A story and a prayer about Cake

Once upon a time there was a cake. Some travelers came upon the cake, and being hungry after their long journey, they cut it into even slices and shared it between them. Where they came from, the King ate most of the cake, so this was a real treat. Not long afterwards, some local people arrived and said “hey, who ate our cake?”, and the travelers shrugged: “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” they said.

The travelers liked this land with its good ingredients for cake, and worked very, very hard to make as many cakes as they could. A strong workforce was kidnapped imported to come and make cake. But the workers were not allowed to eat any of the cake. Not at all. Every now and then the workers would try to run away, or complain that they, too, liked cake – but those workers were punished and killed for their insolent cake-wanting ways. Some of the more heroic people who quashed uppity cake-wanting workers even had statues erected in their honor. Freedom, independence and liberty to eat cake. That was worth celebrating.

Many years later, some realized that women liked cake too, and some years after that, that black people should get to eat cake as well. The self-evident truths that all men are created equal needed to include all of mankind: men and women, people of all colors. This was a huge celebration.

But, in the years that followed, some of the original cake eaters began to complain that they didn’t feel the portion size of their cake was what it had been before. “We deserve 20oz cake servings,” they said. “Make our cake great again!” When others protested saying, “your expectations that you deserve the biggest slice of cake were set by a very flawed history…”, they got upset. “Are you calling me racist?” they said?

“No,” said others. “we’re just saying that we need to acknowledge that white people have always got the biggest pieces of cake, and that wasn’t right. That’s what privilege is: expecting a piece of cake without anyone questioning your right to it. We need to recalibrate our serving size. We need to make sure that those who have never had cake before get some. We need to watch out for bullies at the table who want to snatch others’ cake away. We must oppose leaders who fail to condemn militant whites-only-cake-eating-groups.”

There’s a lot of cake. There’s more than enough to go around. We don’t need to be greedy.

//

When Nehemiah asked for news of what had been happening in his home country, people told him of “great trouble and disgrace”, of “broken walls, and gates burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3) When Nehemiah heard these things, he sat down and wept. He mourned and fasted, and prayed to the God of Heaven: “O Lord, who keeps his covenant of love, please listen. I confess the sins we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.”  (Nehemiah 1:4-6, abridged from NIV and ESV)

I stopped still when I read these words earlier this week. Nehemiah was a generation later than those who were most directly responsible for the tragedy that had befallen Jerusalem: he wasn’t the rebel, surely? But Nehemiah knew something I—we—have been slow to learn: there can’t be any petition for help or any hope of praise until we have lamented the wrong and repented of our individual and group participation in it, both now and in history.

Even I and my father’s house have sinned. Even I have expected a bigger piece of cake. I did so because my whole life I’ve been told that I deserved cake. Work hard, and you will get cake. I worked hard, and I got cake… but I also believed that others who didn’t have cake maybe didn’t deserve cake, or didn’t work hard, or didn’t like or want cake. Their cakelessness was surely their problem, or worse yet – their fault. White people have always had cake, and we have teased and punished others for asking for a slice. We may not live in a time when it’s illegal for some to eat cake, but when we refuse to look at our portion sizes or to acknowledge that we’ve become fat from cake while others starved, then we continue to perpetuate skewed slicing.

I have been silent when people have pointed out inequalities. In my social media feed and in our churches, we have been silent, and the elephants in the room have left people trampled and bleeding.

And so, I’m lamenting and repenting.

Oh God, my failures in seeking justice have been explicit, implicit, and complicit. I have done wrong things, and I have failed to do the right things. I have benefitted from a system which gave us so much cake at others’ expense, without showing humility and gratitude and compassion to others. I have not listened to others’ stories, or I have nit-picked and found fault with them and in doing so, dismissed them when they pointed out the size of my slice. I have been ashamed to have the size of my slice noticed. We have been hoarding the cake. We have stayed silent in rebuking cake-stealers. 

Lord, you know I don’t hate people of color, but you know the ways in which our cake-hoarding has hurt people of color and I’m sorry I’ve been so slow to own that. We have been so slow, and so silent, and our passivity has perpetuated the problem. God, you have made and love all people. You own all the cake. You forgive and redeem the hardest of hearts and the worst of situations. Please teach us to share. Please give us humility. Please make us better listeners. Please teach us to lament wrongs and repent. Please dismantle our defensiveness. Please would you fill every plate and every heart and every stomach by your grace. 

 

Image credit: Pexels, common license C00

My dear Wormwood, about World Vision…

My Dear Wormwood, About World Vision

My dear Wormwood,

It has been a while since our last correspondence, but Headquarters has sent out a fresh batch of directives which require our most immediate and urgent attention. Our Father is particularly delighted at the ways in which the Christians are slinging arrows at each other following the gleeful little rumpus regarding World Vision. Usually it is our task to aim the fiery darts, but it seems at present our bows have been all but snatched from our hands. All we need do is work at twisting the arrows in where they have found purchase.

It is rare that I congratulate you on a job well done, but I must applaud you for your fine work on your patient this week. Where there was disappointment at first, you managed to nudge it towards disdain and even anger in the hours that followed. We count it a victory that you kept your patient reading and engaging online for hours before the Enemy pulled him away for an infuriating moment of prayer and reflection.

It is, of course, the Enemy’s habit to unravel and undo our best efforts at disunity and confusion, but our immediate attention must be to delay the inevitable as long as possible. Collateral damage is key, even if the final battle cannot be won. The longer you can stir feelings of grief and outrage, the better. Put it into his head to feel a pitiful sorrow for himself, for the starving children, for the opportunities lost; and pit his sorrow against the “others” who call themselves Christians. Make frequent use of the words ‘they’ and ‘them’: those sneaky pronouns make such delightful inroads into so-called Christian “community”.

Self-righteous reflection will be our greatest ally here. Do your very best to keep a level of deep disappointment and blame simmering in his chest, but under no circumstances should you let his regret develop into remorse or repentance. Let him be sad, but do not let him wallow near godly sorrow. Have him question the state of the souls of others: it will keep him from soul-searching himself, at least for a time.

Time is of the essence, dear nephew. Do all you can to keep him at his computer, and off his knees. If we cannot dissuade our patients from calling themselves biblical Christians, our best bet is to make critics rather than students of them all. I look forward to your next missive reporting increased levels of frustration and folly all round.

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE

C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters have long been a favorite of mine. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to beware of our enemy, who prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. This week, I have wondered what that prowling lion has made of the World Vision controversy, and I confess I spent too much time online and not on my knees. Writing this was a helpful spiritual exercise for me. I publish it in the hope that it might be for you.