What are we consuming? What is consuming us?
Whether we are talking about food or media or goods that we buy, we can’t escape our role as consumers. As creatures of this world we consume. It is essential for our survival. How much and what we consume depends on our appetite and the situations we find ourselves in. It is a power position to be the one who consumes. In consuming we use up the thing we take in for our own purpose. Think about the food chain. No one wants to be on the bottom and be eaten. We want to be among the top consumers.
My family has long struggled with addictive behaviors, especially the women. My grandmother smoked and drank until her young death at 63 from emphysema. My great aunts, my mother, my sister, me — whether it’s alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, internet gaming — we have a tendency to become consumed by anything that gives a temporary hit of comfort and exhilaration. A relative faced their addiction years ago. I remember being told as a child that they had to go away to get better. And they did. Partly they found a faith community that supported them in the struggle. They were transformed by focusing on their relationship with Jesus rather than on the substances they were using.
When our consumption becomes disordered we say that we have then been consumed by the very things we once had control over. Being consumed is idolatry. It means we put our ultimate attention and trust in something that is finite and limited. But that feeds a need in the moment. We are ruled by our desire to consume more. And in the end we are consumed little by little ourselves. Hitting rock bottom happens when there is little left of us to go anywhere but up.
In the snippet of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church he warns against becoming consumed by anger. In reality it is a neutral emotion. But when fed in negative ways it can be all consuming. And we can find ourselves relishing the feelings of anger to the point that it turns to hate of the other.
On this year anniversary of the hate march in Charlottesville that turned deadly, we must be concerned with what is consuming us. Hate is easy to feed. The more media we take in that confirms our biased views, the more we let the fires of hate to be stoked. The sentiments that fueled the white nationalists waving torches and swastikas continue to feed fear of the other. There is no way to rationalize or explain away the words of hate they chose to speak. And sadly the president refused to condemn the sin and evil that was promulgated that day.
But what are we to do with the anger we feel at people who think white supremacy and nationalism are the truth? We know the truth is something else. But do we let our anger drive us to hate? Or do we let it fuel the work of speaking truth to our neighbors?
Feeding hate can blind us to the possibility for reconciliation or transformation. I was watching a documentary last night on Amazon called The Uncomfortable Truth. The filmmaker is the son of a woman who was very involved in the fight for civil rights in the 50s and 60s but whose ancestors helped to build and perpetuate the institution of slavery in the US. He holds up a picture at one point and names some of the figures. It is of the lunch counter protests. His mother is one of the people at the counter getting soda dumped on her by an angry crowd. He points out another individual. A young man who was a segregationist standing in the angry crowd. He said that the young man turned and walked out. Seeing the brutality of that moment he was transformed. He could no longer bear the ugliness of the segregationist movement.
Paul tells us to put away falsehood and speak truth to our neighbors. To remember in doing so that we are united by God. That there is no place for hate, even when it comes to our enemies. Lest we forget that very challenging command from Jesus himself. If we let hate consume us, then that is the god we put our trust in. As though hate will vindicate us. Hate will console us. Hate will revive us and sustain us. But hate doesn’t push me outside myself to act for the sake of the world. It only keeps me in the idolatry of my own opinions.
What we should be consumed by is the truth. Not let ourselves be chewed up and spit out by the falsehood that barrages us on a daily basis. It’s what Jesus means when he invites us to eat the Bread of Life.
Is Jesus inviting us to use him up for our own purpose?
Or is it an invitation to be consumed by the love of God that has no limits?
Maybe it’s both. In our broken state Jesus enters and offers himself completely to us and for us. But in consuming we ourselves are then consumed by the powerful grace of God.
We can put aside the things that consume us and put our trust in the way of God in this world. A narrative that is counter to the hate mongering and opinion wars on facts and alternative facts. The love of God can be all consuming, even giving us the power to love even our enemies. If we consume and are consumed by the Bread of Life, it means we put our trust in one outside ourselves. Who empowers love against hate and reconciliation over cutting us off.
What are we consuming? What is consuming us?
We can let the answer be that it is the God of all love and grace. The Bread of Life that lasts for all time.