I Support Mix It Up At Lunch Day BECAUSE I am a Christian

One of my current writing projects has me spending a lot of time in the Gospels, especially the Gospel according to Luke, which may be my favorite Gospel (are we allowed to have favorites?) not least because of its astonishing reversals:

It’s the Gospel where a poor, uneducated girl–Mary–has more faith than an educated, aged, male priest–Zechariah.

It’s the Gospel where a widow’s two pennies amounts to more in God’s eyes than fat donations from wealthy pockets.

It’s the Gospel where Jesus says: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Invite the people who can’t pay you back by conferring social prestige on you, because that is the where the real reward is.

Yes, Luke’s Gospel is a Gospel that proclaims love for the marginalized. And out of the four, Luke has the most meals.

(It’s the Gospel in which Jesus is accused, among other things, of being a “glutton and a drunkard,” who eats with “tax collectors and ‘sinners.'”)

In other words, it’s the Gospel that Mixes It Up At Lunch.

Do you remember lunch in middle school? And high school? I do, because every year, when I’d get my new schedule, I’d have a gnawing sense of dread, wondering who I’d have lunch with and where I would sit, and fearing that I might end up alone.

There were always sharp divisions at lunchtime, weren’t there? The cheerleader table, the ‘artsy’ table, the ‘brainy’ table, the athletic table, and so on, and so on; divisions so definite that may well have been clearly marked on the tables themselves.

Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center–an organization dedicated to “fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society” (sound familiar?)–says that in their surveys, students “have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn.” That’s why they’ve initiated “Mix It Up At Lunch” day, which is October 30 this year.

On this one day,

“we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.”

The Times article noted that Mix it Up has been particularly effective at one school at pairing special needs students with those outside their usual (sometimes isolating) circles.

Have you ever experienced that–especially over a meal? Eating with others is, in virtually every culture, a profound act that indicates acceptance and belonging and mutual care. It’s why a new husband and wife feed one another cake. It’s why we bring casseroles for families with new babies and when there’s a death. It’s why children who eat together with their families tend to do better than those who don’t.

It’s why it was so scandalous that Jesus did all that eating and drinking with tax collectors and prostitutes and other ‘questionable’ characters–because eating with others breaks down the walls between people.

It meant that Jesus was intimate with people that the religious elite regarded as unacceptables.

But this was not some New Testament innovation. All throughout the Hebrew Bible respectful generosity–hospitality! sharing food!is a mark of righteousness. As the writer Marilynne Robinson writes:

“When Jesus describes Judgment, the famous separation of the sheep from the goats, he does not mention religious affiliation or sexual orientation or family values. He says, ‘I was hungry, and ye fed me not.'”

Is it that much of a stretch to extend that to “I was lonely and awkward and confused, and you ate with me not?”

So I’m more than a little grieved to read the headline “Christian Group Finds Gay Agenda in an Anti-Bullying Day” in the New York Times. The American Family Association encouraged their millions of subscribers not to send their children to school on October 30, calling Mix It Up day “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools,” a baseless and hurtful claim.

By now I think you’ll see why I happen to think Mix It Up at Lunch Day expresses some important Christian values–values that come from Moses, are affirmed by the Prophets, and are lived out by Jesus–

values that, often enough, reveal themselves in the people we’re willing to share a meal with.

Wouldn’t it be better to open the Times to read something like “Christian Group Finds Christian Agenda (as expressed in Luke’s Gospel) in an Anti-Bullying Day”?

Because eating with people from outside your circle is what Christians are about.

{I haven’t forgotten that it’s World Food Day. Click here to take action!}

With A Scholarly Ribbon In My Hair…

…or, why we’re hearing so much about “masculine” Christianity.

Billy Sunday, grandpappy of 'muscular' Christianity...

I have a post up at Christianity Today’s blog for women, her.meneutics, responding to John Piper’s comments of last week (or so) that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Here is some of what I said:

“…masculinity and femininity are not fixed and eternal sets of attributes, but are by and large culturally defined, and always changing. For example, blue was once more closely associated with “feminine” while pink was associated with “masculine.” In parts of Europe, it’s still not unusual for men to greet one another with kisses; in India, you might see two male friends walking arm in arm. And we have many examples of renaissance poetry—essentially love poetry—written by and for non-homosexual males who were close friends. By looking to other times and other places, we can see that masculinity is a way of behaving culturally that looks different in different times and places.”

And here are some things that other people have been saying:

  • “you seem uninformed”
  • “There’s a reason that throughout human history and in any cultural context patriarchy was THE norm–feminist thinking will go the way of the dodo. It’s only a matter of time.”
  • “CT tries to tie a scholarly ribbon in [her] hair” (that one’s from Douglas Wilson. BTW, Mr. Wilson, I don’t claim to be a scholar. I just claim the covenant covering of my husband’s Ph.D. We’re one flesh and he is my Head, after all.)
  • “Rachel is promoting is a damnable heresy that will bring many women (and men), including herself to everlasting perdition in hell! “
  • “put down your donuts and pick up a Bible.”

