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Give Us Real Food, Not Gruel

In the musical movie, “Oliver,” a crowd of orphaned boys march into the workhouse mess hall of the grimy orphanage they live in, singing:

Is it worth the waiting for?
If we live 'til eighty four
All we ever get is gruel!
Every day we say our prayer --
Will they change the bill of fare?
Still we get the same old gruel!
There's not a crust, not a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge,
But there's nothing to stop us from getting a thrill
When we all close our eyes and imagine
Food, glorious food!

The boys march in line one by one and are each given a bowl of grey mush. They orderly seat themselves at a heavy wooden table. A grim-faced burly man dressed smartly in a colorful Napoleon outfit steps forward and prays, “May what you receive make you truly thankful!” After Oliver gulps the gruel he’s still starving. He dares to walk to the front to ask for more food. The burly man screams and Oliver is chased about the room by old skinny grey headed men and finally caught. He is taken into a side room where grandiose old fat men sit at a table filled with basted turkey, steaming bread swimming in butter, heaping plates of other delicious food and generous glasses of red wine. The men are outraged at Oliver’s insolence. How could the little tramp be so ungrateful? They harrumph and scold. Oliver’s ears are pinched and he is thrown out of the orphanage. Oliver becomes a loveable thief.

I watched the movie on television this past weekend cozy in my apartment against the cold weather outside. I was just surfing the movie channel and came across it. And once I was into it I realized again that the film is an enduring metaphor for broken, corrupt societies.

Societies like ours.

There is a sinister undermining of our future in America. The ones in charge of things pretend they are taking care of the rest of us. They pretend they want what’s best for the masses. They think they know what’s best for all the people. In truth, they make decisions that are always best only for them.

This chicanery takes place in our houses of Congress, in our electoral process, in our Supreme Court, in our banking system, in our educational institutions, in our law enforcement processes, in too many of our places of worship, and in the basic architecture of our societal framework.

We piously hold ourselves above other nations as being the greatest in the world while we carry on intentionally unwinnable wars that kill innocents, leave countries in tatters, and destabilize whole regions of the world while completely wasting the lives of our own military men and women. We manipulate their deaths into phony patriotic gruel that is supposed to sustain our spiritually depleted lives. Trillions of dollars are spent in this effort, money that is taken from our national potential for good, thrown away on weapons of ghastly destruction and given to giant companies and their CEOs who build fortunes on crimes against humanity.

In Oliver’s mess hall there was a big sign on the wall, “God Is Love.” What a mockery considering the goings on below it. We hoodwink ourselves into thinking we are God’s chosen land and God’s chosen people. We quote the Bible and pray in public places and demand that our Christian faith be authenticated not by good deeds and generous love but by political fiat, by getting voters to, as historian Thomas Frank has said, “raise their voices in praise of Jesus but cast their votes for Caesar.”

Our national/political religious mania in this country is not fueled by spiritual depth or any discernable sign of Christian conscientiousness. It is as bland and empty of anything remotely erudite or deeply informed as Oliver’s bowl of tasteless gruel was nutritionally useless.

I want more for my country. I am hungry for real nourishment from the structures of our society that have the potential to guide this nation into thoughtful, humane, beautiful contributions here and around our world. Contributions that lift and honor and care for human life. Contributions that feed our national humility not our individual arrogance, that keep our leaders and all of us real not phony, that inspire us to just being honestly good and fair, and not having to pretend we are superior to the whole wide world.

Gandhi, whose wisdom is needed now, said it well, “Permanent good can never be the outcome of untruth and violence.” We need more than the insipid gruel being fed us today if as a nation we are truly interested in any permanent good.

© 2014 Timothy Moody

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