Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why We Stay (A Review and Giveaway)

ISFMFaithfullyFeministIt’s important for me to put my body in “conservative” spaces, religiously speaking. In part, it’s why I moved across the country five years ago to attend Duke Divinity School when the Graduate Theological Union was only pedals away. I need regular reminders that my presence – my sturdy, female presence – is still challenging for some and made all the more so when I open my mouth and meet my front teeth with my bottom lip to speak the word feminism. I move in those spaces, sometimes even stay in those spaces, because I want to learn how to belong among all kinds of God’s people. I want to learn how to love all facets of God’s nature.

I also love a good fight.

In the forthcoming anthology Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay (White Cloud Press, August 2015), forty-five young women tell stories of their fight to claim the feminist label and stay at faith-full tables. “The conflict… is real,” scholars Judith Plaskow, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Amina Wadud assure us in the foreword – even, they note, when “it is generated by other people’s expectations that those two identities are separate and irreconcilable.” Making peace with my dual identity is only part of the practice. Helping others make peace with the notion that there is no duality – that Christianity is feminist – is the ministry of a lifetime.

It’s the ministry called reconciliation.

The anthology is the sixth volume in the I Speak For Myself series and the format will be a familiar one to fans of Talking Taboo. Co-editors Jennifer Zobair, Amy Levin, and Gina Messina-Dysert (also one of our Talking Taboo contributors) have culled a diverse group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim feminists to reflect on why they endure in patriarchal traditions where it is so often a struggle to reconcile what seem like conflicting commitments. Like surrender and agency, as the opening essay by Deonna Kelli Sayad puts it. Or tradition and innovation, a paradox Miriam Peskowitz raises in one of my favorite pieces. (She also asks the honest question, What do we do when the spark of the struggle fades?) It’s the tension between choosing the fight and protecting against abuse that I found most compelling in Messina-Dysert’s own essay when she confesses she wants her daughter to embrace her Catholic community, even as she fears her daughter will be made to feel “less than” in it.

I know plenty of feminists who are no longer part of faith communities because the struggle wore them out. When I published my own “why I stay” story at age twenty-four, journalist Susan Campbell responded that while she admired my commitment, for her, “the battle over the years grew to be too wearing.”

I am beginning to understand this. Just this Sunday I found myself shaking over a sermon on God the Father that relied more on pop psychology references to masculinity than biblical ones. How long, O Lord? a male friend prayed with me when the sanctuary had emptied.

But I have also come to the slow understanding that feminism at its best isn’t just about supporting women in power but relinquishing the power of privilege and I know of no better example of this than the person of Jesus, Jesus who the Christian Scripture tells us gave up divine privileges and took on human flesh so that we might be able to make peace with God and one another.

His was the ultimate ministry of reconciliation.

For those of us who understand that ministry as our own, Faithfully Feminist is a balm for the weary. Its multi-faith content will give readers a fresh wind for sustaining the good fight. Because of it I now have a new list of rituals, ideas, and teachers that I want to explore in an effort to move “beyond rhetoric and terminology towards content and personal affirmation,” as the foreword admonishes. This anthology is a start. We can always start close in as the poet says.

We can read a book.

We can pursue education.

We can find an ally and invite her or him to the table with us.

I can romanticize the struggle. I know I can. I talk slick about wanting more theological diversity at church or more relationships across socio-economic lines, and then I get my feelings hurt and my ego bruised when worldviews collide. It’s then I need to be reminded not of the necessity of the fight but of humility. Thanks to an essay in Faithfully Feminist by Caroline Kline, I now have new words to pray in times like those, words from Mormon feminist Joanna Brooks:

God, make me brave enough to love my people.
How wonderful it is to have a people to love.

HEY READERS! Faithfully Feminist is available for pre-order now but in the meantime I’m giving away a copy of its sister volume, Talking Taboo, signed by yours truly and dedicated to whomever you’d like. To find out the multiple ways you can enter, click here. The giveaway ends June 30th. 

