Eating With Dr. Martin Luther King

We’ll be having a birthday cake today, to celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have a dream”

Because, yes, we’ll watch the I Have a Dream speech; yes, we’ll sing “We Shall Overcome”; we’ve read the picture books and talked about the civil rights movement. But to truly mark a day as special–to show a 3 year old and a 6 year old that Dr. King’s birthday is worth remembering in a big way–you must have cake.

Now, Dr. King’s favorite dessert is reputed to be pecan pie–a deeply American dessert, a wonderful recipe for which you can find here–but that’s not a dessert my children will eat, and it excludes my dad because gluten-free pie crust is not easy. So we’ll have something else, but the important thing is, it’ll be Dr. King’s birthday cake.

{Talking to my son last night, I explained Jim Crow and segregation in mild, child-appropriate terms, and he said, with deep concern, “But what if you were white and your really good friend was black or you were black and your really good friend was? You couldn’t be together?” Bless that child.}

{What follows below is excerpted and modified from a previous post on The Help.}

While the film was criticized by some (including the New York Times reviewer) for supposedly showing only the domestic side of segregation, I loved it because of how it (and the book) used basic bodily functions to communicate both the shared humanity of and gulf of separation between blacks and whites in 1960s Mississippi. References to taming hair and clothes to meet societal expectations are pervasive, as are motifs and themes related to toilet functions.

Present also (but in the book, less emphasized) is the motif of food and the theme of shared eating. I’m particularly tuned in to food issues, of course, but there was no missing the way in which the film capitalized on images of shared and segregated eating and drinking. The black maids must take care of their physical needs furtively and shamefully–sneaking a bite of deviled egg on the sly, for example–all the while pampering the appetites of their white employers. Hilly Holbrook (a smoothly hateful Bryce Dallas Howard), will gorge herself on the food cooked by her maid, Minnie (Octavia Spencer, who voiced the same character on the audiobook), but expects her to use a designated outdoor one–even during a tornado. The film portrays the shame and belittlement of this segregation in cinematic shorthand.

{I’m sorry; I’m having formatting issues I’m as yet unable to fix…}

Where the film goes beyond the book (in its portrayal of food and eating), it aligns with my own understanding of a biblical theology of food. So much of food and eating, within the Bible, touches on issues of poverty, justice, community, and inclusion.

In virtually every culture, sharing food non-ceremonially is an important indication of welcome and friendship–Jesus’ ministry emphasized the importance of eating with those who are different as a way of not just symbolizing—but, in fact actually practicing the kind of equality and unity that he proclaimed. Early Christian writers, too,  claimed that sharing life, including meals, with persons of different backgrounds was a “proof” of true Christian faith.
So when the outcast “white trash” Celia Foote drinks a cold Coca-Cola with Minnie, it’s a foretaste not only of the meals she’ll later insist on sharing with (and then cooking for) Minnie, but a foretaste, too, of the coming healing, reconciliation, and deep friendship that forms between Minnie and Celia, and Skeeter, Minnie, and Aibileen.

And a foretaste, too, of the heavenly banquet.

Living the gospel acknowledges our shared humanity and need for reconciliation with God and with each other. When we sit to eat together, we acknowledge our physical needs and that shared humanity (we all eat; we all excrete) while tasting just a bit of God’s graciousness. The Help reminds me again just how countercultural that Supper of the Lamb really is, and inspires me to look for ways to taste the firstfruits of that meal in my own life, right now. And that, as the preacher in the film says, takes self-sacrifice and a willingness to hear one anothers stories. But it’s also the only way to true relationships and genuine joy.
Fresco of an early church ‘agape’ (love) feast

It’s worth asking: what is obstructing true ‘love feasts’ today? In what ways are we guilty of prejudice?

Who is crying out to God for deliverance from injustice and oppression, and what is keeping us from hearing (or heeding) their cries?

Is Food Sensual?

Don’t read that wrong–sensual, not necessarily sexual.

(Although it might be that, too.)

sen*su*al |ˈsen sh oōəl|
of or arousing gratification of the senses and physical

Last week I read (and really enjoyed Amy Frykholm’s) newest book, See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity.

One of the things that surprised me most about the book was how much Frykholm talked about food in a book about sexuality. (Perhaps I could’ve anticipated this, being as she’s one of the contributors to The Spirit of Food, which I wrote about not too long ago here.) But food and sex share the dubious honor of being sites that are (or are thought to be) in conflict with what is spiritual. Frykholm’s reflections on her stories and those of others are stories of incarnation–of journeying toward and sometimes arriving at a place where faith is not disembodied and flesh with its needs and desires, is not seen as a threat to the spirit.

In the book, Frykholm presents a pretty compelling picture of how American Christians of various stripes have viewed the sensory world with suspicion, a suspicion that cripples people by putting that which is embodied and that which is spiritual in conflict. Do you see American culture in this:

Instead of learning from the sensory world, we aim to control it. We put ourselves on diets to control rampant eating, but we are pitiful at tasting. We make budgets to control rampant consumerism, but we know very little about actual pleasure.”

