It’s not “ha ha” funny (especially if you’re someone suffering from celiac disease, and those numbers are ever on the rise), but it is sort of “ironic funny” that one of the most beloved and preached-upon metaphors for Jesus — the one infusing MANY a sermon as August in Year “B” of the Revised Common Lectionary rolls around and John 6 comprises gospel readings for the entirety of the month — is also a metaphor that might these days actually cause many a stomach to literally churn. I’m talking about Jesus as “the Bread of Life.”
While many in the pews may swoon hearing Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry” (August 2); and be entranced when Jesus says, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (August 9); and, okay, feel a little queasy with “The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (August 16); and feel a little like a Delta House homecoming float with “Whoever eats me lives because of me” (August 23); and find some happy relief with “Nothing outside a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight”: (August 30); persons with gluten intolerance may beg to differ.
Well-meaning preachers may delight in their cleverness as they describe the variety of ways their sermons can raise (pun sort of intended) desire to follow Jesus by highlighting various aspects of His “breadiness": Jesus is sweet like bread; nourishing like bread; a staple for daily survival; like bread Jesus is best when broken and shared; like bread Jesus is also rye er, wry! (get it - wry-rye! ha ha ha!). Like bread Jesus is also crusty, which makes him, and this metaphor, especially interesting (even beyond the wry/rye thing).
However, if your body has ceased in its ability to process gluten (and, as I said before, more and more people are having to deal with this awful problem in large part because, experts think, modern wheat is not what it used to be and is heavily hybridized), all this talk about bread and its delicious attractiveness must, at least on some level, be a total turn-off. More than enough to make you sick.
While it may seem to some annoyingly “politically correct” to spend too much time wondering how and why gluten-intolerance could/should affect our Bread of Life preaching - perhaps it is an issue worth…well…chewing on for a bit.
I actually find this a helpful metaphor to keep in mind in my relating to the many wonderful, intelligent, passionate, capable, genuinely searching pilgrims who would be so great in so many ways to have as part of one’s Christian community, but who would not in a million years be the least bit interested.
You might call them, well, “spiritually gluten intolerant.” Their soul systems are such that they can’t begin to digest anything having to do with the Bread of Life. Maybe, like actual "g.i.’ers" with actual bread, they once could handle a relationship with Jesus - as children perhaps - but then they had a bad experience with church or at the very least began to find it boring and irrelevant. And as they grew up they witnessed in their lives and on the news seemingly endless examples of hypocrisy, lust, greed and human intolerance in “people of faith” of all stripes - especially Christians. Now, they are not hesitant to exclaim all organized religion should be outlawed and ended. Its proclamations and practices actually make one ill. Make the world ill.
Trying to convince the intolerants they are somehow wrong is not only for the most part ineffectual, it’s also not fair. There ARE so many things about the Church that are wrong and bad and good reason to find the union with the Jesus it promotes wholly unappetizing. Emetic even.
However, maybe we can look at it like the way many communities now go out of their way to make sure a gluten-free alternative is available at Holy Communion. That alternative might be something that's completely different from bread as we know it, like a rice cake or cracker. Or it might be something that looks, tastes and feels just like bread but is made with ingredients that the intolerant can tolerate. Undoubtedly a lot of experimentation took place in test kitchens everywhere to come up with the the bread recipe that works.
Maybe the Church needs to really let go of its need for spiritual seekers to "get Jesus" the way it thinks they should. Instead, what's needed is a genuine, engaging and safe space for the Spirit that made Jesus who He was to enter in in whatever way it will. And let the crumbs of whatever make and consistency fall as they may.
In my first forays into creating a “Comedy Church” that seeks to engage the considerable talents and minister to the remarkable soul hungers of the Hollywood comedy world, I entered into an environment filled with spiritual gluten intolerants. I think that's partly due to the fact that one of the jobs of comedy is to mock and show up the perversions of power, and Christianity (along with other great faiths) provide endless fodder in this regard. How possibly could comedians find a soft spot in their heart for that which they feel compelled - and for good reason - to savagely rip, and with several killer elastic facial expressions and maybe a choice prop or two?
I was surprised, however, that when I asked several of my talented and outspoken comedian friends who would proudly consider themselves “s.g.i’ers” if they’d like to come and share some of their political/religious material in worship - in lieu of a sermon - they were intrigued, then thrilled.
...Especially when I emphasized they didn't need to censor their act (except for bluer language). Just speak from the heart. From the gut. After all, the Bible is filled with prophets who mocked and showed up the perversions of power and from the heart, and gut. The Comedy Church wanted, with them, to explore this thread of biblical tradition. In the midst of prayers, appropriate songs (although, unfortunately, nothing from "Bread," if you're curious), and sharing from the community.
These "special guest star" worship services were profound, in addition to being remarkably fun. Transformational even. (After all, when your heart mind and soul are jostled not only by laughter but also by deep thoughts on the state of the world, there are all sorts of entrance points in one's being for the Spirit, yes?)
What was especially interesting was the change that came over the comics. Many said they loved the experience and would like to be part of a community such as ours. Had this ecclesial experiement had the legs to continue, I can't help but think some - many! - may have found their way onto the Comedy Church's pilgrim path.
I have no idea how exactly how "Jesus" would have ultimately appeared, been named, embraced and ingested in the Comedy Church if we’d been able to move forward at that time. As I now start thinking about retooling the Comedy Church idea for reemergence not so far down the road, I still don’t really know. I think it will be really helpful for us to think of ourselves as one of those “test kitchens” continuing to devise the right alternative recipe with and for the spiritually gluten intolerant. Because, actually, I get the feeling that the Bread they can and will partake is really, deep down, the same Bread “spiritual wheat-eaters” crave.
As long as it’s Living.
What do you think??