While We’re Young (and Childless)

It’s the opening scene of the recent Noah Baumbach movie, While We’re Young, and the forty-something couple played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are trying, aimlessly, to calm their friend’s baby. It’s been a month or so now since I saw the film in my local art house theater but the sentiment of what comes next still stings true. The new parents sweep into the scene with water-eyed enthusiasm and reassure their childless friends. “You would make great parents.”

And while this is a kind thing to say, this is not always a kind thing to hear.

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Naomi Watts in While We’re Young

I didn’t expect my thirties to be so lonely. I’ve been around and around about the why’s – is my introvertism sprouting horns? is living in the South so very grisly? is this feeling all that new? – and can’t make much sense of it beyond the realization that we are diverging. We are diverging into family paths in our thirties in the way we diverged into career paths in our twenties and it is making things like getting a drink after work or getting the feeling I’m understood difficult.

At thirty-one, hearing a friend say I would make a great parent is like hearing my father say I would make a great professor. Sure, there’s still time for both but I’ve also made it clear, repeatedly, that I’m not interested in either. “That may be what you want for me,” I tell my sweet father, “but that’s not what I want for me.” It’s what I like to call a coercive compliment. It feels like a nudge toward the trodden path of progress in which parenthood, like a PhD, is the highest honor. Why stop now? their words say to me. You just want to be a happy wife? A slow writer? A holy hostess? You’re capable of so much more.

The “more” I’ve found myself in search of is friends. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my Tuesday afternoon trips to the park with my growing goddaughter and her mom. Or the Saturday morning outing to the tea house where my friends’ toddler plays shyly in the sandbox while we sip our Oolong. But I also need more friends in their twenties like Lizzie, the newlywed whose talk of sex is decidedly un-procreative. I need more friends in their sixties like Jeanette, the “unofficial mayor of Durham” who runs a nonprofit for women’s spirituality with an energy that’s refreshingly singular.

It was Jeanette who told me it might have to be like this for a while, seeing my thirty-something friends when I can but also exploring friendships with folks across different ages and stages of life. My college roommate, Jacki, agrees. She loves living in D.C. with a couple whose kids are grown and enjoy spending time with an older friend who’s made it a priority to create white space in her life. She says, “The truth is my “older” friends have really full lives. But I’ve found that they live out biblical hospitality in a way I haven’t seen much in people our age.” She tells me I need to find more people like this, available people.

It’s intragenerational friendship that the movie While We’re Young explores so playfully and poignantly, as Ben and Naomi’s characters befriend a twenty-something couple whose identities are equally in flux. I love that these youngsters don’t end up replacing their newly-parented friends. But they scratch an itch for adventure that had gone unnoticed for awhile. We know that a single friend can’t meet our every need. Do we know that friends from a single generation can’t either?

So while we’re young and childless, Rush and I are getting creative about where we go looking for friends. Some of Rush’s favorite new ones are parents of his middle- and high school-aged youth. To my surprise, I’ve found some internet friends who can connect across time zones and technology. We’ve both had to stop looking at every younger person as a protégé and every older person as a mentor and start seeing them as a bonafide buddy.

The thing is we would make great parents.

But what we really want is to make great friends.

RCWMS Promo - Lessons in BelongingInterested in exploring the shape of belonging through the different ages and stages of women’s lives? If you’re local to Durham, I’d love for you to “bring a friend from another gen.” and join me for a brief reading of my new book and an intragenerational conversation. What questions animate us? What fears limit us? What lessons can the young, old, and in-betweeners share with one another? Sparkly drinks and sprinkly cupcakes provided. Contact: RCWMS, 919-683-1236, rcwmsnc@aol.com for details.

How to Structure a Summer

photo (25)Can I tell you a terrible thing? I don’t love summer. Until now, I’ve often felt bad about this, bad in the same kind of way I felt bad living in California and praying away the sunny days because I was tired of feeling like I had to make something of them. So it is in summer when the light is long and the invitations many. All that potential can lead to a sort of seasonal paralysis. The options are as stifling as the southern heat.

