The Sacred Meal: Notes and Comments (Part 2)

Chapter 3 – Waiting

p. 30 – Sin has almost as much bad press and bad history in churches as does Communion. Too much focus on personal sin, and especially sin having to do with sex (while many church leaders got away with serious sexual misconduct and abuse) without any mention of how we participate in larger, more systematic evil, has left the word sin almost empty of meaning. But one way to define sin is to ask, what separates me from God? What holds me back from connecting to and deepening my relationship with timelessness and love? Umm, are we misrepresenting sin? Is it really “not all that bad”? Should we give it more fair treatment? These words are troubling. “Too much focus on personal sin…” I disagree; too little follow through, discipleship, mercy, justice, action. But I agree that we should be more attentive to systematic evil we participate in, even unaware sometimes. What separates us from God? An OK question, with the answer “sin”, but which obscures the destructiveness of sin, not just spiritually, but physically. Also, her phrase “timelessness and love” depersonalize God in a troubling way. I overlooked this originally reading; second look at my notes after reading the entire book makes me a little more concerned about veiled intent.

p. 31-32 – She recounts the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (are we still talking about Communion?), but it is painted with a very negative view of God and positive view of us. And the intent is to make us cringe as if we are Sodom and Gomorrah, with our high standard of living and lack of concern. Maybe quite right, but where is this going?

We are offered another alternative on page 33: If we don’t take the scary-God version of the story…literally, but instead think of what this story might be saying about the nature of deep reality and about the nature of sin… She decides that Sodom and Gomorrah is much better for her own peace of mind as allegory, freeing God from being judgmental. In her restatement of the story in our own context, God plays no part at all. He is not even mentioned. Basically, God must be warm and fuzzy and scripture reduced to nothing but “stories” to be applied out of their context.

p. 32 – You know the litany of horrors: depleted forests, crashing stocks of fish; in 2006, the meadow bird population took a dive. think of it! Meadow birds. Carbon emissions have heated the weather and polluted the ocean. Global warming, now an indisputable fact, not only disrupts our lives but the lives of animals and plants, We may be in for a wave of extinctions. Follows popular rhetoric, and like much of it, is unsubstantiated. She fails to interact with science, focusing on mass hysteria and mass guilt. This is not sin being pointed out, but  media sensation, political machination and self-despising banter. Ick. The transition back to Communion is shoddy at best.

p. 33 – Scholars like Marcus Borg and Walter Brueggemann believe that Jesus preached to and in his historical context. Living in an empire, he preached about it. He described its excesses, its inequality, its failure to take care of the vulnerable and the helpless. If we look at Jesus’ message in scripture, it doesn’t square with what Gallagher is stating. Jesus is not critical of Rome, political domination, etc. He is very critical of lawlessness, religious bigotry and hypocrisy. He attacks the perversion of community and justice – but these are always directed at God’s people, not a global rhetoric  against empire. He doesn’t criticize empire. He criticizes religious elitism.  Big difference.

p. 34-35 – The regular practice of Communion is meant to help move us from being the citizen of an empire to the citizens of heaven. For her, Communion seems to have taken the place of personal prayer and scripture application. How else to make Communion out to be the thing that moves us from citizen of one kingdom to the other? If this is relegated to a public function, then something is wrong, and response to a living and active Spirit is being missed. Communion, quite apart from its underlying character, reminds her to repent. That’s great. But have we replaced Christ with an idol? A sacrament of bread and wine? Of a plate and a cup? Are we to remember the event, or Jesus? Why is he missing from the discussion of Communion, only surfacing in misplaced rants?

p. 35 – I see the power of subversive inspiration. Cool words. They seem empty of meaning however, meant to sound pretty and captivating of the emotions – but they lack substance. Are we at all talking about Communion?

p. 37 – So part of waiting in Communion is examining what we did last eek…You can’t just condemn yourself for not doing enough. Join the crowd. None of us does enough. I think it’s important to find the things you did do and honor yourself for them, small as they might be. If not misplaced, I might describe these words as false and perverse.

For Gallagher, Communion seems to be a reminder of our call to be just and righteous as a community and as individuals – I get that – but why? Where does she get this idea from? She gives no answer in this regard.

p. 38 – We are all practicing together to become more and more the makers of the kingdom that is both under our feet and right around the corner. We are not the makers. It is not under our feet. To follow Gallagher down this path is to supplant Christ with our own faulty attempts to counter Satan and the world system. Foolhardy, if I may say so.

