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A different type of Planking? 23 September 2013

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Faith, Humour, Life, Ponderings, Self-criticism, Theology, University.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It was only an overheard phrase, last night as my GLW had her weekly chat with her parents over the phone, “Daddy thinks it’s because they’re Catholics“. The “it” in question was over why LM is having so much trouble settling into her new secondary school. She has no friends and seems to love the lessons and the learning, but finds the break times hard and isolating. The only person from her primary school, who was never a good friend, has dropped any pretended or real attachment and hangs out with the other children from her large European country who are found at the (Roman Catholic) school. I’m not too surprised, but I am a little disappointed, but more disappointed in my F-in-L’w comment.

My reaction to it was along the lines of “Silly old fool, it’s nothing to do with being Catholic. It’s because they are children!” After all, children and teenagers are, en bloc, just as good at nastyness as adults, and maybe worse, as they operate in, arguably, a less fully-formed moral and ethical framework. Or because they can get away with it. I’m fully aware that other cases of bullying occur, as it has been painfully obvious in the case of one of the GLW’s friends, harassed by parents of the other children at primary school, just as she was bullied and picked on by the same people when she was at school. (Another reason to move away and build an adult life somewhere else, such as can maybe more easily occur with the benefit of a university education).

Prejudice. It’s something all around us, and within us. We can’t escape it. And just sometimes it appears in ways and places we don’t expect, or provoke unthinking reactions.

Then there was one of my mother’s casual comments some years ago pertaining to a certain ethnic group. Not saying anything intrinsically wrong, we often have difficulties in understanding our language through the accents of others. Just the term of reference used made me squirm uncomfortably. Not one I would use in public (and this wasn’t public) but nevertheless, a label I would have thought as consigned to an earlier era and wouldn’t have used myself.

In the news we have stories of what the media conventionally label as atrocities, often committed in the name of, or under the convenient label of, religion. My social media connections have been all a-Twitter of late over why one event, in a Kenyan Shopping Complex, has registered so highly in the news media coverage, while an equally heinous one, a suicide bombing targeting Pakistani Christians, barely featured in any domestic news, being trumped by Party Political matters. The nature and extent of the reportage is a direct reflection of, a hopefully well-reasoned, prejudice. Even if we may not agree with the decision. (For what it’s worth I’d guess it is presumed we will emotionally feel close, and more threatened by an attack on shoppers, given our attachment to materialism and consumption, rather than on worshippers, given our general lack of connection with matters of faith).

However, I’m fully aware that as soon as I mention prejudice and judgement, that I fall under the searching gaze of God, and a parable of My Boss, Jesus springs to mind, (Matthew 7:1-5) culminating in the memorable phrase, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In the last week and over the next few, we have a student on placement with us who will be ordained next summer to serve in the Church of England. I knew him before, but rarely had much chance of extended conversation or engagement. He will make a fine minister and like all of us has his own strengths and weaknesses. Unlike many of us one of these is rather more obvious: H needs a wheelchair most of the time, and has other physical limitations. He is disabled, or as some would say, differently-abled. The last week or so has forced me to see things from a different angle. It has been enlightening and challenging to think about those things I regard as normal, and so expect for others. For example, to paraphrase H’s humour, the contrast in expectations for his full “healing” in the life beyond this, as expressed by so many Christians with his own. They see him needing restoration, completion. He jokes instead about wanting his “golden wheelchair” rather than properly working legs, an acceptance of who he is, the whole person, rather than what others may see. There’s a whole theology of (dis)ablement out there…

His presence has revealed many things about the university campus that I knew, but were irrelevant, such as which doors are powered, which places have ramps rather than stairs, and where suitably accessible facilities are, and are not, to be found. It has reminded me of one of my prejudices, a pet hate, and forced me to confront the reason for the ultimate existence of that pet hate. (In this case the laziness of perfectly physically able students, using some sets of powered doors when they could and should use the revolving doors beside them, thus wasting both the energy needed to power the doors and that needed to heat up the spaces cooled down by the process of letting cold air in! Petty, I know, but no less true.)

As the clock tells me it’s long after I said I was going to finish, I wonder what unthinking things I will say in future that will cause my children, or grandchildren, or others, to wince. (And yes, I’m aware of the disrespect I committed towards my F-in-L earlier in the post too. Mea culpa.)



1. Lucky Man | Life, Faith and Role-Playing Games - 4 October 2013

[…] due to the privilege I’ve had over the last few weeks to have H on placement at Uni (he of A different type of Planking) and also to engage in conversation with The Pilgrim Explorer (Twitter: @pilgrimexplorer). The […]

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