Wearing a clerical collar is an interesting exercise, especially when out in the world. The girl at the till in one of the local supermarkets, who had been quite grumpy with the people ahead of me in the queue, spotted my dog collar and was suddenly charming.
But sometimes when I go to events wearing my dog collar, I’m the man that nobody wants to come up to and speak to! He’ll just talk about religion or try to convert me or preach at me or whatever!
If travelling on a bus or train, and if I want to be left in peace to read a book, wear a dog collar! The empty seat beside me is usually the last to be occupied by a fellow traveller!
The trouble with all this, you see, is that, people – or certain people – do not see beyond the badge. As a result, they will tend to treat me not so much because of who I am as what I am
On the other hand, I know that if I were to meet the Queen, I would probably act differently to the way I act when meeting ordinary people. If, for instance, I was to have tea with the Queen, although I hate to admit it, I’m certain I would suddenly become incredibly aware of my table manners, a topic which doesn’t normally concern me in the least.
We’re all a bit of a mixture. In fact, we sometimes refer to people who are very confident and happy with themselves as being “together” or “all of a piece”, as though they have the different aspects of their personality in some kind of unity. And perhaps this is the aim of all of us – that we should be so happy and confident within ourselves that we never find ourselves slipping into a different mode with different people.
Jesus was like this. He had no side, and he treated everyone, from the highest Roman official to the lowliest beggar, exactly the same, with no thought at all for the consequences. He was the most “together” person it’s possible to be.
But perhaps most of us are a bit like Legion, the man with multiple personalities whom Jesus healed. With Legion, the difference in the many personalities he displayed was exaggerated to such an extent that he seemed like a whole host of different people. He was regarded as very dangerous, hence he was banished to live in total isolation amongst the tombs.
Legion was fragmented within himself, and this is a common experience today. Individual fragmentation is perhaps symbolic of the larger fragmentation of society which is so apparent in Western society today.
We are separated from each other in so many ways; through religion, race, age, gender, ability, money, and so on. And we live in an individualistic age, when we’re encouraged to think only of ourselves.
Even our religion has become individual to a large extent. There’s much more room for individual thought, which is probably a good thing, but if taken to its logical extremes, that could mean “anything goes”. The worrying side of this individualistic religion is that people don’t meet together for worship anything like as much as once they did.
Christianity isn’t a religion of lots of individuals, it’s a religion of people together because it’s based on community and loving one another. You can’t love somebody you never meet. As Jesus said when he was challenged on something very like this issue, “If you don’t love your brother whom you do see, how can you possibly love God whom you don’t see?”
If we want God’s kingdom to come in this world, we – the Church – must begin to ditch our suspicion and uncertainty of each other and begin to take the risk of accepting all Christians as equal, no matter how strange other people’s worship may seem to us.
We, here at the ground floor, are the Church, the body of Christ, and we need to begin to reach out to each other and to non-Christians with acceptance and love.
As St Paul said, we must begin to ignore status and gender and race and colour and individual preference in order to become united within ourselves, within the body of the Church. .For it’s only when we’re truly united despite our differences of opinion and worship and when we truly love one another, that Legion will become truly healed for all time.
Mark 5:1-10 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country