Ben Sargeaunt-Thomson from Northampton was told he couldn't work as an air traffic controller because his legs would not fit under the desk. At 6ft 10in, his potential employers felt that cramming his legs under the desk posed a "dangerous risk". His proposal to use a special "kneeling seat" was dismissed and the case is now before an industrial tribunal.
There are other ways in which people might feel they don’t fit. Feeling out of place at work or in social situations can also make us feel uncomfortable; even in families, or other long term relationships, it’s possible gradually to begin to feel out on a limb, if our values or interests diverge from those around us.
The most obvious choices in such circumstances are between toning down the difference so as to appear to conform or taking steps gradually to free ourselves from the situation. But it may be that the values and assumptions over which differences are emerging are worth fighting for. We may feel we should stay put and make our own position clear as a way of trying to be a creative influence.
Jesus used the images of salt
to describe the challenge his disciples face; each of these change the food or the dough to which they’re added but they need first to be thoroughly mixed in. Whether it’s Christian values we feel are being ignored, or other ideas or beliefs we want to stand up for, we need to be involved to have any affect. Perhaps today we face a situation where we don’t feel we fit. The sensible thing might be to disentangle ourselves from it. But it might also be right to stick in there and hope to be an influence for good.
Seven comic strips depicting the life of Nelson Mandela were distributed throughout South African schools yesterday as part of the celebration of his 87th birthday. It's part of a project aimed at encouraging young people to read. "Comics are an extremely useful way of bringing young people into reading," said Mr Mandela’s spokesman. "They are a very powerful vehicle for introducing literature to young people." This fully authorised use of the Mandela name contrasts with an attempt earlier this year by a former confidant of the former President to sell fake artwork bearing his name.
It’s not just famous people who get used. All of us are at risk of having our names associated with particular ideas which we are said to support, or of being quoted, sometimes not entirely accurately, as having said something about someone else, or of being implicitly encouraged to take one side in a dispute when we haven’t necessarily even heard the other. Sometimes when this happens we feel betrayed as Mr Mandela was by his confidant and sometimes we are happy to be named because we do in fact support what we’re said to support.
Jesus too expected
to have his name invoked in support of actions of which he wouldn’t have approved. Indeed down the centuries, Christians have done things in his name which he wouldn’t wish to be associated with. Perhaps today those of us who wish to be publicly associated with Christ could be extra sure to avoid words and deeds he wouldn’t support. And we could all be conscientious about attributing to others only those views we are sure they hold.
Last week in Paris, professional food photographers held their first international competition. A photograph of anchovies swimming in champagne competed with one of mussels lit up in a heavenly haze. For years "culinary photography's mission was to illustrate the recipe or give ideas on presentation," said Bloch-Laine, France's leading photographer in the field. The photo is no longer there simply to show what the meal should look like but to whet the appetite, to ‘transport the taste into the mind’
The art of presenting a meal involves creating a feast for the eye as well as for the taste buds. But a meal which is presented with every attention to aesthetic detail but tastes indifferent leaves the diner unsatisfied. Ancient wisdom remains valid – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Today, Christians remember Jesus going into the desert. He wanted time to review the various ingredients that might make up his life and decide what God wanted him to create out of them. The wrestling and struggle he experienced there gave him integrity - what people saw in him reflected who he was inside. The picture matched the reality.
Lent is traditionally a time for such personal reflection. We too want to make the components of our lives into an integrated and purposeful whole. Being honest with ourselves and realistic about how we relate to others can be a struggle. But the process of creatively bringing together the different skills and qualities that make up our personalities will add a depth to who we are. What we serve up in our lives won’t just rely on good presentation but will offer others a real taste of what’s good about living.
After the hopeful agreement in Beijing over the weekend, megaphone diplomacy has returned to the relationship between the United States and North Korea. North Korea won’t abandon its nuclear weapons programmes until it receives a light water power reactor from the US and the US won’t provide the reactor until nuclear weapons have been abandoned. Not a return, we hope, to the days when villagers on either side of the border between North and South Korea had to put up with nightly wars of words being amplified over the border. Both sides used loudspeakers to blare propaganda broadcasts into their adversary’s territory. Until recently, this had been going on since the Korean War.
