Ordering & Eating (God’s Kingdom on Earth)

Here’s another book recommendation for anyone needing a good read.  I read Peace by W. Brueggemann (previously published under a different title) many years ago, and, though subtle, it’s powerful influence blows the doors of my imagination off there hinges!  I fear my quotation of it will start off so boring that my readers will not finish it to absorb the message, but for those who do, I trust its power will grow in your mind like a mustard seed.
Allow me to quote:
The shalom emphasis is an occasion in the church to think differently about our lives.  One fresh way of doing that involves the theme of chaos and order, a theme very big in the Bible.  The people in the Bible had, like us, a fear of chaos and a craving for order.  And sometimes we prefer any order to any appearance of chaos.
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If we are to be seriously engaged with our faith, we must be more sensitized to central shalom questions: How are things ordered?  How did they get that way?  Who wants to keep it that way?  For what vested reason do they want to keep it that way?  Shalom leads us to raise issues of sociology of value and sociology of power.  I believe we have a chance in the life of the church to sensitize people to these matters, to help them recognize that things are not eternally ordered to be the way they are now.  Rather, things are the way they are now because someone made them so, and we may assume they did so for some reason, good or ill.  If I understand the current discussions of the theology of hope, they are centered in the conviction that things do not need to remain as they are and that if things have been made the way they are, they may be unmade from that form and ordered in another way.  A theology of despair, to take the antithesis, is the dreadful conclusion that things are hopeless, that they are given and must be ordered as they are now.  Such a conclusion is to abandon any hope for newness and to decide that the world is closed off from newness.  Shalom is rooted in a theology of hope, in the powerful, buoyant conviction that the world can and will be transformed and renewed, that life can and will be changed, and newness can and will come.
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How are things ordered now?  All around us things are ordered, and mostly we accept that order in unthinking obedience.  On the door of my favorite drive-in restaurant is a sign: “No Shoes, No Shirt – No Service – No Exceptions!”  That is a statement of how things are ordered.  Although that is relatively innocuous, I can remember, as many still can, a more diabolic statement of order: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” or more blatantly, “Whites only.”  In retrospect those signs about ordering our chaos around “to refuse service” are ludicrous.  How did we tolerate that?  We didn’t just tolerate it.  We accepted it as an eternal given, not because we approved, but because we like order and are not accustomed to questioning it.  We are not sensitized to the sociological dimensions of order and value.
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I have wondered if some day soon, the current sign, “No Shoes, No Shirt…” will appear equally ludicrous.  Be that as it may, I have wondered about that sign, and surely for a reason.  And I’m middle-class enough and middle-aged enough to approve their reasoning.  I don’t want to eat my hamburger looking at the unpleasantness of “dirty, barefoot, long-haired kids.”  Nonetheless, it is an imposed order and it is for a reason.
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[I, Agent X, don’t know exactly when Brueggemann penned these words, but I suspect it was in the 1980’s, and possibly a bit earlier.]
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The issues have changed very sharply in the church.  Recently it was all “out there” in the world.  But now it is “in here,” and every society and group directing the church must answer the question, Who can come “in here”?  Because “in here” is where the goodies are.  Here is the point: The church must consist of people sensitized to the real rules of who has access to the goodies and who makes the rules about who has access.  It is a decision made in every group. every family, every church.  Somebody decides who has access to the goodies, and it is also decided who makes those decisions.  And if shalom is about changing things, as it surely is, clearly we have a task of perception before we can begin the task of transformation.  We must see clearly how somebody has taken a situation and has ordered it in a certain way.  At lest theoretically it could have been ordered in a variety of other ways.
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It is not accidental that the sign I first noticed was on the door of a restaurant.  Perhaps in eating more than in anything else, we act out our sense of order and our valuing of goodies and access to goodies.  In eating, we engage in the most primal event of being insiders, and without knowing it we order our eating most carefully, as has my drive-in.  It is in the elemental act of eating that we make our fundamental decisions about what we mean by shalom.
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1.  Covenant making in the Old Testament is characteristically done by covenant meal.  “Those whom the gods would value, they first eat with.”  Thus Exodus 24:11: On Mt. Horeb, “They beheld God, and they ate and drank.”*
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2.  The early church knew Jesus best in the “breaking of bread” (Luke 24:28-35).  And since that time this meal has been the most fundamental thing Christians do.  It is around that table that we have had our greatest conflicts because we know intuitively that in eating and drinking we are choosing our brand of shalom and legitimating and ordering of our world.
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3.  In the 1960s in America, out of all the hassles and resistances about integration, it was that of “lunch counters” that became the symbolic issue.  We knew intuitively that with whom we eat is a highly symbolic act expressing the covenants we honor and the shape of shalom we affirm and choose.  As you know, for a time we settled for “vertical integration.”  We would stand together to eat, but not sit.  I assume that was what our Puritan forebears called a “half-way covenant.”
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Eating is at the center of human life.  There we do our choosing and our shaping of life.  Older traditions such as the Evangelical and Reformed Book of Worship made the powerful statement that eucharist deals not merely with signs but with the reality that such worshipful signs represent.  In that older, more tranquil language, we affirmed at the table that we were engaged in our primal ordering event.  All through our eating we know that we have to do with the innermost sanctuary of our experience.  On purely phenomenological grounds, apart from theology, we talk about “Real Presence” at the table.  At the table is where the Lord really is.  Think what it means when that awareness is coupled with this sign at our table: “No Shoes, No Shirt – No Service – No Exceptions.”  Shalom concerns ordering arrangements that control access to the goodies.
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(Brueggemann/Peace pgs. 76-78)
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I would love to quote the whole chapter, but this excerpt will suffice.  And I offer it on this blog in part to show the concept(s) that form the center of Fat Beggars School of Prophets’ theo/ministry.  I rarely reference Brueggemann, but this book, and especially this chapter, play such an intense role in shaping the thinking that has gone into the work and imagination of Fat Beggars that it seems important to share.
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I think so often that for those people who actually pay attention to this ministry, they wind up just puzzled and go away scratching their heads.  We are not a housing operation; we are not a blankets-n-socks ministry; we are not even a food distribution organization (though we support those things and sometimes play a part in such ministries).  Rather we are a worship-as-ministry/worship-as-Spiritual-warfare/imagination-altering prophetic ministry.  As Brueggeman says in the midst of this excerpt: “The church must consist of people sensitized to the real rules of who has access to the goodies and who makes the rules about who has access.”  Thus Fat Beggars is all about the task of “sensitizing” the church!  And thereby re-ordering the world by the “real rules” – the Kingdom Rule of the One “who makes the rules about who has access.”
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When you couple this stuff with Tony Campolo’s observations about how The Kingdom of God Is a Party, a particular flavor of it all comes to bear.  Heaven comes to earth!  The Fat Beggars invite you to come to the party (II Kings 6:24 – 7:20)
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3 comments

