Walter Brueggemann: The food fight

Ferrell Foster and Walter Brueggemann

I’m attending an amazing conference in San Antonio titled “Our Abundant Communities: Neighborly Nourishment in the Wilderness.”

Here are my notes from Walter Brueggemann’s session titled “The Food Fight: Accumulation and Abundance.” (The following notes are close to being quotes but there is no guaranteed precision so I will not use quote marks. It would be best to see them as paraphrases.)

Food draws together all the important themes of biblical faith.

Production — Distribution — Consumption — Environment

Hunger for food overlaps our spiritual hunger.

We are in a food fight — a fight between two narratives about food. Who gets it and how much and who decides?

1) Aggressive Accumulation

The metaphor is Pharoah

Genesis 12: Abraham went to Egypt because Pharoah had food.

Genesis 41: Pharoah has acute anxiety; he has a nightmare. He dreams of cows and wheat. Joseph told him it was a dream about scarcity.

With a scarcity mindset, the more you have the more you worry about running out. Pharoah dreamed scarcity out of his anxiety. Therefore, Pharoah had the need to accumulate food.

Anxiety = Scarcity = Accumulation = Monopoly (Pharoah controlling all of the food)

People get into slavery because of market manipulation of the economy.

Exodus 1 says Pharoah treated slaves ruthlessly. Monopoly = Violence

Later, Solomon becomes the Pharoah of ancient Israel. (1 Kings 4:22) Solomon was an accumulator of food, weapons, wives, wisdom sayings, etc. … Solomon had productive peasants so the transfer of wealth was to urban elites.

Luke 12: A dispute over family resources.

Brueggemann broke us into small groups to deal with these questions: 1) Where do you see this narrative being found in our world? 2) Are there any ways in which you are prone to collude with or participate in this narrative? 3) What steps are necessary for you to depart from this narrative?

The scarcity narrative dominates our culture. The scarcity narrative will never permit healthy, safe community because it’s designed to keep us insecure.

Biblical faith imagines an alternative narrative.

2) Shared, Grateful Abundance

There are three preconditions for abundance:

i) a firm grounding in a conviction about the reliableness of God’s generous creation. … The earth is blessed. … God intended the world to produce abundance. … Psalm 104. … The opposite of creation faith is to imagine that you can be self-sufficient. Creation faith points beyond oneself.

ii) doxology: the total sense of self-abandonment — back to the goodness of God… Praise. … The more we accumulate, the less we have freedom to abandon it to God. … Our desire to accumulate evaporates in wander and awe. … Psalm 11:48. … You can’t let go in a scarcity system.

iii) Sabbath: Exodus 31. … God tells Moses to keep the Sabbath. … v.17 … keep the Sabbath as God kept the Sabbath and was refreshed. … God was “re-souled.” … Sabbath is a cessation from production and consumption in order to get your depleted life back. … Doing productive work 24/7 is a requirement of the scarcity system. … The scarcity system wants exhausted people. Exhausted people do not change systems.

These three are profound acts of resistance against the scarcity narrative.

The exodus from Egypt was a departure from Pharoah’s system. … In Exodus 16, the Israelites said, “Let’s go back.” … It takes enormous intentionality to step outside that narrative. … The wilderness equals no viable life-support system. The coming of manna in the wilderness is the narrative of abundance. In the deepest wilderness, the creative God provides sustenance for the day.

Elishah is a performer of abundance.

In Mark 6, there is a hungry crowd in the wilderness. Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave. Jesus fed 5,000 people and there were leftovers. in Mark 8, he does it again. Jesus took, thanked, broke and gave. He fed 4,000 with leftovers.

In Mark 8:14, Jesus says, do you not yet understand that the scarcity system has been defeated.

Jesus is saying, “Do not be anxious.”

Mark 6:52 — The disciples did not understand about the bread because their hearts were hard. It reminds you of Pharoah. This is not an accident. They couldn’t get abundance because they were situated in Pharoah’s narrative of scarcity.

As you think about these two narratives they do not break down along Catholic-Protestant lines or conservative-liberal lines. They are at war in our own persons. In our own lives, how do we sort out these two narratives?

9 thoughts on “Walter Brueggemann: The food fight

  1. Ferrell: thank you so very much for a summary of what we heard in San Antonio. It does much to help sustain the experience of what took place there. And it is the experience that will sustain the story. I am most grateful for your effort. Mike M>

  2. Mike, it was great to meet you and Mary. There were a lot of wonderful people there, but I was really taken with the spirit both you and Mary conveyed–such a warmth and kindness. I felt our Savior come through in you during our brief encounters. You gifted me and the others with who you shared yourselves. Thank you.

  3. Ferrell, thank you for permission to repost your blog on our website. We would like to give credit to the photographer – would you please tell me how that should appear.

  4. What a gift…
    thank you!

    What a perfect way to prime our imaginative pumps, kindle the memories and challenge us to creative commitments…

    There are ‘designated drivers,’ ‘designated hitters,’
    and now, a “designated scribe!” May I look over your shoulder (or read your blogs) at whatever our “next steps” gatherings will be?


    1. I would be more than happy to be designated scribe. I do hope that I will not sully the term in any way that might lead some 21st century believers to recall with loathing “those blasted scribes and Pharisees.” And “next steps” do intrigue me.

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