In Honor of Claudio Carvalhaes and the Publication of Eucharist and Globalization, by Jon Pahl
March 25, 2014
In his book Food, Sex and Strangers: Understanding Religion as Everyday Life, Graham Harvey quotes Bruno Latour to claim that “Truth is not to be found . . . in correspondence . . . between the original and the copy. . . . but in taking up again the task of continuing the flow, of elongating the cascade of mediations one step further.”(p. 208)
The service that my dear and esteemed colleague Claudio Carvalhaes has provided in his beautiful book Eucharist and Globalization is to suggest that our practice of “Eucharist”—and the key word there is “our,” is not merely to perpetuate a Sunday morning magic show—trying to replicate the original, but is in truth the task of continuing the flow of those elements (bread, wine, body, blood) that come to us as gifts of God in real presence, yes, and that might through the Spirit push us to imagine borders as horizons of flourishing, rather than as either static fetishes of capitalist comfort or (and here’s the challenge) of utopian ideals of rebellious revolutionary zeal.
There are many fine insights, passages, and turns of phrase in Claudio’s book—and I’m sure, and I hope, you will discover some of your own, but I resonated especially with his claim on p. 64 that “a main theological challenge will be to understand the real meal as Eucharistic, and, consequently, as sacramental . . . [in ways] akin to the sacramental perspectives of feminist and Latin American liberation theologies in which power is not concentrated in one person but dispersed through the hands of its participants.” That seems just right to me; what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Eucharist is power—which can turn, as William Cavanaugh and others have rightly shown, into torture, but which at root (and in extension) is the opposite of torture and pain, and instead is the maternal act (at least among us mammals) of feeding and all the attendant labor, joys, and pleasures associated with that practice.
Of course, liturgy is always also performance—and Dr. Carvalhaes knows this, and performance is staged, scripted, and enacted within borders or limits that we neglect at our peril. As he writes, “unmovable borders can be idolatry and lack of borders can be irresponsibility and death.”(p. 140) We live, he knows, in a country that “acts like an empire,” as he modestly puts it on p. 250, and this means that the chief obstacle to authentic eucharist is fear. All that concentrated corporate, economic, social, political, and spiritual force (not power—but force; the distinction is important) serves to shield us from how, as Claudio puts it, “life happens with or without theology,”(p. 195) and how authentic life is lived most fully not in security but in “risk,” or as a Lutheran like me might put it, in “faith.”
So—this book is one that “is trying to honor tradition and make it alive to our day.”(p. 258) I’m grateful for that risk in this fine work of scholarship, and I’m even more grateful that Dr. Carvalhaes is here among us, in this place—honoring tradition and making it alive to our day. Onkoto?