about the Church too: We have promised so much and delivered the opposite. It is not surprising that a number of prominent people have been targeted for the ire of a lot of alienated people in the face of the Church’s protectiveness of its own reputation.

 

But the book of Revelation talks about the battle between the ‘beastly one’ and the ‘human one’. Being under the thumb of ‘the beast’ produces the very anxiety and alienation that the #Me Too movement, and the complaints about the security at the airport are point to.

 

Christian faith points to the fact that we are all worth more than ‘many sparrows’ and that every hair of our heads is numbered. Far be it from any one else to treat us differently.

 

Christian faith points to the fact that since the Incarnation, it is possible to be ‘visited’ by God in Christ by anyone we may come across.

 

This goes for every person who is demeaned by the beastly behaviour on the part of security staff, and for everyone who comes across a security staff member who is perhaps demeaned by the way in which they have to do their job!

 

Do you remember the story of the vicar who went to his new congregation on the Sunday before his induction? He dressed up as if he were a homeless person, in order to test whether the congregation would treat him as ‘Christ’ or whether they would tell him to go away.

 

For my money, part of the solution to the problem lies in this: That we try as much as possible to ‘humanise’ the ‘beastly’ process of security checks.

 

This has been done in lots of places. I remember particularly the clowns and comedians that they had to ‘humanise’ the waiting in line that was part of the Expo in Brisbane. I was impressed!

 

I remember that a traffic jam in driving to work was made almost pleasant by a traffic policeman who smiled and greeted people as they passed his traffic point.

 

Why can’t security personnel be trained in the same way? But for me, can I put aside my focus n my own anxiety to make an effort to see each staff member as ‘Jesus in disguise ‘ too? Moistly at the moment I sing to myself, and pray in the hope that this will relax me. It has to a degree.

That said though, it seems to me that the airline security system is one that could do with a good dose of Christian humanising.

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Portrait of Community Opposition

When I retired, I moved back to the small town where I had been priest for six years before moving to Switzerland. On hearing about this, some of the people from the town said to me “Why would you want to move back here?” I said. “Well I like the town! The people are friendly, I am known in the shops, I can walk down the street and say ‘hello’ to just about anyone. It is a friendly town!”

 

But then something happened. There was a proposal from the aged care providers (The Anglican Church) to change the administration of the town’s supported accommodation unit, after it had failed a number of criteria at the time of its accreditation.

 

All of a sudden there was uproar. The Anglican Church service providers (150 Km. away) were portrayed as the ‘Goliath’ ‘taking away’ ‘our’ much beloved community facility. The failure of accreditation was down played, and the evils of the authorities were played up. People were blaming the local congregation saying ‘I will never go there again!”

 

I knew a bit about the actual circumstance, and I could not see how such a severe and drastic reaction was necessary?

 

Now the town was not a ‘friendly town’ but a place where people could be really hurtful, without just cause, I think.

This reaction started me thinking. The first set of thoughts is this. Every reaction to a situation depends upon that situation being ‘cast’ within another story, in order to make sense of it. What a thing means depends upon what story you think you are in.

 

It would have been just as possible to cast the actions of the Church Aged Care Providers as “Wise administrators, making sure that our Aged Care Home is being run in the best way possible.” But this story did not get a hearing. Suspicion ruled he day. “They are trying to use our money to support another failing home!”

 

Regardless of the facts of the matter, which are complicated, the community as a whole got behind the ‘David and Goliath’ metaphor and got behind the ‘Evil Parent” metaphor.

 

Where were the voices urging calm? Where were the voices explaining the complexity of the situation?

 

Does this mean that just underneath the surface of us all, lies a ‘David’ who has been pushed around by a ‘Goliath’ all their life, and who is just itching to find a way of ‘coming out’ in a crowd environment, which makes such protest safe?

 

Does it mean that just underneath the surface lies ‘black and white’ thinking where we have to paint ourselves as ‘white’ and paint the other person as ‘black’ in order to express any kind of opposition to a plan that we oppose?

