Tag Archives: hunger

“Gifting”, power and the celebration of privilege

I have already written enough about creeds for the time being (and will probably return to this topic), and so I skipped ahead to intercessions. So now I turn to the Preparation of the Gifts -partly to open up the privileged-centre of this liturgical moment to a multiplicity of possible symbols that can authentically be “bread of life” and “spiritual drink”. The particularity we are told we are not allowed to move away from (bread and wine, and then even particular set-apart versions of “bread” and “wine” that are divorced from the every-day materialities they symbolise are Eurocentric as well as having become “owned” and controlled by the male-stream clergy.

There is firstly the “material” reality of “gifts” the bread and wine and the ecological significance of “earth” being named as a donor of those gifts but voiceless earth’s generosity is presumed upon as we often violently wrest wheat and grapes from inappropriate or at least over-farmed soil. Eating of course is not likely to be something we can ever evolve beyond- but our habits of demanding specific foods at will without dialogue with the environment are problematic toward with our (first world) excesses. We are a people who eat too much, drink too much and even when we try to curb our over-consumption we tend to starve ourselves in ways that harm our bodies and fragile psyches without material benefit to the planet.

Then of course there is the invisible labour that goes into producing the real, material food that in an overly religious interpretation of Eucharist becomes mere “symbol” or a privleged “spiritual reality” while the “gifts” of the workers underpaid time, the sometimes starving third-world producers that are behind so much of our consumption do not figure in our celebration of “gifted” blessedness that we thank God for.

If God specifically guided this slice of bread (or bowl of rice or quinoa) into my hand and into my open mouth, then that same God must have consigned the underpaid laborers behind my bowl of food to starve and watch their own children fail to thrive. Thus we construct God as white and relatively wealthy and actually sort of middle-class. We can “choose” ethical things and make our peace with our consciences, but the fact is we don’t really think about the global implications of out gluttony when we say that through “God’s goodness” we have this bread to offer.

To offer?

We offer it as a symbol and then we take it back again and distribute it to people who look and sound like us and make us feel comfortable. Which is a good in some sense of course but what if we were to really offer the bread of our lives to deeper love of the voiceless earth and the invisible human struggling labourer and her family?

“Which earth has given and human hands have made.” What do we then give to the earth and place into the emptied human hands as a true “offering” to a God we say is love.

Even in less extreme ways, I have a feeling there is a classism within most versions of formalised spirituality. We tend to invite into our midst only those who are beautiful in performative middle-class ways, who have as little first-hand experience as possible of being “othered”, even in feminist circles we make light of the difficulties others experience because we blithely trust that the “system” does what it says it does and distributes basics like food, medicine, health-care, counselling, education, etc to anyone who needs it. It is not a perfect system but it is reasonably functional. That idea circulates even in groups that are dedicated to social justice. Real poverty, real suffering happens “over there, far away” and we live in a largely enlightened society. If someone who has less comes to our church then this is an isolated case and we can help them, without opening our eyes to the need in our own society.

Privilege is ignorance of course, always, always ignorance and when we dismiss the claims of people who have been wronged by the system without having time to waste on getting into the whole story that is perfectly understandable.

But like the earth that “gives” and the “human hands” unconnected to voices or faces (or gender for that matter) what is invisible to us seeps into the bread of our lives and the oppressions we casually consent to by our inability or refusal to see and hear them seep into our spiritual drink. After all the “body of Christ” is a crucified, bleeding, beaten body and the “blood of Christ” is flogged out of him in violence and with mockery. Easy to think that he suffered and died “for us” like the endlessly “giving” earth, because our good and ease is more important than any other concern.

When the priest washes “his” hands, this is symbolic of washing away sin. The idea of washing used to seem to me to be a liberating idea. We travel through life, we get soiled, it is all washed away through sacraments of one sort or another and we continue. If “Sin” is a personal failing and a slight hiccough in our generally well-meaning and caring movement through life then this still makes sense.

But what if with the traces of sin, our awareness that something has been soiled, we are washing away only the evidence, and not the fact. Just as overly harsh soaps and chemicals can wash away “good bacteria”, “necessary oils” our own skin along with the dirt we are trying to escape, so our spiritual “washing” needs not to be a brainwashing into an ecstatic “new reality” where whatever we did yesterday or five minutes ago no longer happens.

I want to find something positive in all this, so I will return to the idea that gifting goes with feeding and allow us  a measure of “becoming-ness” like the babies whose meal-times I also help to preside over. The babies begin in the simplest way, by crying when they are hungry or wish to be held, within a few months they are sitting up and looking at each other’s faces at the table, they are tapping their spoons together and giggling and generally reacting to the “humanness” of each other, then they begin to invite teachers to sit and eat with them and gradually they learn that there exists a kitchen from which the food comes and to say “thank you” to the kitchen staff and teachers who make it possible. Over the next few childcare years they learn to participate in cooking, cleaning and even in the kitchen garden, their sphere if understanding slowly widens from just demanding the gifts of the meal to learning how to participate- to receive with gratefulness and to give to each other and to the adults.

In the same way, our smug words of feeling “blessed” and “gifted” as the haves of the planet, do need transformation, however there is the beginning of understanding in the fact that the earth and humans are at least mentioned as part of how “God” gives to us. We cannot be more than we are and we must love ourselves and each other as we develop more aware ways of taking what we need and truly “offering” to others (all others) in a more meaningful way.

