A few months ago I heard that a major chocolate producer had decided not to call their famous Easter eggs, ‘ Easter eggs’ anymore as it may cause offence. When I heard this first I smiled as I thought it was, as they say, a bit of a wind-up. I thought that the idea of taking Easter out of the Easter eggs belonged in the same school of thought as did a burning question that I grew up with, namely how did Jacob’s get the fig into the fig roll? However I soon discovered that things were a lot more serious than this. Apparently there are people who are offended by phrases like ‘Happy Christmas’ and indeed people who, even though they love
eggs and most especially eggs made from chocolate, do not want to receive ‘Easter’ eggs! I must confess I personally am a lot more mercenary when it comes to chocolate. Indeed on the issue of chocolate I am much more preoccupied with issues of taste and texture than actual name. Be that as it may it seems what we are dealing with here are issues of respect and tolerance, and these we must take seriously.
As I reflected on this I was reminded of my time as a deacon working in a large Dublin hospital. It was a very rich and rewarding experience. However during my time there a mini-controversy developed. The core of this was that a small group of Muslim workers were offended by the large statue of Our Lady over the front door. Apparently they wanted this statue removed as they felt threatened by it. Now space does not permit me to give a blow by blow account of this skirmish here but some very interesting things emerged from it. The fact was that this group of fifteen workers had been approached by a gentleman who later described himself as ‘ a former Christian’ to find out were they offended by the ‘catholic ethos of the hospital’. Some felt a little overpowered by some of the religious emblems, statues and pictures. There was mixed feelings about the Oratory, as they saw it as a place of calm and peace, and they could see many patients and visitors get comfort there. Almost all of them expressed delight that they worked in such a well run hospital and had some appreciation that this was a rich legacy of a religious order of sisters and their co-workers. What they really needed to know was that they were valued and accepted. They needed to know that they belonged. Once they were assured of that everything changed. Granted two of the fifteen opted to enter and leave the hospital by a door, left open for them. However the other thirteen continue to enter and exit work ‘under’ the statue of Our Lady, sure in the knowledge there was no threat in the statue, in Mary the mother of Jesus, and most crucially in their Christian co-workers.
Sadly sometimes it seems that there is a greater chance of us uniting in our love of chocolate than there is of us uniting in mutual respect and love for one another. It is worth noting though, the important difference between those who are actually offended by the term ‘Easter egg’, and those who think some people might be offended by the term ‘Easter egg’. They are not the same thing. Perhaps this is were there is an argument for simply enjoying the chocolate. Lest you mistake what I am saying as trite, I mean the social aspects of sharing, enjoying together, the moment, albeit a chocolate moment. Surely then the argument about the ‘Easter egg’ is more hassle than it’s worth. Surely we would be better to ban all ‘Christmas cards’, and cancel ‘St. Patrick’s Day’: particularly if these terms offend people? Surely this offence is the beginning of hostility which can start in unacceptable so called humour and finish in something akin to war? Of course we will have to keep going with this, because there might be other people offended. Some Christians might be offended by a Jewish feast or a sacred day for Muslims. I am sure there might even be some Christians who are not offended but who feel they should be. Maybe with some encouragement they could muster themselves into a mini-rage or if not, at least an indignant strop!
Yes we could be really busy trying not to offend people. Surely it is good not to want to offend people? It is. It is surely, but I am wondering is there another way? Once again when we are looking for a way, a way through, a way beyond, a way we can follow, a way we can trust, then it makes sense to look again at the one who describes himself as The Way. In all these issues from the ‘Easter Egg’ to ‘walking under the statue’ Jesus has something vital to say. Vital in the best sense of that word, as in life giving. Jesus repeatedly reminds us of the dignity and honour of every single human being. When we operate out of absolute respect for the other then there is no skirmish, there is no war. What stops me sitting beside my Jewish or Muslim brother or sister is actually fear. This fear thrives on ignorance. I fear what I do not know. The gap that ignorance creates is quickly filled with fear. This fear takes root and spreads. When I visit the mosque and respectfully remove my shoes and earnestly seek to know what it is to be a good Muslim today, then I am engaged in Christ’s work: the work of banishing the terror of ignorance and building bridges of knowledge, respect and harmony.