Stay at Home Colonialism

Earlier this week I tweeted the following:

It stems from a realization that despite my best efforts at keeping colonialism at bay, I often hold it so closely, I can’t see it.

In our day and age, colonialism takes on a negative connotation. It refers to the domination and resulting subjugation of one people group to another. It is the overwhelming of the weak brought about by the strong. The destruction of many a native culture has come at the hands and viewpoints of colonists as we have sought to make them like us. (It should be noted, however, that this transformation was and is usually not a complete one. Often “we” make great efforts to ensure “they” don’t actually become exactly like us. Who then would we dominate?) As such, many folks have brought out this darkness perpetuated by the West into the light. Our collective history is one of expanse, wealth, and freedom – yes; but it is not one innocent of racial, ethnic, and socio-economic atrocities.

Intimately linked to this exercise of domination – a global exercise of military, technology, and industry might through governmental agencies – is the religious (specifically Christian) justification pronounced over it. As was recently demonstrated by Sarah Palin, the intermingling of historical Christian identification with the brutal, dehumanizing torture of water-boarding is more or less the natural continuance of colonialism. As has been said elsewhere, in a cultural battle of ideologies, force must be introduced to propagate and legitimize where words and viewpoints will not. Palin’s words are nothing new; much (yet not all) of the colonial tendencies of yesteryear were often both abhorrently thought of as carrying the mantle of Genesis’ imperative to subdue and dominate while being obedient to Jesus’ call to make disciples of the nations. And that is where the problem lies: coalescing the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus with an Empire and its ideology. (This has not always been the case and isn’t a wholesale condemnation of missionary endeavors. Please don’t it read it as such.)

So as eyes have opened and the pendulum has begun to swing the other direction, reflective practitioners have attempted to stay conscious of this colonial posture handed down to us. Be it in the inner city, across oceans, or within the workplace, we have been told to be aware of our tendencies to make the other like us. This form of evangelism (regardless of said evangelisms’ content) is to do violence against the supposed inferior, the unenlightened, the marginal. (Again, let me say that I’m not arguing against evangelization; I am arguing against coercive, dominating evangelization, which really isn’t evangelization at all.)

In my imagination, when it comes to “them”, I generally picture those unlike me. It is generally an image of those outside of my immediate likeness: white, male, educated, middle class, etc. Generally speaking, it is an outward facing thing emanating from me towards those on the edges of my existence. I (wrongly) assume it passes over those nestled within the inner rings of my life: family and friends, children and co-workers. However, as the above tweet gets at, I’ve been realizing the ease of being blind to my stay at home colonialism.

When I don’t listen

When I bulldoze over

When I believe I know the correct fix for another’s problem

I colonize.

When I assume

When I believe the way I feel is how you should feel

When I play the victim when you are hurt

I colonize.

It might not be as overt in appearance compared to governmental colonialism, but the method and result are the same: dominance resulting in homogeneity. I destroy any possibility of unity within and because of diversity.

This stay at home colonization hit directly at home within the past few weeks. My wife was dealing with some of the situations life has handed us in a manner I deemed unfit. I felt helpless in fixing the situation because her reactions were not the way I would have reacted, dealt with, and pushed through. Instead of listening there was assumptive silence; instead of love there was coercion; instead of space given there was space taken. In short, rather than allow room for mutuality, I had inserted my unshared view as the correct, proper one.

Once we actually discussed things and I opened my ears to her voice and heart, things made sense. Reconciliation was made; forgiveness was handed out en masse. In this case, my extroversion (along with other factors) had blinded me to her introversion. And in the process, I have been brought further down the road of love and mutuality.

To be honest, I don’t know how to eliminate these colonizing tendencies and postures – both at home and elsewhere – beyond confessing them and asking for forgiveness.

And within that, I look forward to the day when my stay at home colonialism will be no more.

Invitation to Solitude and Silence [A Review]

…all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own room.

