In a broad sense, communion can be any practice of relationality, mutuality, and cooperation — with others and with the deep reality of connectedness that is woven into creation.  Relationships of domination and control hinder that communion, including many relationships between women and men. So, it’s good news that the World Communion of Reformed Churches, together with the World Council of Churches has created a (free) curriculum to help Christian men and women think critically and creatively about scripture, discipleship, and what it means to be a man.  The manual is called Created in God’s Image: From Hegemony to Partnership (A Church Manual on Men as Partners: Promoting Positive Masculinity.

In the narrower context of Holy Communion, relationships in which men dominate and control women, children and other men are problematic in particular ways.  Not only do such practices train us in relationships of dominance and subordination (e.g. I can only get the holy food from male deacons/pastors/priests), but they rehearse and sacralize a worldview in which such male dominance is a given —  it’s just the way things are.  After a quick read through I haven’t seen much about Holy Communion in particular, but the document is useful in a broader sense nonetheless, and has important implications for how Holy Communion is done.

You can find the entire document at the WCRC site, but since this blog is partly about collecting, here’s an excerpt seems like a good place to begin.  This is from a section contributed by Dr. Ezra Chitando of Zimbabwe.

Redemptive Masculinities: Principles

In order to read the Bible in a manner that allows men to be liberated from harmful masculinities, there is need to embrace key principles. These principles will assist men to challenge the privileges that patriarchy bestows on them…The patriarchal dividend refers to the benefits that men enjoy for no other reason than for the fact that they are men. It takes courageous men and men of conviction to refuse to enjoy these privileges and work for gender justice. In this section we would like to draw attention to principles that can enable men to read the Bible in liberating ways.

1. A firm understanding that God created women and men equal. If this basic principle is grasped, men will uncover new meaning in all biblical passages that appear to suggest that women occupy a rung lower than men in society.

2. A clear commitment to partnership between women and men as co-workers with God. Partners are not in competition. The Baha’i faith puts it across very well when it likens men and women to the wings of a bird: if one wing is broken, the bird cannot fly. Humanity needs both women and men to be at their best if there is to be progress.

3. A dogged refusal to use violence in relationships. Christianity promotes love, dialogue and friendship. The use of violence in personal relationships must find no place in the life of a man who regards women and children as created in the Image of God.

4. Consistent questioning of the notion of headship. Men have abused the notion of headship to marginalize women and to insist on their viewpoints in gender relations. Headship is no license for men to command women and children.

5. Openness to the capacity of women, youth and children to lead. God’s gifts are not limited to men. It is vital for men to accept that women, youth and children can lead.

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Commodification is the process of turning a good or service into something that can enter the marketplace.  It happens when economic value is assigned to something that wasn’t previously used under those terms.  Something like, oh, say, teenagers.

This week 69 teens aged 12 to 17 were removed from the control of pimps across the country thanks to a national sweep by the FBI, called the Innocence Lost National Initiative.   A total of 99 pimps were arrested, along with 785 “other adults” (mostly adult prostitutes and “customers”).  The teens were placed in protective custody or returned to their families.  I hope to God (literally) that their lives will be better where they end up.

What struck me was not so much the number of teenagers — heaven knows there are thousands more than that still out there.  I was actually more struck by the “40 cities in 30 states + D.C.” figures.  It’s a reminder that child prostitution is huge here.  This is not Thailand were talking about.  This is Downers Grove, Illinois, a Chicago suburb near where I grew up.  It’s Cleveland, it’s Tampa, it’s Puget Sound.  All across the country underage people (mostly girls) are being used as items of exchange.  As Michael B. Ward, Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark division said, “In this world, children are bartered and sold like products on a store shelf with no regard to their well-being or the physical and mental damage done to them.”

The Commodification of people and their bodies occurs in a wide variety of ways in our culture, from mainstream magazine images, to pornography, to many of the day labor practices associated with illegal immigration.  Practices such as these efface the sacredness of other people, replacing their inherent value with one determined by the marketplace.  We lose sight of the small,  bright flame of the holy, flickering inside the ribcage of the model, the migrant worker,  or the traditional dancer whose talent and (non-white) culture are appropriated by the theme park.

Even as I pray for the teens rescued (and for the thousands more still in forced prostitution, AND  for the  safety and dignity of the adult sex workers arrested — even if my kind of blog post ticks them off), I wonder, in my own liturgico-nerdly way: can Holy Communion, as a worship practice and a way of life, help form us to resist commodifying each other?

Can Holy Communion, as a worship practice and a way
of life, help form us to resist commodifying each other?

On the one hand, when we gather together to share food as children of God,  our interaction may help us to see that small, bright flame of the divine in each other.  The gathered assembly is, after all, the primary sacrament, right?  It may also help us to then to walk out on the street in astonishment as  the people we pass  light up like the characters in Katy Perry’s video “Firework.” (I say “may” because A) people often experience Holy Communion very differently from each other, and B) I’m assuming that we are actually encountering each other at Holy Communion, which is often not actually the case.)

On the other hand, most services of Holy Communion today tend to focus  narrowly on a body (whether we understand that body as symbolic or actual) that is shared (more like “distributed”) and consumed.  So then, are we formed by practices that enact the commodification of Jesus as an item of ritual exchange?  What are we learning-by-doing when we  treat Jesus as just a body, and a body that can be handed out or kept for later use?   Regardless of  the reverent rhetoric that we use, regardless of tell ourselves about why it’s okay,  aren’t we interacting with a body (symbolic or actual) in ways that indicate that this is a body from which the ethical restraints against  commodification have been removed?

If any of these teenagers find their way into a  church, the words of institution that they hear (“This is my body, broken for you”)  may help, but they may just as easily make things worse.  It’s true that they may be comforted by Jesus’ willingness to share in their suffering, but they may also continue to be formed in what Mary Daly called “the virtues of the victim.”

I would like to imagine these teens coming to the table and standing  together with people who don’t shame them, or patronize them, but who stand with them as “God’s beloved…who are called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7).  I would like  to see them looking down and noticing the inviolable flame at the core of their “deeply loved flesh” (Toni Morrison).  Maybe those of us in communities of faith can find a way to stand with them, and others like them, and help them to regain their voice, their choice, their ability to say to any who would use them, “I am not a commodity, not a thing.  This is my body, and it’s not for you.”

The Associated Press: FBI: 69 children, 99 pimps found in national bust.

Julio DiazThis story is a couple of years old (March 2008), but it’s just so rich and thought-provoking that I wanted to collect it here and share it.  It’s about how 31-year-old Julio Diaz took his mugger to dinner one night.  He was able to see through his own fear and his mugger’s bravado, and find someone in need.

I’m particularly struck by the way in which Diaz uses the sharing of a meal in this story.  It seems to contain something that was central to Jesus’ ministry, and has been lost in our practices of Holy Communion.  Something about crossing boundaries, and actual sharing.

This story didn’t have to happen this way.  If you’ve got a minute, listen prayerfully and consider why it did.  Someday, I’d like to write “The Ballad of Julio Diaz.”

A Victim Treats His Mugger Right : NPR.