 

On the other side of process, those who made the decision to change the administration of the Aged Care Facility did not, I think, reckon on the strength of the community’s attachment to this facility. While legally, they have the right to do what they did, and it would have solved a problem, is also to think that ‘the story’ that they are in is a very different one from the one that the community of this town thinks it is in. For them, the Aged Care Facility is something that they depend on for the anxious times of growing old. Because of this existential fear, the whole community has given money, supported he opportunity shop, and ‘owned’ the facility in a way that is rare in the city.

A ‘legally’ and perhaps even an administratively correct decision flew in the face of the community ownership of the facility.

 

There is the anatomy of a conflict as I observed it from the fringes.

 

It is sad, because I know the authorities involved, and I do not believe the horrible things that were attributed to their motivation.

 

I am sad because my picture of the town has changed. From believing that this is a ‘friendly town’ I now see the dark side of humanity which is now also a part of living where I do.

 

 

At some point or other, there will need to be a negotiation, as there is with any ‘war’ the parties will need to start ‘talking’ to the enemy.

 

At some point we will need to begin talking to one another again, because in such a small place, we need to be able to live together.

 

I am thinking that once the heat has gone out of the affair, and the shouting has died down there could be some form of ‘General Reconciliation Party’ held, where every one says “Look, there were things said all around that were not helpful.” “ Look, we have negotiated our way through to an acceptable compromise, let us now let bygones be bygones, and offer one another the hand of friendship again”

That end result would be one that I think would be worthy of the best instincts of the town where I choose to live. I want to be proud of us all again.

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The ‘Opiate of the People’, Refugees, and The Power of the Powerless.

This week I heard a bishop on the radio. He was very good. The issue that he was speaking about was the detention of children on Nauru. He is a part of a programme to ‘Adopt a Child’ on Nauru, which then provides games, and colouring pencils and teddy bears for these children.

 

This is a great idea. But the nub of the interview went like this: The bishop and his group had written to our Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. Dutton, asking him how many children there are as asylum seekers on Nauru, so that they knew how many packages of pencils and teddy bears etc. to prepare. Mr. Dutton had written back that there were no children as refugees there.

 

Now this is a bit of ministerial sleight of hand. There were a number of children on the island of Nauru who were refugees. The Australian Government has handed them all over the government of Nauru, even though it is still paying for them. But this allows the minister to say ‘There are no children for which we are (technically) responsible on the Island.

 

Here is my problem. The real issue about Nauru and Manus Islands is the whole fact of off-shore processing, mandatory detention, and the statement that ‘no pone who comes here by boat will ever be settled in Australia’. So there are people who have a legitimate right to claim asylum in Australia. There are people who have been determined to be genuine refugees, but for the sake of their being a deterrent, they are kept in indefinite detention. All of this is horribly cruel, and inhuman.

 

What good, I ask does it do to send colouring pencils and teddy bears to children when the problem is the governments cruel and inhuman policy?

 

It reminds me of Karl Marx’s accusation about all of religion, that in trying to ameliorate the effects of Capitalism by doing ‘good works’ it simply acts as the ‘opiate of the people’ in dulling their sensibilities to the real causes of their malaise.

 

The same case could be made about the ‘Adopt a Child on Nauru’ scheme, except for the following: This approach could be seen as a politically astute form of putting pressure on the Australian government about the whole refugee issue. No one can argue much against children. Imagine a politician going on TV and saying, “I don’t care about the children! They should not have come with their parents!” It would be political suicide.

 

By focusing on the plight of children, it becomes possible to keep the issue before the public’s collective mind for a cause that it is difficult to gainsay. It chooses a point in the ‘political system’ to exert pressure on the whole system, in a way that does not confront the big issues directly: a thing which may serve simply to entrench the Governments stubbornness.

 

This kind of social action has been attributed to Jesus too. When he told the story of ‘going the second mile’ he was referring to a Roman soldier’s right to make a person carry his pack for on e mile, but not two. If he abused his position, then it is not the person in the occupied territories who was in trouble, but the soldier! So when Jesus says ‘If a person makes you carry their pack for one mile, then go two!” He is offering a way of showing up the oppression of the Roman occupation, while at the same time, making it difficult for there to be any real come back on the part of the ‘system’.