Summers started making me anxious when I reached school-going-age. The academic year gave me an excuse to regularly see classmates, a rhythm by which to order both our time and relationships. Without it, we were defined less by our shared life together and more by our (family’s) individual choices. Were you going to camp for one week or Maine for the whole summer? Was your babysitter a teenager named Sophie or a television stamped Sony? How long were you going to visit Dad or didn’t Dad live with you? The same thing would happen when we graduated from college and the socio-economic statuses of friends – long felt but yet realized – were unveiled. Summers took the dirt of a somewhat level playing field and turned it worm side up.

Despite the mistrust we have in institutions and their often soul-crushing structures, they offer us a relief to do-it-yourself community. In what is one of many profound asides in her new book Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God, Lauren Winner writes,

“I know that friendship is often supported by institutions and the structures they provide. A few years ago, the rector of the church where I served as a priest associate left for another job. The moment she announced she was leaving, I began to dread the ways our friendship would suffer – and it has. It hasn’t disappeared, but now it is entirely dependent on our free time and our admittedly plentiful affection for each other. We manage to meet for a cocktail about every four months, which is better than nothing but a lot more fragile than when we not only adored each other but also shared common work and common concern for a parish.”

Institutions like schools, like churches, give us a reason to be together. They give us something to look at that’s not directly about you or me but a point on the horizon to which we can move side by side. They give us something in common beyond our social-economic statuses, familial commitments, and individual preferences.

But it’s not just friendships that become fragile without shared rhythm. It’s our sense of self, too. I was at a board meeting last week for the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South and listened to woman of all ages wonder about how to structure their summers. To write for publication or write for themselves? To do something new or do something familiar? I’ve been wondering the same for the last four weeks, sighing to my therapist, “I’d like to focus on just being a person this summer – not a writer or facilitator – but a person who loves and cries and looks her husband in the eye when he walks through the front door.”

Unfortunately “just being a person” comes with no obvious blueprint. I wish I could give three easy tips to quell your summer blues and mine but I’ve been tugging at God’s hem for weeks now with no answer. So, as I often do when God is silent and I am antsy, I’ve begun making a few small moves of my own. I’ve taken up writing three letters a week to people who move me as way to connect with friends and colleagues without having to keep track of everybody’s summer schedules. I’ve picked up a few books outside my regular reading list of memoirs and manuals as a way to play outside the lines of my own learning. I’ve reserved one totally unscheduled day a week for Sabbath and one totally unscheduled weekend a month for the spontaneity of Spirit. Apparently, that’s how She likes to roll in summer, and always.

Whatever your blueprint for the long months ahead, be kind to yourself. Wear sunscreen on your neck. Don’t pick at your mosquito bites unless you’ve set a timer. Say no to invitations often and apologetically. Say yes to a class, club, or church just to see what it’s like to live by a larger rhythm. Travel somewhere close, to your backyard or a book.

Sit quietly until you find this season, or yourself, not so terrible after all.

Becoming Agents of Belonging: Three Practices Every Mom (and Minister) Can Model

It felt rude to invite you to a party I didn’t intend to join. Last month on this blog, I featured guest posts from Talking Taboo contributors on one good thing they learned in church. Frankly, after some lackluster feelings about my own church, I needed the reminder. I also needed a break from writing. But as it often goes when I give myself permission to leave the shoulds of weekly blogging behind – the shoulds of anything really from morning quiet time (what’s so spiritually mature about being a morning person?) to answering my phone on the first ring – desire for the real thing returns. So, in celebration of Mother’s Day, I give you one good thing I learned from my mom (about the church): how to become an agent of belonging.

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When it comes to belonging to the church, my generation and younger can be a skittish bunch. We’re good at pointing out the church’s faults, the clumsy ones and the callous ones, too. But instead of just criticizing the church and its leaders, I want to see young people become agents of our own belonging. (This is sort of my stump speech; have you noticed?)

Let me explain.

When I was five years old, I learned that it didn’t take much to belong to the body of Christ. You just had to want it real bad. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago called Winthrop Harbor, and by all accounts was a serious and sensitive child.

