Sermons

The World Weighs a Little Less Here

Ancient Testimony - Micah 6:6-16

November 07, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Many of us imagine that if we got just a few days off we would feel better, be lighter, enjoy more peace—even under the triumph of global capitalism.  A few days off will help, but they will not cure.  The weight we feel is not just stress.  Nor is it just email or overwork or even the recession or the election.  These are all the manifestations of a deeper malaise.  The scales are fixed.  The game is rigged.  We are being shorted.  The banks are in charge—and it is their intention to become even more powerful, no matter what it takes to do so.  Wars that waste billions don’t matter to them.  Nor do most of us.  The sooner we figure this out, the better.

The big name for the rig, the fix, the wicked scale and dishonest weight is capitalism.  Not capital but its -ism.  In capitalism, Pharaoh has found a new tool.  You are what you do and what you buy.  You are what you can make and consume.  You are what you can give.  If you can’t do, buy, make, or give, there is no safety net for you.  The government has lined up with the banks to tip the scales against your humanity—and that of the globe. You know that on weekends and during the week.  You know that the dishonest scale applies not only to you but ever more rigorously to those who are materially poor.  The -ism of capital has been having a field day, and this last election is just a new version of its reach.  Indeed, not all of the millionaires who ran got elected, but most of the people who got elected did so protecting the rights of the profiteers.  There is excellent evidence that Obama’s sweeping midterm loss comes from the combination of an enthusiasm gap—he did not challenge the profiteers early enough or often enough or clearly enough—with strong money interests being afraid he might win in giving a few more people a more fair chance.  As rich as they are, even a little redistribution scares them.  Global capital has triumphed, again.

I am not a politician, so I don’t know the political solution to the awesome victory of capitalism in the current election.  To get such a victory, you need to have both a president who wouldn’t challenge the banks and a strongly motivated fear that he might.  I do know a way to become lighter: to change the scales and redistribute the weight, the Eucharist is a good place to start.  In the economy of fear, which uses lies and violence to stay in power, the Eucharist is an act of resistance.  As William Cavanaugh says in “The World in a Wafer: A Geography of the Eucharist as Resistance to Globalization,” bread and wine redistribute the weight.  They make things light.  Today, I want to show how—and I will use language that is often too big for its britches.  I will borrow deeply from Cavanaugh.  So blame the fancy language on him, much of it is his.  In my own heaviness, I am reaching for larger pictures to understand why so many eat food that does not satisfy—or eat nothing at all.

Many of us go soft in the head when we think about globalization.  It does not mean the demise of the nation state into something beautiful or international; instead, it means an extension of the state’s project of subsuming the local under the universal.  Eucharist is different.  It is simple space.  It is simple space that stories both time and space as small, local, and complete.  It says that the world is based in love, not fear, and that tables are so powerful—three cups of tea theology—that they can stop war and the fear that drives it.  You might say getting to know your neighbor over a cup of coffee is all you can do.  I would say that there is nothing small about that.  The theory of the Eucharist—that love overcomes fear; that small overcomes large—is more important to your inner peace than any vacation will ever be.  Cavanaugh argues that the Eucharist relies on the difference between itineraries and maps.  In itineraries, people walk freely through time and space.  In mapping, borders are created by nation states that then govern your time and your space.  In mapping, there is the state’s ability to survey a bounded territory from a sovereign center and to make uniform the conditions of each particular unit of space.  Ask immigrants crossing the border and you will know what I mean.  The flattening of complex social space by the modern state does not mean that local groups simply vanish; instead, they, we, become powerless.  Corporations then get us to buy what they sell and supervise us while we buy.  Instead of liking the way your clan made its food, you become a Taco Bell Consumer.  You are constantly being encouraged not to be attached to any one asset.  If you don’t believe me, try to get out in an airport and figure out whether you have touched down in Cambridge or Fort Worth or Memphis or Dar es Salaam or Minsk.  There is indeed a global village, and it is uniform in its tendencies.  Mexican food is popularized in a place like Minnesota but the dominant form is Taco Bell, which serves up a hot sauce that a native Minnesotan could easily mistake for ketchup.  It appeals to the taste of “anyone, anywhere.”  You are heavy because you know you have become anyone, anywhere: an interchangeable part.  To compete, the corporation must manipulate this knowledge.  There must be an emphasis on the unique qualities of an advertised image; for example, the traditional Mexican culture of the Abuelita.  Anyone who has stood at a Taco Bell counter and watched a surly white teenager inject burritos with a sour cream gun knows how absurd these images are.  The Abuelita is an image manufactured by a global corporation.  Also, the woman in Mexico who is being imagined is probably drinking a can of diet coke while sitting before dubbed reruns of Dynasty.  The more “muy auténtico” a place claims to be, the more it exposes itself as a copy of a copy for which there exists no original.  While globalization markets the traditions of the local culture, the people who inhabit the latter space are often selling their own traditions to the universal traditions of Coke and Colgate.  Nabisco and Nestlé create a universal and homogeneous consumer, whose phony images preclude it from attachment to any particular clan or place.

