Tag Archives: shared table

November 18: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xviii – Let Jesus tell his story

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Human stories happen around a beginning, a middle and an end – not so his story – we have had a human version of his story for 2000 years – it could be called his earthly dwelling.

Jesus’ whole being is caught up in relationship; he belongs to a web of relationships – ancient religion refers to this as Trinity. We all actually lived from this reality long before scholarship named it. We see ourselves over against creation – the game of divide and conquer. We have reduced reality into three human-like figures – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Jesus is the hub of all relating throughout infinity and so there is no beginning or end – we need such parameters, but creative reality knows no boundaries.

Jesus’ special connection with us did not begin 2000 years ago, with his earthly dwelling. He has been around far longer than that. The Incarnation happened at the very start – there was never a question of waiting 6 million years for redemption and salvation to take place. Redemption is with us from the start. If only we had Jesus’ humanity right we would have no problem with his divinity. Things can’t be clear cut in an evolving universe. It is a condition of creative freedom for everything to be open and fluid.

Christian tradition has seen to it that what has been passed on with regard to the Kingdom has suffered from the desire for control; and so the Kingdom became a spiritual/ecclesiastical [not ecclesial!] way of containing God’s power through sacred institutions. Christ brought the Kingdom – his new way of being human, through celebrated inter-dependence with the earth. The Kingdom was never a project apart from the self of Jesus. He did not bring the Kingdom, the Kingdom brought him.

He tried to explain it through story and parable – stories left wide open, inviting our creativity and innovation. All he wanted was to sit at table, share stories and break bread together; without the baggage of not being worthy, or feeling unclean. The Kingdom is not about laws but values. There is no room for exclusions or favourites, just a willingness to welcome everybody irrespective of creed, race or reputation. Kings and kingdoms of this world welcome hierarchies and preferential living. The Kingdom is a new kind of real presence that desires to be open to all creation.

Doctrines, codes and creeds don’t need a mother, persons do! Motherhood is how we all give birth – something we have from our common mother earth; that became individualised for Jesus through Mary, his biological mother. We belong to one earth, come from the same stardust; share the same flesh and blood – we all need to laugh, to work, to play, to enjoy love. Without bodies Spirit cannot flourish.

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November 11: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xi – ‘ sinners feel at home with him’.

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Jesus is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table. Tax collectors and sinners feel at home with him – not a male with soft edges, but one who is radically different – relational rather than rational. But there’s more – a dimension that has eluded scholars for centuries. His is a presence that transcends space and time. The stereotypical dualism of male and female is transcended in favour of an integration that relativises both the male and female as seen in basic biology.

Redemptive Violence – Women shed blood to give life; men tend to shed blood in order to take life. Ancient cultures saw blood as containing the life force – a force often misused and abused for an angry god. Thus emerged the notion of sacrifice. Shedding blood as an act of appeasement can be traced back to shedding animal blood so that humans could survive. It is said that humans have always hunted for food and killed animals to get it. But research going back 40,000 years has uncovered evidence that the initial gathering of food was from plant life, and animals were killed only when such was unavailable.

Slaying animals does not seem to have been practised during early agricultural times [around 8,000 BC]. Although more food was gleaned from the land, the desire for meat was also present; and during this time the shedding of blood acquired religious significance. Governance was by fiercely aggressive males, who validated what they did through belief in a sky god, who rapidly became like themselves – domineering and demanding; and so pacifying strategies came into play. Animals were the primary victims along with first fruits of the seasons. On rare occasions humans were sacrificed. In this way the notion of the scapegoat came to the fore.

René Girard traces the notion of scapegoating to mimetic [imitating] desire leading to rivalry and violence; it was extensively used to counter threats of aggression. Girard and others see the death of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice that renders the scapegoat redundant forever. The notion of blood sacrifice is a child of the patriarchal system of around 10,000 years ago. Bloodletting and sacrifice evolved under an anthropocentric world view that man is the measure of all things. In the human, blood seems to be life’s energy, and so must be the life-blood of everything in creation, including God.

Blood sacrifice was seen as restoring the balance, setting things right with the offended one. The notion of victory crept into language for the vindictive God and his earthly representatives. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is pleased at the slaying of enemies, and whose glory is enhanced by victory through the sword. This is a far cry from the earlier Goddess whose bloodletting was at the service of life-creating.

These two become confused in Jesus. New life was the key-word for Kingdom living, but this tended to be lost with the understanding of salvation through death on the cross – hence understandings like obedience through suffering. For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies.

This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him.

AMcC

I had not planned that this post should appear on Armistice Day, but it is worth pondering why violence and war happen, today of all days. WT

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November 10, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: x – ‘Not reinvention but rediscovery.’

 

Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.

All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.

Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.

The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.

But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.

AMcC

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28 October, Shared Table XVII: together around the table.

This post is more explicitly about the Eucharist than some others in this occasional series; but they are all about the Eucharist, which includes every meal shared in love.