 

Saul Alinsky, a worker for black civil rights in Chicago in the 1960s, used similar methods. In order to pressure the City of Chicago about black housing conditions, he threatened to mobilise his constituency to occupy all of the toilets at O’Hare Airport, so that no one who was getting off a plane could easily go to the toilet! He was remarkably successful, because like Jesus and like the ‘Adopt a Child on Nauru’ programme, the ‘system’ is nudged at points where it is difficult for it to hit back, but which serve effectively to highlight the issues involved.

 

MY own life about refugees is characterised by a sense of impotence. I want to do something about the situation, but my sense of just how cruel the government is, and how far they have gone to hide the refugees on islands, and to hide the turning back of boats: codenamed ‘sovereign borders’, and how far they have gone to silence those who want to speak out against this injustice evokes in me more impotent rage than a plan or motivation for action. I can only echo the psalmist (Ps 94:20) who laments ‘Will you be any friend to the court of wickedness who contrives evil by means of law?” All I can think about is that we need a change of government. At least the opposition might be a more sympathetic ear.

 

I leave myself open to the same charge as was levelled at the German populace: You knew what was going on, but you allowed it to happen.

 

I would rather that the whole system be attacked, and replaced by a more compassionate rhetoric, than that we collect teddy bears for incarcerated children. But I can see the logic of doing something to put real pressure on ‘the system’ and to introduce compassion into the process, and more, to find out just how many children there are on the islands!

So I keep pressing ‘like’ or ‘tears’ on Facebook and keep looking for a way to do something.

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On The Loss of Trust In Institutions

Lately, I have become aware of this mantra recently. I say “Wow! I’m glad I am not caught up in that!”. The situation goes like this. I am watching the television, and hear about a bank foreclosing on the loan of a farmer who has not missed a payment! What has happened is that the company that he previously had a loan with has ‘sold’ his loan to another bank, who has taken a different view of the quality of the loan, and decided to take the money back. The farm is sold, the loan is repaid, the farmer has to …what? Stop a lifetime of farming and move off his property that has been in the family for a long time. I say “Wow! Lucky I am not caught up in that!”

 

Or someone has an accident, but not at work. They need Centrelink payments (miserable as they are) to help pay the bills. The process of getting onto Centrelink is arduous, claims are rejected because of administrative misunderstandings and lack of knowledge. Payment is delayed for more than two months. How is this person who is poor already supposed to live? I help how I can, but say “Wow, I’m glad I’m not caught up in that!’

 

The story goes on. Divorcing couples are caught up in the labyrinth that is the family court, while all the time the government withdraws resources from both legal aid and Family court counselling services. Victims of institutional sexual abuse face institutional stonewalling, cross examination and a lifetime of suffering. Refugees face horrendous treatment rom Government who all the time make ever more harsh laws that make more difficult and onerous the receiving of the protection for which they have a right to ask.

 

And all I can say is ‘Wow! I’m glad I’m not caught up in that!’

 

Each of these stories represents the story of a person or small group as they try to engage with institutions that have lost our trust.

 

It is a horrible bind to be in. We cannot escape institutions, yet it is these very organisations that are meant to hold and locate us, while we negotiate the smaller scale of day to day relationships, which have proved themselves unworthy of the trust that we are forced to place in them, because there is no alternative.

 

We don’t know whom to trust any more, and so our scepticism extends to places where there is in fact reliable knowledge. Individuals or small groups believe that vaccination is responsible for autism, and so expose us all to measles and whooping cough epidemics again through loss of herd immunity. We are paralysed about climate change because some individuals or a small group are climate change septics. Even reliable sources of knowledge are now not being trusted.

One way of dealing with this is to become as independent as possible: live in such a way as to never need a loan (how dos that happen?), go ‘off grid’ with water and power (expensive but possible), disengage from politics (easy enough, but then ‘all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing).

 

We are conned into thinking that we are ‘individuals’. Well, thanks to longer life spans, it is possible to attend to our individual development. Not many people die before they are fifty and more, but that said, the stories that began this reflection show just how much we are embedded in institutional life: that is to say how much we live not as individuals, but as a collective. Maggie Thatcher is wrong. There is such a thing as society. It is only the people who want to exercise collective power without our knowing it who try to convince us that we are individuals.

 

Some of us do not have to engage with the harshest form of collective treatment at all (like being a refugee or being unemployed, or being divorced o charged with a crime), but at some stage, everyone becomes embedded in institutional life.

