Friday, January 29, 2010

Remembering the Magic

Just back a little while ago from giving a talk at Logos School as part of the culmination of their Knights Festival. Today they finish with an enormous feast, plays, and lots of fun. Here are my notes from the talk below.

What is feasting for?

Genesis 1-2 opens with the creation of the world and lots of food. All of the food was “yes,” and only the fruit from one tree was “no.” And we all know what happened. But this establishes a pattern throughout the Bible that repeatedly reveals food and eating and feasting as test.

Consider the Promised Land where great bounty and increase were heaped up for Israel, but in this great blessing there was a great test: how would Israel receive the blessing? Moses knew then and we know now that the people very quickly forgot where all the abundance came from (Dt. 8:7-20).

God is a faithful Father who tests his children with both scarcity and abundance. What is God testing? God is not out to get us, but He does love us and is jealous for our love and fellowship.

So what does God want us to remember when we have tables overflowing and laughter on our lips? He wants us to remember that this world is magic. This food and abundance does not come from pure efficiency, scientific progress, industrial machinery, or even middle class moms and dads who pay for these gifts. If we explain to satisfaction where all the abundance came from, then we fail the test. Of course we see little bits of the puzzle, but most of it should be shocking, strange, miraculous.

Every meal, every feast is like the five loaves and two fish. You can see the fish and the loaves (mom, dad, the grocery store, famers, etc.). But then it turns into a table laden with joy, overflowing with gladness. It turns into tastes which combine magically in our mouths. And smells dance overhead happily with or without us.
We don’t get this wealth, this food, this abundance with our own power and might. It’s the Lord who does this for us and in us and through us.

But faith is a lot like imagination. The movie Hook has a grand scene where the old, stodgy, grown-up Peter Pan is sitting down at a meal with all the lost boys, and they all dig in excitedly, but Peter can’t see or taste or smell any of the food. It looks like a table full of empty plates and empty serving dishes. He has to learn to use his imagination in order to see and smell and taste the food. And he finally sees the food when a food fight erupts. He sees the food when he needs it, when he wants it.

What does it mean that food is magic? It means that if food basically is one of God’s most favorite miracles that we have to live like this is true. God provides for His people. He provides for them in the wilderness, and He provides for them in the Promised Land. This means that feasting should always make us more generous.
Throughout the Old Testament, feasting always includes the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the strangers and foreigners. God commanded three annual feasts for the Israelites, and a weekly Sabbath feast, and the Scriptures go out of their way to remind the Israelites again and again to make sure they invite the poor, the orphans, the widows, the strangers.

But we like to guard good things. We get protective. Of course good stewardship is a Biblical principle. And dumping your piggy bank in the lake is not generosity. But we frequently use “stewardship” as a cover for being stingy. My son, like most boys, is pretty competitive, and loves games and competitions. But I noticed a while ago a pattern: as soon as a good game has been discovered without fail the next thing that will be suggested is a rule. And the rule is meant to protect the game and usually to his advantage. And people never really grow out of that. Special interest groups are basically five year olds trying to get congress to pass rules for their games.
But we do this in all sorts of ways. We have a good thing going with a friend, and we’re a little worried to invite someone else into the group. We have a good thing going at Church, and new faces and new people can bring change. Even schools have to guard against this. We find something that works, that’s really good, and then we start putting fences up, to protect it.

And God asks us, where did that food come from? Where’d that house come from, that city, that school, that fountain, those herds and flocks? Magically out of the ground. And you’re worried about what?

Feasting is a test, but the only way to pass this test is by living this thankfulness everywhere. You can’t go through life grumbling and then come to a feast and suddenly become thankful. If the feast reminds you to be thankful, all well and good, but ordinarily the feast just brings out your heart. If your heart is greedy, then you will be greedy at the feast. If your heart is bitter, then the food will not taste as good. But if you are practicing faith everywhere else, when you get to the table, you’ll see and taste the magic.

Feasting is a test particularly for schools and learning communities. You ought to measure your learning and teaching by your feasting. The food in the garden was the lure for Adam to explore and love the world. Genesis 1 and 2 is basically a treasure map. The test is: do you believe that? Do you believe that world is full of the treasures of God? And I don’t mean vague Sunday School things. You do realize that iPhones are part of treasure that God hid in the world? And Bach sonatas and video games and Shakespeare and lasagna with pepperoni in it. The world is full of wonderful gifts from a wonderful Giver. If we can’t see the food at the table, we won’t be able to see the feast in every class.

Pushing it the other direction, feasting is training for learning. Every class, every period, every year should be seen as a feast. Your teachers are the cooks, and they invite you into their kitchens every day to sample some of the finest tastes they have found in the world. We’re all treasure hunters, and we bring the spoils we have unearthed to class and we share them with you. And this is a good reminder to teachers to serve up the meals well. Learning is feasting. Learning is an act of love, loving creation, loving the world God made, and ultimately loving the God who made it all.

And because God loves us, he invites to the feast, but He’s watching us, testing, making sure we’re still amazed at the magic, making sure we’re giving it away and sharing, proving that we know Him, proving that we know the God who does this magic all around us all the time.

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