On the day of my older brother’s First Holy Communion ceremony, I watched with envy as he got a taste of Jesus’s body and blood a full two years before I would. I wanted a taste for myself. “Why do I have to wait?” I asked my mother, a small charismatic woman we nicknamed Perky Patty.

Now she could have told me “patience is a virtue” and gone back to defrosting dinner. Instead, she did something that looking back I think was quite radical. She told me what I wanted was valid and that she would call the church on Monday to see what could be done about it.

Belonging begins with desire. Some say desire was the first something out of nothing and that it was the insatiability of the desiring that put in motion the world. I like to think it was God’s own longing to belong to us that catalyzed the wind over the waters and called the ground into being.

I don’t know how the desire to belong to God or God’s people begins in a five year old or a fifteen year old but I do know we can create space for it to grow or we can snuff it out. I want to give you a taste of three practices we can model for our youth that are key for its survival. (Want more? Click here to explore where these practices come from.)

The first practice is, “Attend to your inner teacher.” We call the inner teacher by different names in different traditions: the voice of true self, the divine spark within, the Holy Spirit. To attend to our inner teachers is essentially to take notes on what God is speaking to us with the same vigor we would, say, a conference speaker.

One of my favorite stories about the inner teacher has to do with a six year who never paid attention in class until one day a drawing lesson was offered. The teacher, impressed by the girl’s newfound focus, asked, “What are you drawing?” The girl answered, “I’m drawing a picture of God,” and the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like,” and the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

While it’s true we learn from others, it’s also true that when we rely solely on experts for the answers we teach our children to become audience members of religion rather than co-creators of it. We need to carve out dedicated spaces in our ministries where our only agenda is waking each other up to how God’s moving within.

The second practice is to “Ask others open and honest questions.” That is, we need to regularly ask questions of our youth that we don’t know the answer to, the kinds of questions that evoke their imagination and ours. My mother was masterful at these questions.

Often we’d be sitting in the back of the minivan listening to music and my mother would say, “How do you imagine God moving in this song?” We’d close our eyes for a moment and then my older brother might say ‘Oh, I see God in a boat’ or I would say ‘Now God’s pushing me in a swing.’

Educators call this kind of thinking divergent thinking – it’s the ability to explore many possibilities to a single question – and kids are brilliant at it. In one study the % of kindergartners who scored at genius levels in it was 98%. Five years later that number dropped to 50%.

In classrooms and congregations, our fill-in-the-blank, one-size-fits all ages and stages and gender curricula are boring our youth (and me) to death. We’re educating out human imagination when it’s the very thing that invites agency in our youth and transformation in our institutions.

Finally, the last practice we can model is “Offer your presence as fully as possible.” When I began researching belonging, I was surprised there was no one word for it in the New Testament. For instance when we read in 1 Corinthians 3:23 “You belong to Christ” the more wooden translation is “You are of Christ.”

In this way we might think of parents standing side by side at their kids’ soccer game, elbowing one another and asking, “Which one is yours?” We belong to God not because of anything we do but because of whose we are. We’re pre-approved, as writer Anne Lamott likes to say.

But in the Old Testament – God Bless the Old Testament – there’s a word for belonging that’s much more concrete. The Hebrew noun for belonging refers to the part or portion of the congregation’s sacrificial offering that’s assigned to us. Belonging to God compels us to offer our true selves, the self only we can give, in a community of practice.

This was a revelation to me. I had always operated in the world as if belonging depended on whether a church and its leaders accepted me and my Quak-olic (that’s a hybrid of Quaker and Catholic) feminist habits rather than whether I chose to offer myself to them.

You see, to be an agent of belonging starts with leaders, ministers, and parents naming our own desire for community and then offering ourselves to one as best we can. Only then will we create the conditions for our young people to exercise courage in doing the same.

So, do you even want to belong? I love Jesus’s question to those who sought healing. What do you want? It’s a question befitting for the ultimate agent of belonging. No agenda. No easy answers. No forced exchange.

