Last summer at our church café we were giving away free ice pops – or ice poles for the older ones among us! The free offer attracted quite a queue of children from the local school. One ten year old boy, on getting to the front, saw the sign saying, “One per customer!”, took his free ice pop and left.
A little while later the same boy reappeared at the front of the queue. “Nice try!” he was told, “but just one per person – you’ve been before!”
He immediately replied: “That must have been my twin!” So he was sent away to produce his twin by the sceptical staff behind the counter. He left, only to return a few moments later with his “twin” – the only problem for him was that he was white and his chosen twin was black!
We still laugh about it and the answer, as to whether or not he got the second ice cream, is that we gave it to his friend for making our day.
There’s something in that story, I think, about the way that children see the world. Children are better than adults at seeing the things of God.
It’s all about the way you look at people. Here’s another example. On Tuesdays and Fridays, a group called Music For All (run by Columcille) meet in our church hall. The musician sits in the middle of a circle and leads a group of about 20 adults with additional learning disabilities and often additional disabilities as they all play different percussion instruments. He tells a story and, with a little direction, everyone joins in with the rhythm and the sound effects.
So, one day they will do a story about fireworks and all the sounds of the night will be made by tambourines and cymbals and bells. Another time there will be coconut shells, to make the sound of the horses’ hooves, and drums and keyboards as the musician tells the story of Tam O’ Shanter.
I love being there in the room when these differently abled people are meeting. Each of them has a carer with them, but it’s the people themselves who are making the music. Everyone’s concentrating and everyone’s working together but mostly there’s a huge sense of fun in the room!
The leader of the group refers to those who come to the group not as users, clients or even students but as musicians. My point here is that it’s about how we see people. When the musician was asked how the church could do more to include people with profound disabilities, he said: “If I was to use the language of the church I would say that we should all see them as messengers of God or angels!”
It’s the importance of being able to see past what’s on the outside to the reality of the people within. The musician gets it and expresses it in his own way.
The child makes an unconscious mistake which reveals that he’s already there. The boy who comes into the cafe doesn’t see black and white or African-American and Caucasian, he just sees his friend.
As a church minister I see it in faith terms. Seeing beyond the outside to what lies beyond is most definitely for me one of the things that I am called to try and work out in my daily living.
It’s not always easy, but there are always people on the way, who make me laugh or challenge me, and that’s why I wanted to share these two stories with you today.
Rev Liz Henderson is the minister of Richmond Craigmillar Church.