So says scientist and Christian philosopher/theologian Blaise Pascal. And I tend to agree with him. Silence and solitude are on the endangered list of our society. For many, they are relics of a bygone era, antiquated practices obstructing efficiency and productivity. As I have said elsewhere, our love of noise is equaled by our disdain of silence.

Yet for the Christian, rest found in silence and solitude is essential to what it means to be human. Christians have long held to humankind being made in the image of God; we are God’s ikons, taking our posture and practices from the One we find incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth. I recently heard that in our culture “Yet these three remain: productivity, efficiency, and speed, but the greatest of these is speed.” (Phil Kenneson, Slow Church Conference, 2014). If this is true, living lives that incorporate silence and solitude into intentional rhythms of life are truly subversive.

Silence and solitude are countercultural ways of life.

Taking her cues from 1 Kings 19:1-19, Ruth Haley Barton leads us into a guided journey she has taken herself. Or, more accurately, and to use her language, it is an invitation extended to us by God.

For it is a wonderful thing to be invited. Not coerced or manipulated, but truly invited to the home of someone you have looked forward to getting to know, to a party with fun people, on a date with someone who is intriguing. There is something about being invited that makes the heart glad. Someone is seeking me out, desiring my presence enough to initiate an encounter. (p. 16)

A beckon, a question, a search: God is in the pursuit business.

It is a particular invitation to coupling of solitude and silence. This is intentional in that it forces us beyond the stereotypical understanding of Christian spirituality, namely Scripture and prayer. Yes, these are integral and make their way through the book. However, for Barton

…I have chosen to write about solitude and silence because I believe silence is the most challenging, the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among evangelical Christians today. It is much easier to talk about it and read about it than to actually become quiet. We are a very busy, wordy and heady faith tradition. Yet we are desperate to find ways to open ourselves to our God who is, in the end, beyond all of our human constructs and human agendas. (p. 18-19)

With bringing us theology and practices girded in solitude and silence as her goal, Barton sets off and does just that.

Beginning with her own story of busyness, productivity, and noise, she gives her own narrative that sounds familiar; I’d venture to say a good majority of Americans could have written it. The difference, however, is the approach she took through reflection and allowing her desperation to be an invitation, not a roadblock. As she says,

As strange as it may sound, desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-consuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it…Here [in solitude and silence] we give in to desperation and desire until God comes to us and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. (p. 30, 33)

From here Barton lays out a scaffolding of how to enter into solitude and silence. Time, space, and posture all come into play in these exercises. Again, in a faith tradition (over)emphasizing intellectual assent to the point of becoming synonymous with following Jesus, being aware of the importance physical elements of solitude and silence can be somewhat jarring. Being aware of the posture we take when sitting, what time of day works best, and when our contexts best give themselves to us for silence are essential. We are not following Jesus and accepting God’s invitation in a vacuum. These things matter.

As we follow these general guidelines, Barton wants us to find rest for body, mind, and soul alike. Our propensity to gnosticize (material = bad, spiritual = good) Christianity is rampant, leaving us bewildered by what it could mean to love God with our bodies. Can we rest ourselves to the point of being still? Can we allow ourselves to face our limitations only brought about by a silent mind? Is it possible to allow ourselves to simply be?

For Barton, these disciplines are not ends in themselves. They are the means by which we prepare ourselves for the further journey. Like Elijah in the wilderness, solitude and silence develop and equip us for what is ahead. Facing our emptiness and powerlessness are both the results of these practices and the prerequisites for facing the storm ahead. And through them, we find the presence of God alive and well, beckoning us back into the world “for the sake of others.” “Not only does the love of God come to us in solitude, the love of God begins to pour through us to others.” (p. 133) This disorients us and reorients our ideas of success in relation to others:

Success for me now is measured by whether I am living within the rhythms of work and rest, solitude and community, silence and word necessary so the quality of my presence with God and with people and tasks is characterized by love and attention, wisdom and discernment. (p. 133)

In other words, solitude and silence are both personal and public, both for the revitalization of the individual and the community.

