So this last week I’ve been in St Andrews again, this time with Russ who was the speaker on week 1 of Forgiveness Fortnight, the Christian Union’s Mission season, and I want to share a selected hotchpotch of happenings with you.
I stayed at the house of a group of students, which, instead of being a dirty, cold, sleepless 7 days was actually a very pleasant experience. Two of the students were called Pollyanna and Arabella – it was like being in Middle Earth. In fact, one night there was a birthday party where guests had to dress as a celebrity, and I found that 1 unshaven face + long hair (see below) + 1 dressing gown + 1 cardboard sword = 1 reasonable-looking Aragorn.
I was asked to give my testimony about why I was a Christian at a lunch bar – people pay a pound to get a good lunch – and found that 100+ people plus a couple of disbelieving/angry faces didn’t put me off. (I guess all that experience doing the same in front of teenagers in Manchester schools paid off). My other contributions to the mission week were singing the songs ‘Yellow’ (Coldplay), ‘Grace’ (U2) and ‘You Know’ (Athlete) after various talks by Russ, which seemed to go down well.
On Saturday, I was in the library most of the day working on an essay, but popped in and out a few times for food, coffee etc. It was an unusual week in that there were people scanning student ID cards as people went in and out. As I approached the girl on the Exit computer and handed her my card, I saw the word SMILE written in bold pink font across her hoodie, so I did so as she returned my card. Glancing back at her top I noticed other words, and it was only as I walked through the door that my brain registered the possibility that the phrase emblazoned across the girl’s chest had been Smile If You Love Vaginas.
Dismissing this possibility as a product of my living in a sex-obsessed world, I determined to check the phrase next time I walked past, if she was still there. She was. Slowing my stride and with a look of seriousness across my face, I approached with my card in hand, eyes ready to glance at the words of her hoodie. She looked up and beamed at me, and before I could override my brain’s natural empathy I found myself grinning back at her. Inside I was kicking myself that she had got me with such a cheap trick, but I consoled myself with the fact that I would be returning again and would have the chance to express clearly and decisively my true thoughts on the matter. Perhaps I would ask her about it and express my distaste for what she was wearing (in a library of all places!)
I sometimes wonder whether my brain is actually working for someone else who is out to bring me down. As I waited in a queue to leave the final time, I found my brain deceiving me in yet another way. Now it was trying to convince me that since vaginas were made by God, they must be a good thing; in fact, without them there would be no human life whatsoever. So by the time I got to the girl in the hoodie again, I hadn’t had enough time to make up my mind, and gave her a kind of non-committal half-smile. So much for my mature engagement in the matter.
Perhaps it was a good response though. After telling the story to a group of students, one said the jumper was a response to female circumcision (= ‘should have smiled’), the other an advert for ‘the vagina monologues’ (= ‘should have frowned’). I still don’t know either way. All I have learned from this is that I wish people didn’t wear clothing with such words written on them.
Finally, I was stopped on the street by a man outside Tesco in St Andrews. My internal monologue is in square brackets:
Man: Excuse me
Me: [can’t he see I’m wearing headphones?] Hi.
Man: I’m a monk.
Me: [So?] Great.
Man: Have you ever met a monk?
Me: [What kind of monk? Oh, he’s holding some Eastern-looking books in his hand – those kind of monks] …No.
Man: Well, we’re fundraising. Could you give us some money?
Me: [Is this punk seriously not going to bother telling me what he’s fundraising for?] …Sorry, no.
Man: Not even 1p?
Me: [This guy does not understand economics.] NO.
Man: (obviously annoyed) Well, could you say ‘gouranga’ for me?
Me: I’d rather just keep walking.
Man: Well, you need it mate, it means ‘Be Happy’
He annoyed me a lot. Because he had no idea how to approach someone nicely. Because he was arrogant enough to ask for money without explaining how it would be used. Because he was judging me for not giving him any money. Because he was as miserable as he was judging me to be. And because he was just like so many Christians are when talking about the gospel, and the most frustrating thing in the world is that Jesus seems to expect me to forgive all these wonderful people.
…Which reminds me of a lapel badge I picked up in an Indie music store a while ago, which says “Jesus loves you”, but in smaller letters continues, “…it’s everybody else who thinks you’re an ar$3hole.” Crude, yes, but somewhat profound I think too.