Chapter 4 – Receiving

p. 43 – “grace” is a throw away word all too often. It is not used  appropriately, at least not in the sense of a gift and blessing bestowed from one owed submission and honor.

p. 44 – [To a frequent attender] “This is our family, and this is our table. You should come.” The author and her church has divorced Communion from the sacrifice of Jesus; Communion has become more a rite of belonging (not a rite of passage – that would imply possible exclusion). As such, it is a dangerous thing when not addressed in the context of Christ’s offer of salvation.

p. 39-44 are a buildup; We are too interested in productivity, need to slow the pace and not feel guilty, make the most of the present, being part of community in the moment, finally, “Open your hands!” The illustration at this point is odd, implying vulnerability and guilt, not joyful and peaceful reception as has been suggested. Awkward…

p. 45 – This may have been the smartest thing Jesus ever did. He must have thought, How can I make them step into the unknown? How can I get them to let in some surprise? I know, I’ll figure out a way for them to put their hands out in front of them, empty. This assumes a giver/receiver dynamic at communion. This is not required, and in communal meal settings, would likely not have been used! She puts the thoughts into Jesus’ mind, and I’m not inclined to imagine it with her.

p. 48 – Her story is moving evidence that the brain is wired to experience some other kind of time, and another kind of connection. This comes after recounting an episode where a woman lost control of half of her brain during a stroke. But the story doesn’t prove what she suggests at all. It just shows that not taking all parts as a whole, only naively focusing on one, is devastating to the function of the whole…like leaving Christ out of Communion.

p. 48 – At the altar, we are invited into what Jesus called heaven. I know that an altar is common, but it wasn’t to early Christianity. We are not invited into heaven either. Where is this fanciful stuff coming from?

Chapter 5 – Afterward

p. 52 – 1 Corinthians 11:24 is used, but is not connected well. Nor is the “kingdom of heaven” used in a standard way – rather depending on the reader conflating heaven and the kingdom of heaven.

p. 55-56 – The practice of Communion reminds Christians of a meal and many meals shared by followers of a man who wanted them to see a new kingdom. The practices are “after words,” after the events are long in the past, and whatever words attached to them may no longer be accurately recalled. The practice remains to keep us in tune with what the original event pointed toward and so that we can add to its meaning and history. I sense the thought that Communion is something made up by later generations to remind the body of Jesus’ actions so they did not forget – thus making any suggestion that Jesus actually told his followers to do it a myth. I disagree. In this paragraph is revealed an intent to supplant communion’s source in the last supper with the “many meals” that are recounted. It is my impression, having read to the end, that she wants to avoid the picture of sacrifice for sin, and keep the meal which is communal, freely open and costs us nothing.

p. 56 – I sat there and tried not to spend too much time wondering about what had happened but rather let whatever it was be there in the room with me and everyone else…Part of “afterward ” is letting an experience of the holy seep into your cells… There is no God present at Communion in this experience, just a shared sense of community or power or “whatever” –  a thing, not a person. To embody it as “spirit” would be to over-personalize what she has written. As for the “experience of the holy”, we are becoming addicts of God-experience, of the sense of presence and power and greatness; but not addicts of him! On page 58 she continues the idea of addiction, but it is to the “experience of the infinite.” So impersonal.

p. 59-60 – I could say that my experience…tells us that there is a lot of movement in God, and a lot of connection. That one aspect of God is like a human dance. What does this even mean? We don’t typically talk about movement within a person, or connection (singular). This sounds like inflated spiritual language. Worse, this only lead her to compare her experience of the infinite and holy to mystical experiences others have had, finding commonality with Indian meditation. She has removed herself from the possibility of talking about Christ’s sacrifice and her response, and now is just talking about a common sense within man of being part of a larger whole, of tapping into a sense of awe.

p. 61-62 – He stopped. You can picture the scene. The young rabbi, sure of his call, was suddenly offered a new reality…But he too was “healed.” He was opened. He was changed. he was no longer sure of what his job was, what he was meant to do. It may be that this is what kept happening to him, over and over again…The difference between Jesus and us may not merely be one of degrees of divinity, but also his openness and their capacity to bend and awaken his heart. Gallagher uses Matthew 15:21-28, but twists it into a learning experience for Jesus where he has a paradigm shift, an epiphany. As if Jesus were a misguided rabbi, not directed by the Father, as if he thought his mission were limited in nature. This is a misreading of the passage, as far as I can tell. One that treats Jesus dishonorably. Some may disagree, but I stand on Jesus knowing and pressing both this woman and his disciples to see and understand his mission, a mission he already understood clearly.

As for “degrees of divinity?” Is Jesus just some deified, extra-spiritual man? No.

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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One Response to The Sacred Meal: Notes and Comments (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Review of The Sacred Meal « σφόδρα – exceedingly

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