(I happened to mention that bit at the dinner table, and my 6 year old son said, “Anybody who says ‘put down your donuts and pick up a Bible’ is a bully.” Out of the mouths of babes.)

A commenter named Scott Allen also said:

  • “Women use church as a hammer to make men […] fit their norms. They substitute Precious Moments thoughts for actual Biblical teaching.”

Scott Allen, this one is for you–

But there are other comments, too, like this one, which has given me the very best kind of encouragement a writer could hope for (thanks, Natalie!)–

“It’s articles like this that shed light on something I’ve begun to notice on my own: there is an emphasis on masculinity in the Reformed tradition that alienates women (and disabled men like my husband who has progressive MS). For the first time in months, I was encouraged by what you wrote in your post on this matter. Thank you so much for giving me a beacon of light in the foggy world of my strange circumstances.”

Bet you can’t wait to read it! The whole thing is here.

These are a Few of Life’s Crappiest Things! (Reading Ecclesiastes)

Did you know that this blog got its name more-or-less straight out of a Bible verse?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t catch that; it comes from Ecclesiastes, which, being a frequently-neglected book of the Bible, is, naturally, one of my favorite books. (I enjoy rooting for underdogs.)

While some writers and preachers like to say that Ecclesiastes is all about how bleak life is without Jesus, it seems to me that the little book pretty well sums up many of the crappiest things about life:

1. Where there ought to be justice and righteousness, there’s injustice and wickedness.

2. Even if you’re strong, beautiful, brave, ambitious, and rich, you’re going to get painfully feeble and old, and, eventually, you’ll die. And, by the way, you can’t take all your stuff and money with you.

3. Everything people do can, much of the time, be chalked up to pride and competitiveness.

4. Rich people just can’t ever get enough money. They always want more.

5. It’s not the most deserving, or strongest, or wisest, or most knowledgeable people that get the recognition. Time and chance have everything to do with that.

6. More knowledge is usually a depressing thing.

So, yeah. Any of these could’ve come from a blog post or op-ed written, well, yesterday, but they’re from this funny little Ancient Near Eastern book that’s part of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture.

By now you’re wondering what all this has to do with the title of this blog. Well, there’s this refrain (of sorts) throughout Ecclesiastes that goes something like this:

There is nothing better for a person than that she should eat and drink and find enjoyment in her work. This is from the hand of God,  for apart from God, who can eat or have enjoyment?

Because here’s the thing about eating: obviously it’s not the most important thing in the world–aren’t things like doing justice, working hard, loving God, loving neighbor, taking care of your family much more important?

Well yes. And no. Because if you don’t eat, you can’t really do anything else. It’s easy to miss this in an overfed culture, but “give us this day our daily bread” is talking about the literal stuff that keeps you alive & kickin’.

Yes, life is marked with death and sadness and injustice and unfairness and depression and general crappitude.

Yet. Yet–

This world is still a beautiful place; there “lives the dearest freshness deep down [in] things.” There is love, there is laughter, there is community, communion, companions–there is the joyful, jovial fellowship around the table and thousands of things to delight our senses.

And food is one of them, a delightful necessity. A chance to nourish others, to be nourished ourselves, and to taste just a hint of God’s goodness.

So, yes. Death and greed and decrepitude and turpitude and all manner of crappiness. And still the ancient Preacher says:

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.”

Yes. Life is more than food. But in this life where little makes sense, food and wine are a spot of grace and goodness—

God’s love made edible. And delicious.

Moment by moment, sustaining us by grace.

Using God as Backup for White Middle Class Standards of Beauty

Usually for your weekend reading I post something of interest from around the web. This week I enjoyed reading the HuffPo listing of the 10 most polarizing foods–foods that people either love or hate–but some of your responses to this weeks’ earlier posts made me think you might enjoy this one, originally posted in August, on using God as backup for enforcing white middle-class standards of beauty and grooming.

Recently I read back through just a bit of Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund–because I vaguely remembered that there was something in there that had once had a grip on my mind–and I only had to suffer through 43 pages until I found it:

“..my advice to all is: when you first become conscious in the morning, get decent. I know some people say [pray] first, but don’t you sort of feel sorry for God when daily he has to face all those millions of hair curlers and old robes? What if you were the Almighty, and got prayed to with words spoken through all those unbrushed teeth? It seems to me like the ultimate test of grace.”

(Hm, so I should have compassion on God and look good before I pray?)

She goes on to pose a number of questions like these:

“How are your hips, thighs, tummy?”

“Do you need to get into that jogging suit and run?”

“How is your hair?”

“What kind of program are you on to stretch, bend, and stay supple, to stand tall; to be a good advertisement of God’s wonderful care of his children?”

(So I have to look good not only for God but for everyone else, too?)

From about age 15 or so, I used to get up early to use the NordicTrack or to do some idiotic aerobics routine before school, for 2 reasons:

1. I didn’t think I deserved to eat breakfast until I’d exercised

and

2. I didn’t think God wanted to hear from me unless I was ‘disciplined’ enough to exercise regularly.

Being a typical American teenager, it didn’t even occur to me that God might have bigger things to worry about than whether I reached my target heart rate or ate too many grams of saturated fat. I’m pretty sure 1996 had enough injustice, war, natural disaster, famine, and other stuff going on that God wouldn’t have minded hearing the prayers through unbrushed teeth or from girls who chose to do something with their spare time besides fitness and beauty maintenance.

surely I’m not the only one who had a caboodle?