I have been reading an article Facing the Lord’s Table by Thomas O’Loughlin1 where he discusses the positions taken up by priest and people in the Catholic Eucharist: either one man on one side of the altar-table and the rest facing across it to him, or in the older tradition, the priest facing the altar but also away from the people.

Neither of these is ideal, he argues. If two of us are eating together, we will usually face each other, the better to communicate; if there are more of us, we will sit around the table. Thus, in the first picture above, you’ll see how we have re-arranged ourselves for the photo, and we returned to our plates a moment later. In the Last Supper from Strasbourg Cathedral, like so many others, artistic licence dictates that those present are facing us – but we Christians share that same table in Strasbourg, in Canterbury, or wherever we may be in the world, so the gathering around the table is symbolically completed by the onlookers’ presence.

Dr O’Loughlin reminds us that at Mass, rather than in front of a carving, we are a community when we gather round a table; that is when we say Grace to bless the food and drink.

Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

My brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.

1 Corinthians 10:17; 11:33

Dr O’Loughlin also suggests that an accurate translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer would have us standing around the table rather than just standing before God, and that this is borne out by ancient liturgical instructions about how the broken pieces of the loaf were to be set out on the paten for distribution.

He closes with these words: The theological bottom line is this: if the Logos has come to dwell among us (John1:14), then every table of Christians is a place where one could rub up against him at one’s elbow.

Now there’s a thought! Do read and digest the article if you can find the journal.

1In The Furrow, October 2017, p554-560.

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September 21: Up the Apricot Tree: II

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Back in July, I wrote about the bumper harvest on the apricot tree. over the next four weeks I was up that tree a few times, harvesting and pruning. We made more than 100 jars of jam. That’s not really a boast, just a measure of the bounty from our tree this year.

Some of those jars have found their way to other people’s breakfast tables. We’ve had appreciation from family and neighbours, ‘best ever’, ‘lovely jam’ and so on. Those of us who have undergone the after-effects of surgery will empathise with the friend of Mrs T, recovering from her op who really enjoyed the jam with her breakfast toast. So good to receive the sense of taste again! What a gift it is, and how healing.

Where else can we spread a little apricot-flavoured happiness, I wonder?

Are there any people out there who might treasure a small gift from you, far more than perhaps you’d expect on first thoughts?

 

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September 15. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIII: A structural change in the foundations of the world

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Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.

After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.

Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.

The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.

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He is risen!

The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].

What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.

How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.

Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.

Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.

This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.

What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.

Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return toaustin faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.

AMcC

 

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Let it snow! By David Powell

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It was snowing and Tommy was really happy. This was the real Christmas scene. It was soft fluffy snow which made really good snowballs. Moreover, it was holidays so perhaps he would be able to go tobogganing with his brothers and sister. Perhaps even Mum and Dad would come too. That would be great. He loved it when they did things together as a family. It filled him with a warm glow. He heard his father singing in the bathroom whilst he stropped his razor.

Then he went down to breakfast and was glad to see it was porridge with honey. His Mum came in and kissed him. She looked very fit and he knew she did exercises every day and went to the pool twice every week so hopefully she would feel OK about tobogganing. ‘I must check my sledge, Mum.’

‘Yes, you should because last year we didn’t have any snow to speak of and you didn’t use it, but it looks fine for tobogganing today. I wish I could come but I have to go Christmas shopping with your Aunt Clara in Canterbury.’

‘You might not be able to get to Canterbury’, said Tommy hopefully.

‘Yes the busses are running. However, your Dad’s not going to work today and he really likes tobogganing. He can use the old tin tray. It’s under the draining board’.

Tommy went to get ready and join his brothers and sister. Dad came down full of merriment and eager to get going. Soon they were all kitted out in their warmest clothes with scarves, winter boots and gloves.

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Outside it was pretty cold but they did not have far to go to the snow covered slopes of the hill behind their house. They met lots of people they knew and when they arrived at the slopes it was packed so they decided to go for a walk first.

They went for a long walk and came back home hungry and cold. Tommy’s sister and brothers prepared some lunch whilst Dad lit the log fire in the lounge. Then feeling a bit drowsy, they all dozed off until Mum returned.

They had tea together and were revived. As they became more animated Tommy’s brother Ralph went outside and said it had stopped snowing and was a beautiful moonlit night. So they all decided to go tobogganing and Tommy was very excited about the prospect of hurtling down the run in the moonlight with all his family all around.

There were still quite a few people about but nothing like as many as in the morning. The run was still smooth and hard because it was beginning to freeze. Tommy watched as his brothers and sister started their runs. He heard his father, who was an engineer say to him: ‘Son, remember it’s all about using your body weight effectively,’ but he knew instinctively what to do and enjoyed his first run down and joked with his brothers and sister at the bottom of the run.

Some people had brought flasks of hot chocolate and buns which were very welcome. Then the younger folk started to organise races in which Tommy did very well. However, his Mum seemed rather anxious and asked Tommy if he had seen his Dad recently. Tommy remembered his Dad’s last remark to him before he set off on his first run. He had not seen him since so he started to ask around but none of his family or friends had seen him for at least half an hour. So they started a serious search at the bottom of the run and in the bushes on the side thinking he might have veered off course.