If you are like me – swimming (and perhaps drowning) in the waters of productivity and busyness – this will be a book of respite. I know for me it is a resource akin to a balm after a scorching sunburn. I began reading it and couldn’t put it down as her personal stories, subversive theological perspective, and practices at the end of each chapter pricked a place in my heart and soul. If you were to see my copy of this book, you’d see highlights and stars in the margins on nearly every page. I’d like to share many, many more quotes from this book, but space would quickly run out.

Go get this much needed book. Buy it here.

A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk with God [A Review]

The difference between talking about prayer and praying is the same as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing. – G.K. Chesterton

I am learning how to pray. Like Jesus’ original, questioning disciples, I am in need of some schooling in the ways and means of prayer. As the Chesterton quote above alludes, talking about prayer is a world apart from actually praying and I find myself frequently firmly planted in the talking about camp rather than the praying camp.

In this learning process, I’ve come to realize how my apathy towards prayer has lead to my antipathy regarding prayer. I have an aversion to prayer. It’s so boring and seemingly non-consequential. My mind wonders as time is wasted. In the end, all the talk about prayer was compounding my distaste for it.

And this in a world where I’d been taught the central place of prayer for life itself. Like many facets of the Christian life, prayer is a given in many discussions albeit an arduous road less traveled. Yet, my conversion to a life of prayer was borne out of life of actually praying. It wasn’t until I actually began praying in regular ways that I began to question how to pray, the efficacy of prayer, and the true central role it has for all of life. As I continue to learn and press through this antipathy – for it has never gone away completely – I find myself yearning for more of the God I encounter.

Thankfully, this book by MaryKate Morse landed in my mailbox. It is a variegated antithesis to all things stale and pallid in the life of prayer. Its multifaceted approach does what it says: it guides us into myriad of ways of getting on with prayer with an attentive gentleness outdone only by listening to Morse’s voice in person. (I have done so and have been bettered for it.)

The book gives us means of engaging with God in a uniquely trinitarian way.

The purpose of this book is to move from the lament to the joy of praying…Prayer is more than a practice. It is a living adventure with a relational and risen Lord. God created us to be in a relationship with God expressed in the Trinity. God is the Creator and Covenant Maker. Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of God’s love and is the Redeemer who heals and forgives us. The Holy Spirit empowers us and intercedes on our behalf. - p. 14

Taking her cues from the Divine Community, Morse has broken her book up in three sections focusing on one Person at a time: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each section, therefore, reflects the being and doing of each person. As such, prayers revolving around the Father discuss creativity, work, blessing, and worship; the Son on service, simplicity, forgiveness, and play; the Spirit, conversation, healing, and rejoicing. These are just a sampling of the prayers given and fleshed out among many others.

Within each chapter – i.e. creativity, simplicity, healing – exercises are given for the individual, groups, and partners. Thus, as one reads, not only is information amassed, but concrete practices are embodied. Furthermore, she does not foresee this work being used primarily as “an occasional tool for different ways to pray, but it is primarily designed to help us become people of prayer.” (p. 19) To this end, stories are given from folks who have gone ahead of the reader(s) in the specific type of prayer being addressed. These are helpful encouragements that play a prominent role in the book; they’re not just supplemental add-ons. In them I found my own story and circumstances echoing back to me in the common hardships and pleasantries of life. In other words, don’t skip them.

If you’re one who has grown tired of speaking of prayer, I suggest this book. If you’re a leader of retreats looking for fresh material, I suggest this book. If you’re a pastor/priest looking for both teaching material and exercises, I suggest this book. Regardless of where you find yourself, I suggest this book. From its plethora of prayers, to its beautiful trinitarian structure, to its personal stories, this is a resource rich in both diversity and the potential to unify.

May it help you – and me – in our transition to being people of prayer.

