On Monday morning, we have eggs with our breakfast. But on Tuesday — Martes Gordo, Fat Tuesday — we do not have eggs to add to our morning meal of bread and butter, juice, and coffee. I strive to connect with the cook at Primera Iglesia Bautista of Matanzas, Cuba.
“No hay problema. Sometimes I forget to pick things up at the market as well.” She smiles in a way that makes me suspect I do not understand the problem.
Forgetfulness may not be the issue for our hosts this morning. It could be that there is an egg shortage right now, which is to say that not only do we not have eggs, but a whole bunch of other people are taking their breakfast sin huevos this morning also. This is not uncommon in Matanzas, where lines at the market for basic necessities are a regular feature of life and shortages are pretty normal. Perhaps she just forgot, but it seems likely enough that there may not have been any eggs. Who knows?
Whatever the case, I decide that this very simple breakfast is a chance to move into an imaginative space where I can, at least for a moment, consider this fast as one not by choice or forgetfulness but by necessity. I can try to push my thought experiment deeper: on this last feast day until Easter, can our momentary lack be a small step into solidarity with our brothers and sisters here, and back in our own neighborhoods, for whom eggs are not the only thing in short supply? What if even this feast day recognized that our celebrations always fall short of full consummation when some of our brothers and sisters never have a full-on feast? What if I carried with me that the constant feast that is American life is at least one of the factors in the unchosen daily fasting that is the norm around the world? What if such solidarity were a regular characteristic of our discipleship?
Over the course of a week of visits with churches, I heard often about solidarity. In a land of both tremendous beauty and crumbling infrastructure, a land of the sensual rumba and of hardscrabble subsistence, our group connected with people who refused to leave, even when it was an option. Their work, their bodies, their whole lives were given as offerings towards the building of their communities.
Church folks rightly describe this as an act of faith. It is also a triumph of imagination. The ability to see possibility amid suffering takes faith, vision, imagination and a large portion of courage. There certainly have been days when they lacked more than eggs, and yet they have carved out spaces of beauty and solidarity, of creative resistance and of dignity.
We Christians in the United States lack the same sense of regular, daily solidarity with one another. I needed no reminder of this, but I got one anyway when I returned. A grant application had arrived in my inbox, by chance on that eggless Fat Tuesday, from a very wealthy institution. It was accompanied by the disclaimer, “Please be aware that our funds are very limited for this grant cycle.” This statement is demonstrably false. It is privileged choice posing as unchosen want, but that in no way prevents it from becoming the refrain of the power brokers.
This is the constant reply we hear in our city, and I suspect we are not outliers. Charlotte, N.C., lacks 15,000 units of affordable housing for our poorest residents: “We just do not have the resources to address this now.” Our local economy has proven over and over to be rigged against the poor: “We are studying the issue right now.” Those holding the power and access to the resources have learned all manner of ways of saying “Wait,” which is just another way of saying “No!”
We do not lack resources. We lack will, imagination, vision. We lack well-ordered priorities. Courage is in short supply. But there is no lack of resources. How we use the sufficiency we have — to whom we open our hands — is a choice. We make that choice based on what we can see, on how we envision the future and whether we can imagine ourselves as part of constructing a future worth having. Claiming to be short on resources is an illusion that keeps us from seeing that we have really just run out of imagination.
Mother Teresa is often quoted as saying, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Such forgetting has a cost — the cost of our imaginations. The lavish wealth available in our society creates an illusion — and that wealth is itself an illusion — that we do not finally belong to each other. The illusion is propped up by lies, stories of race, of the value of certain kinds of work over others, of manufactured desire, of the prioritization of the individual over the common good. Much blood is shed, much ink is spilled and many gated communities are built to defend the illusion, rather than the defense of our brothers and sisters who suffer because of the illusion.
This world of illusions is built on nearly unlimited resources but poverty of imagination. It tries to recruit us all into its shadow where wealth is to be accumulated, where communities are dis-membered and the blessed ties that bind us in love are stored for safekeeping. The illusions propagate only themselves, creating a monoculture that lacks the resilience needed to survive.
Solidarity names the basic posture that we belong to one another. It is nurtured best in the rubble of our shattered illusions. It drops its leaves there to build the soil from which imagination can grow and become free. Solidarity creates rich ecosystems of flourishing, nourishing new communities with dense textures, many colors and much fruit. Everything has a role, a place, a gift to offer. This does not mean having everything. We may still have breakfast without eggs. But yesterday’s eggshells plus today’s solidarity can be transformed into tomorrow’s wealth for all — para todo el mundo.