One of the unexpected blessings of being down with the flu is the chance to catch up on reading the Christian Century magazines that sit by my bedside. I always skim the latest issue when it arrives - and sometimes dive right into a particularly important essay - but mostly I take my time with these gems. And in time, a stack of them takes shape and for on my night stand that eventually gets explored during the quiet time after Christmas and Easter as well as summer vacations.Today two book reviews captured my imagination:
+ A Play-Full Life: Slowing Down and Seeking Peace by Jaco Hamman. The review notes that "in an era and society in which fear, worry and anxiety are ever-present and constantly amplified, Hamman offers a play-full life as both an alternative and a form of faithful resistance." This is exactly what was suggested by Harvey Cox in his brilliant but oft overlooked work from 1968: Feast of Fools. Cox was prescient when he wrote:
It is important to emphasize that among other things man (sic) in his very essence is homo festivas and homo fantasia. Celebrating and imagining are integral parts of (our) humanity. But Western industrial man in the past few centuries has begun to lose his capacity for festivity and fantasy - and this loss is calamitous for three reasons: 1) It deforms man by depriving him of an essential ingredient in human existence; 2) It endangers his very survival as a species by rendering him provincial and less adaptive; and 3) It robs him of a crucial means of sensing his important place in fulfilling the destiny of the cosmos. The loss is personal, social and religious.
As a local church pastor I have long known this to be true - and experimented with ways of reclaiming the foundational practices of fantasy and festival in both my personal as well as corporate spirituality. Last Saturday, for example, was our annual Harvest Dinner at church. Sometimes this has been a very "dry" and uber-adult affair: wine and cheese at 5:30 pm followed by lounge music and a sit-down dinner. And there is a place for dressing in our finery and putting on the Ritz from time to time - even at church. But not if it shuts out young families, children, the poor or those without a sense of "place" within the congregation. Then, indeed, we become the "country club at prayer."
So, over the past five years we've tried to find ways of making this annual event more festive in the most playful sense - and now children and families, people with partners and those who are solitary have started participating in larger and larger numbers. My lay leaders let themselves be playful with the tradition - they encouraged fantasy and experimentation - and on Saturday over 80 of us from 7 to 95 gathered for a feast. For the first time the church band, Between the Banks, was asked to provide entertainment, too. So we discerned that rather than perform, the theology of this feast demanded a group hymn-sing-a-long event with as many full body, hand movement songs thrown into the mix as possible. Laughter, too - hence the "competition" to sing "Amazing Grace" not only to the well known tune but also to "Stairway to Heaven," "House of the Rising Sun" and let's not forget "Gilligan's Island!"
Cox writes in a provocative and playful way: In representing Christ as a clown our generation probably senses, at least intuitively, that the painted grin and motley suit carry multiple meanings and more. The very ambiguity of the cap and bells somehow suits our wistful, ironic attitude towards Christ. To Christ's pointed question of Peter, "Who do you say I am?" we can no longer conscientiously spout only the conventional replies... (so that) we may express many things at once: our doubts, our disillusionment, our fascination and our ironic hope." Clearly, I am going to order this book and invite our leadership team to read it with me.
+ Then there is Norman Wirzba's Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating. This looks like a winner, too that helps deepen my own theology of the feast in thought and practice. For the past 10 years I have been thinking, experimenting, studying and practicing an ever-evolving theology of the feast. When we were in Glasgow, Scotland I saw a little flier in one of the many churches we visited that framed the ministry of Christ as making his hands, feet, heart and mind real. That led to me reclaiming the importance of table fellowship - and a decade long search for ways of building Christian community around the radically open table.
Wirzba writes: Why did God create a world in which every living creature must eat? He then answers it like this: "Eating joins people to each other, to other creatures and to the world." My daughters have helped me explore this with their commitment to feasting at the holidays. We love to set a beautiful table and create rich and satisfying meals for one another. I've grown deeper through the writing of Joy Mead - The One Loaf - Holly Whitcomb - Feasting with God - and Donna Sinclair's brilliant Spirituality of Bread. What's more, the celebration of Eucharist has become central to my presence as a pastor. I share Mead's observation that:
... the so-called Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as it is observed in most churches, has little relevance for modern people, precisely because it has little or no relation to eating and drinking outside the church walls. With the problems of hunger and poverty - and of the production, distribution and consumption of food which oppress all people in their daily lives - Holy Communion has virtually no relation to people's work, their economics or their politics... it seems that a wedge has been driven between the sacred and the secular, the soul and the body, the spiritual and the temporal... a wedge that remains between a holy and profane way of eating and drinking.
Perhaps that is why I rejoiced over Saturday's feast that was filled with fun and real connections. This is a parable for our deepening ministry, yes? A radical, simple, earthy and practical way of being Christ's body in the world: feasting in a playful and compassionate way in community.
As the Century article put it: "it is all about communion, community and (participation)... (in a world of) exile where we refuse to welcome and accept responsibility for the membership of creation of which we are a part; exile is alienation and isolation from communion... But every mundane act of eating is an invitation to commune with God and God's creation."
So as the flu moves through and I take a little down time, I give thanks to God.
+ Gastronomical Jesus @ http://paintedprayerbook.com
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