I’m pretty sure that somewhere, deep down, I knew that God didn’t care what I looked like. Nonetheless, pleasing God by looking good was bound up in my mind and body with actually doing good in the world.

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf argues that the pressure on women to attain to an unrealistic standard of beauty has  increased along with women’s freedoms in other areas of society. A study of archived letters from students at Smith College suggests that women before suffrage (1920) were more likely to worry about needing to GAIN weight, while women after, almost universally, worried about needing to LOSE weight.

{Why? To take up less space? To look better in the ‘flapper’ style? To eschew feminine curves for a more androgynous appearance?}

This problem, it’s not unlike my Audrey Hepburn problem. But it’s worse in some ways, too, because claims like Anne Ortlund’s use God as backup for enforcing white middle-class standards of beauty and grooming.

And her book isn’t the only one to do that. Lots of the ‘Christian’ diet books out there do the same thing. And that’s what had me so upset about the article in Relevant last week.

Because what’s good? And what does God want from us?

{100 sit-ups and 100 push-ups every morning? Detoxification ‘cleanses’?}

NO–

To do justice.

To love mercy.

To walk humbly with God.

{I’m no longer posting on Sundays. See you all on Monday!}

How Patriarchy Gave Me an Eating Disorder, Part 1

Disclaimers:

1. This title is, of course, hyperbole.

2. My parents didn’t teach or embody patriarchal attitudes. {Not blaming you, mom! Not blaming you, dad!}

3. I might have to add more disclaimers later.

maiden with unicorn--a symbol of chastity

Criticizing fairy tales for being relentlessly patriarchal is well-trod ground, I know. It’s been nearly 20 years since Ani DiFranco first sang:

i am not a pretty girl

that’s not what i do

i ain’t no damsel in distress

and i don’t need to be rescued

so put me down, punk

maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair

isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere?

why is the skinny, conventionally pretty Fiona the 'real' Fiona here when she's NOT in the film?

But I didn’t discover Ani until my senior year of high school, the same year that I saw Shrek and realized the power of the anti-fairy tale. Before that, I uncritically absorbed things that I learned in youth group, from Focus on the Family’s Brio magazine, from I Kissed Dating Goodbye, from the stories and tales swapped at Christian camps. So much of these things, these folklorish bits of pseudo-Biblical wisdom, reinforced the fairy-tale narrative:

1. Be pure

You know. Don’t have sex. Better yet, don’t even kiss. And better still, don’t get emotionally involved. Because any of those things might scar you, mar you, soil you for your “future husband.” Even a crush is a potential slippery slope toward some kind of emotional fornication. Or something. In other words, everything that adolescence awakens is fraught with the potential for irreversible self-destruction.

2. Be pretty

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Proverbs 31:30, “beauty is fleeting,” blah, blah, blah in between pictures of wholesome, all-American looking girls and Focus on the Family-approved hair-and-makeup tips and vague references to weight being one of the things a person can control about his/her looks. Not to mention that you should exercise regularly, watch what you eat, and floss, and look for those things in a potential mate. Don’t skimp on the cardio! Your potential mate might be evaluating you!

look how skinny and pretty these people are! look how she's looking UP at him! THIS, THIS here, is what you get IF you're godly enough.

3. Be passive

The book of Ruth? Not actually about a powerful Moabite go-getter of a woman who commits herself to the mother of her loser dead husband and works her a$$ off to make sure they don’t starve in a time and place that was notoriously harsh for women on their own without men. No. It’s about Ruth keeping busy while waiting for Mr. Right to notice her. (Never mind that Ruth goes to Boaz and pretty much proposes marriage to him.) The ‘godly girl’ waits for God to write her love story, which means waiting for some guy to write it.

So then there’s me, 14 or 15 years old, outgrowing my American Girl doll and growing out of my GapKids clothes, realizing I’d never be a ballerina and resisting admitting any crushes on any boys anywhere.

Could I admit to myself (let alone my parents, LET ALONE the boy I had a crush on) that I had a crush?

No. That might be some kinda emotional fornication. Or something. Not pure.

Could I accept the changes in my body as good, as normal, as God-given?

No. I could not. My body was now, in Ani DiFranco’s words again, a

“breakable, takeable body/an ever-increasingly valuable body/…a woman had come in the night to replace me/deface me.”

My body was now a “temptation” to boys, something to be well-hidden, well-covered, well-controlled. Oh, but beautiful. And pure. And passive.

Putting those things together in a culture that’s already pretty well body-obsessed and eating-disordered? Meant that somehow, pleasing God got tied up in my mind with exercising enormous control over my body. Excess/loose flesh signified sin and was certain to displease God and horrify potential suitors. Furthermore, since my whole feminine duty was summed up in “waiting purely & patiently” for life/love/whatever to happen to me, my endless project of self-perfection was, to my mind, righteous rather than self-absorbed.

{More to come tomorrow…}