I collect alphabet plates—those teaching dishes, mostly from nineteenth century England, with a border of the ABCs. The idea was that children would learn as they ate. Over the years, I‘ve collected quite a few, so this weekend I decided to try to organize them. Turned out to be an impossible task!
Like people, the variety is endless, and many are hard to codify. Some are easy because they are based on books of the era, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Robinson Crusoe. Others feature Nursery Tales, Birds, Nations of the World, or Civil War generals (all Union, I might add, which means those featured were not necessarily the best generals in the war.) Plates based on Bible stories were popular, too.
My largest set is “Flowers That Never Fade.” Each plate features a virtuous characteristic and has an accompanying verse and picture. The plates that I own are Loyalty, Innocence, Contemplation, Early Rising, Industry, Attachment, Meekness, Charity, Politeness, Kindness, Attention, Affection, Liberty, and Instruction. Additional ones that I don’t have are Devotion, Cheerfulness, Good Humour, Piety, and Manners. That may not be an exhaustive list, but just the ones I’m aware of.
Verses are like this one for Politeness: “If little boys & girls were wise, They’d always be polite. For sweet behaviour in a child is a delightful sight.” Not Shakespeare, by any means, but it makes the point.
As I spread out my plates that have been stored, checking them off my master list, I was surprised to discover that I’d not displayed all of my “Flowers That Never Fade” plates. Two were not in the china cabinet where I keep my favorites.
I knew why when I found the other plates. Both had been broken and mended and had various chips and scars. Basically, the others looked pristine and these two were damaged.
I apologized to the damaged plates and told them that they certainly belonged with the rest of the family. I crowded them in on the shelf, pleased with my decision. (And yes, I talk to my plants, too. And my computer, though not in a nice way.)
Looking at the plates reminded me of how people get the impression that church members are pristine—that we have no problems, we have no sins, we are perfection personified. Those who are broken and damaged hesitate to approach such perfect people. Unfortunately, some churches support that belief in their attitudes toward the damaged.
But the fact is that none of the other plates is perfect, either. Maybe they don’t have the damage of the two I’d left out, but they do have nicks and scrapes and hairline cracks that aren’t noticeable at first. Authentic Christians aren’t perfect, either. They have damage that can’t necessarily be seen by the casual observer, but sometimes it’s because the blood of Jesus has covered over those sins so completely.
As believers, we must welcome the broken and damaged and help them to be a part of the family, to experience the relief of turning their lives over to Jesus. I believe I worship with such a church—one that accepts people just as they are, no matter how many setbacks they’ve had or mistakes they’ve made, and helps them to be better through Jesus.
Because, after all, we’re all broken and damaged. Thank God that he saves us and makes us pristine in his sight!
I chose not to post a picture of the damaged plates because I didn’t want to single them out as being less than their peers. 🙂 If you want to know more about collecting ABC plates, you can go to my article, Simple As ABC: A Primer on Collecting Alphabet Plates.
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