We learn through stories. I have been delighting in our Lenten series this year, “Becoming Real,” where we’ve been seeing our own stories through the story of the Velveteen Rabbit and the parables of Jesus. I admit it seemed like an odd choice at first—why are we bringing in a children’s book to read alongside the gospel? But as we have read through this time-worn story, and as we have read through the time-worn stories of the parables, I’ve been surprised at how much truth there is still to find in these texts.
Stories are how children learn. We read stories to children, and tell them over and over again, because stories are how we learn values, and cultural norms. Stories are how we learn how to navigate sticky situations, and how we build empathy for others. Stories help us see the consequences of actions (think about Aesop’s fables here). They’re a far better way of teaching than simply setting out rules and consequences. Adults, too, learn through stories (if you’ve ever read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” to a kid, you know that this book has quite a bit to say to parents).
The Bible is, more than anything else, the story of God’s people. It’s made up of lots of little stories (well-known ones like Adam and Eve in the garden, Moses parting the Red Sea, Mary giving birth in an inn, and lesser-known ones like Nehemiah building the wall and the daughters of Zelophehad arguing for their rights as women). These little stories make up the larger narrative of the Bible: God created us, we chose to stray from God’s path, God continued to save us and to lead us into the ways that lead to life.
As we read this story, over and over, we learn about what it looks like to follow God (and what it looks like to mess up). In the stories of Jesus, we see him transgressing many of the restrictive and oppressive social and religious norms of his time, and we learn that we’re called to do that, too, in our times.
We learn about ourselves, too: that if God can use Moses (a murderer with a speech impediment) to demand freedom from Pharaoh and to lead God’s people out of slavery, well, God might be able to us use too.
This Lent, we’ve put another story alongside the story of the Scriptures, because we trust that this story can help us to see different truths in the Bible and different truths about ourselves. The Velveteen Rabbit is itself a parable—a parable about love, and a parable about what it means to be “real”. Here’s a well-loved quote from a rocking horse speaking to the stuffed velveteen rabbit:
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often 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 your 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.”
We, too, are in a process of becoming. We’re loving other people and being loved. We’re recognizing our own vulnerabilities and fears. We’re seeing that none of that makes us ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
I pray that as we move towards Holy Week, where once again we’ll live through the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that we recognize the power of the Christian story to form us and transform us. I hope that you’ll carve out space in your busy lives to walk through this story in the worship services at our church—the Palm Sunday pomp and circumstance, the Maundy Thursday meal and betrayal, the mournful silence of Good Friday, and the unbridled celebration of Easter’s resurrection morning. Live in these stories, and let them change you.
With you in the Love of God,