Daily Bread

No Saturday supplement today as most of the stories that caught my eye this week were anything but edifying or encouraging, many of them marking out the church at its most divisive and toxic, and while I have put my lenten discipline of "whatever is good" behind me, I don't want to spread vitriol, animosity and shame on the name of Christ on a sunny Saturday morning. Instead I thought I would pass on my find of the week (with a hat-tip to my wonderful wife who pointed me towards it). It is a short series of 15 minute documentaries about bread on Radio 4... It is available here on BBC iplayer and, so far as I see it isn't on a timed self-destruct fuse. It looks at the role of bread in the history of society, culture, religion and science.
Although every nation has a different cuisine, with different emphases, nearly every nation has a form of bread as a basic. It may be a Mexican tortilla, Italian foccacia, pitta bread or nan bread, it may be German ryebrot, or French baguette, it may be a soda farl or a sliced white, it may be Nutty Crust or Mother’s Pride. Bread is available almost everywhere. And that is one of the reasons that Jesus used bread on a number of occasions as a metaphor: the request for "daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer that gave this series its title, and stood as shorthand for all our daily needs (bread, not cake); his claim to be the bread of life, the universal source of eternal life; and the use of bread to represent his broken body in the last supper.
This is Pentecost weekend, the time when we celebrate the "birthday" of the church through the coming of the Holy Spirit, and sadly, the use of bread in the sacrament of communion, which should be a unifying focus in the church and a powerful metaphor to the wider world, has been the single most divisive factor in church history; whether it be debates about frequency of celebration or who is welcome at the table, the huge schism between the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions over "transubstantiation" or, the schism between east and western churches, which ultimately came down to whether the bread should be leavened or not! It is this last schism which is latched onto in the first of this series, where the commentator rightly points out that really these, and other theological debates of the time were really flags of convenience, or smokescreens for what were effectively political power struggles. I would argue the same today - whether the issue be the evolution-creation culture wars, the debate over same-sex-marriage, or the role of women... Whilst Bible verses are wielded as weapons, and there are people of integrity on both sides of every debate, often at the core of the clashes are people using the issues to gain power and influence... In the midst of whatever battle we find ourselves in we need to remember that the church should be defined by what lies at the centre, not what is on its periphery... In the light of that, let me finish with a quote by Jonathan Kent from the first episode of this superb short series:
"It never fails to amaze me the capacity of religious people to disagree about things you'd thought they have in common."


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