Purchase it here.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.

Your treasure is right under your feet…look where you stand.

I’ve written recently of the transition my family and I have been experiencing. The potential for this liminal time to disorient us and distract us from the important realities of life was – and still is – difficult to navigate. Over time, we realized Jesus’ presence would be with us regardless of what decision we would make. It wasn’t an A or B, but an A and B type of decision.
Recently I was discussing this with a friend of mine who has been praying for us through it all. After telling him we had actually made up our minds regarding some issues, he sent me the following piece from Martin Buber.
It gets at the existential beauty and treasure of life we often overlook and inadvertently dismiss. Attesting to the holistic nature of life, it addresses the fears and anxieties my wife and I felt as we were trudging through seasons of life shift. In short, it spoke to me at this moment in our life.
I pray it speaks to you, especially if you are in a season of liminality and transition. I pray it speaks to your searching and yearning.
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Rabbi Bunam used to tell young men who came to him for the first time the story of Rabbi Eizik, son of Rabbi Yekel of Cracow. After many years of great poverty which had never shaken his faith in God, he dreamed someone bade him look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge which leads to the king’s palace. When the dream recurred a third time, Rabbi Eizik prepared for the journey and set out for  Prague. But the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare to start digging. Nevertheless he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it until evening. Finally the captain of the guards, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for somebody. Rabbi Eizik told him of the dream which had brought him here from a faraway country. The captain laughed: “And so to please the dream, you poor fellow wore out your shoes to come here! As for having faith in dreams, if I had had it, I should have had to get going when a dream once told me to go to Cracow and dig for treasure under the stove in the room of a Jew–Eizik, son of Yekel, that was the name! Eizik, son of Yekel! I can just imagine what it would be like, how I should have to try every house over there, where one half of the Jews are named Eizik and the other Yekel!” And he laughed again. Rabbi Eizik bowed, traveled home, dug up the treasure from under the stove, and built the House of Prayer which is called “Reb Eizik Reb Yekel’s Shul.”
“Take this story to heart,” Rabbi Bunam used to add, “and make what it says your own: There is something you cannot find anywhere in the world, not even at the zaddik’s, and there is, nevertheless, a place where you can find it.”
This, too, is a very old story, known from several popular literatures, but thoroughly reshaped by Hasidism. It has not merely–in a superficial sense–been transplanted into the Jewish sphere, it has been recast by the Hasidic melody in which it has been told; but even this is not decisive: the decisive change is that it has become, so to speak, transparent, and that a Hasidic truth is shining through its words. It has not had a “moral” appended to it, but the sage who retold it had at last discovered its true meaning and made it apparent.
There is something that can only be found in one place. It is a great treasure, which may be called the fulfillment of existence. The place where this treasure can be found is the place on which one stands.
Most of us achieve only at rare moments a clear realization of the fact that they have never tasted the fulfillment of existence, that their life does not participate in true, fulfilled existence, that, as it were, it passes true existence by. We nevertheless feel the deficiency at every moment, and in some measure strive to find–somewhere–what we are seeking. Somewhere, in some province of the world or of the mind, except where we stand, where we have been set–but it is there and nowhere else that the treasure can be found. The environment which I feel to be the natural one, the situation which has been assigned to me as my fate, the things that happen to me day after day, the things that claim me day after day–these contain my essential task and such fulfillment of existence as is open to me. It is said of a certain Talmudic master that the paths of heaven were as bright to him as the streets of his native town. Hasidism inverts the order: It is a greater thing if the streets of a man’s native town are as bright to him as the paths of heaven. For it is here, where we stand, that we should try to make shine the light of the hidden divine life.
