Thursday, January 29, 2015

One From the Hearth: Can there be such a thing as a theology of "excess?" A Meditation on the Super Bowl, feast and spectacle...


I can eat.

I love to eat, to enjoy a good drink, to break bread with friends and family. 

I love to feast.

Couple ogether those two traits, that I can EAT and that I love to FEAST and what small wonder that I should be blogging and ruminating on this upcoming Sunday's "SuperBowl Feast." Purportedly, citizens of the United States wind up consuming more calories per person on SuperBowl Sunday than they do at Thanksgiving. In fact, Thanksgiving runs a close third behind the SuperBowl and the week before the Super Bowl! That week runs a consistent, close second to the day of consumption. What does that mean? It means that on a normal day, wherein a person might consume between 1400-2200 calories a day, that bumps up to over 6,000 calories per person during the hours of the game.

In light of that celebratory excess, is there something we can discern of the life of Christ in all that cheese, chili, chicken wings and nachos? Hard to say....gluttony? No. Feast? Yes....but what's the difference?

I think there is something intrinsic to the life of Christ that can only, truly be found in the feast. We find Christ in our fasts as well...but that will be another post (when we drift  nearer to Lent). Christ is the one who calls us to a radical fellowship that happens at table. In the dining custom of the day, food was presented and served from a single vessel. People ate with their hands. To feast with someone was to share plate and portion, to place your hand in the same food that they were eating from. Eating was a shared reality, not a solo act. Throughout the gospels, Jesus teaches with food, welcomes with food and even upon occasion redeems with food. In our imagination, we tend to think of those portions offered as being moderate and modest. Yes, there is a theology of abundance, but we assume that means "just enough" and it pulls back from "too much." That's easy to do and thus contrast it with a theology of scarcity, the assumption that there is never enough. 

But in a culture wherein excess is the norm, how do we form an authentic and true awareness of ourselves at table, in fellowship with Christ and each other, that is anywhere near authentic? Could Jesus sit at our Superbowl table and recognize it as a common and sacred moment?

That is on my heart today for two reasons...the first is that we are nearing the secular feast of the Super Bowl; and the second that I am still a little full from eating with the guests at last night's Community Supper soup kitchen meal my parish serves each Wednesday evening. The feast on Superbowl Sunday is always a temptation for me to indulge in my shadow side, letting my inner glutton rule.The Soup Kitchen offers something more socially acceptable, but...

The feast last night was "excessive" too, in that I had a meal that was MORE than filling...and yet it was taken alongside people for whom perhaps that was the ONLY excess they would mark this week. At our soup kitchen, we give out a solid meal...a meat and two veggie standard plate, with salad, bread, and a dessert tray at the end. On top of that, we also distribute bread, baked goods, and donated prepared food in addition to giving away the extra entrees for take-home. The meals served at our supper, coupled with the give-aways, would I am sure trump the Thanksgiving caloric intake 6 times out of 10, but would you call that excess-to a fault? Or would it be excess to a purpose?

That's the challenge.

When I was on mission with the Lakota of South Dakota years ago, we were invited to many a shared, community meal. Folks in that culture, when gathered for a feast, celebrated a culture of excess in that moment. You were fed, and fed, and fed. A good Midwestern boy, I cleaned my plate the first time I went to one of those feasts...and then looked down to find another FULL plate set before me. That was when I learned that the point of that feast was to feed you to bursting, and then to send you home with more....in that moment what we might see as excess took on a more Eucharistic tone. It was more about the giving and receiving than it could ever be about what appropriate magnitude the gifts given and taken would look like. It was a sacrament of excess, in a world where food was scarce, to feed someone to bursting. 

So, that's the challenge...to celebrate grace and leave off the gluttony. To rejoice in abundance, and never forget that famine can and often does follow feast. To receive a fine meal, but also to remember that it is there tto share 

Perhaps we can't discern a theology of excess, but we also have to be willing to be overwhelmed by the abundance of the feasts of the kingdom and not reduce them to portions that decry the blessing. Feast, but do it mindfully. Keep it in perspective and remember that there is someone out there who is hungry....for food, for comfort, for fellowship and for hope. As you enjoy your own full portion, remember it is  to complete until it is shared.

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