When most of us think of Vikings we think of fearsome warriors wearing horned helmets…or perhaps of their caricature in Hagar the Horrible comic strips. But did you know that Vikings never wore horns on their helmets? They would have snagged on weapons. But the Scandinavian Viking raiders and traders who swept through Europe so effectively from the 8th to the 11th centuries AD were pagans, so leaders of the Christian church at the time had to demonise them. Hence they depicted them at every opportunity with horns.
There was once a widowed trapper who lived deep in the Alaskan wilderness with his 2 year old son. On one occasion their food supplies had run out and the trapper was forced to go and catch some more food. The weather outside was so fierce he reluctantly decided to leave his son behind, entrusted to the care of his faithful dog. While outdoors the weather had got even more violent and the trapper was forced to take refuge overnight in a stand of trees.
When the trapper returned the next morning, he got to the cabin to find the door open and the furniture overturned. A fierce struggle had taken place. There was no sign of his son and his dog lay in the corner looking at him guiltily, with blood all over his mouth. The trapper was deeply distressed, and quickly figured out what had happened. The dog, without food, had turned on his son and killed him. Gathering his axe from his side in a fury the trapper killed his dog.
He then set about searching furiously for some sign of his son. There was still a faint chance his son was alive. As the trapper frantically searched he heard a familiar cry, coming from under the bed. He tipped the bed up to discover his son. He was unharmed, without a scratch or drop of blood upon him. The trapper, flooded with relief, gathered his son in his arms. When he turned around he saw a dead wolf, lying in the corner of the cabin. Then the trapper realised why his faithful dog had been covered in blood. It was the one who had saved his son.
How often we can be like that trapper, quickly assuming to know the truth about a person when in reality our judgements are terribly off mark.
The movie The Elephant Man tells the true story of John Merrick. Merrick was born in the slums of England in 1862, and almost from birth experienced massive rejection due to his grotesque appearance. Merrick suffered abnormalities that resulted in a large and severely misshapen head, loose, rough skin, and twisted arms and legs.
His mother loved dearly, but died when he was ten. His new step-mother didn’t take to him, and at twelve, he was expected to work to contribute to the family finances. After two years working in a cigar shop he was dismissed because his deformities meant he could not keep up the required pace. His father found him a job, of all things, as a door-to-door salesman. This only accentuated Merrick’s self-loathing. When people opened their doors and saw him people would literally scream and slam the door in his face. Those who knew who he was refused to answer their doors.
After this “failure” Merrick’s father began beating him. Merrick wound up on the street and was rescued by a kindly uncle, the only person who would help him out. Not wishing to further burden his uncle Merrick left to live in a squalid workhouse for drunks, cripples and the mentally ill. His life there was so miserable that he offered himself to a carnival owner as a sideshow act.
Merrick was a hit. People would pay money to line up and observe him like some animal in a zoo. But the carnival finally provided him with security and a place he belonged. It was while the sideshow was in London that Merrick met Dr Frederick Treves. Disgusted by Merrick’s treatment Treves wanted to help. He gave Merrick his card, but lost track of him. The police started clamping down on the sideshows, so Merrick was sent to Belgium to work in a sideshow there. But when Belgian police also clamped down Merrick was forced to make his way back to England. As he limped down Liverpool Street station, foul smelling and misshapen, a crowd gathered simply to watch him.
The police took him aside to sort things out, but Merrick’s speech was so slurred by his deformities that they couldn’t understand him. It was at this point Merrick showed them Dr Treves’ card. The police sent someone to get him, and Treves rushed back. He took Merrick back to London hospital and began a newspaper appeal for funds to help Merrick. The response was very warm, and soon sufficient that Merrick was able to have his own house on the hospital grounds with permission to live there permanently.
Treves’ care marked a real turning point for Merrick. At first Merrick would act like a frightened child and hide when anyone came into his room, but over time he began to engage some in conversation. Dr Treves discovered that Merrick was in fact highly intelligent and sought to nurture his growth. Yet Merrick’s greatest hurdle was still to fall. All his life Merrick had known only fear and rejection from women. They had literally run from him. So Dr Treves asked an attractive widow he knew if she could come into Merrick’s room, smile at him and shake his hand. When she did Merrick broke down into a ball of tears, later telling Treves that she was the first woman in his life apart from his mother to have showed him kindness.
That was a breakthrough moment for Merrick. In the coming years more and more people, women included, would meet him and show him kindness. He began meeting Countesses and Duchesses. He even had many visits and letters from the Princess of Wales, forming a friendship with her. Throughout this time Dr Treves reports Merrick changed dramatically. He began to develop some self-confidence, to spend time traveling in the country, to discuss poetry with another new friend, Sir Walter Steel.
Merrick died in April 1890. His deformities had never allowed him to sleep lying down as most people do. He had to sleep in a sitting position, his head resting on his knees. He apparently tried one night to sleep lying down, to be more “normal”, and sadly dislocated his neck and died.
Merrick’s story shows us the power of love and acceptance. Rejected all his life, treated as a “thing”, it was the loving welcome of others that liberated him to become all he could be. His life was made tragic not by his deformities but by the response people made to them.
Source: Reported at www.elephant-house.fsnet.co.uk
It was one of the most extraordinary birthday parties ever held. Not it wasn’t in a plush ballroom of a grand hotel. No there weren’t famous celebrities, nor anyone rich or powerful. It was held at 3am in a small seedy cafe in Honolulu, the guest of honour was a prostitute, the fellow guests were prostitutes, and the man who threw it was a Christian minister!
