Becoming Real: 40 Days with the Velveteen Rabbit
Day 19 – Wednesday after Third Sunday of Lent – 10th March2010
One evening, while the Rabbit was lying there alone, watching the ants that ran to and fro between his velvet paws in the grass, he saw two strange beings creep out of the tall bracken near him.
They were rabbits like himself, but quite furry and brand-new. They must have been very well made, for their seams didn’t show at all, and they changed shape in a queer way when they moved; one minute they were long and thin and the next minute fat and bunchy, instead of always staying the same like he did. Their feet padded softly on the ground, and they crept quite close to him, twitching their noses,
from The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams
I was, on reflection, fortunate to have completed the residential part of my training for ministry not simply in a Black residential area in South Africa (where it was illegal for myself and my young family as ‘so called’ White People to live) but also in a Theological College which was made up of all the major strands of the historic British Protestant Churches; Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist and Anglican. In those days – some of the darkest of 1980’s Apartheid – the students had managed easily to work out the difference between different races and colours, but did we ever struggle with the difference between denominations!
Sadly, especially as each of us had been called to service, we spent far too much time on the minutiae which separated us rather than the family likeness which unitedus. Stone altars or wooden tables? Alcoholic wine or grape juice? Wafer or leavened bread? The arguments are so familiar and remain so futile. We should have been more mature about things. We should have been able to see past our differences. We should have been able to rejoice in our differences. After all were not we all on a journey to discover what it meant to be ‘real’ and give our lives away in the service of God?
The reality was different. Each time one of us felt threatened by a new discovery in our studies instead of advancing in our faith we retreated into our denominations. By the end we became less Christian and more Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian or Congregational. The most distressing occasion came when two of our students were expelled for fighting in a local tavern over the thorny question of the ‘Real Presence of Christ’ in the Eucharist. To the confusion of the other customers of the Shebeen – who all spoke Zulu – this bar room brawl was conducted entirely in Greek!
How easy it is to see difference as a threat and a challenge instead of a compliment? How often we fall back into prejudice when faced with the challenge of a different response to the free gift of God’s grace? How God must weep over our intransigence, petty-mindedness and refusal to believe that God’s love is far, far greater than our vision?
In the story of our rabbit we have come to a part where our friend realises that his is not the only game in town. The next few days will be hard for him as he comes to terms with those who share a different reality to the one which he has won at such great expense to his appearance.
Can we face these same challenges?
Today, perhaps even now, write to, phone, or visit a Christian of a different denomination to your own and discover the wonderful news that God indeed loves everyone in the world and not simply those who think the same as ourselves or attend our own kind of church.
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace:
Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers
we are in by our unhappy divisions.
Take away all hatred and prejudice,
and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord:
that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit,
and one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of us all;
so we may henceforth be all of one heart, and of one soul,
united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity,
and with one mind and one mouth glorify thee;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A Prayer for Unity – Book of Common Prayer
© Andrew Dotchin – 2018