But there was no sign of Dad and Tommy was very worried. He kept calling, ‘Dad! Dad!’, but there was no response. Suddenly the front door of a house to the side of the run was opened and there was Tommy’s Dad, all merry and bright. Dad described what had happened, somewhat contritely for despite what he told Tommy about weight distribution, his own weight was too much on one side; consequently he slid off course and into the house at the side of the track.

The crowd which had gathered were highly amused by Dad’s account of what had transpired and thought that perhaps they should have a ‘whip round’ to buy him a proper sledge rather than allow him to go sliding on a tin tray virtually into people’s living rooms, with the obvious intention of getting a Christmas drink.

Dad took all the ribaldry in good part and to show his sportsmanship decided to go for one final slide on his tin tray.

Tommy was very proud of his Dad, though the phrase about weight distribution would always be remembered as a reminder of the old adage, ‘practise what you preach’.

DBP.

 

 

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August 27: Caring and L’Arche I – chatting is caring work.

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This first reflection introduces the topic of caring for others – and how the  one cared for can be a carer for her carers. Tomorrow we’ll start a short season about L’Arche.

After a fall that made walking and moving difficult, my mother returned home with help from ‘carers’ – mostly young women with families – who would help her with dressing, bathing and getting back to the shops. They were also able to observe her recovery and how she was getting around the house and to the village shop.

This was an excellent way of getting out of hospital earlier than she otherwise would have done. I’m sure she got better a lot sooner. In fact, she soon found that she was getting most things done for herself before the carers came: ‘I didn’t see why I should stop in bed until they were able to come and get me dressed, so of course I did it myself.’

The carers would then spend a few minutes chatting over a cup of tea. They were still working, noting how she was both physically and mentally. She, in her turn, was caring for them by listening to the news of their families. Those ten minutes were a respite for the carers before the next call, perhaps to someone needing more of their time for those basic needs.

Our family are grateful for the dedication of these lowly-paid workers who bring real loving care to their work, even though their time is micro-managed by desk jockeys at their agency HQ and at County Hall. At the care-face, it is face-to-face work, person to person, loving kindness.

My mother will remain in her own home as long as she possibly can. Tomorrow we’ll read about a caring way of living with people with learning disabilities.

WT.

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20 August, Shared Table XVI: A Welcome in Broadstairs.

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We were in Broadstairs, my student, his mother and me. We needed to investigate the journey from home to the college he might be joining, a train ride and a walk onto unfamiliar territory for my student, who can find the unfamiliar challenging. But we were at our destination before he knew it.

On Queen’s Road where once I worked for two years, I found myself on unfamiliar territory. The Baptist Church Hall where Gill and I and our team had taught school drop-outs had disappeared, replaced by a lovely new building with a community café on the ground floor. In we went as it looked warm and by no means noisy.

A wise choice! There was time only for a welcome tea and slice of cake, but we warmed up (this was in January) and looked around. One waitress had learning disabilities but was coping fine under discreet supervision. Some of the customers clearly knew each other well, and were enjoying their meals and each other’s company.

This mosaic hangs on the wall of the café. It brings Broadstairs, represented by the beach, the harbour buildings and the houses, to the Lord, around his table: not a church table with a white cloth but a coloured, patterned one. Bread and fishes from the harbour; bread and wine: everyday fare made special by His sharing, by our sharing with him.

Another concrete prayer, that mosaic. Another concrete prayer, that café! Drop in if you are in Broadstairs.

MMB.

 

 

 

http://www.thegapproject.co.uk/

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19 August: Shared Meal XV: A Powerful Picnic.

 

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It’s Saturday, it’s summertime in Europe, it’s a good day for a picnic.

A very good day for a picnic. On this day in 1989 there occurred a mass picnic on the border between the then communist Hungary and democratic Austria. It became known as the Pan-European picnic because the two neighbours agreed to open their borders, allowing citizens of Western and Communist nations to cross borders and mingle without let or hindrance.

Many East Germans took advantage of the open border to leave for West Germany as the border between Hungary and Austria remained open.

Within a few months the Iron Curtain, as it was known, no longer cut Germany in half; many other nations also fulfilled their citizens desire to leave the communist bloc.

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It wasn’t all because of the picnic, but that helped maintain momentum for change, thanks to politicians in Austria, Germany and Hungary, and to many brave, ordinary people.

It won’t take a great deal of bravery to hold a picnic for your family today, or just to share fish and chips or a pizza by the sea. But spare a thought and prayer for those brave souls who died trying to cross borders to the West; for the brave souls whose actions made a freer Europe possible, and for those brave souls who still try to cross borders as refugees or migrants.

And as you enjoy your picnic, thank God for the freedom to do so.

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Preserved stretch of the Berlin Wall, MMB

World Youth Day Pilgrims about to enjoy a picnic in the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane, Poland. MMB

 Picnic monument by Kaboldy

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