Shouting the virtues of a nation from the hilltops is no proof that they're real. Proclaiming loudly that you’re giving nothing away wins few admirers or supporters. The people who make most noise are rarely the most deserving of respect. Jesus accused
of hypocrisy those religious types who paraded their piety for all to see (Matthew 6.5). In religion and in many other areas of life, a person’s true quality is revealed not in how loud they shout about it but in quieter, more subtle ways.
Perhaps today we might notice particularly the contribution of those whose quietness means that their value goes unnoticed. It’s also worth checking ourselves to ensure that any merit we lay claim to is more than rhetoric and reflects consistent and deep-seated qualities.
It’s said that if you want to receive the gift of persuasiveness, you go to Blarney Castle near Cork and kiss the Blarney Stone. Apparently Queen Elizabeth I wanted Irish chiefs to agree to occupy their own lands under title from her. The Lord of Blarney handled every Royal request with such cogent and honeyed words, yet without giving an inch, that Elizabeth proclaimed that she was being given "a lot of Blarney".
In this new Internet age, of course, you don’t need to go to Ireland to put yourself in line to receive such eloquence. Everything can be done on a computer. So here’s a picture of the Stone. Just lie back on your keyboard and kiss upwards!
Truly winged words and convincing speech do not come so easily. St Patrick returned to the country from which he’d been carried away as a slave, in order to convince his fellow Irish of the truth of Christianity. His "Confession" opens, "I am Patrick - a sinner - the most unsophisticated and unworthy among all the faithful of God." His message was only effective, he concludes, because it was true and because God was in the life and words with which he expressed it.
The first ingredient in being compelling in our speech, and persuasive about what we believe in, is that what we stand for is true. The second is that our lives back up our words. If today we feel inarticulate when it comes to putting our point of view, let’s not seek help from the Blarney. If we speak with integrity, truth will come through in spite of our stumbling.
A Singapore Company has a high-tech solution for absent-minded drivers who lose their cars in multi-storey car parks. Forgetful drivers, stressed by what they’ve been doing since they parked their car, key in their license plate number at a kiosk. A map appears on a screen indicating the zone and space where the car is parked. Similar devices positioned around our homes might be useful in saving time spent looking for things we “know we put somewhere”.
It isn’t only our possessions that get lost though. Bits of ourselves sometimes get hidden out of sight. A woman once crept up behind Jesus
to touch what he was wearing. She wanted both to be healed and to avoid a scene. His response, calling attention to her but with loving approval of what she had done, not only healed her but also enabled her to rediscover her lost self-confidence.
Other things that might get lost temporarily are our sense of humour, our ability to trust, our capacity for fun. Perhaps today we might check whether we have lost bits of ourselves in all the stress of our daily lives. Just to realise it may be enough to help us rediscover them. But if we would like help making good use of every part of our personalities, we can ask God, because the way Jesus behaved suggests this is something God delights to do.
I’m wearing my clerical collar this morning as a kind of protest. A report earlier this week said clergy should be careful when they’re wearing their collars. Apparently it makes us an easy target for violent attack. But I want to say - this is who I am - and I’m very reluctant to stop wearing clothes that express that.
There are many other situations too where people don’t feel they can be themselves, where they feel the need to blend inconspicuously into their environment. Sometimes we hide ourselves from others because we’re ashamed of what they might see. But more often it’s because our lifestyle or our opinions, if we let on about them, would make us stand out and it’s just more comfortable not to.
Of course, sometimes we don’t want to hide who we are. I remember once going to a party in my collar and a fellow-guest asked the host if I’d thought it was fancy dress! In some ways, I was quite miffed they were surprised the collar was real - I’d hoped there might be have seen something in me that matched up with being a minister. When we’re proud of who we are, we want how we are inwardly also to be obvious outwardly.
Now I’m not going to be silly about this clerical collar business. Not much danger wearing it on the way here with plenty of people around but five vicars have been murdered in the past decade and one in every eight clergy have suffered some form of violence. Being open about who I am does bring risks. But so it does for everybody. If some aspect of who we are makes us different from those around us or what we stand for is unpopular, being upfront about it can feel quite scary. We do need to weigh up the consequences but I think the world would be a much poorer place if we all hid from everyone else everything that makes us different and shapes who we are.