February 09, 2011

Reality Hunger

by Ragan Sutterfield
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; Matthew 5:21-37

Reality hunger.  I read a book by that title last summer and the title, more than the book, describes what many of us are feeling these days.  We long for the concrete, the real, the hard surfaced world against all of the abstractions of the Economy, of the powers and institutions that seem to dictate our lives without our understanding the what and who and why of their existence.  And yet, we must understand that this abstraction is a choice, that our hunger goes unsatiated because we continue to eat the high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fare of the convenience stores lining the interstate through nowhere and to nowhere.  Call them the temple foods of false gods—cheap, convenient, subsidized lies that seem like the real stuff, but leave us sick and unhealthy.

“If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God…by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possesses.”  The path toward reality seems clear cut.  God is providing a way forward that will form our lives into patterns that will go with the grain of the universe.  And as the passage from Deuteronomy says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.”  Our life in or out of reality will be shown clearly, eventually, by the testament of heaven and earth—in its flourishing or in its uproar.  “Happy are they whose way is blameless…Happy are they who observe his decrees.”

But how do we taste the reality we hunger for when all we have eaten is filler and a chemist’s tricks on our taste buds?  We must learn to taste again, we must have the moral education of flavor.  This is what Jesus is addressing in the Sermon on the Mount; this is why he says that anger is as bad as murder and lust as bad as adultery.  He is delivering a flavor education that teaches the difference between fresh ground chuck roast and “proprietary beef filler.”  Jesus is trying to show us the difference between do-gooding and goodness, between the morality of “I didn’t _______” and the morality of “I am.”

In Wendell Berry’s classic book The Unsettling of America he says that the ecological crisis is a crisis of character.  It is difficult to deny that claim and yet our world seems bent on not murdering, not committing adultery, not adding more than economically necessary to our carbon footprint.  Our character goes unchanged, we remain in the base animality of the “flesh”, we have not left our lives open for God to live through us.  Life or death, blessings and curses—heaven and earth witness against us.

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