If we had power over the ends of the earth, it would not give us that fulfillment of existence which a quiet devoted relationship to nearby life can give us. If we knew the secrets of the upper worlds, they would not allow us so much actual participation in true existence as we can achieve by performing, with holy intent, a task belonging to our daily duties. Our treasure is hidden beneath the hearth of our own home.
The Baal-Shem teaches that no encounter with a being or a thing in the course of our life lacks a hidden significance. The people we live with or meet with, the animals that help us with our farm work, the soil we till, the materials we shape, the tools we use, they all contain a mysterious spiritual substance which depends on us for helping it toward its pure form, its perfection. If we neglect this spiritual substance sent across our path, if we think only in terms of momentary purposes, without developing a genuine relationship to the beings and things in whose life we ought to take part, as they in ours, then we shall ourselves we debarred from true, fulfilled existence. It is my conviction that this doctrine is essentially true. The highest culture of the soul remains basically arid and barren unless, day by day, waters of life pour forth into the soul from those little encounters to which we give their due; the most formidable power is intrinsically powerlessness unless it maintains a secret covenant with these contacts, both humble and helpful, with strange, and yet near, being.
Some religions do not regard our sojourn on earth as true life. They either teach that everything appearing to us here is mere appearance, behind which we should penetrate, or that it is only a forecourt of the true world, a forecourt which we should cross without paying much attention to it. Judaism, on the contrary, teaches that what a man does now and here with holy intent is no less important, no less true–being a terrestrial indeed, but none the less factual, link with divine being–than the life in the world to come. This doctrine has found its fullest expression in Hasidism.
Rabbi Hanokh said: “The other nations too believe that there are two worlds. They too say: ‘In the other world.’ The difference is this: They think that the two are separate and severed, but Israel professes that the two worlds are essentially one and shall in fact become one.”
In their true essence, the two worlds are one. They only have, as it were, moved apart. But they shall again become one, as they are in their true essence. Man was created for the purpose of unifying the two worlds. He contributes toward this unity by holy living, in relationship to the world in which he has been set, at the place on which he stands.
Once they told Rabbi Pinhas of the great misery among the needy. He listened, sunk in grief. Then he raised his head. “Let us draw God into the world,” he cried, “and all need will be stilled.”
But is this possible, to draw God into the world? Is this not an arrogant, presumptuous idea? How dare the lowly worm touch upon a matter which depends entirely on God’s grace: how much of Himself He will vouchsafe to His creation?
Here again, Jewish doctrine is opposed to that of other religions, and again it is in Hasidism that it has found its fullest expression. God’s grace consists precisely in this, that He wants to let Himself be won by man, that He places Himself, so to speak, into man’s hands. God wants to come to His world, but He wants to come to it through man. This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of mankind.
“Where is the dwelling of God?”
This was the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him.
They laughed at him: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of His glory?” Then he answered his own question:
“God dwells wherever man lets Him in.”
This is the ultimate purpose: to let God in. But we can let Him in only where we really stand, where we live, where we live a true life. If we maintain holy intercourse with the little world entrusted to us, if we help the holy spiritual substance to accomplish itself in that section of Creation in which we are living, then we are establishing, in this our place, a dwelling for the Divine Presence.
Martin Buber, The Way of Man. 169-76