I return then to an old favourite Proverbs 9:1-6 

Blessed are you Wisdom, caller to the table of all creation. Through your goodness we will learn to build your house and set your table with you. We will leave our toxic ways of being behind along with our ignorance. We will eat your bread (rice) and wine (soup) and we will learn to walk softly upon the giving earth and touch with love and abundance every human hand. Your bread and word are our life.

May God accept our desire to share in the abundance of creation, in ever widening circles of welcoming and gratefulness, may we seek our good entwined with the good of our neighbour.

This bread you are trying to feed me is stale

Another lovely slice of misogyny where men are people and women are just property to be used (by God) to make a point about the man’s sin. I am going to stop right there and rant about this issue I have with

A: the canon we still give such a privileged place to

B: the church and the power and privilege within the church and the blindness, stupidity, insensitivity or just plain cruelty of whoever establishes the lectionary

C: Patriarchy as the framework, justification and culture surrounding these agendas and ALSO the thing that erases resistance to these points of view or more commonly simply fails to register that resistance even exists

I have read Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror and I do try to see the horrible readings in this way. I do think there is a place for rape and abuse stories (however gut-churning, triggering and painful) to be told to avoid making victims invisible. BUT when you constantly tell the rape story just as an inconsequential footnote on the “real” story of the rapists I can’t see that that is ok. It’s not just that this story told and received uncritically is problematic, but this story is a form of abuse in and of itself and telling the story as if it is a valid and important story is an act of emotional/spiritual abuse! The multiple victims, the wives that get passed around from conqueror to conqueror depending on God’s whim and favour barely register in this story that is all about David, Uriah and God. Bathsheba sort of figures in the story, but not in any way that you could possibly hang any feminist hope on or even find solidarity for a critical approach (and believe me I have tried).

So why is it in the canon? Well quite understandably a patriarchal culture in which men were social actors and women (though probably really social actors too) were considered property and less than human would give rise to this sort of a story. Male privilege in these situations does not mean to be abusive of or even objectifying of women, it just does not see them clearly enough to even make a decision about “rights”. To have “rights” you have to exist, have subjectivity, have a point of view and be active in some way. Misogyny, xenophobia and classism are pretty much what you’d expect from an ancient patriarchal text like the bible. We can’t change the bible people would argue, it’s been handed down to us and we have to use it.

I think that’s a pretty silly argument actually if God has still been alive and working and relating in the many centuries since these stories were written. To petrify God in the ancient world, to say God was able to speak then but not now means we are not working with a living God. Surely nothing is given. I know it is frightening to cut loose from tradition because then what is it that grounds us and binds us together. It would be easier if we could just blindly lean on a common core a non-contested fundamental.

But the core here is patriarchy and a fundamental is invisible, casual, inconsequential rape.

I cannot worship a God that requires me to accept that.

I cannot. I will not. I can stare such a God defiantly in the face, because even assuming there is a “heaven” and a “hell” there is no possible “heaven” for me within a framework like that. I would put my soul on the line against rape, and I say that not only as a rape survivor but as someone who has feared for a sister and a step-daughter and an effeminate son in a still women-hating culture. So if God can casually hand over some objectified wives for rape and conquest then I spit in that God’s face.

And this is where I slam my bible shut and walk out.

But then…assuming I was not foolish enough to do that, to take the fight to this theoretical and canonised God Himself (pronoun intentional). Assuming instead that I have an apologist view toward this reading which is after all a product of a time and a place and does not necessarily have to be read as giving us a universal truth. Why focus on this after all, when there are so many, many other stories from the bible that might be more liberative or at least more nuanced?

But then we have the modern church in 2015, and this reading is seen by the church as so significant and full of good Christian treasures that it has pride of place as a Sunday reading over now two weeks (I won’t look ahead to see how many more). So it’s not just in the canon, it’s put into the lectionary, this story is meant to talk about equality or something. We’re meant to not notice the women getting casually sold off in the background and compartmentalise like the good white masculine subjects we are meant to be. The spotlight is on David, who cares about the non-entities suffering behind him. Uriah’s suffering trumps them all! As a woman, as a rape survivor, sister, daughter, some-time wife, mother and everything else that I am I call bullshit on that.

I won’t screw my face up into that particular squint to put the patriarchal blindspot over my own experience and my own interests.

THIS READING SUX.

But the leaders of the church are blind privileged men who have never been raped and have never been threatened with rape and have never been casually handed over in transactions between others depending on agendas that have nothing to do with their own interests. And they deliberately stack the odds and make the rules to keep voices like mine out of being more than an occasional curiosity. Any woman who wants to serve as a minister needs to toe the party line, they need to ensure no real transformation happens to the patriarchal white elephant (and I do acknowledge that women and even some men do manage to act subversively at times, but when they are overt about it they may still be disciplined).

I did glance at the gospel, in case it somehow undermines the horror of the first reading. John has Jesus theorising about spiritual “bread” which is better than the material. And speaking as a sometime poor single-mother who came to Jesus and still was hungry and thirsty and knows for a fact that many, many people in the world believers or not are STARVING because of the same sort of blind privilege which reduced people in the first reading down to rewards for men/kings I don’t really want to hear that right now.

Damn straight Jesus I would follow you if you feed me or my children or my millions of starving brothers and sisters. I am not so interested in following, believing, working or seeing signs if my body and soul are left hungry by your church and by your world. Nor am I (like a woman in another reading) content with crumbs when there are some who are given an abundance.

I throw down my gauntlet. What “bread” is in any of this for those on the margins of the stories, of the churches or of our global prosperity?

Why the hell should I take any of this on board?