Wednesday, 1 February 2012

"What is 'REAL'?"

(Originally printed as an ecumenical column for The News Herald of Franklin, PA) 

One of the most favorite books of my adulthood (oddly, I never read this as a child) is Margery Williams Bianco's The Velveteen Rabbit or 'How Toys Become Real.' I was introduced to this book by an Episcopal priest in Lexington, Kentucky when I was thirty years old. The part of Bianco's work that delights me most is the conversation between the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse on what makes one become "real."

“What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day... "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?" "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Our church (the Episcopal Church) seems to be having a perpetual identity crisis. We are bleeding believers and continue looking to every other faith tradition, social scientist, church architect, prize in the bottom of the cereal box, and tea leaf for the solution to the catastrophe that is our Church.

Now, this is NOT a political statement of ANY sort. I'm not left-wing or right-wing, or any wing. This is merely a statement that the mainline church is still in decline and we leaders, lay and ordained, have everything to do with the problem. We continue to look to everyone but God and ourselves for the solution.

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." 

God has loved us for a long, long time--eternally, in case you're seeking a clearer definition (and not just to play with us--but really loves us). When we begin to embrace that love we are given and the "real" we are becoming, we will be able to reach out as who we are (and Whose we are) with authentic and "real" love.

Not until we set aside our fear of being hurt, our concern that others will break our parts--break our hearts will Mother Church begin to experience more than small pockets of health. As a Deputy to General Convention to Indianapolis, I am doing some watching, more reading, even more listening, and a whole lot of praying. I'm praying for us to let go of our fear and show our longing and yearning to be "real."

Join us in worship at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings as we strive to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as his disciples in all we do, growing more and more into people of faith, hope and love, nourished by God's Word and Sacraments.

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