Our Daily Bread

Another beautiful essay entitled “Pass the Bread” from Bill Moyers, in which he continues to try to explain America to himself, and to us.

I love this quote from it:

All of us have to choose sides on this journey. But the question is not so much who we are going to fight against as it is which side of our own nature will we nurture: The side that can grow weary and even cynical and believe that everything is futile, or the side that for all the vulgarity, brutality, and cruelty, yearns to affirm, connect and signify.

But what’s the bit with bread? Well, he tells a story about how a truly good man gets to heaven and asks God and the angels for a ruttered roll each morning, as his reward.

Moyers adds:

Bread is the great re-enforcer of the reality principle. Bread is life. But if you’re like me you have a thousand and more times repeated the ordinary experience of eating bread without a thought for the process that brings it to your table. The reality is physical: I need this bread to live. But the reality is also social: I need others to provide the bread. I depend for bread on hundreds of people I don’t know and will never meet. If they fail me, I go hungry. If I offer them nothing of value in exchange for their loaf, I betray them.


Civilization sustains and supports us. The core of its value is bread. But bread is its great metaphor. All my life I’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and I’ve never prayed, “Give me this day my daily bread.” It is always, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Bread and life are shared realities. They do not happen in isolation. Civilization is an unnatural act. We have to make it happen, you and I, together with all the other strangers. And because we and strangers have to agree on the difference between a horse thief and a horse trader, the distinction is ethical. Without it, a society becomes a war against all, and a market for the wolves becomes a slaughter for the lambs.

This points, in the sweetest and subtlest way by Moyers, to the greatest uncivilized and unethical acts of our times, and how we, collectively are responsible. What is most uncivilized and unethical about these acts, or the policy these aggregate acts comprise, is that they are done while droning on and on about faith, community, and most aggregious of all, hope.