On Thanksgiving

November 22, 2018 at 8:57 pm (Poetry, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , )

Over the past few years, I have found myself drawn time and again to the provision of manna and quail during the Israelite Exodus out of Egypt – a powerful parable which leads us to ask how the sacrament of Manna invites us to a new understanding of what “enough” is, in an economic context which has modelled scarcity, disparity and unjust distribution of wealth.

The story invites us to consider how a community of people, finding themselves in a barren land devoid of the conditions for life to thrive, learn what it means to not only believe that there is enough; but to demonstrate it. Six weeks into their exodus from Egypt, there’s an all too common grumble on their lips: “If only…” “If only we’d stayed in Egypt, why did you bring us here to make us die of hunger and thirst? “ Moses intercedes on their behalf and the Lord rains down supplies. But the provision doesn’t come without a proviso – Take only what you need. No more; no less.

Isn’t this profound? Each family gathers as much as they need and when they measure it out in the assembly, those who gathered much do not have too much; and those who gathered a little did not have too little. The story is so evocative that it’s told and retold by the prophets, becoming a refrain throughout the history of Israel, “Remember that time when the Lord provided bread from heaven? Remember that time when we lived and ate our daily bread together – never again having to ask for it, for 40 years until the moment our feet touched the soil of Canaan? Remember when everyone had enough. Every day. No more than enough; and no less than enough. Remember, remember…”

The refrain is picked up again in the Gospels, as John weaves the parallels together. The crowd cries, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’ What have you got?” And Jesus responds, “I… I am the true bread”. The telling comes full circle as here, embodied in our midst, is the one who offers himself to us as the bread of life. Jesus takes up this tremendous metaphor and offers his first I Am found in John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life.” Here he is then, the daily bread come to earth, as it is in heaven. The all-sufficient. The one who leaves us satiated and quenched.

But lest we disembody Jesus’ statement in this moment, let us remember when it takes place. The disciples and Jesus have just returned back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, after the feeding of the five thousand. That bizarre anecdote, in which a boy’s offering of five loaves and two fish, satisfies the hunger of a crowd of over 5000. It’s easy to lose the weight of this story in light of the acclamation Jesus makes after. “I am the bread of life”, he teaches. His words would have landed in the fertile imaginations of a people who have just received enough, and more. What is manna – sufficiency – compared to the gathering of 12 extra baskets – abundance?!

Just a few months later, this same Teacher finds himself at the feast of the Passover celebrating the Exodus from Egypt and of bread from heaven, sufficient unto each, that sustained a nation for 40 years. In the middle of the meal he calls the attention of those gathered and raising the bread, recalls to their minds that hot day on the mountainside and the 5000 men seated waiting in groups of 50. Then taking the loaf, so similar to the ones offered by the small boy, breaks it and says, “This is my body; broken for you. As often as you do this, do it as a remembrance of me.”

As often as you do this. As often. My imagination is ignited as I think of this basic dietary item, present at every meal. Could the Teacher have chosen a more fitting item to recall ourselves one to another with such regularity?

I know how the teaching proceeds. The bread of life – essential for life eternal; trivial to the physical. A metaphor for the spiritual realm, a covenant for the ethereal. Wholly concerned with the hereafter: discarnate and incorporeal. Try as I might, I cannot reconcile this with the stories that got us here. Six hundred thousand grumbling, hangry, people in the middle of no-man’s land, gathering up the tangible, corporeal substance of bread from who knows where, each as much as they needed and finding themselves in a micro-economy of absolute sufficiency. Or five thousand lethargic, hot, hangry, people on a hillside listening to an itinerate preacher, sharing together the little they had between them and finding themselves in a micro-economy of bounty.

We degrade this sacrament when we insist upon viewing it as a solely symbolic meal. We degrade the remembrance when we break the bread during the sacred moment and yet hoard our bread when our brothers are going hungry. We degrade the remembrance when we share the cup, and neglect to offer even a glass of water to the least of these. Dare I say it, we commit the sin of Sodomy, when we gorge ourselves on real bread while our neighbours starve. Woe to us who seek to absolve ourselves by holding the remembrance of what the Lord demonstrated to us in giving his body for us, above the practice of doing likewise.