As for me, I had my very own First Holy Communion ceremony on Mother’s Day. It was a day my own mother acted as an agent of belonging for me and invited me to take ownership for my participation in church. On that day she allowed me to witness not only my own strength, but also the strength of the church to endure me.

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*This post was adapted from my PechaKucha presentation at this year’s Faith Forward gathering for children and youth ministers.

One Good Thing I Learned in Church: Humility

What’s one good thing you learned in church? During the month of April, a handful of contributors from Talking Taboo have been running with this question – and inviting you to do the same with the hashtag #onegoodchurch. For our last week of the series, elizabeth mcmanus writes on the progressive Christian purity culture of “being right” and how humility is her harder lesson.

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Flickr: Francisco Osorio

Humility isn’t something good i have learned from church – it is something good i am learning.

I became a feminist first because i am a Christian.

I’ve always loved the fiery Jesus. The Jesus who turned tables, the Jesus who spent time with sex workers and valued them as human beings, the Jesus born of an unwed teen mom.

My feminist heart can get down with this rebel Jesus.

But the pill i’m learning to swallow with my unapologetic feminism is that Jesus wasn’t all table-turning. And Jesus, for all his brood-of-viper shade-throwing, spent a lot of time in conversation with people who neither understood him nor cherished him.

And still, Jesus loved them. He loved the Pharisees, men asserting power in a marginalized community desperately trying to forge an identity and gather numbers they saw being erased by empire. Jesus loved people who probably depleted his emotional energy and time. Jesus loved his friends who hurt him, who abandoned him, who betrayed him.

And this kind of love is a love grounded in a deep, deep humility.

Jesus humbled me this week in an awful seminar on colonialism and missions.

A white man asked – i think innocently, but blunderingly – if the “Africans” were grateful for the Christianity brought by colonial missionaries. In my head, (and on my face) i was screaming “like being grateful for 40 acres and a mule after years of being told they were un-human, un-beautiful property?!” (It was not my finest moment of Christian charity.)

But before i could blurt my furious response, one of my peers – a black woman – stepped in. Gently, but firmly, she said that this was a question that kept her up at night. She knew her ancestors knew God, but it was the White Man who had brought Jesus, likely not at all by his own doing, but still. She knew the cost of this Jesus.

I was, truly, humbled. I would have responded in anger, genuine anger with a good-if-not-charitable intention that, if i’m honest, was also grounded in my desire to be correct. And yet, a woman who had far more right than i to be furious saw this man’s heart in his question. She unveiled a deeper complexity to missions that dealt with the reality of the black church as forged under the monster of colonialism.

And i’m fairly certain he listened to her more than he would have listened to me.

As a feminist, i get (rightfully) tetchy about any doctrine that rings of submission.

But my determination to be right – to be clean from injustices – is part of a larger trend in our current Christian conversations. Richard Beck describes this progressive Christian trend as the “new purity culture.” More than anything, we progressive Christians deeply desire to use the right words, think the right things, and love in the right ways – not unlike the tenants of (fundamentalism’s sexual) purity culture. This desire to be “pure” from injustice is, well, for naught, because there is literally no way a human being can eat and speak and live without in some way being complicit in injustice.

Most importantly, a desire to be pure from injustice is still a desire that puts us at the center of an always imperfect conversation. It is not a desire for true Christ-like humility.

C.S. Lewis wrote that “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

True humility looks at the reality of our tendencies towards the social evils of racism and patriarchy and does not dwell in our guilt. Instead, humility asks if we can witness and listen. In John 19:26, Jesus showed true humility on the cross when he looked at his mother. Jesus’s mother endured the unbelievable agony of watching the murder of her own child. And Jesus, while dying, spoke to his mother about the pain she felt losing a child.

We are not Jesus, and we are not meant to read this encounter as a blueprint for a humility that erases our own pain, or erases the injustices we face for some twisted self-deprecation. But we are meant to be like Jesus in this deep, deep love.

Walking humbly, as Micah 6:8 tells us, must go hand-in-hand with loving mercy and doing justice.