I Assume the Worst

It is so easy for me to assume the worst. And it is frightening.

An unexpected event happened the other day. I was at work and my wife and 3 daughters were at the house. It was a rather normal day; somewhat cold yet warm enough for a winter’s rainstorm. At this point in the day it hadn’t begun raining too much, however.

2:30 in the afternoon at our house is a time of waking up or still being awake after neglecting to nap. Activities of playing, coloring, or reading are in full swing as laughter and the occasional bickering fill the house. This day, however, would be different.

My wife called me to alert me to a man – probably in his early 20’s or so – walking around our house. We live on a corner making access to viewing our house quite easy. He walked around to the front of the house and then back to the side with enough pause to gain a keen eye to the details of our house. As my wife insistingly beckoned my girls away from our back door, he began to walk up alongside our van and towards the door. My wife had been watching him from within the house, far enough from the windows that he couldn’t see her or the girls.

Yet as he walked up towards the house, he stopped and left. I told my wife to get off the phone with me and to call 911. Was he trying to break in? Was he going to steal our belongings? Could my family have been in grave danger and I would hear the whole thing over the phone and 30 minutes away? Was he leaving our house for another one down the street?

My wife kept me on the phone as she walked back towards the rear door. As she got closer, she noticed a package and a note left from the delivery man. This man walking around the house wasn’t the delivery man; he seemed to be eyeing the package and inspecting for life in the house. “No one home,” he must have thought, making the package his. What made him stop short? I’ll never know.

A few cops showed up and scoped out our neighborhood. My brother came over to check out everything. All in all, nothing much had actually occurred and my wife handled things much, much better than I. She wasn’t worked up or over-anxious about the acts of that day.

I couldn’t shake the images running through my head. Not only of my wife and children in a precarious situation at best and life threatening at worst, but what I would have/could have done had I been home. Part of my worry was if this man would return and the fact I wouldn’t be home that night till 11pm. I was – in some ways – stuck being 30-45 minutes away from home and there might be danger lurking and waiting for opportunity to strike.

I arrived at home that night just before 11. And it was now that things changed. My wife was already in bed awaiting my return. The kids were in bed sleeping soundly. Seeing them safe made real what had been foggily imagined in my head. My wife and I caught up on the day as we reviewed what had taken place. “He walked around the house…the package…the girls…” Her calm lucidity eased my troubled mind and heart.

Then she changed the whole situation. “What if he was trying to help? What if he saw the package on the back porch getting wet and wondered if he could put it on the front porch?” See our back patio/porch doesn’t have anything keeping the rain at bay. The front does. What if he wasn’t trying to steal the package but keep it safe for us? From the inside of the house the package wasn’t visible; you could only see it from the outside. What if as he walked closer, he heard the girls or saw my wife and realized it would get picked up?

What if instead of a threat he was a help? What if he was offering us hospitality instead of hostility?

It was at this point where Henri Nouwen began to echo in me.

In our world the assumption is that strangers are a potential danger and that it is up to them to disprove it…Our heart might desire to help others: to feed the hungry, visit the prisoners and offer a shelter to travelers; but meanwhile we have surrounded ourselves with a wall of fear and hostile feelings, instinctively avoiding people and places where we might be reminded of our good intentions. (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, p.69)

I had decidedly reacted in a manner where this man was the threat. The situation dictated this…right? The funny thing is that this Nouwen quote and the book it is taken from is something I’ve been teaching on for awhile now. In fact, this exact passage was something I honed in on specifically. I even wrote about it here.

These simple questions and wondering from my wife expose the reality of the situation: it is easier to teach than to live. Certainly, I have turned my hostility into hospitality towards others in different areas of my life, but as is the case with everything in life, I need to constantly repent and believe as I come to grips with my own blind spots. Learning to love isn’t a one time experience; it takes a life time.

Why did I automatically respond the way I did? What are my underlying assumptions? Why do they bend towards the worst and not something else? What do I actually value and believe? How do I honor the safety of my family without resorting to the violence I so easily assumed? What areas of my own life am I living out of fear and loneliness?

Questions like these force themselves to the forefront in moments like this. They teach me more about myself than I am sometimes willing to confront.

The more I ponder this whole situation the more I come to this conclusion: While he had the potential to steal our property, I had done worse: I had stolen his humanity. Even if it was only in my own head, this is what I had done. And this is what fear does. It keeps people at arm’s length and assumes the worst. It made me see him as a threat and not as a human being. In short, it keeps love caged up as my own possession for those whom I deem human, not those who actually are. In the end, it allows me to dehumanize myself.

It is so easy for me to assume the worst. And it is frightening.

