I’m now reading his memoir, Born a Crime, about growing up colored in apartheid-era South Africa. The book is light, winsome, and heartbreaking at equal turns. I’m learning a lot about what life was really like for people under apartheid, and Noah is a likable, capable narrator.
Noah went to Catholic school, one of only a few colored students in a sea of black and white, and a non-Catholic. As a poor child of a single mother, he didn’t have much to eat, and it always bothered him that he couldn’t even partake of the bread and juice in the sacrament. This bit made me laugh, then took my breath away.
“Only Catholics can eat Jesus’s body and drink Jesus’s blood, right?”
“But Jesus wasn’t Catholic.”
“Jesus was Jewish.”
“So you’re telling me that if Jesus walked into your church right now, Jesus would not be allowed to have the body and blood of Jesus?”
They never had a satisfactory reply.
One morning before mass I decided, I’m going to get me some Jesus blood and Jesus body. I snuck behind the altar and I drank the entire bottle of grape juice and I ate the entire bag of Eucharist to make up for all the other times that I couldn’t.
In my mind, I wasn’t breaking the rules, because the rules didn’t make any sense. And I got caught only because they broke their own rules. Another kid ratted me out in confession, and the priest turned me in.
“No, no,” I protested. “You’ve broken the rules. That’s confidential information. The priest isn’t supposed to repeat what you say in confession.”
They didn’t care. The school could break whatever rules it wanted. The principal laid into me.
“What kind of a sick person would eat all of Jesus’s body and drink all of Jesus’s blood?”
“A hungry person.”
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
If I know the Internet–and I like to think I do–someone will Photoshop a chef’s hat onto this picture.
This week’s recipe is not a muffin, but it’s still a great breakfast food (or lunch food, or dinner food).
When I was new in ministry, a friend said she liked to use leftover communion bread to make bread pudding. It’s not often I get to bring home the bread after a worship service, but that’s what I like to do too. More specifically, I like to make french toast casserole, recipe below.
In a discussion on Facebook it seems that the Catholics and Episcopalians are a bit squicked out theologically by the body of Christ, mixed with egg and milk and baked. With all respect to my transubstantiating brothers and sisters, I say, ¡Viva la reformación!
Incidentally, the Presbyterian Book of Order requires that you dispose of leftover bread “in a manner consistent with the Reformed understanding of the Sacrament and the principles of good stewardship.” As I put the dish together last night, I thought about our Longest Night service, and the many prayers that were spoken and unspoken around that loaf. That counts, does it not?
Uncle John Calvin’s French Toast Casserole
Feel free to adjust the recipe based on how much bread you have. This morning’s casserole was made in a 11×7 and baked for about 40 minutes.
leftover communion bread, or a loaf of challah or other firm bread
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste
8 large eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
maple syrup, for serving
Grease a 13- by 9-inch glass baking dish with softened butter or cooking spray.
Slice or tear the bread into 1-inch pieces.
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.
Arrange half the bread in a single layer in the prepared dish, then sprinkle half the sugar mixture evenly over the top. Add a second layer with the remaining bread and the sugar mixture.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the milk and vanilla extract, whisking until well blended.
Starting from the sides of the dish and working toward the center, pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread. With a spatula, gently press down on the bread to coat it with the egg mixture. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours.
Heat the oven to 350°. Bake the casserole covered for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until the casserole turns a light golden brown and looks slightly puffed, about 30 minutes more.
Serve the casserole warm with maple syrup. Give thanks for the spiritual presence of Christ.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
June 3, 2012
Why We Worship
IN THIS CORNER! Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, a group dedicated to fighting same-sex marriage and protecting what they call “traditional marriage.” Brian is a Catholic father of seven who has made it his life’s work to fight what his group’s website calls the “threat to marriage.”
