Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Turkey, Communion, and Jesse Eisenberg

Towards the end of last week, I read the comedic anthology Bream Gives Me Hiccups, by actor, Jesse Eisenberg. It's a quirky, intelligent book that mostly plays into my sense of humor.

The first third of the book is a series of essays wherein a 9 year old reviews the NYC restaurants his mom drags him to so his Dad will have to pay (as part of the divorce settlement). As the section continues, the boy begins to review every meal he has, including Thanksgiving with the militant vegans next door. Part of this review is him pondering what a turkey would think about people eating it and especially what the turkey would think about people focusing a holiday on the act of eating it.

Because I'm a theology nerd, this got me thinking about communion. It's essentially a celebratory meal with (depending on your level of adherence to classic Catholic doctrine) involves the eating of a person (a no longer dead person, mind you) as the center piece. Unlike Jesse Eisenberg's hypothetical turkey, Jesus is (allegedly) capable of contemplating you eating him (or in memory of him*).

I feel like Jesus would care a lot less about us taking communion. I'm not saying he would be upset with how prominent we've made it - although I've always been intrigued by the argument (which Derek Davis once presented to me, although I have no idea whether this is just an idea he's was aware of or an idea he holds or even if he did hold and no longer does - that conversation is now a decade old) that Jesus only ever intended the Lord's Supper to be an annual add-on to the Passover Seder, important, but not necessarily pivotal - just that the meal itself should be a sort of reminder that we're supposed to actually live out the things it's designed to symbolize.

If the only thing we're doing in imitation and remembrance of Christ is dipping some bread in some wine, then we're probably missing the point. so in short, perhaps Jesus would say, "yeah, you've got this whole celebration set up around a meal I'm the main course for - great - just don't forget all the other stuff.

And that brings me right back to the turkey at Thanksgiving. We don't eat meat in our house, but I don't object to the eating of meat. I have problems with the way most of our meat is raised and killed, but the meat itself is not an issue with me.** Specifically, in this scenario Eisenberg created, I'm not sure an animal would object to being eaten, especially if it was (humanely) raised for food or killed to keep the overall wild population healthy (although, I suppose, this assumes hypothetical thinking animals would be more rational than the actual thinking animals alive today).*** Again, a scenario in which the meal itself means less than everything leading up to and following from it.

So this is a good example of what my brain is thinking about when you find me staring off into space when I should be paying attention to the party I'm at or the conversation I'm having with you. I do apologize for being rude, but not for having this messed up brain; I kind of like that part.


*Which is, when you think about it, an odd thing to say about a person you believe to be no longer dead.

**Scripturally it's pretty plain to see that God never intended humans to be carnivores - meat is conspicuously absent from the list of foods given by God in Genesis 1; however, I tend to align with the great hebrew scholar Terence Fretheim who says that humans eating meat has become part of creation through human participation in ongoing creation, especially with the advent of domesticated animals, whose major purpose is to supply food for humans.

***I always struggle with that last part. I want to say that a properly managed world shouldn't have the need for culling by humans because the rest of things are in balance. At the same time, though, it feels like that balance would be impossible without predators roaming populated areas to manage the prey who also live there. So, on the one hand we've royally messed up the eco-system by removing dangerous predators from our neighborhoods, but on the other hand, I'm really, really, really glad I don't have to worry about my four year old being dragged off by a mountain lion when I send her out to play in the back yard - even if the existence of that fear would probably mean a world with greater moral integrity.

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