There’s a box of chocolates here in the UK called ‘Quality Street.’ I’ve no idea how they earned their name but you’ll find these chocolates in supermarkets, gas stations and newsagents across the land. Even without the box, the chocolates are instantly recognisable in their crinkly coloured plastic wrappers. All different. All good. They’ve coexisted in that box for decades.
At a party recently, James and I got chatting to a former TV editor, who told us he lives on “inequality street.” Despite being the owner of a flat in an expensive part of London, some of his neighbours are in government housing, reliant on welfare for a portion of their income. This kind of housing arrangement on the same street may sound unusual to you, but it’s common here in London. Even where the houses on a street look much the same on the outside, you’ll find that some are privately owned, some rented privately, some are rented from the council and it’s very hard to tell who’s on the inside by looking at the outside; residents are ‘a box of chocolates.’ Having moved house in July, I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of my neighbours, some wealthy and well to do, another whose introduction was made by the arrival of two fire engines and a police van(!) All our houses look the same. All of us are different.
Inequality, specifically the uneven distribution of wealth, can make for serious conflict. Part of the scandal of Jesus, who seemed to make enemies by making friends, is that he didn’t iron out social differences yet somehow managed to break down barriers. For him, the issue was not how big one’s home, but whether the doors are open (see the story of Simon in Luke 7 and Zaccheus, Luke 19).
Even in his acknowledgment of the inequality in his street, I found there was something admirable about the man at the party’s description of it. He saw difference, understood the potential for conflict, and was doing his best to break down barriers. According to one statistic, 50% of British people don’t know their neighbours’ names. This man knew the names of his neighbours, including the names and relatives’ names of his ‘unequal’ neighbours. Some of them he’d employed for work on his flat, and in doing so had come to know the extended family.
We’ve been in our new street for a little over six weeks and, without broadband at home yet, I am writing this piece from a neighbour’s house. She’s given me a key to her house and access to her internet connection. It’s not a political shift, it’s not a redistribution of wealth, but if you ask me, this is what makes Inequality Street a sweeter place to live.