“Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”and The Diderot Effect: A Christian Perspective

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“Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”and The Diderot Effect: A Christian Perspective

About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Have you woken on the first day of the month and said, “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit?”

Evidently, there are a lot of people who do, believing if they do, they will have good luck the rest of the month. The superstition places the importance on the first thing you say on the first day of the month.

“First” things. First date, a baby’s first steps, a first job, a first impression. What comes first is something that manages to grab our attention and finds a place in our memory.
Even as a country, we are defined by our first things.

So it was with some interest that I searched for a history of what first things Canadians might have been thankful for.

The first Europeans to express thanks (that we know of) were those who travelled with Martin Frobisher on his third voyage searching for the Northwest Passage. 1578, long before before the Pilgrims in the New England colonies. The expedition had been plagued by ice and freak storms which scattered the fleet — one of the ships was lost — but on meeting together again in the Baffin Island area of Frobisher Bay,

“… Mayster Wolfall, a learned man, appointed by her Majesties Councell to especially to be thankefull to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places …”. They celebrated Communion and “The celebration of divine mystery was the first sign, scale, and confirmation of Christ’s name, death and passion ever known in all these quarters.”

There were other first thanksgivings: the French settlers with Champlain, who founded the Order of Good Cheer in Port Royal, in 1606 welcomed back the king’s representative and bravely stood against the scurvy which they suspected might have been related to long months of inactivity on ships, celebrated with their first nation friends, weekly from fall to spring.

There were other thanksgiving celebrations:

for the ending of wars:

  1. The ending of the Seven Years’ War 1763
  2. Thursday Jan. 10th, 1799, in Lower Canada, “In signal victory over our enemy and for the manifold and inestimable blessings which our Kingdom and Provinces have received and daily continue to receive”
  3. In Upper Canada, Tues. June 18th, 1816, a Thanksgiving Day for the “End of War between Great Britain and France”

for the ending of diseases:

  1. In the Province of Canada, Thursday January 13th, 1850, (cholera epidemic) “For God’s mercies and the cessation of grievous disease”
  2. First modern Thanksgiving, Monday April 15th, 1872, (Cholera, again) “For the restoration of health of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales”

for the harvest

  1. For “Blessings of an abundant Harvest” Thursday Nov. 6th, 1879
  2. It remained the 6th of November until Monday October 15th, 1931 “For general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured”

Peace, health, harvest, these are still important enough for us to give thanks for. First things.

Jesus hoped his followers would put the right things first. Matthew 6: 24-34

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

‘Wealth’ in this translation is ‘mammon’ in others.

Mammon is more than wealth; it’s really the worship of wealth. Placing wealth, the possession of things as the ‘first thing.’ In the series The Simpsons, Mr. Burns, the rich and callous boss of Homer, lives at 1000 Mammon Lane. It is always clear what Mr. Burns puts first.

Jesus words to “seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness” had everything to do with doing the right things and above all right relationships. Jesus wanted his followers to live meaningful lives.

It’s easy to get distracted, though, isn’t it? have you heard of the Diderot Effect?

The Diderot Effect
The French philosopher Denis Diderot lived in poverty. When his daughter was about to be married, he couldn’t afford a dowry. Despite his lack of wealth, he was famous for co-founding one of the most comprehensive encyclopedias of the time.

When Catherine the Great heard of Diderot’s financial troubles she offered to buy his library from him for what would be approximately $50,000US today. Suddenly, Diderot had money to spare.
Shortly after this lucky sale, Diderot bought himself a new scarlet robe. That’s when everything went wrong.

Diderot’s scarlet robe was beautiful. So beautiful, that he noticed how miserable his other possessions looked next to it. He found himself buying new things to match the beauty of his robe.

He replaced his old rug with a new one from Damascus. He decorated his home with beautiful sculptures and a better kitchen table. He bought a new mirror to place above the mantle and his “straw chair was relegated to the antechamber by a leather chair. Diderot Effect

The Diderot Effect states that buying one new thing often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.

Jesus saw what the Romans strove for with urgency: what they would wear, what they would eat, what they would drink.

Jesus knew what his listeners sometimes forgot, that we weren’t created to live out of a sense of urgency about all this stuff and all of the pressure and meaninglessness that can be associated with constantly acquiring.

So he sat on a hillside and taught. Jesus pointed to the birds who were flying about in the air. He took the time to notice and wanted others to notice those flowers growing in the grass next to them and how they somehow seemed to flourish. A sense of urgency about amassing wealth is replaced with a sense of appreciation and mindfulness. There is no urgency, just of the immediacy of God’s kingdom. The ever present reality of God’s Kingdom in their midst.

Living in the urgent categories can blindly takes us from one perceived need to the next or from one crisis to the next. I have to admit that sometimes I get caught up in this mode of living. Yet what Jesus reminds us is that as a people of faith, first things begin with God.

First things were a recognition of the power and presence of God in the midst of the people.

  1. The first thing Abraham did when he received the ram to serve as a sacrifice when he was ready to surrender his son Isaac was build an altar to God
  2. When Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan, the first thing he did was take the time to build a monument to remind people that God was at work in their midst.
  3. When it was harvest time and the harvest was in, the first thing that the Israelites would do would be to bring a portion of the first fruits to the temple. wheat, barley, grape (wine), fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), and date (honey). Only first fruits of these Seven Species could be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as offerings

These acts kept the people mindful of God in their midst.

195 million Christians worldwide use the app called youversion. The fifth most popular text in 2014 was this verse: Matthew 6.33

strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

And the most popular? Romans 12.2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

God’s first things are still important to Christians.

The first thing Christians do on the first day of the week is to worship.

We can choose to first seek God’s kingdom and practice mindfulness as we appreciate God’s care for us. We can choose first to seek God’s kingdom and tend our human relationships For when you seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness, all these things will be added unto you.

I’m grateful to the Rev. Dale Skinner for the inspiration for this piece, along with teaching me about the ‘Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit’ custom.

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