  1. T. F. Thompson · January 3

    It makes you wonder. Today, many churches now require background checks when working with the church. I wonder if even Christ himself would pass and would doubt it. We say all that we believe that we don’t believe and that all is forgiven when it isn’t. All of this makes me weep. Yes, I would pass and have passed, but that is not the point: my friends, many of them would fail due to past felonies.
    Yes, preach the new creature in Christ and then deny that it exists. And the masters and the fools, those who make the rules are generally more guilty than them all.
    In the end, is there a place in our Master’s House for us to sit?

    I would hope that I could sit with you.

    Alas, the sin in me calls out to my Lord, and he beckons me, and is denied by those of whom he has placed in charge. And we dare call that the loving church of God?

    And among all the turbulence, when we stand alone…are you standing with me? And when I am alone and those around me are accusing me… are you still standing there with me alone. Or in the end, is it only Jesus who dares proclaim us His friends?

    I will tell you this: I believe in you and believe in all the good that is in you. I believe in a Lord who says were are all friends. I believe in forgiveness and in love and in patience and in forbearance and in faith and in short; I believe in you. I would only hope that just a little, the church would believe in us. Amen

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Agent X · January 3

    You definitely can sit with me!

    Before I was a street minster, I was a prison minister. In fact, I once was chaplain at the Robertson Unit here in Texas – not the most famous of prisons, not even in Texas, but those who’ve been there call it “Rockin’ Robertson” and it gets that name for a reason. (I got plenty of residual tear gas at that job… enough to last me a life-time!)

    Anyway, I mention that because you talk speak so much of sin and forgiveness in this comment and of being refused for it.

    Let me say, I heard a lot of truly awful confessions in that prison. Stuff that makes your skin crawl. And they were unsolicited confessions. I don’t ask prisoners what they are in for… I prefer to ask, “How long you in for?” I don’t really want to know the particulars. I will listen when a bro needs to unload, alright, but I have no curiosity for that stuff. AND I find it a bit ironic that the bros down at the church house wont and don’t ask each other what their sins are – don’t hardly ever confess it either, but when they meet a bro in jail, they are filled with curiosity! I am not like that. It is enough for me to sympathize with your TIME, and that gives me an idea of the severity of your crime anyway – even without particulars.

    But still these guys would tell. Not all, but some. And of course the child molesters and rapists were the ones most wanting to unload, and the ones hardest to listen to… Some details I am better off not knowing, but when a guy needs to unburden… you gotta let him. That is some hard stuff to be guilty of.

    I say all that to assure you I am no rookie. And I am quite serious when I say, I am on a need to know basis, and usually I don’t need to know.

    (Caveat here: In case this should ever matter in the future, I want to be on record with this serious stuff… If I made friends with a repentant sex offender, YES, I can and will treat him as a bro and afford him all my love and care… BUT… since I am in charge of small children at my house, I really NEED to know this info and to take measures to assure their safety which IS just about the only thing more important than the repentant offender’s dignity. The world wide web is full of anonymity, and I don’t personally know most of my readers. Yet this is an avenue people have used to reach out to me in the past. Last year, a homeless woman in Dallas/Ft Worth area reached out to me and even made the trip to Lubbock. she was a guest in my home briefly. So going on record with this kind of thing in a public discussion like this is important to me. But other than scenarios of this nature, NO. I don’t need to know or want to.)

    NOW… with all that out of the way… (These exceptions are important, but they are ONLY the exceptions and NOT the rule) I extend the hand of fellowship! And YES I want you to sit with me!!! You would not be the first, and I hope not the last!!! But thanx so much for your charitable, kind words toward me. I am really stunned by this generous attitude toward me. I don’t often get this level of kindness from others whether friend or stranger! It is appreciated! Yes. I have a place for you at my table, but then it’s not really MY table… nor am I the Master of it.

    I would like you to check out this old post of mine. I think I should rewrite it really, but the basic elements of the story are all there, and I think it will paint a picture of my heart for you and for any who would come to the table along side me.

    Find it here:

    https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/proph-o-drama-wedding/

    That stranger you let in just might be JESUS!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. LoiterLarry · January 5

    I want to sit at your table too (if you will have me).

    WB is a good author. Dry reading in some places, but I see why you like this passage alright. Makes sense.

    Keep up the good work.

    LL

    Liked by 1 person

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