“With Bread”: The Etymology & Theology of Companionship

I’m a bit of a nerd. For instance, when I was younger, I, like many youngsters, memorized the alphabet. But that wasn’t enough for my young mind. I memorized not only the individual letters of the alphabet, but their corresponding numbers. So, A’s corresponding number is 1, B’s is 2, C’s is 3, and so on. This might sound simple enough, but wait, there’s more. I took it upon myself to memorize the sums and products of adding and multiplying letters by their corresponding numbers. With very little hesitation I could come up with the letters, numbers, and mathematical results when asked. Surprisingly, not too many people were looking for this information.

Fast forward to present day and I am still rather nerdy. (Thankfully, my wife has a soft spot for nerds.) I love words and their origins. Etymology is a hobby of mine that is – in my mind – worth its weight in gold. Mining the ins and outs of a word opens up meaning and interpretation. Like a flower in bloom, examining word origins, contexts, and histories allows for vibrant colors and nuanced designs previously hidden from view to emerge.

A few years ago, I was purchasing some bread from a grocery store for a shared meal. It was thinly sliced and aromatic. Perfectly baked crust protected the soft innards waiting for us to pluck apart. It was the kind of bread you should probably buy two loaves: one for the car ride home and one for the meal. Yet, what struck me on this particular occasion was the name of the bread. It wasn’t entitled “Italian Bread” although it was. Rather than translating the Italian, they had aptly and simply left it as, Pane.

And this triggered my etymological impulses.

Pane is a word derived from Latin meaning “bread.” It has a long and variegated history as it has been paired with a multitude of other terms. Nearly all of them center on bread of some sort.

The interesting thing is that the prefix com- means “with” stemming from the original Latin cum. When cum is used, it indicates a conjoining of two things. Pairings, groups, usage of items are all placed in relationship with the term cum.

Together cum + pane give us companion. Thus, your companions are the ones whom you are together “with bread.” Literally. Again, the etymology of companion opens our eyes to its history in that its Latin ancestor used to mean “messmate.” For the Latin speaking world and its cognates, companion wasn’t a general term. Your companions were the ones you ate with, the ones your broke bread with, the ones you shared a common table.

Companion points beyond itself to indicate the kinds of relationships eating together produces. Strangers and acquaintances become companions through eating together. Families flourish as they sit face-to-face sharing what is provided. Meals have been – and still are – the primary means of breaking down relational walls between folks. They are often the glue within communities due to their inherent hospitable nature.

The question then becomes, “With whom do we regularly share meals?” For those of us who claim to be Jesus-followers, this is a question central to our faith and discipleship. All too often, however, it has been relegated to a peripheral position in the life of faith. For many it has fallen too far down the list of Jesus-priorities, so much so, that it has become invisible for many. In my opinion, if there is one central practice we must reinvigorate and reincorporate into the life of the Church it is eating together. And, it seems, etymologically speaking, if we are to do this as companions, we must be true to the word by breaking bread together.

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Want to read the rest of this post?

You can read it at Missio Alliance where it was originally posted. There I discuss the postures and practices of presence, vulnerability, mutuality, and creation care inherent to shared meals and companionship. You can find the rest of it here: “‘With Bread': The Etymology & Theology of Companionship”.

Creation: The Real Loser in the Nye vs Ham Debate

I don’t usually write about cultural events – at least nothing too specific or too current. (I feel like I should then say, “but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.”) But last night’s debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye has resounded in my mind all day today. Not so much the actual content of the debate, but the method and trajectory of the debate. And, in the name of full transparency, I didn’t watch the actual showing. I did pay attention through the vicarious tweets and Facebook statuses, making this truly not a critique of the specifics of what was argued, but the arguing itself.

The debate itself seemed reminiscent of the Scopes Monkey Trial and the ensuing Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the early 1920’s. Pitting the legal and educational systems of the day against the religious institution was an exercise including rationality and hermeneutics, theology and public policy. Prior to, throughout its proceedings, and even after the court’s dust had settled, the focus fell upon the origins of humankind. The magnitude of this event was far too large to kept within the courtroom. Regardless of the details, influences, and outcomes, culture at large was now engrossed in the search to understand Genesis 1.

