Breaking the Rules

In this, the week of Martin Luther King Day, I was invited to give a radio reflection on the theme of ‘breaking the rules.’

I have to admit, I’m not a big rule breaker but I do admire people who do break the rules, if it’s for a just cause. Like the suffragettes who chained themselves to railings in protest against women being denied the vote in Britain. Or Rosa Parks, a black woman who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white passenger at a time when those buses, like society, were strictly segregated.

It’s interesting as well that I’ve chosen to spend most of my adult life with L’Arche, some of whose intellectually-disabled members occasionally do things I wouldn’t dream of doing, for fear of disapproval.

One example is a communion service that was once celebrated by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie for the L’Arche Liverpool community. As the Archbishop was giving out communion, one of those receiving was a man who was also called Robert. He took the host, broke it in two and handed half back to his namesake. Runcie wrote later about how touched he was by this gesture. He said it spoke more to him about the meaning of communion than any number of theological books on the subject. I have a fond memory myself of going to the local Anglican church on Sundays with one of the intellectually-disabled women in the L’Arche house where I was living at the time. My friend was very tactile and at a certain point in the service she would wander up to the front and give the vicar a big hug. I’m not sure what the congregation made of it but I think the vicar sort of liked it!

Jesus was a serial rule-breaker. Healing people on the sabbath was one of his crimes. Also, in common with some of my friends at L’Arche, he often did things that might be frowned upon in some quarters, like eating and drinking with the kinds of characters that nobody else wanted to eat and drink with.

I’ll probably continue to be wary of breaking the rules myself. And I’ll probably continue to worry about what others might think if I was to do something a bit out of the ordinary. But how inspiring it can be to see others who are not afraid to do the right thing, even if it might get them into trouble.

Eddie Gilmore