What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? – By Sean Gladding

This morning’s post in Easter is Coming – What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? is by Sean Gladding.

Sean Gladding is part of Communality, a missional community in Lexington, KY. He is the author of The Story of God, the Story of Us (IVP, 2010).

“Why do you spend your hard earned cash on junk food?” Isaiah 55:2 (The Message)
“Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food.” John 6:27 (The Message)

There is a hunger inside me that seems insatiable. A thirst that seems unquenchable. Over the years I have tried to satisfy that hunger in all kinds of ways, and my experience deeply resonates with the words of Isaiah and Jesus. I have given myself to things that seem to promise so much, but that still leave me hungry. I have spent my resources – money, time, energy, emotion – to try and quench the raging thirst, only to discover that when I am spent, the thirst is still there. I know I am not alone in this. We have given ourselves to alcohol, to drugs, to sex, to work, to possessions, to religion, and yes, to activism in the vain hope that those things will satisfy our hunger, will slake our thirst: they will fill the void we feel at the very center of our being.

And they never do. Because they cannot.

Some of us learned how to take the edge off our hunger, and so we live with a dull ache rather than sharp pangs. We moderated our drinking. Engaged in serial monogamy. Found ourselves in the church building every time the doors were open. Even threw ourselves into serving others. Perhaps we took the edge off by promising ourselves that one day our hunger would be satisfied. When we quit using. When we get out of debt. When we get that promotion. When we find the right one. When we have kids. When the kids leave. We postpone the satisfaction we long for and learn to live with the dull ache.

Is there hope for people like us?

“Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway – buy and eat!” Isaiah 55:1 (The Message)

“I am the Bread of Life. The person who comes to me shall hunger no more and thirst no more, ever.” John 6:35 (adapted from The Message)

If I had been standing in the crowd that day, hoping for more of that free bread Jesus had given us the day before, I imagine I would have scratched my head and said, “What does that mean?” My experience for years was that even though I believed in Jesus, and was pouring myself out in service of the Kingdom, when I lay in bed at night in the dark, the hunger was still there. And I despised myself for it. Because at that time I had not learned to make the distinction between

the hunger and all the things I did to try and satisfy it: because those things were bad, the hunger was bad. For those of us who do bad things to try and numb the pain we feel, we think the pain itself is bad. But I have come to learn that that is not the case.

Pain serves a vital purpose. That is why leprosy is such a horrific disease – our body cannot tell us that it is hurt, and so we do not respond to injury and it worsens through infection. The emotional pain many of us feel serves the same purpose: it tells us that something is very wrong. We were not supposed to live like this. That what was done to us to cause the pain was wrong. That what we are doing to ourselves and to others to numb the pain is wrong.

The hunger we feel is also good. It is part of what it means to be human. The hunger is there because we were made for God, and until we get found by God, that hunger will keep us searching, even if we don’t know what, or who we are searching for. Augustine – a saint who knew a thing or two about alcohol and sex – said it like this: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”

Here is the mystery of Jesus’ words: He is the hunger, and he is the food. Or as my friend Matt puts it, “Every knock on the door of the crack house is a knock on the door of heaven.”

Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Good. For he is the hunger. And he is the food. That is the mystery of Easter, and of the Eucharist. A mountain of chocolate and a river of alcohol cannot satisfy. But a pinch of bread, and a sip of wine in the company of the hungry and the thirsty can be enough. A meal shared with friends can fill us, as we wait for that day when we will feast at the Great Banquet together.


The Story of God, The Story of Us

Over the last couple of weeks I have been reading through Sean Gladding’s excellent book The Story of God, the Story of Us. Ten years ago Sean was asked to create a Bible study that gave the big picture of Scripture for people who have never read the Bible. This initial study became a twelve week narrative telling of the Biblical story, one of the best that I have ever come across.

The Old Testament stories are narrated by an elder sharing the stories of God with Israelite exiles in Babylon.  The New Testament is told by a woman who witnessed the life of Jesus and the early church.  The biggest challenge with this book has been the temptation to read it in one sitting.  It was designed to be read in installments and when used in this way is an exciting exploration of the Biblical story.