Enacting Remembrance

So where does that leave me? I know only that a reading of the I Am of the Bread of Life as disembodied and immaterial leaves me feeling like I’m missing half the story. I know that I resonate with the Israelite community in the desolate nothing, with the lethargic crowds on that sultry hilltop, and with the jostling disciples scrambling around the table in those weeks following the Messiah’s resurrection. I know that the Communion that is offered by my, at times, watered-down faith tradition, detached from the physicality of real bread and real wine, from real hunger and real thirst, leaves me wanting. And I know, that the invitation to partake of the staples of our diet in recurring and regular remembrance of our Messiah, is offered not just to us as individuals but to us as a community. When we are instructed to break the bread and extend it to our neighbour, our offering is devoid of any dynamism if it is merely spirit devoid of substance. Finally, I know, if I approach the table of communion without recognizing and responding to the body of Christ in my midst, I desecrate that holy remembrance.

Beginning on Thanksgiving and ending on Christmas Eve, part of our Advent journey is the Anderson-tradition of “Eucharisteo”. Each day we give thanks; an active remembering of the grace we have received, receive and will receive. But it’s more than just giving thanks. In doing so we affirm the sacrament of communion as a binding narrative for all our relationships. On the mountain before the 5000 and again in a small room with his closest community, Jesus enacts the four sovereign verbs of the Eucharist: he takes, gives thanks, breaks, and shares. So as we prepare ourselves “for that which we are about to receive”, we are reminded daily not to desecrate this family meal by neglecting the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence: to take, to give thanks, to break and to share. Communion is not only to be remembered; but practiced.

This is how I want to take communion. In homes and before fires, on beaches before waves, on mountains before open skies, in fields before sunsets. Around tables and around friends. In crowded rooms filled with laughter and in quiet corners filled with tears. And even in churches.

This is how I want to take communion. With loaves of bread that fill me, not wafer thin crackers that remind me I am empty. With glasses of remembrance, not sips of observance. I want it to be abundant, not scarce. I want it to fill my being, not dissolve on my tongue before I can even taste its goodness. I want it to satisfy my thirst, not wet my tongue leaving me desiring more. I want it to be sacramental, not sentimental. I want it in sacred spaces and profane, but not in abstracted places. I want it to be intimate and accessible, not isolated and exclusionary.

This is how I want it to be when I remember. This is how I want it to be when I sit with that sacrifice. This is how I want to know those words. This conspiring; this breathing-together. This community; this gift-together. This communion; this sharing-together. This covenant; this coming-together. 

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

On the labourers at the side of the road

May 9, 2017 at 6:56 am (Parables, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wealthy man who was making renovations to his house and drove down Rosmead Avenue at 7am on a Tuesday morning. He found some men sitting on the side of the road waiting for work. Pulling over, he called over to a man holding a paint roller, another holding a chainsaw and a third sitting next to a box of tools. He agreed to pay them R300 each for the day’s labour – a daily wage twice as large as the minimum wage set by the government. He set them to work at his home.

A few hours later, around 10 in the morning, he drove back down Rosmead and finding a few more men, agreed to the same rate and set them to work. When he went back down at midday, he saw a man who had been waiting for work since 6 am. The man was looking down at his shoes, dejection found in the line of his slumped shoulders. He was so engrossed in looking at the ground that he didn’t even notice the bakkie which had pulled up. Quickly recognizing the call for work, he jumped in the bakkie cab. When they returned to the house the others were already eating lunch. The wealthy man beckoned to the newly arrived worker, telling him to get out and join the others in their meal before starting work. Once more, around 4pm, the wealthy man was driving down Rosmead and found still more men sitting on the side of the road.

He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He ushered them into the vehicle and they too joined the workers on the construction site.

At around 5pm it was time for the workers to leave. A few of the wealthy man’s guests arrived and were sitting around in the garden drinking cocktails as the man gathered the workers and paid them each the wage of R300. The guests looked on in amazement. One of the guests, a lady, began questioning the workers: “Are you not angry that you who worked from early in the morning, skilled labourers who brought your own tools, received the same wage as the men who came an hour before the end of the work day? Isn’t that unfair? And what of the man who arrived at lunch time who shared the food that should have been all yours? He hadn’t even worked yet, before he was sitting down, putting his feet up and having tea!” The more she asked, the angrier she became. The workers didn’t respond, but thanking the wealthy man for the work, went together on their way.