AND IN THE OTHER CORNER! Dan Savage, a writer and host of a radio show about love and relationships. Dan is a vigorous supporter of gay rights and marriage equality. He lives with his partner Terry and their son in Seattle, clear across the country from Brian Brown. Dan and Terry began the “It Gets Better” project after a recent spate of suicides by gay teens who were the victims of bullying. The videos tell the teens to hang in there, that life is worth living, that high school can be brutal and nasty but that it gets better. He’s also a colorful, some might say caustic, speaker and writer, and believe me when I tell you he is not everyone’s cup of tea. You have been warned, so don’t write me letters.
Brian Brown recently challenged Savage to a debate over the Bible and marriage. These are two men who are used to giving full-throated defenses of their position but they have never faced each other. “You name the time and the place,” Brown wrote on his website, throwing down the gauntlet.
Dan Savage accepted the invitation to debate. But there will be no crowd of supporters, booing and cheering each side. There will be no grandstanding speeches, no protesters on the sidewalk outside shouting each other down. Dan Savage has invited Brian Brown and his wife into Dan’s home, to meet his family and have dinner and debate on marriage equality. They will meet not onstage, but at table.
And Brian Brown has accepted.
I’m trying to imagine these two, pitching this event to their spouses.
Brian Brown: So, honey? You know that potty-mouthed gay man who’s been so critical of the pope and represents everything we’re fighting against? We’re going to his house.
And Dan Savage: You know that guy on TV who says that our relationship is a threat to families and dangerous for children and society in general? Well… guess who’s coming to dinner!
Now for any of you shifting uncomfortably on those nice pew cushions, this is not a sermon about gay marriage. We may talk about it at some point, at a time when there’s the opportunity for back and forth, but it’s not something I would ever spring on you.
This is a sermon about the Eucharist—the Lord’s Supper.
It’s a sermon about communion. It’s a sermon about what can happen when people sit around a table together.
In the words of Dan Savage, as he wrote about this invitation: “[In doing this] I… acknowledge Brown’s humanity by extending my hospitality, and he… acknowledges mine by accepting my hospitality.”
Now let’s not lose our heads here.
Do I think there’s any chance that either of these guys is going to change his mind on gay marriage? No.
But will the sharp edges of this debate soften just the tiniest bit? Possibly.
Will Dan greet Brian with a basin of water and oil for anointing his head? Doubtful, though I’m sure that would be a big hit on YouTube.
Might they come away from this experience changed a little? Possibly. I certainly hope so. In fact, I’ve staked my life on it.
Nine years ago this weekend, I was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I’ve staked my life on the conviction that the sacraments have gracious, mysterious power in our lives, that we learn at this table what it means to be community at every table.
Whenever we share a meal and share our lives—
whether this meal [at the communion table] or a potluck with the church
or a picnic with our families or even an uncomfortable dinner between two political adversaries,
the Spirit of Christ is present and there is hope for transformation.
The table is intimate. The table is up close. There’s nowhere to hide.
There’s no podium to clutch for support.
No talking points on index cards, nothing but each of us, all of us,
living in these frail bodies that need nutrition and hydration in order to survive,
these bodies that are fueled, not just by calories
but by love, dignity, community, reverence.
We bring those needs to the table, like it or not, which is what makes Dan Savage’s invitation, and Brian Brown’s acceptance, such a resonant image for our rancorous times.
In the Greek language, the word for host and the word for guest are one and the same. Which is appropriate: in true hospitality, there is a mutuality. There’s nobody in charge at a table. The host is just as vulnerable as the guest, in a sense, because even the most gifted host cannot control what will happen when you get people together, elbow to elbow.
The table is a powerful place. I think this is why some of us struggle with relatives who get nasty over Thanksgiving dinner. People ask me how to respond when Aunt Edna goes off on one of her tirades… and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that. Except to say that part of what makes it so hard is that people who make racist comments, or who question the other political party’s patriotism, or who demonize “those people” are breaking the rules of the table and turning the meal into something it’s not.
