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Nichola Torbett of NSP speaks at Interfaith Fast for Peace

In response to a national call for a day of Interfaith Fasting for Peace, MVPJ gathered on Sunday, October 7, 2007, in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church to begin our fast and hear words from Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders. We were gifted with wonderful music from a ensemble of violin, cello and oboe, and thoughtful and inspirational reflections from Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, Honorably Retired; Tasneem Fatima, Muslim Community Association; and Nichola Torbett, Network for Spiritual Progressives. Click below for the text of the words from Ms. Torbett's reflection. See the following story for Rabbi Lewis' words, and the text from Ms. Fatima's talk will be added soon.

Interfaith Call for Peace, Prayer and Fasting
October 7, 2007
Nichola Torbett

As someone with “food Issues” (that’s a capital “I”), I approach the subject of fasting with some trepidation. Frankly, I needed convincing that a fast for peace would actually do some good, so I decided to look to the Bible for what it could tell me about food and fasting.

For Christians, the most powerful mention of food in the Bible is probably the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion. At this meal—really a Passover seder—Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and instructed his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.” We repeat this ritual in Christian churches when we celebrate communion.

But what exactly are we supposed to be remembering when we break bread and pour drink? If we are to remember Jesus’ ministry, then it’s important to understand the context of that ministry.

Jesus was born during the time of the Roman empire. The people we glimpse in the New Testament are living under a system called by its proponents the pax romana, or the peace of Rome.

The pax romana is the system that gave us the phrase “If you want peace, prepare for war.” This so-called peace was maintained by the presence of a mighty military, a stranglehold on the economies of all the provinces of the empire, and laws that effectively silenced any resistance to this system.

Most of the wars of this time were economic wars, fought to fix prices and perpetuate a system under which those at the center—Rome—grew richer while the subjugated people in the outlying provinces grew poorer.

Despite the marketing propoganda, there was tremendous suffering under the pax romana. Notice how many people listening to Jesus and later, to His apostles, are poor, sick, hungry, outcast, in despair, and without hope.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It was into this context of extreme economic disparity, hopelessness, and oppressiveness that Jesus emerged after fasting in the wilderness and into this context that he launched his upside-down, countercultural movement of love, nonviolence, and radical, reckless generosity.

In the passage we read from Luke (Luke 4: 1-2 and 14-21) Jesus begins his ministry by claiming the fulfillment in Him of the prophecy of Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the ear of the Lord’s favor.” Is it any wonder that the temple officials—ostensibly among those who are benefiting from the pax romana--try to run this guy out of town?

When Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, he reports that Jesus’ first act of ministry is to deliver the famous, counterintuitive Sermon on the Mount, in which it is the meek, the poor, the mournful, and the peaceful who will triumph in the end.

And ultimately, that is the message of the story of Christ, that in the end, love triumphs over the forces of domination. Even when Jesus is put to death—which by any “realistic” measure should be the end of the movement—the story is not over. In rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated once and for all that love wins out over domination.

I believe THAT MESSAGE about the real power of love is what we are called to remember when we eat and drink, THAT is what it means to “do this in remembrance of me.”

And indeed eating and drinking lends itself to this practice, because the consumption of food is a concrete illustration of the interdependent web of love that sustains us all.

Think about your last meal. Consider the love that went into its production, from the sun and rain and forces of nature that nurtured that plant or animal life through all the human beings who helped to prepare the food. Our ability to eat is absolutely dependent on a force of love in the universe that WE DO NOT CONTROL, that WE DO NOT MANUFACTURE OURSELVES.

Remembering this is RADICAL in a culture that believes utterly in self-sufficiency and the individualist can-do spirit.

(A fundamental assumption that underlies our way of life is the assumption that we are separate individuals—little packets of self-interest with only minimal, voluntary relationship to each other. This assumption runs counter to all our religious traditions and to our common experience of the world if we allow ourselves to recognize it. This recognition is one of the primary aims of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. If we really eat and drink in remembrance of love, we cannot see ourselves as anything less than completely responsible for each other’s survival.)

But of course, we mostly don’t eat and drink in that remembrance. Most of our consumption—mine included—is pretty mindless, and beyond that, often compulsive. Why is that? Why is there such massive addiction around food, around drink, around consumption, in this country?

Here’s what I think it’s about: In our worship of our own self-sufficiency, we have all but cut ourselves off from the web of love and life in which we are enmeshed. We have erected a wall between our own consciousness and the rest of the world and the suffering of that world. Like the people of Judah in Jeremiah 2:13, we have cut ourselves off from the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for ourselves, “cracked cisterns that can hold no water,” that hold no SPIRITUAL water. And so we are a nation dying of thirst, starving of a spiritual hunger. This separation from the source of love and life is making us desperately unhappy. We are lonely, isolated, cut off, alienated, and depressed, and what do we do with all that?

We eat and drink. We consume. We worship at the idol of food and drink and “stuff” to shove down our own awareness of God’s pain in the world, which is our own pain at what we ourselves are doing and allowing to happen.

Fasting, then, is an opportunity to turn away from the addiction, to step into our own wilderness of temptation to rediscover our mission in this suffering world. We fast to turn off the static that drowns out the voice of Spirit.

Fasting is a chance to step away from our idols and to seek the will of God, who will re-commission us for the work to come.

I invite you, as you enter into this time of fasting, to tune into where you are being led, to ask what your mission is, what piece of this puzzle is yours to address.

Given that we are at war, given that people are starving outside our doors and around the world, given that illness and poverty and violence and hunger and depression and hopelessness and despair are everywhere in evidence, given that our species is in a nose-dive toward death (as my own beloved pastor Lynice Pinkard says), what are you, YOU, being called to do?

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