At one time in my life, I felt pretty sure that if I could just love Jesus more, I would not need to eat much more than the bare minimum needed to live. Those were the days of diet Coke, butterless toast, and  “just vinegar on the salad, please.” Those were the days when I though enjoying food was dangerous if not sinful. I am glad those days are gone.

Because despite what a current popular Christian diet book says, food is God’s love made delectable. Sure, the fact that food sustains us points to God’s sustaining love. But the fact that food is delicious, beautiful, and pleasurable is not an accident, a trap, a temptation, or something unfortunate. Food is delicious, beautiful, and pleasurable because God is.

{Read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s post at HuffPo Food on the sensuality of food here.}

“It wasn’t a very spiritual thought–we’re all FAT.”

That’s what went through Pastor Rick Warren’s mind when he was nearing the end of an 800+ person baptismal service last year.

Recently, one of the New York Times‘ blogs had an interesting piece on the ‘Daniel Plan,’ the small-group based health program at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California.

The Daniel Plan–named, of course, for the Biblical Daniel who rejected the king’s rich food and drink for a diet of vegetables and water–involves three medical celebrities: brain expert and Saddleback member Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the heart surgeon, author and TV doctor, who attended Daniel Plan rallies and made videos.

I don’t know a whole lot about the Daniel Plan, but it looks to be mostly in the tradition of “healthy eating is a spiritual discipline” and emphasizes a mostly vegan, whole-foods diet and moderate exercise. The distinctive feature of the Daniel Plan is the fact that participation in small groups–whether online or in person–is the first step of the program.

While I must admit that a program that speaks the discourse of “health” in a narrow way never appeals to me, I’m not surprised at all by the successes of the Daniel Plan thus far. As I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog–eating together is powerful stuff, and it seems to be just as powerful for those struggling with obesity as those struggling with anorexia and everything in between. I just wonder if The Daniel Plan is really capable of creating a new but lasting food culture. As with all plans that are so health-focused in their understanding of eating–food is to bring health, full stop–I’m doubtful it is. And its ‘Biblical’ basis is flimsy indeed.

But I wish them well.


Christ Kitchen = Christ’s Kitchen?

The other day I was inspired and encouraged I read about Christ Kitchen–a Spokane-based work and empowerment program for low-income women, founded by Jan Martinez–here.

{this video is only a bit over a minute long}

In an interview, Jan Martinez said this:

“When I began researching Christian traditions dealing with poverty, hospitality was bringing to the table people who could never repay you and in every other setting would never sit at the same table with the wealthy. The Christians put them at the table and fellowship happened around food. And this is what we find with the volunteers who come (to Christ Kitchen) from churches all over town. They bring food every Thursday, and we all share a meal. It’s creating a sense we can really be a community that transcends barriers of race, class and socioeconomic status.”


{you can visit Christ Kitchen online here.}

Injustice of Biblical Proportions

The world was supposed to end last Friday, did you know?

It’s funny how most of the folks who are obsessed with Biblical prophecy are only obsessed with a very narrow slice of Biblical prophecy. Contrary to what you’d think, the books belonging to the category of “prophets” have more to say against injustice toward society’s most vulnerable than anything apocalyptic, eschatological, or millenial.

(Which is maybe why, as a recent survey suggests, frequent Bible reading can make you more liberal.)

I’ve been hearing about tomatoes and other crops rotting on the vines in Alabama. Which made me think about some Biblical prophecy, like this:

Be ashamed,

for the wheat and the barley,

because the harvest of the field has perished.

The vine dries up;

the fig tree languishes.

Pomegranate, palm, and apple,

all the trees of the field are dried up,

and gladness dries up

from the children of man.

(From Joel 1)

Alabama’s new immigration law makes it a crime to appear in public without proof of your immigration status, and requires law enforcement officers to stop anyone who “appears illegal.” If you don’t have proof of legal residency when you go to pay your utility bill, they can cut off the water to your house.

Women are afraid to go to the hospital to have their babies, preferring to birth at home with no one in attendance.

Parents are keeping their children home from school.

And people are afraid to go to the grocery store, instead relying on church groups that are mercifully making deliveries to people’s houses.

Even though helping so-called “illegals” is punishable as a crime, too!

Which means Alabama has made it illegal to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In theory, these harsh laws were made to help create jobs for documented American workers. But non-immigrant workers can’t or won’t take on the backbreaking work of picking crops.

One Alabama farmer said:

“The tomatoes are rotting in the vine, and there is very little we can do. We will be lucky to be in business next year.”

Nearly one-third of Alabama households are already not getting enough to eat. As one reporter wrote “letting crops rot in the fields is downright immoral.”


This Draconian immigration law is a fake fix that diverts attention from the real problems in our economy and blames the most powerless.

As one writer put it:

“Alabama’s latest experiment shows us that we can’t reclaim our economy by surrendering our humanity.”

And surrendering our religion, too.

{Read more about this here, here, and here, if you like.)