To this day, we haven’t been able to escape the grip of this search. The creation/evolution debate has long stood the test of time – at least modern time – in holding our attention to the minutiae of detailed case studies and fossil records on the one hand and the Ancient Near East context and Hebraic cosmology on the other. We have been unable to loose ourselves from this cultural battlefield ever since, despite its absence from everyday conversations. However, it has loomed heavily in the minds and imagination of people on both sides of the fence. Bring up creation by using the term itself and see what happens. In my experience, once anything relating to creation (or evolution) is brought up, definitions are often sought in order to rout out the potential heretic among us. Just try it.

This search has been primarily intellectual and last night once again affirmed this. Historically speaking, the Scopes Trial took place at what was perhaps the height of American rationality. World War 2 had not yet occurred, progress was the impetus behind the American milieu, and science and religion were in the throes of competing for dominance. Intellectual rigor and strength were highly valued in that day; values still sought after today regardless of its arena. Power comes along with this rigor making it an even sweeter fruit to obtain.

Last night seemed to be another futile exercise in obtaining this dominance. If only we can prove so and so. If only axiom A will be shown to be true(r) than axiom B, then our side will win. Yet in the end, I wonder if it only fanned the flame of a bygone era, namely one where intellectualism reigns. I wonder if it was a bringing the remnants of yesteryear out of the dark for a moment of shining. Even the postmodern world we inhabit, modernity can still rear its enlightened head. As my friend said yesterday, “There are incredibly strong modernist currents that still prevail upon these postmodern seas.”

Furthermore, debates in our day and age have taken on a different embodiment than their predecessors. Rather than being events of persuasion that affect life change, they have become vaudeville circus acts engendering sentiment bereft of action. The social imagination of yesteryear understood and valued the import of such events due to this. Now, debates fill the parts of our imagination where political figures feign allegiance to their constituents. Coupled with the amusement factor inherent to television – and screens in general – modern debates only reinforce the notion of consuming the material being presented. There is no intention of actually acting upon the received information. Television and its steroid-induced cousin, the internet, produce consumers, not participants. Combine this with a predominantly intellectual exercise and this is even more so. (This is what I was alluding to by the method and trajectory mentioned above.)

This is where we have allowed ourselves to get stuck. Our insistence on “getting the origins question correct” at an intellectual level has kept us from turning our attention elsewhere. The memory of basing our existence off of this rational understanding has paralyzed us from moving forward. Coalescing forces of winning the culture battle and being theologically correct as God would want have left us bereft of actual practices pertaining to creation. Ironically, this same tradition of reading Scripture and the spirituality it rendered have sought to prove the method of creation yet with the end goal being individual souls reaching heaven’s shores. With one side of its mouth it wants a creation made in six days while simultaneously praying for its destruction by fire some future day.

All of this has allowed us to keep creation itself at bay.

So I wonder:

What if instead of arguing over the creation texts, we moved our preoccupation a few verses further along in the story? What if instead of arguing over the meaning of “In the beginning” and “day” we pondered anew what it meant (and means) to “cultivate” and “keep” creation? What if we moved beyond compartmentalizing ideas from practices and figured out how they are two sides of the same coin? What if the Church shifted away from its often myopic dependency on things of faith being taught and towards lives of interdependency where they can be caught? What if instead of debating over creation we questioned how to live with creation?

What if local churches began sharing their land? What if they started to hold trainings to understand the geography and ecology of their shared regions? What if instead of paving parking lots, they planted gardens? What if they held neighborhood-wide meals from the food they grew? What if instead of using stale bread and cheap grape juice they used organically made breads and vibrant wines?

In short what if the Church became known for its new creation-centered methods in the midst of an intellectually origins-obsessed world? What sort of trajectory would that put us on?

Until then, creation will continue to be the loser.