It’s not that you can’t have disagreements over a meal. We will come to this table in a few moments and I know that the people in this room are split down the middle on gay marriage, give or take, just like the country is; pick any other issue in this election year and it will be a similar story. But when we climb up on a table, any table, and make it into a soapbox, when we show contempt for the very person who’s passing us the squash casserole, when we approach the meal from a posture of judgment and power rather than mutual sharing and good faith—then table fellowship is lost.
“Jesus of Nazareth, come to my home to eat.” Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him. But he does not extend hospitality. He does not treat Jesus as an honored guest, nor like a guest at all. He dispenses with all the usual customs of hospitality at the time: a kiss of peace, a washing of the feet. Jesus is an inconvenient afterthought. Just like our boorish uncle Bob who won’t stop yammering about the President’s birth certificate, or those evil Republicans, Simon turns the table into a place to assert himself. And Jesus calls him on it: These practices matter, Simon. They aren’t just niceties, they show care and respect. And you blew it. And Simon is the one who’s poorer for it.
By contrast, Jesus receives hospitality from a woman who isn’t even sitting at the table. She does all the work of the host, but she does it messy. She does it at a slant. She doesn’t wash his feet with a basin, she bathes them in tears. She doesn’t kiss him hello at the door, she bends over his tear-stained feet and kisses his feet. She’s sloppy and embarrassing and Jesus adores her for it. She is a sinner, we’re told, but she shows great love. Or perhaps I should say, she is a sinner AND she shows great love.
It’s the “and” that gives us hope. Because we, too, are broken. We’re as broken as Simon:
so capable, so influential, so learned—
but so stingy, so small, so unable to let go of being right that we can’t enter the joy of real relationship.
And we’re as broken as the woman, we feel like outsiders in our heart of hearts (oh if people only knew what I was really like), but so frantic for something real that we will trip all over ourselves in a grand sloppy display of pure desperation and need.
Part of the inspiration for this series on worship is to explore the theology behind our practices of worship. I get questions all the time about why we do certain things at IPC. Why do we allow children to come to the table before they have been confirmed? Why do we move the passing of the peace on communion Sundays—from early in the service to right before the invitation to the table? Why don’t we cut the bread ahead of time so everyone gets their own piece, which would be more sanitary?
Those are all good questions. And there are all kinds of theological dimensions to them, but it turns out that really, all of those questions have the same basic answer. We do those things because we are in this together. Because we need the love of Jesus that is offered at this table; we need it as individuals and as a community. And if that’s true, then nobody is excluded from the table of God: not children, not Pharisees, not women with alabaster jars.
We’re in this together, so when we come to this table, we come to be reconciled, and sharing the peace with one another allows that reconciliation to take place.
We’re in this together, and being in a community means we share a common loaf. Communion is not a private affair, between us and God, it’s a big unholy family-style meal of bread touched by others’ hands and a cup with little crumbs of bread floating in it, and Jesus says you people are a mess, I love it and I love you.
“She has shown great love.”
So does God show great love for all at this table.
So may we all show great love.
Image: Dan Savage talking about the It Gets Better project on YouTube.
Although I never experienced that dramatic reconversion moment, I did come to peace with two slow-growing realizations.
First: My doubt belonged in church.
People who know my story ask what I would have changed about my spiritual journey. Nothing. I had to leave the church to find the church. And when I came back, the return wasn’t clean or conclusive. Since then, I’ve come to believe that my doubts belong inside the space of the sanctuary. My questions belong on the altar as my only offering to God.
With all its faults, I still associate the church with the pursuit of truth and justice, with community and shared humanity. It’s a place to ask the unanswerable questions and a place to be on sojourn. No other institution has given me what the church has: a space to search for God.
Read on for her other realization, and more. Amen.
This video has sparked some serious, and in some cases virulent, debate about what it means to be an atheist. But I think I get what he’s going for. For one thing, he doesn’t want to part of a movement, partly because some aspects of that movement are, well, mean. But I also think he doesn’t want to be claimed by the atheists because belief in God, and disbelief in God, are just not the questions that animate him.
