One thing that struck me when I was traveling around the West Bank just over a year ago was that no matter where we were — in an office in Bethlehem, a Beduin village in the South Hebron hills or in refugee camp in Ramallah — coffee or tea would appear, seemingly from nowhere. Community, family, hospitality are central to Arab culture, and though we were strangers, we were always warmly welcomed.
That’s continued to be my experience.
We spent New Year’s Eve in Nazareth with the family of the wife of one of the members of my congregation. When we received the invitation, we were told: come hungry; we will eat until midnight. As the weeks passed, we were reminded: don’t eat before you come; you’ll regret it if you do. I asked if we could bring anything. Just a large appetite.
We arrived, took our seats, and before long, food started to appear. Plate after plate of salads of all descriptions. The picture above is only about half of the first course.
And then the barbecue was lit, and the smell of cooking lamb, beef and chicken filled the room. Kebabs, skewers, roast meats were placed on our plates. Wine glasses were filled. Whisky was drunk. Music played. Everyone was laughing.
And then Santa made an appearance. Two Santas, actually, carrying large sacks, ringing bells, dancing.
Everyone, children and adults (even us) received a gift and had their photo taken with the two Santas.
There was a spirit of generosity in the way gifts were both given and received. And I left thinking it had been an evening of abundance but not excess, if that makes sense. (Oh, there was loads of food left over, but it would go on to feed the families there for several days. Food here is not wasted.)
In the West, so many of us have internalised the narrative of scarcity. We have economics of austerity. We have sign up lists in church for those who want to attend parish events so the catering team knows precisely how much to prepare. We joke about the Edinburgh phrase, ‘You’ll have had your tea’, but there is often truth in it in the way we do hospitality. We hoard and scrimp and save because the myth of scarcity is so ingrained, we live in fear of that day when we won’t have enough.
Walter Brueggemann wrote a wonderful article at the turn of the millennium entitled, ‘The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity’. In it he notes that as Americans’ wealth has grown, their generosity has decreased (Americans just happen to be his original audience; the same could be argued of many in the West). He then contrasts this with the theology of abundance which permeates the scriptures and finds its culmination in the work, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.
From broken Friday bread comes Sunday abundance.
The actions Jesus performed when he fed the 5000 and then repeated at the Last Supper are ones we participate in each week in our Eucharist: take, bless, break, give. There is always enough. More than enough. We celebrate the abundance of God. But we do not practice it.
We too often live with excess, claim scarcity and withhold abundance.
I have been deeply moved and challenged by the generosity of so many people I have met here. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but one of my hopes for 2016 is that I will begin to imitate what I celebrate and not just tell the narrative of abundance but actually learn to live it.