When the workers had left, the wealthy man joined his friends. The woman who had been questioning the workers was furious. She was planning some house renovations and asked her friend whether he wasn’t ashamed that he was flaunting his wealth and driving labour costs up for all the rest of them. Others chimed in: “Now all labourers will expect R300?” “Don’t you think they’ll just stop by the shebeen on the way home and drink it away?” “I can’t afford to pay R300/day. What am I supposed to do now?” “You know they would have worked for you for half that amount. These people don’t need that much – they make do on much less.” “If you pay unskilled labourers the same as skilled labourers, there’s no incentive for people to improve themselves? Wage tiers are put in place for a reason.”

On and on the friends went. Eventually the wealthy man had enough. “What is it to you how I spend my money? You’re angry because my generosity highlights your stinginess. You accuse me, to justify yourselves. You snakes, trying to get away with the bare minimum required by law and hoarding up wealth, gorging yourselves on the labour of others.”

Sullenly, the guests got up to leave. As they went away they murmured amongst themselves, listing out the things they do for poor people and hating the wealthy man’s arrogance.

“Just like him, to try guilt-trip us into giving away everything we have. Well, just wait, because when he’s squandered his wealth away, those men are still going to be sitting day in and day out on the side of the road waiting for work. And then they’ll be forced to take anything they can get,” the lady grumbled.

Permalink 2 Comments

On meeting again

February 13, 2017 at 10:14 pm (Poetry) ()

God, petulant,

Berates me this morning,

Where’ve you been? What took you so

Long? I’ve been waiting for

HOUUUUUUUUUURS!

Look how tall I’ve grown in your absence

I

Almost

Reach

The sky

Blue-ombre tunic twirls

– The master is proved right,

Whirls like a Golden Compass

Beyond all that is Rational –

I cleared the room

So it would just be

Us

When we met

Again

(See the faces peering out from behind

Bannister-mountains, whispering, Is that her?)

– Everything in Existence

Does point

to God –

Permalink Leave a Comment

On Quests and States

September 23, 2016 at 2:25 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , )

Last week, an old friend posted an ostensibly open question: “What is an instance of systemic injustice in South Africa?” Others quickly jumped on giving a few high level as well as every-day examples of areas they see systemic injustice and institutionalized racism at play. Friend A’s response was to carefully and rationally explain why each subsequent example was not, indeed, systemic injustice. I sat back watching, fighting the urge to jump in with several more examples. The conversation felt like a non-starter. Friend A entered the conversation with the intention of proving himself right rather than opening up his views and opinions to being proved wrong (or at least challenged). Instead of asking to expand his worldview, he asked to fortify his status quo.

 

If your first question is not followed by a second question, you are not listening to understand; you are listening to defend.

 

Soong-Chan Rah made this comment which has rocked my world over the last two years, “If you’re justice-minded and have never had a person of colour as a mentor, you’re not a missionary; you’re a colonialist.” His follow up was jarring: who has permission to speak into your life? If you are pursuing a genuine quest for understanding, you have to begin asking new questions in new spaces in order for there to be any fair chance of you coming up with any new answers. So ask yourself now, whose perspectives and experiences are you giving preference to? Who is mentoring you? Who have you given explicit authority and invitation to, to challenge you, point out your blind spots and tell you to shut up when necessary? What are the last 5 books you read?

 

Who are the authors you are regularly reading, the news broadcasts you are following, the editorials you are engaging with, the podcasts you are listening to, the people you are spending time with? Who are the last 5 people you invited across the threshold, into the intimacy of your home, to sit at your table and truly commune with you?

