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