The Story of God, The Story of Us is a wonderful immersive experience in which we all enter fully into the drama of the Biblical story.  I love the way that Sean weaves the interactions of the storytellers with the theological truths of his Biblical studies.

This is a book not just for those who are new to Christian faith.  I found it to be a refreshing and insightful retelling of the Biblical story that I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to deepen their faith.

Sean and his friends at The Work of the People have also created a series of six videos to accompany the book.  It is an excellent resource to accompany a study of the book and take readers deeper into the themes of God’s story.  Topics covered include creation, God’s covenant with the people of Go, the nature of bondage and freedom, the meaning of the incarnation and the Trinitarian basis for community.

Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to participate in this synchroblog initiated by Kathy Escobar.  Her challenge to us was:

Marginalization results in an individual’s exclusion from meaningful participation in society and it’s source is many. Economic circumstances, illness, disability, geographical location, gender, sexuality, race, religion are all dominant sources of individuals being marginalized. Sometimes it’s easy to see holidays or certain systems from a position of power or privilege. * As God’s people, what does it mean to see the world through the eyes of the marginalized?

What I realize is that it is very difficult for me to see through the eyes of the marginalized because I have never really been in that position.  Yes I have been poor, and yes I have lived simply for most of life but those have been deliberate choices.  I have always had a back door out.  As a physician I could always have found a well paying job and rapidly moved myself back into the upper middle class lifestyle with which I grew up.

I was thinking about this today as I read Sean Gladding’s book The Story of God, The Story of Us, a very powerful story based telling of the Biblical story from creation to the coming of Christ.  Today I was reading about the time of the kings.

Sean begins this chapter with the story of the building of the temple – not as a triumphant worshipful act towards God but as an enslavement of the people of Israel by Solomon who was busily accumulating wealth and power for himself.  So often when we read this story, we filter it through the distorted values of our consumerist, middle class way of life.  But what if like Sean does in his book and like Kathy encourages us to do in her question, we saw Solomon and the building of the temple through the eyes of the marginalized, those who were conscripted to build the temple as forced labour.

Sean comments: if we are to be faithful to the covenant then we must beware of falling into the same three things that marked Solomon’s reign:

an economic affluence in which we become so well off that both the pain around us and the pain we cause others are not noticiced;

a politics of oppression in which the cries of the marginal are not heard or are silenced

a static religion, in which God has no other business than to maintain our standard of living, and whose prophets we try to silence when they speak words we do not want to hear.

To see through the eyes of the marginalized we must first acknowledge our own sin and the indifference and sometimes even hostility with which we confront them.  We benefit so much from the slaves of our society – the illegal immigrants who pick our fruit and staff our restaurants, the minimum wage workers who work 2 or 3 jobs and still don’t earn enough to support their families and those in distant lands who grow our food and sew our clothes.

They too are building our temples and enabling us to accumulate yet more power and prestige.  And on top of that we so often despise them because they can’t accumulate what we have and can’t pull themselves out of the pits that we so often have dug for them.

So how do we see through the eyes of the marginalized?  To be honest I am not sure.  But I do know that I need to begin by constantly reminding myself of those at the margins, talking to them, sharing meals and hospitality with them.  And for those that are more distant I know that I need to encourage them by raising my voice to make sure they are paid a fair wage and given the opportunity to get educated as I have been.

None of us can create a society that is just and fair but we can all take steps that move us in that direction.  The season of Advent and Christmas is a great time to do more than just think about this.  It is a great time to get down and get ourselves involved just as God did with the birth of Christ.

Here are some more posts to check out

Here are a few more posts to check out:

George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt

Arthur Stewart – The Bank

Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate

Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins

Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized

Minnow – Just Out of Sight

Kathy Escobar – Sitting At the Rickety Card Table In theFamily Room For Thanksgiving Dinner

Liz Dyer – Stepping Away From the Keyhole