The good that Jesus and the church teaches me is that sometimes, the best justice is shutting my mouth and listening. Because listening is a radical act of justice.

The church has taught me in these moments that humility is about seeing past our own hurts – however legitimate – to see the hurt and the heart in someone else.

And when i do that, i can still see Jesus in the heart of the person who hurt me.

McManus - Headshotelizabeth mcmanus enjoys challenging cis-patriarchal linguistic norms by lowercasing her name. She’s a proud graduate of Mount Holyoke College (Summa cum laude) where she earned a bachelor’s in religion, with a concentration on gender and sexuality. She’s lived all over the world, but currently is based in North Carolina, where she lives with her partner. Currently raising a lot of ruckus as a sailor-mouthed seminarian. Find her at http://wanderingwrites.com/ or on Twitter @lizziemcmizzie

One Good Thing I Learned in Church: Embrace

What’s one good thing you learned in church? During the month of April, a handful of contributors from Talking Taboo are running with this question – and inviting you to do the same with the hashtag #onegoodchurch. This week? Katey Zeh on the church as a place of experimental identity…and embrace.

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Flickr: Viewminder

Growing up I never got to be the new kid in class. For some this might sound ideal, but for me it was stifling. I went to the same school my entire life, and when I graduated from high school there were twenty students in my grade, four of whom I’d known since kindergarten. If I could go back to that first day of school and talk to my five-year-old self, I’d tell her, be careful about what version of yourself you choose to be today because that’s the person everyone will think you are for the next twelve years.

Church was my chance at reinventing myself.

I didn’t grow up in a faith community, so when a friend invited me to join her one Sunday for youth group, I finally got my chance to be the new kid. And it was fabulous. I thought to myself, this room is full of people who know nothing about me! The labels that followed me around year after year in school—“so-and-so’s little sister,” the goody-goody—were suddenly meaningless.

This was my opportunity to be someone different from the person I was during the week, so I just went for it. I tried a lot of different identities, but my favorite to play was that of the rebellious mischief-maker, cracking jokes during the devotional time and finding opportunities to sneak out of the church building when the adult volunteers weren’t looking. Church was the one place I wasn’t worried about how my shenanigans might get me into trouble or lead to a stern conversation about how I’d disappointed someone. Church equaled freedom and acceptance. No wonder it drew me back week after week.

At that time in my life I desperately needed a safe space where I could act out. The immature antics I pulled at church were fueled by my anger over what was happening at home. My divorcing parents had been battling it out for years, and I didn’t know what to make of all the disruption and chaos happening around me. Since no one else in my family went to church, Sundays were my escape from the gossip and invasive questions that humiliated me at school. Sometimes grace takes the form of a patient youth minister.

After some time I outgrew my desire to be a troublemaker on Sundays, and I started to take my faith more seriously. Church had become my community of choice, and I was ready to make a commitment to it. One summer day I walked in a white robe down to the beach across the street from our sanctuary and was baptized in the ocean by the same youth minister whose patience I had tested only a few years earlier. As I emerged from the water, my eyes stinging from the salt and bright sunlight, I caught a blurry glimpse of the congregation that had formed around us. Clapping and cheering, they met me at the edge of the foamy water with outstretched arms to embrace me just as I was in that moment—soaked, sticky, but spirit-filled.

I’ve learned that church can take on different identities, too. It can be worship in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. It can look like a rowdy bunch of teenagers in the fellowship hall. Its current form in my life is a community of faithful advocates who are committed to social justice. Undoubtedly it will shift its shape again. But no matter what it has been or what it will be, church is where I always have found the embracing grace to be who I am, sticky or not.

Zeh - HeadshotKatey Zeh, M.Div, is an advocate, organizer, and writer for global maternal health. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she currently serves as the Director of the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. Katey has written for Response magazine, Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Feminist Studies in Religion, and Mothering Matters. She lives in North Carolina with her husband Matt and their daughter Samantha. Visit her website at http://kateyzeh.com/ or follow her on Twitter @ktzeh.