 

The saddest thing of all is that the institution, which has the best chance of being reliable, has also joined in the ‘loss of trust’ bandwagon.

 

The Church was responsible for being an alternative form of society right from the beginning. She provided social services from the first century right up until our own, in places where individuals were falling out of institutions (like the family) or being exploited by others (like employers).

 

But now, because of the sexual abuse that the Church has allowed to happen, the very institution that is best placed to offer an alternative place to be held, and what is more, a way of connecting us to the God who set the universe up, and who came to us in Christ, is now counted among the un-trustworthy. There is now no ‘Rock of Ages with a cleft to hide me in’

 

We need to think about how find institutional forms that are new, and which are worthy of our trust. What that will look like is not yet known. That there has to be new institutions is not in question, but it will take a long time.

In the meantime, it is providential that not all institutions fail for everyone at the same time (as they did for Job). But we can say with him ‘I know that my redeemer lives and that HE shall stand at the last day upon the earth, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.’

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The Physicality of Memory

Two things happened this week that are connected, and which stimulated my interest.

 

The first thing was that we had some walls taken down in our living area, to make it ‘open plan’. As the plaster came off the walls, the builders discovered a pill bottle. Inside the bottle was a small cross, some Cyprus pine fronds, and a small amount of cotton wool. I was told that it is common for Greeks to place such objects in the walls or foundations of their houses to signify that they are blessed.

 

When we moved into this house, we also had a house blessing, and placed a cross over the door to signify our desire that God’s blessing be on our living n this place.

The other thing was this: Where I am being a locum (in Seymour) the intercessions each Sunday mention those who are in need of prayer. So far, this is nothing new. But then the intercessor says “and we pray for those whose names ‘lie upon our altar’. “

 

And it is true! There, on the altar, in folder are the names of the people who are in need of ongoing special prayer.

 

The thing that connects these two ‘comings to awarness’ is the sheer physicality of them both.

 

It seems that although we talk about ‘spirit8ality’ and ‘an outward and physical sign, of an inward and spiritual grace’, where we sort of prefer the grace to the mere ‘sign’, we are inextricably wedded to the physicality of things.

 

I am reminded of the way in which the ancient Hebrew priests had a breastplate with twelve jewels in it, which represented the twelve tribes of Israel. They would wear this breastplate as they went about their work, and especially as they entered into the presence of God. As they did so, they were ‘carrying the people on their hearts’.

 

This is a lovely symbol, and it could be of course done without the physical breastplate, but the union of the physical and the inner life of thought and intention is the more powerful for the union of both.

 

I also often see the roadside memorials that remind me of the places where people have died inroad crashes.

 

Psalm 103 comes to mind ‘Our days are but as grass. We flourish for a while, and the wind goes over it, and its place shall know it no more, but the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever for those who love God.’

 

It is as if the loved ones of those who died in the crash are saying “If we do not mark this spot with some thing, then you will not know that some thing serious that has affected our lives has happened here. We want you, the driver who passes by, to know that this place (not just the person who has died) means something because of what has happened here.

 

This is what the builder of the house is saying too, by their small bottle. This place is not ‘just any old place’ but this is a place where God is invoked. It is singled out for that reason.

 

So in the Church, we fill it with symbols that speak to us of the meaning that is made as we enter the building. It is the things (clothing, windows, furnishings) that capture our attention, and then speak to us.

 

For this reason I love going around churches both in Australia and Europe, trying to ‘read’ the kinds of messages that their furnishings and other material culture are trying to send.

 

Our friends who do not know how to ‘read’ such buildings say ‘We love it coming to visit you when you take us into churches, because what is there starts to come alive. It begins to ‘speak’ to us too.

 

There are some churches that take out all of the obvious Christian symbols, or meet in factories or theatres in order not to ‘put people off’. It is as if their main activity is designed for people who do not yet know how to ‘read’ a Christian space. This is not such a bad idea, unless it stops at that. Where are the Churches that begin with a theatre, and move on to a rich Christian symbolism of dress and iconography?