 

If you are genuinely seeking understanding then you need to demonstrate that commitment by expanding your frame of reference. If you continue to build your carefully articulated rationalizations for the way you experience and understand the world based on the opinions and thought pieces and experiences of the individuals who look and think and live like you, then all you’ll do is continually reinforce your own position. To truly disrupt the way we see the world, we have to start asking different questions in different spaces.

questions-lead-to-a-quest-statements-lead-to-a-state

Not sure where to start? Here’s a challenge. For the next 6 months fundamentally shift your frame of reference to ONLY listen to voices that don’t support your current perceptions and opinions. Seriously. You don’t need any more pats on the back, affirmations of what you think, or evidence that continues to support and reinforce your particular view of the world. That stuff is entrenched enough to handle whatever comes at it over the next 6 months (or maybe it isn’t and wouldn’t that be scandalous?!)

  1. For News
    • Al Jazeera
    • Huffington Post (but only POC authors)
    • Financial Mail
  2. For Opinion and Analysis
    • Eusebius Mckaiser
    • Khaya Dlanga
    • Verashni Pillay
    • Wanelisa Xaba
  3. For Every-Day Thought Leaders
    • Sindile Vabaza
    • Ashley Visagie
    • Linde Ndaba
    • Sam Mahlawe
  4. For Facebook Groups (Secondary challenge: don’t engage for 3 months! Shut up and listen and observe.)
    • Know the past to walk justly into the future
    • Rainbow Racist Rehab
  5. For Blogs
    • groundup.org.za
    • izwelethublog.wordpress.com
    • engagesomemore.co.za

If you have a recommendation for the list and who people might listen to during their 6-month detox experiment add them in the comments.

P.S. To be fair, the invitation goes both ways. For those who regularly engage in conversations driven by or reflected in the above list, how might you diversify the voices and perspectives you are giving credence to and the experiences and stories you are listening to?

Permalink 2 Comments

On gold

July 21, 2015 at 5:33 am (Poetry) (, , )

Someone

got into the special paints this morning.

(The ones kept on top of the fridge, behind the cereal and last week’s mail)

Stood on tippy-toes and

stretched her hand

up up up

til

she was impossibly tall.

As guilty fingers touched eternity – teetered, overbalanced –

light splattered

across the kitchen floor.

Everyone knows who did it;

The Creator’s fingertips are still stained

gold.

Permalink Leave a Comment

on new hobbies

July 21, 2015 at 5:22 am (Poetry) (, , )

It seems while I was away

God took up a new hobby

leaving love letters I read while driving to work.

(Perhaps if I look under the bed, I’ll find a shoebox filled with them

and be shocked that He’s been doing it for years.

What a conversation that would be!)

I guess He was secretly spying on me

that time I sat on a bench in MOMA

captivated by iridescence.

So the Creator asked Monet to teach Him how to paint a sunrise.

I think He’s feeling quite pleased with His technique.

Permalink 1 Comment

on playing around

July 21, 2015 at 5:18 am (Uncategorized)

God skips across the morning sky

in front of my windscreen

trailing streamers and blowing a party horn

(you know, the kind that unfurls from pursed lips?)

Makes me think of husband-man

pulling faces and speaking in foreign accents

looking to crack a smile as I pull on my boots and check my mail.

Reminds me that this too is the Creator,

playing silly buggers,

trying to be the center of my attention.

Permalink Leave a Comment

On spaghetti and learning

May 12, 2015 at 2:55 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , )

The idea is simple: gather good people around good food and good discussion and see what happens. So we did. We turned off technology and tuned in to people. It was messy and it was chaotic, it was painful and it was personal and it was powerful. It was raw and it was redemptive. Some of us ate spaghetti with a spoon cos we ran out of cutlery. We sat on the floor and on stools and really close to each other – three people thigh to thigh on a chair made for two. We talked and told stories, argued and challenged, wrestled and sat in silence – the good kind and the uncomfortable kind. We left with heads and hearts aching, but full.

Here’s some of what I learnt

1. White privilege is less about access to “stuff” and more about access to choices or, in Sen’s theorizing, capabilities – the real opportunities of being and doing available to attain well-being. Here’s an example: consider a priest who is fasting and a man in a famine-stricken country who is starving. The key element in determining a person’s well-being here is not whether both are experiencing hunger, but whether the person has access to food and is choosing not to eat. The functioning is starving but the capability to obtain an adequate amount of food is the key element in evaluating well-being between these two individuals. Having a lifestyle is not the same as choosing it; well-being depends on how that lifestyle came to be.