The idea came to Christian minister Tony Campolo very early one morning as he sat in the cafe. He was drinking coffee at the counter, when a group of prostitutes walked in and took up the stools around him. One of the girls, Agnes, lamented the fact that not only was it her birthday tomorrow but that she’d never had a birthday party.
Tony thought it would be a great idea to surprise Agnes with a birthday party. Learning from the cafe owner, a guy named Harry, that the girls came in every morning around 3.30am Tony agreed with him to set the place up for a party. Word somehow got out on the street, so that by 3.15 the next morning the place was packed with prostitutes, the cafe owner and his wife, and Tony.
When Agnes walked in she saw streamers, balloons, Harry holding a birthday cake, and everyone screaming out “Happy Birthday!” Agnes was overwhelmed. The tears poured down her face as the crowd sang Happy Birthday. When Harry called on her to cut the cake she paused. She’d never had a birthday cake and wondered if she could take it home to show her mother. When Agnes left there was a stunned silence. Tony did what a Christian minister should. He led Harry, Harry’s wife and a roomful of prostitutes in a prayer for Agnes.
It was a birthday party rarely seen in Honolulu – thrown by a Christian minister for a 39 year old prostitute who had never had anyone go out of their way to do something like this and who expected nothing in return. Indeed, so surprising was this turn of events that the cafe owner found it hard to believe there were churches that would do this sort of thing, but if there were then that’s the sort of church he’d be prepared to join.
The movie Priest tells the story of a young Catholic priest sent to a church in working class Liverpool, England. When he arrives he struggles with the liberal religious views of the senior parish priest. But we soon discover that his struggle is part of a greater internal struggle – you see our newly arrived priest is gay. He tries to resist, but fails, and starts leading a double life, on the one hand spending time with his gay friend away from the church while on the other genuinely seeking to serve his parish community. And in the middle of all this is his anguished struggle.
Towards the end of the movie he and his gay friend are caught in public and arrested – homosexuality is against the laws of the land. Once news gets out that a priest has been arrested the media gets interested and its flashed across the local newspapers in no time. The young priest is broken, driven almost to the point of nervous breakdown.
The movie ends with an enormously powerful scene. The faithful gather for mass. Everybody is aware of the young priest’s situation. When it comes time to serve communion both the young priest and the older priest stand out the front ready to serve. Everybody lines up to receive communion from the older priest. Not one person is willing to be served by the younger, gay priest. The camera pans to his face. His lips quiver, his eyes burning with hurt and rejection.
Then a young girl walks forward to receive communion from the young priest. She has been the victim of terrible abuse at the hands of her father. She knows what it is to be crushed. They embrace and together, these two wounded and rejected ones, share in the communion.
A member of a monastic order once committed a fault. A council was called to determine the punishment, but when the monks assembled it was noticed that Father Joseph was not among them. The superior sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.”
So Father Joseph got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water, and carried it with him. When the others saw this they asked, “What is this, father?”
The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the error of another?”
David Suzuki is one of the world’s best known campaigners for the environment. He is a respected and regarded citizen of his homeland Canada. Many people are unaware however of the painful memories Suzuki has from childhood.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese airforce bombed Pearl Harbour and so Japan entered the Second World War. People of Japanese descent were immediately suspect in Canada. Within nine days of the bombing they were required to register with the authorities as “enemy aliens”. Their property was confiscated, their bank accounts were frozen and they were told they would have to leave their homes.
David Suzuki was five years old at the time, and his parents were second generation Canadians…of Japanese descent. By the time David turned he, his mother and his sisters were sent to an internment camp in British Columbia. His father was sent to work on a road gang, rejoining his family in the camp a year later. The conditions were filthy and cramped.
Toward the end of the war the internees were given a choice. The Canadian government would pay for them to move to Japan, or they could remain in Canada, on condition that they lived east of the Rocky Mountains. Japanese-Canadians were no longer welcome in the Suzuki’s hometown of Vancouver. David’s family chose to remain in Canada, destitute and in poverty.
The entire episode left a terrible legacy in David Suzuki’s life. Proud to be Canadian he began to despise his Japanese descent and his Asian appearance. For years as a teenager he saved money for an operation to enlarge his eyes and dye his hair. He refused to walk down the street with his parents because he felt ashamed of them. His father drummed into him that to do well with white people he would have to be twice as good as them.
Even today Suzuki struggles with the past. He says “The terrible burden I’ve had all my life is that I seem to be constantly trying to reaffirm to Canadians that I’m a worthwhile human being. It’s really ridiculous to be 64 years old and still feel that you’ve got to prove to them that you’re not somebody who should be locked up.”
Source: Information reported in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend Magazine, April 8, 2000
In the seventeenth century France a humanist scholar by the name of Muretus was an ailing fugitive. When he presented himself to the medical doctors he was dressed in the rags of a pauper. The doctors discussed his case in Latin, thinking he would not be able to understand them. “Faciamus experimentum in anima vili” one said, which means “Let us try an experiment with this worthless creature”. Imagine their shock when this pauper replied, also in Latin, “Vilem animam appellas pro qua Christus non dedignatus est mori?”, “Will you call worthless one for whom Christ did not disdain to die?”
Source: Reported in Charles Birch, Regaining Compassion (University of NSW Press, 1993)