Leader Letter

Subscribing congregations should share this letter with congregational leaders.  Being oriented to the month’s theme, and equipped to help others in the congregation get aligned with it, builds the whole congregation’s engagement with the theme.  Which, of course, means unity and energy for the community.

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Dear Leaders,

People use the term "Kafka-esque" to describe a dehumanized society, its processes made bureaucratic and impersonal to the extent that they have become absurd.  Into this context is placed the human heart, and the messy desire and flaws that are part of what makes us human. Franz Kafka, writing a century ago, offers up these strange scenarios in a typically flat voice that depicts worlds different, on the surface, from the ones we have known, and yet addressing our condition in the modern world.  One of his stories is "The Hunger Artist," which recounts the performances of an artist who does little more than to fast in public, while locked in a cage.  For day after day, watched by a trio of butchers, the artist doesn't eat.  At first, the public is enthralled by the performance.  Then attention wanes. The artist feels throughout that the audience doesn't understand the nature of his art. In some respects, it's an absurd narrative--how can simply not eating be a performance?  But when we reflect on our own context, and the semiotics (the language and symbolism) of eating and not eating, we can start to see it as a performance.

We might notice magazine articles in which impossibly thin Hollywood stars gorge themselves on burgers and fries, suggesting to all of us non-famous people that we can over-indulge and also maintain skinniness. Recently, the President of the United States hosted the national college football champions at the White House, serving them entirely from take-out fast-food orders. Eating, as a social act, can also be a performance, with actors and audience. And, before that, so can hunger. 

When the brilliant Roxane Gay published her memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, a review in the New York Times connected it to the emerging consensus in the philosophy of cognition--that all thought is embodied, all thought and language arises from the experience of having a body. Hunger may be one of the experiences that mediates our experience in the body with the language that gives our thoughts form.  For Roxane Gay, the experience of meaning-making in relationship to hunger and to being a self-identified fat person, is a performance of the self no less public than Kafka's hunger artist, but rather than creating absurdism, Gay's work asserts a new context of meaning, in which pain and shame, and the overcoming of those things, don't form the conventional narrative arc of recovery, but instead co-exist in a complexity of existence that suggests a different kind of liberation--a liberation from the hunger at the cold heart of capitalism.

Think about hunger now in your own life, about how it is a private experience, and how it is a public one. Think about how your experience in your body gives rise to the thoughts and then to the language that give shape to your life.  Think about how this is true for others, as well.  We live in complexity, which is sometimes absurd. Maybe hunger is one of the experiences that pierces the fog, with a clarifying light that can remind us of our true home.  I'm glad we'll explore this theme together this month.

Faithfully,

Jake

Rev. Jake Morrill
Lead Minister ORUUC
Executive Director UUCF
Launchpad Partner