“The pig is a very dangerous animal when it comes to the flu,” said Dr. Peter Katona, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It has the ability to recombine genetic material from different species, something that neither birds nor humans can do. And now we’ve got a new form of flu that nobody’s had contact with.”

The pig is a very dangerous animal.

My mother implied this when she screamed at me when I was a teenager, “Don’t be such a pig!”

I didn’t think of myself as dangerous, but it did occur to me that she worried that my messy adolescent behavior might be a contagion.

Join the word swine with flu and you have a scourge that hogs the news.  “Don’t call it swine flu,” scream the hog farmers. Their protests are not irrational.  “It is an unfortunate use of words,” said Dave Warner, a spokesman with the National Pork Producers Council. “It does trouble us from that standpoint because it’s very much a public health issue right now and there’s no indication that a pig gave it to a human. To call it a `swine flu’ I think is a little bit misleading.”

No doubt, this is the reason that President Obama recently referred to the swine flu virus using its scientific name, H1N1. Don’t worry about eating a pig. Don’t think for a moment that eating cooked pork will expose you to the virus. Swine flu is a misnomer.   Indeed, the World Health Organization , has issued a statement that says H1N1 does not pose a risk for well cooked pork or pork products.

Déjà vu all over again, Mad Cow flu, bird flu, swine flu.  Cast out the animal name; it’s bad for business.

As a vegetarian, I am amused by this global pork panic.  While eating pork is not a real or imagined risk for me, I can’t help but recall a story from the Gospels.

In this story, Jesus meets a man possessed by demons. Like a modern day schizophrenic, the man heard many voices within, all of them together, filled him with fear. As these disparate inner voices erupted from his mouth, the people in his village were understandably terrified whenever he spoke. They thought this guy was crazy. Indeed he was.

When Jesus approached the man, he asked, “What is your name?” From the man’s mouth came the words, “My name is legion for we are many.” Upon hearing this, Jesus performed an exorcism and sent the legion of demons in that man out, into a herd of swine. Filled with the throng of demons, the swine rushed over a cliff into the sea.

Talk about the swine flu (flew)!

The man’s inner voices, (his inner pigs?)—made him unacceptable to his village. Jesus cast his legion of identities out into a herd of pigs (pork being unclean in the eyes of his community) thereby freeing him from living a fragmented life and restoring him to his community. The miracle worker, Jesus, returned the man to his true identity as a healthy human being by helping him face and overcome what had separated him from his community.  No longer fragmented by his fears, he was freed to live, fearlessly, in his own life.

It’s only when we face the fear that separates us that we are able to transcend it or cast it out.

National Public Radio reporter Daniel Hernandez recently offered a profound essay on his experience in Mexico City during the swine flu panic. Reflecting on the epidemic he said, “On most Sundays, Mexico City is a moving carnival of food and fiestas, protests and parades. But this Sunday, it felt like some kind of unpleasant office party. People passed one another uncomfortably on the wide-open streets, nearly everyone wearing a blue or white face-mask to ward off this mysterious new ‘swine flu.’  Above those covered mouths, suspicious eyes scanned those of fellow strangers. Could he have it? Could she?”

In this way, the current swine flu pandemic is a reminder of how just beneath the surface lurks our fear of each other. It doesn’t take much for us to slip into seeing each other as a stranger rather than a friend.

This is the real inner pig.  We project onto others what we fear may appear in ourselves.  Before we can cast out this inner pig we’ve got to face it down.

In a time of crisis it’s easy to live by projection rather than self reflection. In a time of fear we go apocalyptic.

But what if the current plague is simply a reminder of what human beings have learned in the midst of all the other plagues in all the other times. What if in this time of our fear of swine flu, the fear of the darkness that threatens to overcome us is really a light? The poet,  May Sarton wrote,

without darkness,
Nothing comes to birth,
As without light,
nothing flowers.

Perhaps this swine flu pandemic is a reminder that the darkness that seems to separate us is really a light that reminds us of our innate and irrevocable connection–even to those who wear a mask.

Do you know someone with swine flu? Well then, take the appropriate precautions. Put on the mask to protect your nose and mouth, cover your hands with gloves–then overcome your fear with love.

Perhaps the swine flu metaphor is a reminder not of how we must fear each other, but of how much we need each other.  Perhaps this “pandemic” is one more reminder that its only when we face our inner pig do we know how to love and accept the pig (and pig flu) in each other.

Love your inner pig.