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Loving food enough to give it up
I grew up in a family that really loved eating. My mother is a great cook and has made it something of a vocation, owning a shop at the Lebanon’s Farmer Market and both her and my dad run a diner in Elizabethtown too. And I recently had the pleasure of eating an Egyptian delicacy when Mom came to visit a few weeks ago—she brought stewed pig’s trotters; one of my favorite foods. You’d be surprised how delicious pig’s feet are.
It’s no surprise that being raised in such a food-loving family, I grew to appreciate it quite a bit. Home cooking is a passion of mine, in fact. I’m learning a bit more about baking bread too, as many of you know, so it’s been a fun journey so far. I’m not sure I have much a palate or really a taste for creating food, but I’m good at following instructions and can improvise a little bit too.
Eating and making food is really great. It unites all of us, since we all need it and it bring some humanity to everything.
Even when we look to the scriptures, we see the great joy and unity that food has caused in the Scripture. Jesus’ first miracle was about multiplying wine; he later multiplied bread and fish and fed 5,000 men, besides women and children. To prove his humanity after he resurrects, Jesus eats breakfast with his disciples. So the spiritual significance of food is obvious, which is great, because food is so necessary to our life, and our health, and who we are as people.
And so, we’re all pretty familiar with what it means to eat and drink, but a problem that we have in the West is really not knowing what it means to hunger and thirst. I mean, sometimes I skip lunch so I come home a little light-headed and irritable. My office can get a little hot and dry, so I have to really keep hydrated, or else I’ll just get a pounding headache—so for me, I don’t really let myself get too hungry and too thirsty, and I’m not sure how much we really let ourselves do that either.
In fact, I’m not sure we give deliberately fasting a lot of credit, in terms of its spiritual power and depth, because it seems to sacrificial, so difficult, so totally not American. People are suffering all over the world with hunger, why would we dare inflict that upon ourselves. And when we do fast, we tend to talk a bit too much about it, don’t we? If we are going to starve ourselves of food, we better not starve ourselves of the attention for being so pious! Jesus warns us not to.
So be discreet in your fasting, be mindful of who you share it with, and if you do share it, do it for mutual encouragement and not to bring any glory to yourself. So, I think I might need to present some arguments about why we would bother to fast.
One of the main reasons we fast is to see how frail we are, and how dependent we are on God. The sense of hunger and thirst that all of us are familiar is great because it really helps us see what kind of fervor we should be pursuing God. We are not invincible, and we are vulnerable, living a life that is delicate and needs nurturing and care. It helps us see that we really need to take care of ourselves, when we remove something that’s so “necessary” to our existence, we end up living more simply. The truth is most of American excess—working too much, drinking too much, working out too much, being so busy, in general—is incredibly limited when we intentional lower our energy source. We can barely watch TV with all of the advertisements for food. We really have to simplify our life in order to tolerate such a radical commitment.
And in our weakness, we rely on God more. In a society where we are full to the brim and we are endlessly satisfied, it is rather difficult to really know what a hunger and thirst for God is. But in our hunger, we find some beauty because in those moments, we can turn to prayer and meditation and other disciplines. We can turn our hunger for food into hunger for God altogether and to know that he is the one who makes you whole and complete and fulfilled.
Fasting not only helps us get in touch with our fragility, but also with God’s provision for us. Why would we intentionally suffer? Because God is greater than our suffering, greater than our satisfaction, greater than any trial that we encounter. We are carrying the death of Jesus in our body, so that his Life and Resurrection might be revealed in us. When we are weak, He is made stronger, when we thrive when we starve, we truly are shining Him brightly in an incredible way.
The world can do what it wants to you, but you’ll survive, because you’ve been through it all for the sake of Jesus. That’s really hard for Americans to swallow, especially when our society is so image conscious and individuals intentionally starve themselves because they don’t like what they look like, or because of what their mother told them, or because of whatever else. It’s appropriate to be sensitive to that, naturally. The truth is a food fast isn’t a requirement or a necessity, so if it’s not healthy for you to do this—that’s OK. You are already made full in God, and we’ve suffered with him. With that caveat, it’s OK to venture and try it even if sounds impossible.
Our eyes really open up to new things in our hunger. Even though, food is a great joy, a great uniter, and a great thing that bonds us all. It is also a great distractor too. Especially in our country , where we eat far too much, spend way too much money and resources on beef production (fifty-six percent of available farmland), and 80 percent of our corn and 95 percent of oats are used to feed livestock. We really don’t manage our resources well, for one, and for two, how we eat, how much we eat, and of often we eat is an amazing seditative and regulator.
If you keep most of us fed, we’ll probably just let you do anything; and so even though “two-thirds world poverty” exists in the world, because most of us are satisfied, we really don’t fight for justice. Ron Sider, an orthodox Evangelical Christian who teaches at Palmer (and who loves Aaron Foltz) wrote a relevant text on the subject and here’s just one quotation:
“It is a sinful abomination for one part of the world's Christians to grow richer year by year while our brothers and sisters ache and suffer for lack of minimal health care, minimal education, and even—in some cases—enough food to escape starvation.” ― Ronald J. Sider
So go ahead and fast and become familiar with starvation across the world. Read Sider’s book, lobby congress with the Micah Challenge and fight extreme poverty, rather than just reacting and responding to tragedy across the world, go ahead and be proactive with the power you have.
Start to notice the things that you wouldn’t normally notice. Our gluttony, our overeating, our excess can just be blinders that not only stop up from seeing all of the starvation around us but also all of the other evil.
This week, Senator Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, confirmed that 4,700 individuals have been killed, right under our noses, by U.S. drone attacks. President Bush and Obama have been waging these strikes on Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan since 2002. Here's what the Senator said:
"We've killed 4,700," Graham said.
"Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we're at war, and we've taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida," he added.
I think we were a little too distracted to notice that or to demand to know that over the last several years. Of course, being force fed so
many other things, how could we? We’re so full, it’s hard to see anything more. When we fast, when we simplify, our eyes our opened more. So we can go ahead and follow in the great tradition of fasting and really believe that God will open our eyes more to what he wants us to see.
Be mindful of the way the principalities and powers of this world want to distract, something as innocent as eating until we’ve put ourselves in a coma might be hard to observe, but it might be ultimately costly if we are not as shrewd as foxes when we need to be.