One Good Thing I Learned in Church: Abundance

What’s one good thing you learned in church? During the month of April, a handful of contributors from Talking Taboo are running with this question – and inviting you to do the same with the hashtag #onegoodchurch. This week? Pilar Timpane on the church’s subversive message of abundance. 

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In the summer of 2012, I served a Catholic parish in Kasana-Luweero, Uganda. I developed a friendship with our housekeeper and one weekend she took me to her family’s village. I watched Daisy’s family members slash leaves and take down jackfruit and mangoes from high limbs on trees; her grandmother was leading the pack, telling them to gather things all along it. I was lost in the present moment. I would look to the gold sun and then back on this family showing me around their property, using whatever English they could.

The light was dying, and I knew we had to get back soon. As we waited in the near darkness for our seminarian friend to come pick us up on another motorcycle, the family dropped a huge package filled with corn, greens, and banana leaves on the ground next to us. This whole time they had been gathering food from their gardens for me to take home! I thanked them profusely, embraced the matriarchs and promised to return. We ended up having to bring back two motorcycles – one for our bodies and the other for our cargo.

This is what I have learned from the Church: Gift. Generosity. Abundance. A theology of abundance means giving life away. It means trusting the fruit to grow back if the tree is healthy.

The Fourfold Gospels all record pericopes about Jesus feeding multitudes (cf. John 6:1-14, Matt. 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17). A hungry crowd is gathered to hear him speak about the Kingdom of God, and Jesus serves them all a miraculous lunch. For Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, this is a subversive act and a sign of abundance that reveals God’s plan for society and the earth:

“The feeding of the multitudes… is an example of the new world coming into being through God. When the disciples, charged with feeding the hungry crowd, found a child with five loaves and two fishes, Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread. These are the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence…He demonstrated that the world is filled with abundance and freighted with generosity. If bread is broken and shared, there is enough for all. Jesus is engaged in the sacramental, subversive reordering of public reality.”[1]

Some of us call this gift the Eucharist—Jesus’ body was broken, like a kernel of wheat, in order to multiply into hope for all, to be shared by a beloved community.

There are scientific and positive schemes of thinking that claim life is abundant because of the expanding properties and possibilities of material life. Since all matter is both growing and potentially reproductive, our fecund potential seems impossible to stop. The future of the economy, in this schema, is abundantly possible because of borderless markets converging with scientific innovations.

However, these views present an abundant life for some, which can be achieved, and therefore is not a gift. An abundance that comes from me, or an abundance that comes from the laws that govern the universe, or an abundance that comes from our capitalist markets and limitless human potential – none of these are describing the abundant life that comes from the Christ who died on a Cross, a God who gives without receiving, a God who feeds the multitudes without asking, a God of sacrifice.

During Lent, one of our parish friars gave a sermon on Jesus’ conversation with Andrew and Philip about his coming death (John 12:20-33). Jesus knows his death is imminent, and he feels fear. But in this fear, said our priest, is a different kind of understanding about what death means. Jesus’ response to the end of life was not to deny its suffering but to lean towards it. For Jesus, there will be no life unless he dies. God’s type of triumph and birth and miracle comes in the wake of suffering and labor and need.

The message that achievement and accumulation is abundance is antithetical to the faithful view of abundance. In fact, the Church has taught me that abundance is giving it away when I am tempted to hoard and think that scarcity is creeping up on me. Leaning into death to eventually arrive at new life – this is the abundance I have been taught by the manifold faithful witnesses of the Church.

[1] The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity by Walter Brueggemann. Available online: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=533

View More: http://urbansouthphoto.pass.us/ross-timpanePilar Timpane is a freelance writer, documentary filmmaker, and photographer. She has worked on independent documentaries and film series nationally and internationally including most recently Lamento Con Alas: Documenting Unidentified Deaths Along the Texas-Mexico Border (2014). She is also a contributor to Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith (2013). Pilar holds a B.A. from Rutgers University and a Masters Degree from Duke University Divinity School. Her work can be found at pilartimpane.com. She resides in Durham, North Carolina.​