 

The other thing might be a down playing, in reformation style’ of the physicality of life, for an emphasis on the ‘hearing’ of Gods Word. Some Churches of the Reformation were built precisely as ‘auditoria’ (a place for listening) so that other senses were downplayed. Some churches are set up for an experiencing of the presence of God through music (Like Taizé or Hillsong). This is also not so bad, because music is a powerful means of experience in any form, but especially when one wants to experience the presence of God.

 

But I want to make a case in this reflection for the sacramental power of god in the physicality of worship. Just as we make roadside memorials and hide blessed objects in the walls of our homes, so the combination of building, vestments, and placing of names on an altar bring us, who have the knowledge of what they mean into the sphere of God’s presence is ways that we call ‘sacraments’. We are not just embodied ‘souls’ but we are human beings, with all that we are drawn into God’s life in Church.

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Punishment And Restoration of Christians

I am sure that there are more, but from personal knowledge, I know of two priests whose licence to function as priests in their diocese has been revoked on the basis of indiscretions that happened a long time ago. None of the faults had anything to do with children. In one of the cases the damage done by the indiscretion has been repaired.

 

The thing that worries me is that both priest’s licences were removed for good, without any hope of their being a return to priestly work, at least in the diocese where they were living.

 

I am worried on a number of fronts.

 

The first has to do with proportionality. We have always believed in the idea that ‘the punishment should fit the crime’. If the only options that a bishop chooses to exercise are ecclesiastical ‘life’ or ‘death’ then there is no room for rehabilitation or return. No matter how a person may have failed, there is no sense of proportion in this kind of response.

 

But I do know of cases where proportionality has been exercised. In one case, a person who had an inappropriate relationship with a student was suspended for six months, and then reinstated. Another had their licence revoked for three years, and was then welcomed back to priestly functioning.

 

These ‘punishments’ seem to take into account, like every other form of justice, the fact that there are degrees of offence and as such there should be degrees of punishment.

 

I am also worried because the possibility of forgiveness and return is excluded. The preface to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist specifically says that Lent was kept in order to prepare those who had been excommunicated for their return at Easter.

 

St. Paul in the letter to the Corinthians speaks of how in the case of an offender in that city, the one who was excluded was then welcomed back after being excluded.

 

The treatment of these tow priests seems to me to exclude the possibility of discipline leading to a welcome return.

 

Yet the heart of the Gospel is that God was in Christ reconciling the World to himself, and us to each other.

 

To simply take away a priest’s licence without the possibility of return is in my view, to disown the main possibility that the gospel opens up for us. It is as if the bishop is acting like a boss, saying ‘You’re fired: I can easily hire some one else”. Where is the sense of the other person’s being a brother or sister in Christ?

 

To see such punishment meted out frightens all priests, and is, I think a kind of ecclesiastical terrorism because it is not proportionate, and does not allow for the possibility of forgiveness and restoration.

 

Now the thing is, that in the hope of repentance and forgiveness, many bishops have not revoked the licences of paedophile priests. The community, which is not the Church, is calling us to account for putting the reputation of the church over the needs of Children. A call which is fully justified.

 

As well, the structure of the sexuality of some paedophiles is so disordered, that any kind of return to ministry is impossible.

 

But there are those who are calling for blood because they do not believe in forgiveness and restoration. When the Church in fear acts in response to these kinds of calls, not differentiating between cases, not exercising proportionate discipline, not providing a means of rehabilitation, she denies her nature as being the Body of Christ as much as when she covers up cases of abuse.

 

This happened to the Church of England in the case of Bishop George Bell. A complainant made accusations against him, after his death, and in response the Church of England took his name from Schools, and removed memorial plaques. Yet in a further enquiry, this action was judged too hasty. It was seen as a ‘knee jerk’; reaction which was made in an effort to be sympathetic to complainants, and to do something to restore its damaged reputation.

 

If I am right, then the Church is not acting as if it lives before the face of its Lord, Jesus Christ, but instead is acting as if it exists to satisfy the demands of the community for vengeance.

 

In both the cover up of the sexual abuse of Children, and in the excessive punishment of people who are highly likely to be remorseful for their failures and who could be welcomed back after a period of time.

 

It is as if we have failed in both directions: In being too concerned for our reputation to really look at what is going on among us, and yet being too concerned with our reputation to offer forgiveness and restoration to those who are penitent. Both of these actions look to me like a turning away from the Way of Christ.

