Sunday, February 22, 2009
To a man with an empty stomach food is God. ~Gandhi
I've been thinking a lot lately about being Jesus to others.
Sometimes I think of so many things I could do. But I don't know how to start a single one of them. Maybe I'm making them too complicated. Lately I've been reading about feeding the hungry. Food pantries. I would love to be involved in something like this. But I don't know how. And truth be told I'm a better worker than a leader. But it's intriguing. Food. It is so important in the Bible. It's mentioned over and over and over. At every important event. Breaking bread together. Miracles. Gleaning the fields. Hospitality. Food and Christianity is inextricably connected. Jesus ate with sinners. The early church had communal meals. The last supper. The wedding feast. And in none of these instances was this selective, well except maybe the Last Supper. Feeding the hungry. That is love.
And now I am reading about how food pantries work. I'm reading again how poverty contributes to obesity and heart disease. How the poorest of the poor often have no food other than cheap "fast foods" available in their neighborhoods and don't have the transportation or money to go to where the grocery stores are for food. About the way food is subsidized in this country and how often good, healthy food is plowed back into the ground due to US agricultural policy which allows farmers to hold their product off the market to support price. How school lunch programs tend to provide unhealthy food - cheap and fast to make, like bologna sandwiches and instant mashed potatoes. Fat is cheap,comforting and filling. Vegetables are hard to come by and not as quick or easy to prepare. Salty and sugary foods, the fatty foods, foods filled with high fructose corn syrup are the foods of the poor. Foods that make the belly feel full. Cheaply.
I have been reading how one woman wanted to start a food pantry in her church. What is more fundamental to loving others than to see that they are fed? And so she did her research and came up with a plan. The interesting thing was that this church had just purchased a very expensive altar, hand built of polished hardwood, inscribed in gilt letters with two quotations. The first: "This guy welcomes sinners and eats with them" referring to a quote insulting Jesus in Luke, and the second "Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots? So do not distinguish between worthy and unworthy. All must be equal for you to love and serve." A quote from Isaac of Ninevah.
So when she suggested setting up the food bank around this altar to put praxis to belief she was met with reactions such as "When Hell freezes over" and "Over my dead body." Obviously there was polarization over the food pantry. So she asked for written objections so she could formulate responses and discuss them at a meeting. The objections were amazing, ranging from why the lazy people didn't haul their butts down to another pantry already in place, to we can't keep the church picked up and the kitchen clean as it is...and now you're talking about food, garbage, boxes everywhere. Not to mention a hundred people leaving their trash all over! One man finally stood up and yelled "What the fuck would Jesus do?" I feel his frustration.
It amazes me that people feel this way. That there is so much resistence. But I know it would happen here too. The old refrain Not in my backyard. There would be objections to the traffic, the rif-raff, the criminal element, the inconvenience to the comfortable people in the neighborhood. To say nothing of the time commitment and burn-out rate. I may feel deeply that this is a needed service, I would love to participate in such a program. But I am not strong enough to fight these people. I am not brave enough to fight city hall.
All she wanted to do was put food in the cupboard for really poor black mothers who used drugs, buy groceries for everyone living in the projects, and give away food without conditions. Not at a charity kitchen or soup pantry, but in a food pantry that didn't take away people's dignity and reinforce dependency. She wanted to provide groceries enabling families to prepare food in their own homes, keeping families together and giving them a dignified and normal life as they worked to escape poverty.
I wonder why a place like my former church (not Via Christus....) didn't ever do something like this? Even in the suburbs of Chicago there is great need. Now more than ever. And it's no longer just among those in poverty. People are losing jobs at a horrific rate. But for some reason I just can't see them opening their doors and their hearts to do this! They (and many other churches to be fair) would rather buy new carpet, or improve their media capabilities, or raise money to send to the "poor children in Africa" (sending money is a quick and easy way to feel absolved of guilt...) than serve these people that God loves here. I'm sure to suggest such a thing would bring the same kind of responses mentioned above.
But how does one go about starting a service like this without a church to help? By the time you rent a space, buy your food (even if greatly subsidized and augmented by donations) and incur other expenses, it is just not feasible to give food away. And just doing it out of your garage would bring the zoning police down on your heads.
Are there other answers? I don't know. How I would love to have a large piece of land where I could share space,time and labor and create a communal garden, a place to grow healthy food together and share with those in need.....