Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bread Thoughts

Today marked the beginning of a series of readings from the Gospel According to John about Jesus and bread. "I am the bread of life."

For those who do not know, nearly 3 years ago, I spent 6 nights in the hospital, due to a clogged artery. Long story short, no surgery was required, but I have a stint in a vessel on my heart. And my GP has me on a diet to help keep my body from producing cholesterol. In short, low-carb. In his words, "You need to treat bread as toxic."

It was the first thing I thought of today as we're hearing the story of the multiplication of the bread loaves (and fishes---good for the heart, so maybe it balances out).

I wish I had something deep and meaningful to say about that. Seems like there's some theological comment to be made, some way to say, "Yes, but Jesus is the Bread of Life. Not toxic like your dinner roll." Sort of how people insist that God is absolutely Father, even if people had terrible abusive fathers. "But God is the Good Father."

I guess mostly, it's a reminder that not all analogies work for everyone. And I've never been a huge fan of bread anyway.

+ + +

Alarmingly, at least to me, it's not all about me.

My pastor had a good sermon on the text, pointing out that the multiplication of loaves is the only story in each of the 4 canonical gospels (makes you think this story really caught the first century imagination) and that explanations for the miracle (such as people started sharing what they had and revealed that among them, they had more than enough even though it first looked like they had nothing) are irrelevent because in the end, there were still plenty of leftovers.

Abundance is there. A small gift is multiplied and abundance, to paraphrase a common phrase, happens.

It was a good reminder for me today. Ever since my trip to Durham, I've been in a funk, feeling rather discouraged. I heard stories from people at the top of their field eking out an existence and people who have given their lives to art looking at their twilight years with less security than most people who lost millions on Wall Street last year. Even though all of these people spoke of not trading their lives for anything, I've been angry and depressed (seldom at the same time because it's a little difficult to pull off) that this is how our culture treats people who sacrifice their lives to create beauty and/or mirrors to the world though their art.

More to the point (because even though it's not all about me, I'm shockingly gifted at making it all about me), I felt like there was little point to the effort. I've been writing for years, doing some performing, and (outside a few people who seem to have been truly affected by a couple of things I've done) it all seems like useless energy. Millions of dollars are going to be spent on making another explosion movie and millions of dollars are going to be spent going to see it, and people with deeper, more subtle messages are going to be ignored.

Why bother with my meager gifts? Why pretend all the energy expended is worth it?

Because, I'm reminded today, God takes the outrageous scarcity of our lives and multiplies. In the illogical arithmetic of grace, the scarcity, the poverty of our lives becomes abundant life.
I've experienced it over and over. So why do I let these things get me down? Call it my personal sin. My sin of discouragement. Which in turn becomes a sin of stinginess. My loaf of bread isn't appreciated anyway, so why give it? What I have to give isn't appreciated anyway, why offer it?
I'm reminded that however poorly my loaf is received, I still need to present it, put it out there, let it go. God does the multiplication. God holds the calculator here, and I don't know how the miracle happens, but the knowing how is irrelevent. To mix metaphors (and parables), I can only sow the seed I have, however poor. I won't know or maybe even see who gets to reap the harvest.

Sisters and brothers, let us re-dedicate ourselves to putting in our loaves. Let us re-dedicate ourselves to planting.

+ + +

Silliness: Sometime ago, and I believe this was a true story although I can't footnote it, I read a story about a group of Bible translators working with some culture that didn't have a grain-based diet and hence, no bread. Without bread a staple, phrases like "I am the bread of life" make little sense. Turns out that this culture did have a starchy staple, however: the sweet potato. So the translators translated Jesus' words into: "I am the sweet potato of life."

It kind of sheds new light (here comes the silliness) on all of the "I Yam" sayings . . .

1 comment:

  1. Neil, that was New Guinea with the yams I'll bet.

    Excellent post. I think all artists crave recognition, but recognition at any one time doesn't define what makes art valuable. Artists are not always discovered after they die, but it isn't uncommon. Some work languishes for centuries before it changes the world.

    Jesus did bring down the Roman Empire. It just took longer than his life and longer than the lives of his friends. The miracle is not that poverty and weakness are instantaneously and magically changed into power, but that power is hidden in weakness so that "small" people and events matter eternally.