Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

Easter: Risen Bread, Risen Lord

Mark 14.12-31; Matthew 26.17-29; Luke 22.7-20

The first time I served communion was on Ash Wednesday 2015 in a beautiful service at Vanderbilt Divinity School. After accepting the invitation to traverse the small all-faith chapel, reminiscent of a cave carved out of the rock, and become anointed with oil, water, soil and ashes, the worshippers arranged ourselves in a sacred circle and offered the sacrament to each other. As a younger person, I had passed the silver tray holding tiny cups of juice to the person seated next to me in the pew, but I had never held the bread in one hand and the wine in the other and offered it to a neighbor. I had never said, “the bread of life, given for you” and “the cup of grace, given for you” to another person.

As the bread and cup approached me, I found myself trying to swallow my tears, hoping no one would see the characteristic reddening of my nose as I realized that this was going to be the first time I served the Lord’s Supper to anyone. In a way, I had dreamed about this moment, when I’d be a good enough person and minister to offer something so sacred to be partaken of by a fellow human. When my neighbor offered me the sacrament, I met her eyes and smiled, accepting the grace. I turned around to offer it to the next person in line, a friend of a friend and a United Methodist pastor, and I felt the eyes of everyone in the room on me. It wasn’t a scary feeling, ebing watched–rather, it was comforting and warm, being held all together in this holy space.

“The bread of life, for you.” “The cup of grace, for you.”

Just like that, the moment passed as the receiver of my blessing accepted it, turned and offered it to another. But in my heart, in the core of my being, something had shifted. What did it mean for me to be able to offer the sacrament to another person? Some cosmic meaning had attached itself to my hands, the hands holding carefully kneaded and baked bread, lovingly pressed grapes, my holy hands, the ones God gave me, the ones God created for this purpose of offering myself, and the holy, to another person.

Henri Nouwen writes,

As we recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread, we recognise him also in our brothers and sisters.  As we give one another the bread, saying:”This is the Body of Christ,” we give ourselves to each other saying:  “We are the Body of Christ.”  It is one and the same giving, it is one and the same body, it is one and the same Christ.” (Nouwen, Henri. “Christ’s Body, Our Body,” in Bread for the Journey. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006.)

In 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and farmworker organizer César Chávez shared the eucharist (literally meaning “thanksgiving” with a connotation of shared grace), the first meal that Chavez ate after fasting for 25 days in protest of the treatment of farmworkers in California. It was appropriate to break a fast in honor of justice by the sacred meal of bread and wine, the same meal that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before his death. In sharing this meal, Kennedy and Chavez together recognized the presence of God within the current struggle for justice for migrant farmworkers. In partaking of this holy symbol of love and community, they recognized Jesus’ witness of love for the poor, marginalized, oppressed and exploited people in this world. In eating, they witnessed the sanctity of the earth which produces food and sustenance.

Dr. Jennifer Ayres writes,

“As God in Christ has entered into the human situation, so eucharistic liturgy is near to the concrete and particular situations of men and women.”  (Ayres, Good Food, 61.)

Consider how you will partake of the Eucharist on Easter morning. How will you, in your acceptance of the bread and wine of the earth, remember those who don’t have enough food or drink? Make room to witness the radical abundance of God in the fruits of the earth into forms which humans partake. Come to the table and share the grace with your neighbor.

Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday: Last Suppers

Luke 22-23

As we near the time when Jesus was betrayed and given over to be killed by capital punishment, I encourage you to think about the Last Supper in a new context. Two artists, Henry Hargreaves and Julie Green have created artistic depictions of last meals requested by incarcerated persons on death row before they were executed. What is significant about these requests? What is significant about how Jesus spent his last meal and last night before being killed? What do these diverse Last Suppers communicate about human’s relationship to food and the role of food in cultural memory?

Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

March 20: Sixth Sunday of Lent and Holy Week: Faith into Action

 

Luke 6:20-26

So what can we do about this, for those of us who do not face the same struggles as some of the folks we have learned about in this season of Lent? First, stay woke. Pay attention to where your food comes from and why some people don’t have the same access that you do. Second, keep being informed. It can be scary to see inequality and injustice, but it’s scarier to live it. And, if you are a person who carries a lot of privilege with your identity and through your body, you have a Christian responsibility to stand up for the good of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Third, create a ritual or a liturgy that expresses the thoughts and feelings you have about this situation of injustice. Ritual often helps process emotions and events in constructive ways, committing events to memory without robbing them of their significance for the future. I’d like to suggest some ritual styles to try.

Some Christian communities do “stations of the cross” during this time of year. These stations are the multiple actions Jesus took from after the Last Supper until the time he is taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. There are traditional and Biblical stations of the cross, helpfully laid out in this chart from Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts’ article on Patheos.com, from the 2004 Pope’s Stations of the Cross.

In Nashville, Amos House Community, an intentional community made up of folks dedicated to eradicating homelessness in the city, organizes a City-Wide Stations of the Cross, where faith leaders gather together and witness the modern places in our city where Jesus continues to be tortured and crucified, such as the Criminal Justice Center, the State House, the downtown prison and the Justice Department. I propose adopting a food-centered version of this practice, focusing on places where there is inequality in food access: visit a corner bodega, a grocery store frequented by low-income folks, a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, where only certain interests are served, a school garden, a soup kitchen, and other places in your city where Jesus’ is betrayed by the powers that do not invite all people to the table of justice and community.

 

Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

March 13: Fifth Sunday of Lent: Hunger and Thirst: Contemplations on Food Access and Environmental Racism

John 6:35

If I were sharing a classroom with you, I would step to the front and ask: “How many of you have ever been hungry in your life?” You would raise your hand, remembering that time that you were at practice late and forgot to eat dinner, or your mom packed a lunch for you that was a little too small for your adolescent body. Then I would ask: “How many of you have been hungry for days on end, or have ever had to live without eating three square meals a day?” Fewer of you would raise your hands. Maybe it would be only people of color, or children of immigrant families, or people who were raised by a single parent working a minimum wage job. Maybe it would be someone who was emancipated at 16 and had to work full time to afford rent while finishing high school. Maybe it would be your classmates who are single parents themselves. It might even be the children of farmers who don’t own the rights to the produce they grow but sell it to larger companies to ship cross country or use it to fatten animals. But the point is: food access is not the same across the board.

What do I mean by food access? I mean: how reliably can you regularly gain access to healthy, fresh, affordable food that is close to where you live? You’d think, wouldn’t you, that having access to fresh, healthy, affordable food that is within a reasonable geographic distance would be a right guaranteed to everyone in the United States of America? But the reality is far from that.

Have you ever heard of a food desert? The USDA defines it as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.” Have you ever lived in a food desert? Check out the USDA’s map here to see where the food deserts nearest you are. Food deserts exist in most major cities and in large swaths of rural areas, and are invisible. Watch this short film that follows a woman throughout her day getting her groceries and preparing a meal in Cleveland, Ohio. Watch this 46-minute film about food deserts in rural Virginia or the movie “Food Deserts” about hunger and access in Chicagoland.  

So, there’s a lot of information there. It’s all about how some folks are denied easy access to food because of where they live and what’s available in their neighborhood, which often has something to do with race and class. That phenomenon has another name: environmental racism, defined by the US Legal Department as “Environmental racism refers to intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies. It is the racial discrimination in the enactment or enforcement of any policy, practice, or regulation that negatively affects the environment of low-income and/or racially homogeneous communities at a disparate rate than affluent communities.”

These ideas are big, and they can be overwhelming. You might be asking, what can I do? I’m just one person! But there are many ways for you to learn more and get involved in food justice. Here are some ideas to try out this week:

  • Walk a labyrinth, concentrating on the way in on the inequality present where you live. On the way out, contemplate how you can be part of a solution by using your resources to live in solidarity of the belly.

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen.

  • Host a screening of the films mentioned above, as well as take any of these steps listed on the Interfaith Power and Light’s Cool Harvest webpage.