The heavy master narrative is corporate, uniform, homogeneous consumption, which is the direct and dangerous rival of the itinerant, local, anytime, anywhere world of a wafer.  True universality does not depend on the mapping and managing of global space for marketing purposes.  Just remember Cardinal Mahoney’s fierce opposition to the state of California letting ICE pick up people after they had come to Mass.  He knew just how rival his space and their borders were.  Eucharist overcomes the apparent dichotomy of the local and the universal in a different way.  It is a centered diaspora.  It suggests the idea of an organic whole, of a cohesion, a firm synthesis, of a reality that is not scattered but turned toward a center, which is just a small center in a little story about an unimportant man.  The Eucharist is a de-centered center in time and space, where we imagine the presence of Jesus among us.  The normal condition for the Christian Church is not Christendom, a permanent place with borders defensible by force (remember how Constantine almost destroyed us); instead, our normal and our natural way is itinerant diaspora, moving wherever we are whenever we want, in a world that has fluid borders through real places.  The Body of Christ is not partitioned because the whole body of Christ is present in each fraction of the elements: the world in a wafer.  The true global village is not simply a village writ large—and controlled—but where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20).  The transcendence of spatial and temporal barriers does not depend on a global mapping but on a collapsing of the world into the local assembly.  Often the local assembly is a pilgrim or a walking or itinerant assembly.  This itinerant, decentralized diaspora is an act of resistance to the dominant over-coding of the mapped spaces the state seems to enjoy.  It does not depend on establishing its own place or its own territory to defend; instead, it moves on in pilgrimage through the places defined by the map and transforms them into alternatives spaces through its practices.  The consumer of the Eucharist is no longer the schizophrenic subject of global capitalism, awash in a sea of unrelated moments, but walks into a story with a past, present, and future.  Remember me, is what Jesus says.  Remember.  Turn the corner and the cosmic Christ appears in the homeless person who asks for a cup of coffee.  Christ appears in the hungry, thirsty, strange, and oppressed.  Indeed, the story of Jesus has no need to be central or dominant or imperial or anti-Jew or anti-Muslim or anti-gay.  It unbinds itself and un-borders itself.  It is the mappers not the walkers who want to control the advance of space and time.  When Christendom and Constantine get a hold of Jesus, even he gets oppressed in creed and homogeneity and uniformity.  In Eucharistic space, we are not juxtaposed to each other but instead identified.  If one member suffers, all suffer.  When St. Paul discovers that the Corinthians are unworthily partaking of the Lord’s supper, oblivious to the humiliation of the poor by the rich, Paul says, indeed there are factions among you.  In God, there are no factions.  If this is just too much theology for you, then just remember this: remember the moment the police chose to murder Archbishop Romero.  It was during the Mass.  They knew their target.  Remember also Father Rutilio Grande of El Salvador, murdered a month after he gave a sermon saying that “God gave us . . . a material world for all, without borders . . . A common table, with broad linens, a table for everybody . . . that will one day overcome hatred itself.”  They were drawing on the powers of the Eucharist to collapse the borders between rich and poor.  How did they do it?  They gathered the faithful in one particular location and gave them a little food.

Republicans now have two years to turn the economy around.  HA.  And you have at least that much time to turn yourself around from heaviness to lightness.  The Zapatec in Oaxaca have noticed that there are more mutant corn plants than ever.  They cry out, “Sin Maíz, No Hay País!”  Without our local food, there is no state or country.  Those of us who love the Eucharist say the same thing.  Scientists call the corn problem “transgressed genes.”  You are heavy because your local self in local community has been transgressed.  The Zapatec speak of their corn plans as failing to yield.  When we remember Jesus today at this table, let us remember that it is capitalism that has failed to yield.  It tells you a lie when it says it is the only yield.  You are the yield; you belong to a table.  You deserve to eat food that satisfies.

 
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