The Taser's Edge

Turkey Day Meditations: Prophetic Feasting in a World Gone Wrong

What’s with November and moral murkiness?

An Anabaptist-leaning Methodist acquaintance claims today is about celebrating genocide.  On facebook:

I am so thankful that 400 years ago, a boat full of “Christians” came to this country, accepted the native people’s hospitality, and subsequently committed genocide against them. We need new freakin holidays.

A friend points me to NY Times blog, which reminds me today of the reality of gluttony alongside starvation in America.

Winslow Homer, Thanksgiving Day, 1860, The Two Great Classes of Society, from Harper’s Weekly, December 1, 1860.

Winslow Homer, Thanksgiving Day, 1860, The Two Great Classes of Society, from Harper’s Weekly, December 1, 1860. (Click to embiggen.)

My own experience is, for the first time, spending the holiday with no one from Holly’s or my family (having grown up with no Thanksgiving with fewer than 25 people related to me in the room).  Yesterday, I had to venture out for a couple last minute things, and I dreaded it.  Instead, I found that Thanksgiving Eve buying groceries is a lot different from going to the mall on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve at the mall is about going into more debt at 27% interest for crap that people don’t need and don’t even want.  Thanksgiving Eve is about preparing to exercise the virtues of friendship, hospitality, generosity, love, and gratitude. Yes, that whitewashes things, like people for whom the holiday reminds them of the losses of the past year or of the long-broken relationships which are throbbing with pain today, or for those who will go hungry.

Yet speaking in terms of Christian morality, I actually believe that we are called to times of feasting even in a world of killing hunger.  We are called to celebrate and to enjoy and to give thanks, because God is at work, and we are indeed blessed.  The way this gets unbalanced is when feasting becomes habitual gluttony, when we never fast, and when we consider our plenty to belong to us and to be our right.

The answer is not to avoid the very real and worth-asking question of genocide behind this particular holiday (which I think we should educate our children about), and it’s not to deny that many hunger and die (which I think we should educate ourselves about).  Instead, we bring those concerns into our prayer and into our worship on this day.

In truth, genocide, starvation, and economic injustice can only be understood for how deeply evil they are when they are placed in the context of the love and abundance which are the nature of the Kingdom of God, the way things should be and shall be.  Nothing can be very wrong in a world which is not going to become as unimaginably right as ours will be one day.  Our feasting is a sign and prophetic action, proclaiming that though that world might seem far off, it is also here today, and it’s incredibly fitting that Thanksgiving always seems to fall in the week of Christ the King.
Now let’s pray this post.  I think it expresses what I’m talking about.


A metaphor for the limitless and wasteful generativity of nature from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, ch. 10, “Fecundity”:

Say you are the manager of the Southern Railroad.  You figure that you need three engines for a stretch of track between Lynchburg and Danville.  It’s a mighty steep grade.  So at fantastic effort and expense you have your shops make nine thousand engines.  Each engine must be fashioned just so, every rivet and bolt secure, every wire twisted and wrapped, every needle on every indicator sensitive and accurate.

You send all nine thousand of them out on the runs.  Although there are engineers at the throttles, no one is manning the switches.  The engines crash, collide, derail, jump, jam, burn….At the end of the massacre you have three engines, which is what the run would support in the first place.  There are few enough of them that they can stay out of each others’ paths.

You go to your board of directors and show them what you’ve done.  And what are they going to say?  You know what they’re going to say: It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

Is it a better way to run a universe?

Lent Thoughts 1.2.1–Taking Up

I’ve been meaning to do this post everyday since Lent began.  And now it’s here.  I was feeling a bit odd about publishing my Lenten commitments.  It’s my non-Lenty past, I think.  Still playing on repeat the verse I talked about on Ash Wednesday in the back of my mind (Matthew 6 about prayer and fasting and giving alms in secret).

There’s another stream in my mind, however, and I think it came from Duke.  This second stream is the communal focus.  That is, self-examination is one thing, and it has its place.  But the work that God does in us, the process through which God saves and makes us holy and whole is accomplished with the help of others.  Not because God couldn’t do it any other way, but because God seems to want to do it that way, or so the church has discerned for centuries.  God wants us to need each other and to live with each other (and in one another’s ‘personal’ space and  on one another’s personal toes).  So I write these publicly so you can get on my toes and in my space (because a lot of it’s your space too), ask me questions about whether these somewhat weird things actually make a difference, and just plain hold me to these commitments.  I also think writing this post has something to do with practicing Taking Up #2 (see below).

Taking Up: Adding new things to my spiritual life is much more natural to who I am.  I like spiritual disciplines, perhaps just because they make me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with myself and with my time.  This year, the things I added have as much to do with cultivating my mental health as cultivating my Christian character (and I really don’t believe that those two things are any longer separable in me).

1. Gratitude/Thankfulness–Lots of self-help/psychology/spirituality books prefer the first term, possibly because many of them are coming out of a Buddhist or other not particularly theistic (or at least not believing in a personal, loving, intervening-in-history-and-our-lives God) worldview.  For me, taking up the practice of gratitude is the other side of the thankfulness coin.  Gratitude is the manner in which I receive, and thankfulness is honoring the One from whom I receive.  Both gratitude and thankfulness mean that I truly pay attention to and enjoy what I have been given.  It is a different way of seeing the world.  The practice of gratitude/thankfulness quickly runs over into the practice of enjoying, or finding enjoyment, in everything around me.  Some of you know how serious I can be or seem to be, how much I sometimes need to remember what it’s like (and how important it is for my overall health) to play, how much I need to enjoy (and stop all this darn thinking).  I’m working on it.

2. Generosity–Although I certainly look up to other people for being more generous monetarily than I am (I’m thinking of my brother Zack and my friend Dave as particularly good models), I think that for me that way of being generous needs to come out of a different kind of personal generosity.  When I say that I want to practice generosity during Lent, I mean that I want to be more generous with myself.  I want to be more free in giving myself to God, to other people, and to myself.  All of these things involve personal risk, and that is something which I want to step forward into, as uncomfortable as it is.  I’m thinking of my CPE interns group from last semester and the CPE residents group which I will begin meeting with in June.  I’m thinking of my small group from church.  When I offer of myself generously, other people are freed to offer of themselves generously.  Everyone experiences freedom.

This, of course, also has to do with offering grace and forgiveness.  Personally, while I certainly can use some work on even admitting that I get angry at God (which I do–hoppin’ mad at times), let alone offering God the graciousness that God continually gives me; and while forgiveness of other people always takes some time and effort (and especially time…and effort), my unforgiveness is mostly focused inwardly.  If I were as quick to forgive myself as I am to forgive people who wrong me, I would be in a much better place mentally and spiritually.  So, I’m hoping that generosity will bring healing in several ways.

3. A Penitential Order: Rite II (p. 351 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer)–It hasn’t been clear yet, but I am trying to practice all of these things everyday.  Still having trouble figuring out what that means with the first two, other than trying to purposely be generous and thankful a handful of times each day.  With this third commitment, it’s easier to know what I mean.  Each day I have been using this order as my morning prayer.  I’ll usually add a Gospel reading or something to it, but this liturgy forms the core of my morning devotions.  I’m intending to copy it out into the next post, so you can see what it is.  One thing that has been very powerful for me is in seeing how reading and meditating on the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) can actually be a very real way in which God goes to work on my life.  I have always found it a bit weird that Christians still make a big deal out of the Ten Commandments, but submitting to this practice has helped me to begin to see how much worth there is in having our hearts investigated by the Spirit through them.