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Becoming Powerful: Tell the Truth, Take it Back.

I’ve been thinking about power recently. Let me tell you this story. I was talking to my wife about our veranda. We need to get something done to it, because it needs painting, but there are a lot of railings and vertical batons, and the painting s going to be very expensive. So I thought about putting stainless steel wire around the whole veranda. As it turns out, once we started getting quotes, we were going to be paying a lot for this wire: more than the painting would cost.

 

My wife said “Well, lets just go ahead and get the thing painted’. But I said “Well, we would still have the maintenance costs of the painting the next time” and on and on the conversation went, back and forth. Then I gave in. I felt ‘dis-empowered’ because I had, in my view ‘capitulated’: yet again. It was as if the only two options I knew about were to get my own way, or to capitulate and be powerless.

 

This is not a good thing.

 

Later, it came to me. I said to my wife ‘But the thing is, I would like to do the job with the wire. It is big, but it will save us money in the long run, but more than anything I would really like to do it.”

 

Now why could I not have known that, and said that before?

 

I could not say it before because that statement belonged to a tender part of my truth that was not accessible until a few days after the ‘capitulation’ conversation. It comes to me that power derives from being able to tell some kind of truth, that often times is hidden: both from myself and others.

 

Then I could see this kind of thing happening all over the place.

 

In the movie ‘The Revenge of the Nerds’ the ‘Nerds’ at the College spend their time with one another, but feel terrible every time one of the more ‘popular’ students belittles them, or calls them a ‘Nerd.’ Then comes the moment in the movie when the ‘chief nerd’ makes speech after their fraternity house was trashed. He says “I’m a nerd, and I’m proud of it…no one is ever going to be free until nerd persecution ends’

John and Charles Wesley developed a method of confessing their sins to one another, and of hearing truly how they come across o one another. It was such a brave thing to do. But other, smarter people at Oxford ridiculed their desire to live a holy life, and so called them ‘Methodists’.

 

And very early on, at Antioch, the ‘Followers of the Way’ began to be ridiculed, and made fun of. People called them ‘Christians’

In each of these cases, the people who are being made fun of can see the truth of the ridicule. If there were no truth in how they were being made fun of, then they could not be dis-empowered by the ridicule. But there is. The Nerds are nerds. The Methodists did have a method, and the Christians, did follow Christ.

 

But for each of them, the way to empowerment happened, in the same way as my small story, involved admitting some truth about themselves and bringing that truth to light.

 

Some hidden thing gave them strength to admit the truth which meant that their vulnerable spot, which was the source of the jibes and ridicule, became the thing that was integrated into their sense of self, and so became a place of power, not a place of shame.

 

I started to think about how this works for me because I read this account of how a gay person who was suffering terrible bullying at school did the same, when he saw Lady Gaga. Here is his story

 

Consequently, Lady Gaga turned my world upside down. I suffered from chronic anxiety, linked to years of bullying. I was offensively effeminate and school was an ordeal spent avoiding older boys who spat “faggot” at me in the corridors. After Gaga exploded, I fashioned my own diamond-encrusted glasses and dyed my hair green – the slurs in the corridors lost their power when, like Gaga, I was deliberately provoking the attention. “What a freak,” my peers would scream at pictures of Gaga’s meat dress. I burned with defiance to hear them deride her – if she was a freak, this person I loved, then I didn’t want to be normal any more. The word “faggot” resounding in the corridor no longer marked me out as lesser, but placed me on a pedestal alongside my heroine, another freak – who happened to be No 1 in 20 countries. Her otherness made my own otherness feel more aspirational than painful. In a world of utter darkness, her presence was my only light, a wordless pathway to myself before I even knew what the word queer meant.

 

In the Eucharist we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. He too was a ‘freak’ excluded by everyone to the point of sending him to a shameful death on the cross: naked and in absolute agony, mocked by his enemies and deserted by his friends.

 

The resurrection is the metaphor we use for the same kind of power that the Nerds, Methodists and Christians found in following a crucified Lord, who set them free by his truth. My own little story is one way that the same thing happens in daily life, over and over as I am faithful to Jesus’ truth too.

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