Here’s another example. Consider a bike as a commodity which enables the functioning of mobility. Personal, social and environmental conversion factors impact an individual’s ability to convert the commodity (the bike) into functioning (getting from A to B).  If a person is physically disabled, never learnt to ride a bike, if women are not allowed to ride bikes, or if there are no roads, then a person’s capacity to convert the potential of the bike into movement is limited. It’s not enough to give someone a bike if they don’t have the ability, the capacity, the enabling conditions to ride it in a way that moves them forward (or if they don’t have access to a pump, if they cannot take the bike out without being physically threatened by a mugging, etc)

2. In a post-industrial/post-agricultural world, we believe that we too are living in the Information Age, where the primary means of production is Knowledge and the accumulation of knowledge (i.e. education) is the means by which individuals access livelihood, opportunity, resource, jobs etc. I simply don’t believe this is true in South Africa. I wonder if perhaps we are actually in the Age of Connection. Knowledge might be power, but it’s less about what you know and more about who you know. The primary means of production might be Social Capital – the contacts and connections which enable us to network, navigate and negotiate the economic landscape. Perhaps education is the capability, but the functioning is all about social capital – it’s the people we know, the professional contacts, the personal networks that enable us to actualize opportunity. White privilege is at its core all about social capital.

3. While I can sympathize with the pain and anger of black friends, I don’t think I can actually empathize. I can show compassion for, seek to understand, commiserate with, experience anger on behalf of but I can never really experience “from within another’s frame of reference”. As one of our guests so rightly pointed out “We do not and cannot experience EQUAL frustration. You had a choice.”

4. I need to shut up more. Perhaps one of our greatest failings as white people in South Africa is our inability to sit in silence. When we listen to the voices of our black brothers/sisters expressing pain, anger, frustration, or simply sharing their experience, we want to immediately question, clarify, push-back, argue, dissect, debate, wrestle, show the other side, point out the discrepancies or inconsistencies, locate within the “larger picture”, propose solutions, and find “action steps”. We don’t know how to sit – just SIT – with a rage that fills a room, sucks all the air from it, and leaves our friends shaking. We have ears but do not hear, and eyes but do not see.

5. Reconciliation is not the path towards Justice but rather Justice is the path towards Reconciliation. Until and unless Justice has been enacted we can not experience right relationship. (Thanks, Nkosi!)

Read what  Brett Fish Anderson and Nkosi Gola shared about this dinner.

Permalink 2 Comments

NaPoWriMo Day 8 – Calligram

April 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm (Poetry) ()

And now for something completely different…

Our prompt for the day (optional, as always) plays of our resources. Today, I challenge you to write a visual poem. If that’s not specific enough, perhaps you can try your hand at a calligram? That’s a poem or other text in which the words are arranged into a specific shape or image. You might find inspiration in the famous calligrams written by Guillaume Apollinaire. And a word to the wise — the best way to cope with today’s exercise may well be to abandon your keyboard, and sit down with paper and pen (and maybe crayons or colored pencils or markers!)

SLOWS

Permalink 2 Comments

NaPoWriMo Day 7 – Palinode

April 11, 2015 at 4:31 am (Poetry) (, )

Today I challenge you to write a palinode. And what’s that? It’s a poem in which the poet retracts a statement made in an earlier poem. You could take that route or, if you don’t have an actual poetically-expressed statement you want to retract, maybe you could write a poem in which you explain your reasons for changing your mind about something. It could be anything from how you decided that you like anchovies after all to how you decided that annoying girl was actually cool enough that you married her.

I
said I couldn’t run
The last time I tried
I was 9
and by the time I crossed the finish
line
adults were packing up the hotdogs.
Today I ran 5 kilometers.

I
said I couldn’t grow things
The last time I tried
I killed 2
cactus’s. You know the kind they say
can’t die?
I drowned them.
Today I ate kale from my garden.

I
said I couldn’t write regularly
As if words could flow on demand.
As if I were 3.
All it takes is a little
discipline.
Today I celebrate a week of poems.

Permalink 2 Comments

Next page »

%d bloggers like this: