Cosmic Kindergarten: Sharing

Read the rest of the Via Positiva: Cosmic Kindergarten series

Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the Seventh/Eighth Sundays after Pentecost:

He… distributed food among all the people. (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19)
You give them something to eat. (Mark 6:30-44)

Our first song is from singer/songwriter Jack Johnson. It’s called “The Sharing Song” and it comes from his 2006 album Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George.

It’s always more fun,
To share with everyone
It’s always more fun,
To share with everyone
If you have two,
Give one to your friend
If you have three,
Give one to your friend and me

I have decided that the whole concept of sharing is dead. I arrived at this conclusion after conducting extensive Google research on the word “sharing.” I used several configurations in looking for stories or ideas about sharing. I typed in “the importance of sharing” and “the psychology of sharing.” The results of these searches turned up some very interesting article. None of them, however, were about sharing in the sense that I want to talk about today.

Sharing, according to the dictionary, is “the act dividing up shares,” or allowing others to “use , enjoy, or experience jointly or in turns.” This is the kind of sharing one learns in kindergarten — and more so in Cosmic Kindergarten. Sharing, in the sense I want to explore, is all about how we allow others to be a part of our joy, a part of our abundance, and a part of our lives.

Sharing, according to Google, is really only something we do in social media. Like on Facebook — we share links, we share stories, we share status updates. “Sharing,” according to the Google, is all about sharing information. Sure, it could be information about our lives — but in truth, today’s idea of sharing is all about me — about sharing my thoughts, about sharing my reading habits, about sharing pictures of my food, or my dog, or anything else mildly interesting that may cross my path.

Real sharing — that kind of sharing we must learn in Cosmic Kindergarten — requires more than just pressing the “share” button, or a “like” button on a Web page.

Real, holy sharing, requires us to give part of ourselves away to others — or to allow others to use or take part in something we already have and enjoy. Sharing requires relationship, vulnerability, sacrifice, and the ability to take joy in seeing another person enjoy the things we are already enjoying.

To think we’re really sharing when we just share information on Facebook or Twitter is to miss the point of sharing all together. That kind of sharing is like spiritual junk food — it may taste good, but it doesn’t really satisfy us. Real sharing calls on us to give more than information. It invites us to step out of our own selfishness and self-centeredness and give of ourselves. When we do, we will see that it’s always more fun to share with everyone.

It’s always more fun,
To share with everyone
It’s always more fun,
To share with everyone
If you’ve got one,
Here is something you can learn
You can still share,
Just by taking turns

In our Hebrew scriptures this morning, we find David transporting the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It may not be obvious, but this is an act of sharing. By bringing the Ark to the people, he’s sharing the presence of God. Now, despite what you may have learned about the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones movies, the Ark isn’t a weapon. Instead, it held the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, and to the Hebrew people it symbolized the presence of God.

This was in a time before a temple for God had been built in Jerusalem. God didn’t have any sort of set “home” at this point. Instead, God was still seen as nomadic. Wherever the Ark went, God was there. I often think we’ve done God a disservice by building church-shaped God cages for Her. Because now, we feel like we have to go somewhere special to experience the Holy — to share in that joy of the Holy.

I think David and his merry band had it right — God isn’t meant to be caged or put on display. Instead, we should have a free-range God, who goes wherever we go, who resides in our hearts and spirits, where God’s law of love is really written.

This is at the heart of sharing. When we share, we’re doing more than just sharing stuff. Real sharing means that we are sharing the presence of the Holy with everyone we meet. We can share that because we have that Ark of the Covenant within us. We carry the Holy with us wherever we go. This kind of sharing induced such a deep joy in David that he danced and sang. He was so overjoyed at sharing in the presence of God that he literally stripped down to a thong and danced nearly naked in the streets — much to the disapproval of his wife, Rachel.

But this is what real sharing is all about — when we so fully give of ourselves and what we have that we are overcome by the joy of it all. We may even want to strip half-naked and dance in the street because it just feels so good to share — to feel the presence of the Holy all around.

It is rare, though, for us to be like David — moved to dance at just the thought of sharing our joy, or literally sharing our food, with everyone. Instead, we are more like Rachel, who sees such a joyous display of sharing as offensive. That’s because, as human beings, we can be very selfish — and we often need to be taught how to unearth our original blessing of knowing how to share. This is where kindergarten is valuable — because it is here that we learn to share, to take turns, to give away things that we consider to be valuable.

To learn the art of sharing, we have to have role models. As children we’re impressionable, and if those we love, like our parents, show us that it’s always more fun to share with everyone, we’re more likely to give it a try. If we never see it modeled, however — if we grow up in a selfish home or environment — we tend to remain selfish. When it comes to sharing, it really is a case of “monkey see, monkey do.” We want to model our behavior after those we admire, whether they share or not.

David is a model of sharing as he opens himself to the presence of the Holy and dances with the delight of sharing God — and food — with his people. In the end, it’s not really the food that satisfies the people, but the simple act of sharing — and being open to receive. Breathe deeply.

If you’ve got a ball, Bounce it to the gang
If there is a new kid, Invite him out to hang
If you’ve got one sandwich, Cut that thing in half
If you know a secret joke, Tell it and share a laugh
If you’ve got two drumsticks, Give one to your friend
Make one beautiful rhythm, Share a beat that never ends
And if you’re feeling lonely, Share time with your mom
Share some milk and cookies, And sing the sharing song
It’s always more fun, To share with everyone
It’s always more fun, To share with everyone

There’s a story of a man was spoke with God about heaven and hell. The Lord said to the man, “Come, I will show you hell.”

They entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge pot of stew. Everyone was famished, desperate and starving. Each held a spoon that reached the pot, but each spoon had a handle so much longer than their own arm that it could not be used to get the stew into their own mouths. The suffering was terrible.

After watching for awhile, God said, “Come, now I will show you heaven.” They entered another room, identical to the first — the pot of stew, the group of people, the same long-handled spoons. But there everyone was happy and well-nourished. “I don’t understand,” said the man. “Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room and everything was the same?”

The Holy smiled and said, “It’s simple. Here they have learned to feed each other.”

This is the key, Jubilants. The heart of sharing is about feeding one another. It is about seeing the hunger for love, for acceptance, for basic sustenance in the lives of the others around us and feeding them. At birth, we are all given long-handled spoons. It’s only those who learn how to share with their spoons that escape the misery. We only thrive when we learn to feed each other.

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from singer/songwriter Susan Werner. Her dream to become an opera singer was cut short when she heard the croonings of country star Nanci Griffith. Since 1993, she’s produced 10 albums. This song comes from her 2007 album The Gospel Truth. It’s called “Help Somebody.” Let’s try it.

I got plenty and then some, what do I do?
Plenty and then some what do I do?
I got plenty and then some what do I do now?
I go out and help somebody
get plenty and then some, too Hmmmm

I got a roof over my head, what do I do?
A roof over my head, what do I do?
I got a roof over my head, what do I do now?
I go out and help somebody get a roof over their head, too

In our Jesus story, we find our guy right on the verge of creating one of his most memorable miracles — the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus and his guys were trying to get away from it all for a little while. They had all been busy teaching and healing, and they hadn’t even had a chance to eat. As soon as they got out of the boat though, they were besieged by a crowd expecting more teaching and healing.

Jesus, though he was hungry and tired, was said to have “compassion” on the people who had gathered. We dare not skip over this word too lightly in this passage, because it is important to the whole story — and especially to the whole lesson of sharing in today’s Cosmic Kindergarten.

Without compassion — which literally means “to suffer with” — sharing would be impossible. Without compassion, it would never occur to us to share.

Without compassion, we are a selfish people, because we cannot put ourselves in the place of another human being — we are unable to feel their suffering. And if we cannot feel the suffering of another, we will never be moved to share with them. Compassion is key to sharing — and it’s something both we and the disciples have to learn from this story.

So after having compassion on the crowd and putting aside his own hunger, Jesus shares with these people. He shares himself, he shares his message of love and compassion, and he shares his ability to heal people in mind and body.

Then things get interesting. You can only go so long without eating that, even though you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you’re going to get a little grouchy. Like those Snickers commercials tell us, we can become a demanding diva when we get the munchies.

This crowd was no different, and the disciples themselves were no different. As the day dragged on, their hunger overcame them, and they urged Jesus to send the crowd away to find some food so they too could take a break and enjoy the dinner they had packed for themselves.

This is where the real sharing lesson begins. Instead of dispersing the crowd, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “You give them something to eat.”

This is not what the disciples were expecting. Again, they’re probably wondering if Jesus has lost his mind. “We don’t have enough money to do that,” they protest.

Jesus asks, “Well, what have you got?”

“Five loaves of bread and two fish,” they say, looking worried that they were going to miss their own dinner now.

“Hand it out,” Jesus tells them. “Share what you have.”

Right about now, I know what you’re thinking. I have spent just about every meditation debunking miracles or reading scripture differently than the traditional reading. But, y’know what? I believe that this event truly was a miracle — a miracle of sharing.

I got supper on the table, what do I do?
Supper on the table, what do I do?
I got supper on the table, what do I do now?
I go out and help somebody get supper on the table, too

[Bridge] ’cause I got it to give, I got it to give
and when you got enough to give away
well it’s the only way to live

Remember what I said earlier — to learn sharing, we have to see it modeled. Perhaps — just perhaps — as the disciples made their way through the crowd distributing their meager dinner, others who had brought some food along with them remembered their own original blessing of sharing — and began to unlearn the selfishness society had taught them — and they began to share with those around them. They had just been treated with compassion by Jesus, and now they were seeing his followers give generously from their small stash, and they were inspired to do the same. Just like Jesus, they were moved by compassion for those around them, and they remembered that they really are hardwired to share, and they began to share — and everyone was fed, and 12 baskets of leftovers were gathered up afterward.

This interpretation is not new, and it tends to piss off people who really want a mystical, supernatural miracle to take place in this setting. I understand. I get it. We want to believe that God will step in and fulfill our needs. We want to believe that it’s not up to us to feed the world, it’s not up to us to meet the needs of our neighbor. Instead, we often see this miracle story’s lesson as this: Stand back and rely on God to work the miracles. If we can do it ourselves, we reason, why would we even need God?

But my question is this: Why is it any less a miracle for people to share with one another? I believe it’s a fairly impressive miracle that a group of 5,000 tired, sweaty, cranky and hungry people would be so overwhelmed with compassion for one another — so able to “suffer with” one another — that they shared their stashes of food with their neighbor. Given that we’ve convinced ourselves that human nature is callous and selfish, I think the sight of 5,000 people sharing food is far more miraculous than God just supernaturally multiplying loaves and fishes.

If you’ve watched the current presidential campaign for more than five minutes you’ve seen the spectacular selfishness of human beings on display. At one Republican candidate debate, the crowd even shouted out to let people without healthcare die. They didn’t want to have to pay to help another person who may be sick. It would be a true, bona fide miracle to get people who hold these kinds of beliefs about their fellow human beings to share their food with a crowd of strangers — instead of saying, “I brought enough for me. Too bad for you that you didn’t think ahead or earn enough to buy your own.”

One other reason why I believe this was a miracle of sharing is Jesus’ own words to his disciples. He told them: “You give them something to eat.”

This weren’t just empty words. Jesus was telling his disciples, and us, that we have the power to feed each other. We have the power to share, to come together, to work cooperatively in this world to bring about the New Jerusalem we’re seeking. This goes hand in hand with Jesus’ assertion that realm of God is already here. It’s here when we set aside our own selfish feelings and learn how to share. The realm of God appears when we learn the true meaning of sharing — when we open ourselves to one another, when we become vulnerable to each other, and when we share even though we may run the risk of lacking what we need if we give what we have away to other people.

But here’s where the real mind-boggling, out-of-this-world miracle occurs — the more we give, the more we get. The people gave what they had and they collected a bumper crop of leftovers. The giving kept on going. No one lacked for food. No one lacked for anything — the food, the compassion, the sharing, the miracles kept multiplying — because this crowd deeply learned the lesson of sharing. Love is only something if we give it away — when we hoard it, when we lock it away, when we keep it selfishly for ourselves, it dies. We lack for everything when we selfishly hoard our food, or our money, or our time, or our space.

Jubilants, how would it change the way you lived if you saw someone in need, and instead of ignoring their need, you helped them get what they need? How would it change the way you lived if you realized that the only way any of us get fed in this world is by sharing — and not just by sharing food, but by sharing resources like clean air, clean water, or technology, or anything else we may want to keep just for ourselves?

Jubilants, how would it change the way you lived, if you truly understood Jesus when he said, “You give them something to eat.” We shy away from fulfilling that commandment because we think we have so little to give. The disciples felt this way. “We’ve only got five loaves and two fishes,” they complained.

What makes sharing a miracle, Jubilants, is not how much you have to share, but that you share whatever you have. When we share whatever we have, it is blessed, multiplied and yields baskets and baskets full of leftovers. No one goes hungry. Everyone gets their fill — and that, Jubilants, is the kind of miracle we can perform every single day.

No matter what you think you have, whether it’s a little or a lot, Jesus’ message is this: You’ve got it to give. Give wastefully. Give joyfully — dance half-naked while you do it, if you want — because when we learn how to share with abandon we will soon realize it’s not just a miracle — it’s the only way to really live.

[Bridge] ’cause I got it to give, I got it to give
and when you got enough to give away
well it’s the only way to live

I’m going to heaven, what do I do?
Going to heaven, what do I do?
I’m going to heaven, what do I do now?
I go out and help somebody get to heaven, too

Oh, Yeah!