A rather curious phenomenon is happening. Although I still have 18 months to go before I get my bus pass and state pension, I’ve noticed an increasing number of people assuming that I am retired (which I am) rather than asking me what I do.
It’s not limited to casual conversation either. When Jane and I went to the theatre this week I was given senior rate tickets without asking! So clearly there must be some benefits, but it is rather bemusing.
Now, yes there is the occasional grey hair and a few wrinkles but I certainly do not feel ‘old’ and am determined not to let the ‘old man in’, as Clint Eastwood put it. So that’s good enough for me.
This curious phenomenon, rather like judging a book by its cover, has been a reminder of how easy it is to make judgments based on people’s appearances. That somehow the number of wrinkles can lead us to disregard their opinion and worse still, their wisdom and experience. That someone who has tattoos or piercings is not going to be friendly or efficient. That youthfulness means inexperience or less ability. That someone who uses a wheelchair needs to be addressed via their companion (or that their chair is something to lean on, as Adam Frost did on Gardeners’ World the other week…).
I’ve just finished reading and reviewing an excellent book called Struggling with God. It’s essentially about mental health and Christian spirituality and its title can be interpreted in two ways. As the authors put it, ‘Jesus comes alongside us in our struggle and transforms what can seem like a struggle with (against) God into a struggle with (alongside) God.’
In it, the authors make several valuable and helpful observations. One thought, in particular, has stayed with me: when Jesus offers friendship to the outcasts and other people who were ignored or passed by, he noticed people’s problems but he didn’t begin there.
We see that on many occasions – such as the woman from Samaria, the man from the Gerasenes, Mary Magdalene, the woman caught in adultery – so many people who were judged by others just like a book by its cover.
Jesus didn’t begin with the wrinkles, the youthfulness, the disability, the tattoos… he began with the person, the wisdom, the experience, the love, the faith.
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