Monday, 10 May 2010


Peter was home on leave from the W. Indies. On an exceptionally hot evening I decided to treat him to a meal. Peter, who was used to the much greater tropical heat, wore shoes and even a pullover. But not me. I wore a cool short-sleeved shirt, light weight trousers and had bare feet in sandals.

This seemed to us to be sensible attire. But not to the beefy bouncers barring our entrance into the restaurant. They were quite happy to admit Peter, but not me. My sandals were the problem. They were thought to lower the tone of the place! To them they suggested I was a trouble-maker! But eventually we were able to convince the bouncers that we elderly gentlemen were harmless, and that I would be safe, since I was accompanied by the respectable looking Peter.

When we entered the restaurant we noticed that all the patrons were dressed in casual, cool clothes appropriate to the hot evening. Many of the young women wore short skirts and sandals. Obviously no one had objected. As a man, that inequality of treatment about the sandals riled me. And the young waitress wore a casual T-shirt and jeans. Perfectly respectable, but not, I would have thought, such as to raise the sartorial tone of the restaurant.

So, why this prejudice against sandals, which has since extended to trainers...even in some pubs? Obviously it’s thought that certain kind of people wear sandals or trainers. And they are instinctively considered to be undesirable and perhaps even violent.

Peter and I have been able to laugh about this trivial example of prejudice, especially since the bouncers had relented and had allowed us into the restaurant where we had a delicious meal. What Peter and I had experienced was of little importance, especially since it was over and done with in an evening.

But what about those who are the victims of life-long prejudice, due to, say, the colour of their skin. They must feel permanently rejected, marginalized and deeply hurt?!?!

Our mild experience of prejudice made me realise how easily we can judge people by their appearance, accent or colour of skin. We may then lump them all together and dismiss them as undesirable, if not dangerous. But if we take the trouble to get to know them we find that we have so much in common and can get on well together. And the differences can enrich both our lives.

That was my experience when I was working at Spode Conference Centre many years ago. A group of young men and women asked if they could doss down on the floor for the night. They were marching to London to protest against the government about the lack of jobs. The young men in this group had the exotic brightly coloured Mohican hairstyle. I must admit they were not the kind of people with whom I’d had the chance to mix. Many would have kept clear of them –simply because they looked different and presumably dangerous. But I found them very pleasant and easy to talk to.

One of them told me that he’d chosen his exotic hairstyle so that people would notice him. He felt that being unemployed had led to his being treated as a non-person. That’s certainly true for the homeless people on our streets. We hasten past them without looking at them.

The prejudice about my sandals got me thinking about the prejudices against Jesus, which were much, much more serious. Those with whom he’d grown up simply accepted him as the ‘son of Joseph, the carpenter.’ They believed they knew all about his background. So when he started preaching they considered he was getting above himself. They wanted to cut him down to size –their size. These people were only comfortable with him as long as he remained like them. As soon as he proved to be different they resented him and wanted to throw him over a cliff top. Instead of being proud of the ‘local boy made good’ and encouraging him, their hostility forced him to preach elsewhere, to strangers who were not already blinded by prejudice. They would be more likely to be open to him.

The problem for Christ’s neighbours was that he didn’t fit in with the label they’d already stuck upon him. They thought that if they could put him in a pigeonhole he would be far more manageable. But Jesus refused to be manipulated. He was not going to satisfy the false expectations people would later have of him. He was determined to do the will of his heavenly Father, even if this led to his crucifixion because of people’s prejudices and their disillusionment that their false expectations had not been satisfied.

It’s strange how the prejudice against my wearing sandals has led me to realise that if I’m to meet God I must accept him on his own terms and allow him to be himself. It would be idolatry for me to try to force him into a mould of my own fashioning, or for me to want a God I can understand and control.

Those bouncers unwittingly did me a favour. They showed me the danger of prejudice, which in different ways excludes not only groups of people, but even God himself. If I’m to meet God I must allow him to be himself and must accept him on his own terms, not mine.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will Meet God by Being Like a Scarecrow

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