In my previous post I wrote about a move toward earthiness and a wariness of metaphor. It provoked some great insights and I want to respond here with a fresh post. This is different from the usual fare on this blog and I will return shortly to the Master Food Preserver Class and some things I am learning about our local population of bees. But for now I want to use this as an opportunity to explain how my Christian faith informs my experience of our year of consumption. BTW - the picture is of our chives that just bloomed, with golden oregano glimmering in the background.
In response to the previous post Keith wrote,
"Action or metaphor, both are empty without love, no? Without wisdom, action and metaphor, however well intentioned, are impotent, at worst leading to chaos and blindness."
"So Craig's assertion that he is less interested in metaphor and more interested in just living is, -- sorry, Craig -- not quite the whole story. In order to live in the intentional way he's chosen, he needed to have a way to describe that choice. Metaphor, philosophy, purpose statement, whatever you call it, that's where it starts. Only within that language framework do the choices make sense.
So I'd suggest in fact that what's happening in Craig's garden is not that he's giving up on metaphor, and by association on wisdom, but that the frame and the fact are coming into alignment in a way that makes them feel like one and the same thing -- that makes them feel true.
My response: Karen, great stuff. Nothing to be sorry for. You and Keith are both right about the bigger picture including both meaning/metaphor and action working in harmony. You are also right that I am reacting against those two being falsely torn asunder. A big part of our year is to somehow put them back together in a way that is truthful.
I should clarify that what I am pushing back against is not all meaning or abstraction or metaphor. These symbolic structures of meaning are all around us and within us even if we don't acknowledge them. You are also correct in asserting that there are metaphors that have gone before us and invited us into our journey. In my tradition we sum up our framework of meaning as the Kingdom of God. I believe it is this Kingdom that has come in Jesus and it is this Kingdom that beckons us into the future, even as it comes at us. My conviction is that this Kingdom is more real, more solid, and truthful than any other so called kingdom that would claim my allegiance. I lead worship every Sunday hoping that our congregation, in the midst of divided allegiances, would be caught up in the meanings and metaphors and symbols of this Kingdom of God.
One of the questions I am engaging through this year long experiment is, "How do we get at the Kingdom?" The Bible, despite our common use of the phrase, never describes the Kingdom as something we build or bring. It is never described as a project we initiate. Our relationship to the Kingdom is always framed in terms of us entering or receiving. It is something already going on that we relate to and respond to. It requires a certain attentiveness.
And this is where I find the struggle. Too often we confuse attentiveness with separating ourselves from our everyday lives in order to make "room for God." I read the pitch for a summer camp; "Our lives are so busy it’s hard to hear what God has to say. Come away for the weekend and let God speak to you.", and I hear a subtle assumption that the actual experience of our everyday lives is not good raw material for hearing God speak. As a weary soul that longs for God, I hear that the best I can hope for is a weekend away, a momentary encounter to tide me over.
Zygmunt Bauman critiques us in this as "carnival communities." Such communities he says, "offer temporary respite from the agonies of daily solitary struggles...and like philosophy in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s melancholy musings, they ‘leave everything as it was.’" The story of the Kingdom claims that in the end nothing is left as it was. Everything is renewed and redeemed. So why is everything, despite our best poetic efforts, more often than not, left "as it was."
Part of my diagnosis is that while in my tradition we claim ultimate allegiance to the story of the Kingdom there is another story, another metaphor, that trumps all the others; the metaphor of the individual consumer. While we grasp and flail for other more truthful frameworks for living, our social imaginary is captive to the image and idea of the autonomous chooser of goods and services. While we try to see ourselves as responsible members of a community of mutual love, we have drunk so deeply from the well of self-interest that these images are still born, never really having a chance to settle in and do their necessary mischief in our daily lives.
So back to my question; how might we, in the midst of these swirling circumstances, get at the Kingdom of God? My post-Platonic answer is that we need to more attentively enter the actual circumstances of our lives. Don’t give me a retreat or an expert or a book or a new gadget to better organize my finances and make me a more efficient consumer, (the ultimate lie of our consuming is that somehow buying something more will help re-orient my life of buying.) Don’t give me metaphors that in a backwards way only serve to reinforce the prevailing wisdom, whose veiled purpose is to leave everything "as it was." (These, by the way are the metaphors I am referring to in my original post.) Instead, give me skills and practices that nurture awareness of truth in the midst of these circumstances.
And so, this year, we are entering our lives as consumers, seeking awareness, trying not to let any purchase escape our attentiveness. If God’s Kingdom is indeed going on in the world, the answer is not to remove ourselves from a life of consuming, but rather to enter it as if we are entering the Kingdom; as if we love and care for our neighbors, as if welcoming a stranger is like welcoming Jesus, as if all of God’s creation is good as God proclaimed it in Genesis 2, as if there is enough for everyone, as if all of God’s creation is swept up in the drama of God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ. And in this entering, we are poetic miners of God’s Kingdom, listening to the emerging story, and hopefully giving it a voice; the kingdom of God is like a Farmers’ Market, the Kingdom of God is like a CSA box, the Kingdom of God is like a farm with happy chickens, the Kingdom of God is like… That’s how Jesus entered and told and enacted the story. That is my understanding of how we also are called to enter the world.
And so that's why I'm in the Master Food Preserver class. Plus, I really like homemade salsa.