Last weekend I visited a dessert cafe in Middlesbrough called De Melo. It was part of a birthday celebration for a friend – and not quite what we had planned to do, but very enjoyable anyway. Not least because it was an opportunity to indulge in something I haven’t eaten for over a month.
And there is something about ice cream. It always feels like a treat.
Maybe it’s because of the association with holidays and trips to the seaside. Maybe because it’s just so sweet and creamy. But it makes you feel good. Well, OK, it makes me feel good (but I don’t actually know anyone who doesn’t like ice cream) and I guess that’s why a tub of Ben and Jerry’s is a dangerous thing for me to have in the freezer, just in case I need cheering up!
Anyway, while we were in De Melo, enjoying the ice cream – and personally celebrating a return to the full range of foods available to me… (And drinks…I had my first decent post-fast coffee in there too!) I was taking a look around and found something else to celebrate too.
The cafe was pretty busy; almost every table was full. It was really great to see the mixture of people meeting there – all enjoying their ice cream. Men, women and children; family groups; couples; friends – and a wide range of cultural groups too.
With everything else going on in the country at the moment, and so much talk about division, it was great to be in a place where all the groups were quite clearly different but we were all enjoying the same thing.
It’s good to remember what we have in common. It might stop us thinking it’s OK to treat other people like they are worthless – or even that we shouldn’t be concerned about them. ‘Live and let live’ is all very well. And I have to confess that I’m guilty as charged when it comes to adopting that approach. But at a meeting I attended recently, one of the speakers challenged the idea of ‘tolerance’ – one of the ‘British values’ schools are now supposed to promote. She wasn’t saying it was a bad thing, simply that it wasn’t enough.
Initially I dismissed what she said, but the comment stayed with me. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realised that she’s right.
The trouble with tolerance is that we can apply it to any situation and use it as an excuse to overlook injustice. It becomes acceptable that some have plenty to eat, while others struggle and starve. We can ignore the fact that women are treated brutally because it’s just due to cultural differences.
Don’t get me wrong; intolerance is obviously far worse. But so much of what I’ve been reading, hearing and praying about recently has led me towards a much greater understanding that the gospel is a challenge to Christians to go much further. I keep being pulled back to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7). I’ve read it, and heard it read, countless times. It seems ridiculous that I’ve never really understood that Jesus was talking to me – that the challenge is for me.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.” (from The Message)
Loving your enemies – or even acting in loving ways towards people you will never meet and who it would be easier to just ignore – is a massive challenge. It’s not part of human nature, and Jesus is very clear that it won’t make you popular. And that makes it scary.
But the more thinking, reading and praying I do, the more obvious it becomes. The more compelling the feeling that I can’t just ignore that call – even though I feel ill equipped and often pretty clueless about what to do. I have to do something!
So, quite how I got from ice cream – and celebrating how it brings people together – to contemplating how I can more adequately live the gospel, I don’t know. If you’ve stuck with reading this blog, you’ll know my rambling mind takes me in strange directions! But this personal exploration is challenging me in my thinking and helping me to open my mind and my heart. I’m learning how much I have to learn – and accepting that is one of the biggest challenges of all!