  • Help with any mobile grocery markets or Meals on Wheels in your community.

Also, here is a series of questions from a retreat called “Becoming Bread for the World” at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Ohio. Use this poem as a meditation on food access and inequality. [Gunilla Norris, Becoming Bread. New York: Bell Tower, 1993.) in the Becoming Bread retreat materials from John Knox Presbyterian Church.]

Hunger

In this place hunger is our guide.

What shall we find here to nourish us?

We have nothing of our own…

nothing but need.

Reflective Questions:

  • Think about how it feels to be hungry—hungry in your stomach and hungry in your soul. For what do you hunger?
  • What food do you have access to because of where you live/where you shop/where you get your food? How might this be different for other people? What affects your access to these food resources?

 

 

Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

March 6: Fourth Sunday of Lent: Table Theology

 

Luke 14:7-24

When I was an undergraduate at Oberlin College, I was part of a group called the Ecumenical Christians of Oberlin (since changed to the Eclectic Christians of Oberlin). Our activities revolved around preparing food for each other and eating together every Sunday night in a little house owned by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Our advisors were a husband and wife couple who co-pastored the local American Baptist church, an open and affirming community dedicated to inclusion and social justice activism. Ten or fifteen of us would gather together in the small dining room and hold hands around the table, shiftily eyeing each other as we asked “Who wants to pray?” I’d usually step up and pray, thanking God and asking God to bless our food and our community, and help us be witnesses of God’s social justice in the world. We’d then serve each other huge helpings of mac ‘n’ cheese and pie and vegan rice dishes, then adjourn to the cozy living room for a conversation about theology and communal intercessory prayer.

There was something about eating together, sharing a common meal and blessing each other, that moved me significantly. I had never felt so loved, so held, by God than in those moments where we’d joke and cry and sing hymns and shovel tasty homemade delights into our mouths. One of the coolest things about this group was that there was no faith requirement: our name had the word Christian in it, but we were never exclusive–our Muslim, atheist, Jewish, pagan and Catholic friends often joined us to talk about the nature of God, the life of Jesus of Nazareth as an example, and practicing faith-based social justice. There was always enough room for everyone around the table, always enough food to go around. When we were together, we never ran out of blessing. Letty Russell puts it well:

“A lot of community takes place at a table, and the Christian heritage already has a long tradition related to table community, table sharing, table talk, and the like…At this table there is no permanent seating, and whatever chairs of authority that exist are shared. Christ is the host and bids everyone to come.”

Jesus tells several stories in the gospels about hospitality through inviting all people to the banquet, no matter station, ethnicity, class or religion. In one parable, told in Luke 14:16-22, Jesus describes how all people should be invited to the banquet, even those in the “roads and lanes.” Earlier in that chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the guests at a banquet that they should not place themselves in the highest seat, but that they should adopt a humble posture until the host invites them to move up, suggesting a practical and liveable way of interpreting “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Though many of these teachings about meetings and hospitality are told in parables, Jesus’ life is also an example of hospitality given and received. He regularly ate with lawyers, tax collectors and prostitutes, to the chagrin of the learned Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes (Mark 2:15). Jesus also knew how to receive hospitality, as he visited Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ family multiple times and often was fed by supporters of his disciples throughout his ministry (Luke 10:38-42).

Growing up, family dinners were sacred to me. I lived a few states over from my mom’s family, so we’d drive seven or eight hours every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter to be together and eat hearty home cooked meals. As I went to college and began to share meals with people outside my family, I was reminded of the sacredness of eating together in itself. Gathering together to share the fruit of the earth, the fruit of creation, was a way of remembering the body of God given through Christ in creation.

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the meal you have most enjoyed in your life? Were you with anyone when you ate it? What is special about that time?

  • How do you see living and eating in community? Is this something that is special to you? How can you move yourself to give and receive hospitality in light of this table theology?

  • How can you take steps in your everyday life to invite folks on the margins to the table, literally and figuratively? Where in your community can you help eradicate hunger?

 

Resources:

Ayres, Jennifer. Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013.

Wirzba, Norman. Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.