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ss nucleus - autumn 1995,  Discrimination


I was recently asked if I had ever experienced discrimination as a motorcyclist wearing leathers. This is a common and infuriating experience for those fortunate few who choose two wheels as their preference in transport. Perhaps I have been fortunate in never being turned away from restaurants or hotels as I arrive in a full set of gleaming black leathers. Don't think it's because I ride BMW either! Yet I have heard church folk express surprise that I can be both a Christian and a biker and much respected and eminent medical colleagues say, with more than a tinge of envy as I arrive at the hospital in my leathers, that they wished they could dare to ride such a machine and arrive in style!

Some months ago however I was almost turned away when wearing leathers. My wife and I arrived for an evening meal at a well known hotel on Derwentwater. I had been coming to the hotel since I was in short pants; my uncle knew the previous owners very well and we even would have honeymooned there but for the fact that the hotel in those days was shut in December! Now the plush establishment belongs to a chain and there is a rule that 'for dinner gentlemen are expected to wear a jacket and tie'. I was dressed in a black polo necked sweater and leathers! However the head waiter, who I had known since his first days in the hotel about 20 years ago, recognised me. I explained my predicament being unaware of the rule of the new owners. He smiled, asked about my jogging, for we are both runners, and showed my wife and I to one of the finest tables in the room with a splendid view over Derwentwater: his comment, 'It is not what you wear, it is how you behave that matters'. I agreed commenting that to be courteous, considerate, clean and tidy was important. I am almost obsessional about my leathers being gleaming and polished; something to do with cleanliness next to godliness I suppose! The meal and service as ever was first class, the finale to a perfect day in the Lake District.

I must admit that on several occasions in restaurants the customers have glanced at me in my leathers and made remarks: but in fact most bikes; customs, Harley Davidsons and BMWs to name but a few cost more than the average week-end motorist's car. It is a temptation to remind the cafe proprietor of this fact if one gets disparaging looks! Once when I turned up in a distant hospital to give specialist advice a colleague remarked that I should be able to afford a suit. His reaction when I smilingly told him the cost of my leathers, was astonishment and an exclamation that it was three times as much as his pinstripe had cost!

In church circles sometimes my arriving on two wheels can be amusing. I recall preaching at a medical service in Leicester to a large congregation in my leathers. I had arrived with the panniers full up with surplice, cassock and academic hood but the vicar told me to preach in the clothes I stood up in, so I did.

Discrimination makes me angry if it is based upon a person's appearance alone. Some of my medical colleagues from overseas who are highly competent and skilled have been abused just because of the colour of their skin. They are caring and dedicated individuals and I speculate how we ourselves would react if our attempts to care were were spurned abusively. Then there are the handicapped folk I know, intelligent but deformed and how folk embarrassed perhaps turn away and make cruel remarks like 'spastic'. Worse still the remarks about newcomers to church who turn up in fashionable frayed jeans or microskirt, much mascara and multicoloured hair. My wife comments afterwards: 'Is it envy by the dowdy frumps because they are afraid to be female!' Alternative fashions seem outrageous and threatening to many. So may we when we put on our spiritual fashions of godliness, purity, caring and sharing. They challenge and reject old ways of behaviour. (Eph 4:24-32) As medical officer to the homeless in my spare time I remember being helped by a young man with green spiky hair, deliberately torn T-shirt and plastic jeans girded with studded belt to help de-louse a tramp. A punk girl in her plastic scarlet minidress dished out the soup. We joked afterwards for they at first could not understand why a hospital consultant would dirty his hands in this way. They expected me to be stuffy in a pinstripe - not turn up in pvc jeans (they are flea proof and vomitproof!!). Our bond was faith in Christ. We chatted about society judging by appearances, being conventional and conforming, and being transformed by the Spirit of Christ.

Being realistic, Christians will always face discrimination. We cannot expect anything less if we seek to identify with the carpenter from Nazareth who challenged the accepted social order of things. If we put sharing and caring and following God before materialistic striving for status, wealth and power the very fact of our living selflessly will challenge others and may provoke discrimination. Nevertheless we must not try to be 'odd' in clothing or other styles in a legalistic way. In donning my leathers, what I have previously called 'my second skin', I remember with thankfulness that they protect me just as Jesus put on flesh and suffered punishment on my behalf. I identify too with him in seeking to 'Ride free and in the wind' (of the Spirit) and perhaps because bikers are often discriminated against recall that Jesus was the friend of sinners. Wearing leathers protects me and shows I am part of a group of perhaps unconventional people who choose freedom on two wheels. The garb also gives me an opportunity to chat to many similarly clad who often have no time for organised religion but usually are willing to listen to the claims of Christ when tactfully presented in language that they can grasp. We in that sense need discrimination ourselves, the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know to whom we can speak and how to say 'Jesus loves you'. So think the next time you are challenged by discrimination.

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