I think Tyson’s saying, God isn’t a part of the picture, not even as the thing I reject. Unless and until evidence comes to light that proves or disproves God, the idea of God is completely irrelevant to my life.
Claiming Tyson as an atheist is like someone claiming me as a fan of their favorite cricket team.
I’ve often thought we have a language problem here. Atheism is defined in negative terms: disbelief in God. Maybe it would be more helpful in terms of building understanding if there was a word that explained what people are for rather than what they disbelieve.
Polls show that fewer than half of Americans accept evolution. Most of us still don’t buy it. As the comedian Louis C.K. asked in a bit about people who insist that they can’t possibly be related to monkeys: “Why are you fighting this?”
Dan McAdams offers one possible, rarely discussed reason: Maybe evolution is a lousy story. Actually, McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, doesn’t think evolution is a story at all. There is no protagonist, no motivation, no purpose—all crucial elements in a narrative, whether it’s Frog and Toad Are Friends or Fifty Shades of Grey.
He mentioned this idea recently during a presentation at the Consilience Conference,which also drew researchers from biology, economics, and literary studies. Afterward, a seemingly annoyed audience member questioned McAdams’s apparent criticism of evolution, countering that it’s in fact a wonderful, elegant explanation of life. McAdams agreed that it’s wonderful and elegant. He just doesn’t think it’s a story.
I found this intriguing, partly because “creationists are idiots” just doesn’t give you much to go on. And, I love thinking in terms of story.
A new site for me, but one I now follow on Google Reader.
The bad news is that if you don’t think you’re creative, our survey data say that you probably are not. But there is good news: You can actually become more creative by changing your mind-set. Anyone can innovate, if they choose to. Disruptive innovators do it by choice, not chance. Their everyday actions swap out an “I’m not creative” mind-set for an “I am creative” one. And then magical (not mystical) things unfold.
Oh, those hippy-dippy flakes at the… Harvard Business Review. What do they know? 🙂
An interesting article, and not just because they love on Evernote, the software that makes my life better every day.
This weekend I listened to a Splendid Table episode featuring artist Jon Rubin. Rubin co-founded Conflict Kitchen, which is a storefront take-out place in Pittsburgh that rotates its menu every six months to highlight the cuisine of a country with which the United States is in conflict. From their website:
Our current Iranian version [of the restaurant] introduces our customers to the food, culture, and thoughts of people living in Iran during a time of increased calls for military intervention by the U.S.. Developed in collaboration with members of the Iranian community, our food comes packaged in custom-designed wrappers that include interviews with Iranians both in Iran and the United States on subjects ranging from street food and popular culture to the current political turmoil.
Rubin talked about using food as an entry point for people to engage with issues and topics that they might normally avoid. Staff are trained in the art of conversation, which is as important as serving up orders and running the cash register. They are educated on the issues, but are not experts. They are equipped to help customers come to a deeper appreciation of the intricacies of the conflict. And of course, consuming the food of a people with whom we are in conflict breaks down the walls a little. This kind of eating cannot help but change us. Whatever happens between our two countries, with every bite, we ingest a bit of empathy.
So friends. Help me think about this as a template for the Lord’s Supper.
Many of us celebrate World Communion Sunday in October by using different types of bread from around the world. That’s lovely. But a Conflict Kitchen-inspired Eucharist would go deeper and be potentially more transformative. I imagine that the tablecloth, furnishings, blessings and prayers would be indigenous to a specific part of the world, bearing something of the complexity of the situation. How poignant it would be to have the table set with these items that bespeak of conflict, and then to share bread and wine at that table. Such eating is a liturgical act of hope, a leaning into a future that is not yet here—a future of peace.
Final thought: our denomination’s (PCUSA) General Assembly will be in Pittsburgh. How about a field trip?
Image: a recent iteration of Conflict Kitchen, highlighting Venezuela.