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!}

Advertisements

We Don’t Approve of Bull-Baiting, Dogfighting, or Public Executions…

…and so I don’t think we approve of…

Chickens being occasionally decapitated by the automatic feeding cart, then rotting away in their cages.

Chickens getting their necks stuck in the bars of their cages and dying because they can’t get them out and no one comes to help.

Workers must blast exhaust fans and run in to do a job quickly because “it’s physically hard to breathe because of the ammonia” fumes rising from the manure pits below the barns.

Conveyor belts transporting 4.5 million eggs a day–destined for places like Shop-Rite–are thick with flies, mice, and poop.

it’s just that we don’t know that this is happening…

The Humane Society of the United States recently ran an undercover investigation of Kreider Farms, finding these acts of cruelty that go against the industry standards promoted by groups like United Egg Producers, who, last year, joined with the Humane Society to support new federal standards providing more space for laying hens–a move Kreider has not supported.

In a great op-ed last week, Nicholas Kristof (one of my favorite journalists) writes:

For those who are wavering, think for a moment about the arc of empathy. Centuries ago, we humans amused ourselves by seeing other people executed or tortured. Until modern times, we considered it sport to see animals die horrible deaths. Now our sensibilities have evolved so that there is an outcry when animals are abused — unless it happens out of sight on farms.

Look, you don’t need to love chickens enough to want to hug them to realize that if God notices the death of each little sparrow, God certainly sees the suffering of the chickens who die so that we can have cheap eggs.

It isn’t only about how much we love animals. It’s about what kind of people we are going to be.

No one thinks what Michael Vick did to all those poor dogs is okay.

Chickens might be less emotionally affecting than dogs, but they’re still God’s creatures.

Why not make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representative and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 3798? Then, make a brief, polite call to your two U.S. senators to support this legislation when it’s introduced in the Senate. Look up your legislators’ phone numbers here.

“The righteous know the needs of their animals,
but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Prov. 12:10)

Please don’t think this is only for crazy chicken-huggers. Take a minute to watch the video, maybe read Kristof’s op-ed, and think of the arc of empathy:

what kind of people do we want to be?

what kind of people are we made to be?

How Sweet It Is! Feeling Better about Hershey.

You kind of have to hand it to Americans. We can turn anything into a reason for consumption. The journey from a day honoring early Christian martyrs to the World’s Largest Inflatable Heart is by no means direct.

But whatever. Chocolate is yummy.

Anyway, I wanted to take this Valentine’s Day to remind you of the problem of child slavery on cocoa plantations. It’s real. It’s bad. But encouraging signs are appearing…

Hershey’s recently released an announcement that by the end of 2012, 100% of the cocoa for their Bliss line of chocolate will be Rainforest Alliance Certified–meaning that the production of this cocoa will meet third-party standards for environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Additionally, Hershey’s has promised to invest $10 million in West Africa for various educational and development initiatives intended to improve the lives of cocoa workers. (Beings that they netted $510 million in 2010, that’s not a lot, but okay.)

There’s still farther to go–Bliss and Dagoba represent a mere fraction of Hershey’s brands, which include York, Mounds, Almond Joy, LifeSavers, BreathSavers, Reese’s, Heath, Jolly Ranchers, Mauna Loa, Scharffen Berger, Twizzlers, and many more. They could do more. We can do more.

It’s movements like Raise the Bar, Hersheys! that raised awareness enough to put pressure for these small changes. Now, an eighth-grader from Philadelphia, Jasper Perry-Anderson, has created a Change.org petition to petition the trustees of the Milton Hershey School to put pressure on Hershey to take more pointed measures at ending child labor and human trafficking in the plantations from which they source ingredients.

Why not sign the petition? It’s kind of the least we can do.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If You Love This Land of The Free–Disagree, Disagree

Whenever I write a post–whether for this blog or another–I always have an inkling of what kind of response it is going to get. Posts on poverty, hunger, AIDS or something Bible-related that has nothing to do with gender roles will get minimal responses. Posts on Victoria’s Secret, eating disorders, or sex, on the other hand, well, you know.

It’s kind of a joke among my fellow writers. The more sensational, the more pageviews and comments–a virtual law of the blogo-twittersphere.

But when I wrote a piece pointing out that “masculinity” is not a fixed concept and that there is no good reason–Biblical or otherwise–for John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Douglas Wilson, or anyone else–to press men and women into “traditional gender roles” and call this “Biblical” or “Christian,” I was unprepared for some of the responses that came my way.

  • you’re going to hell
  • you don’t really believe in Jesus
  • you’re in rebellion
  • you’re stupid
  • you need to be ‘straightened out’
  • you’re trying to grasp authority that’s not yours
  • etc.

Being disagreed with so strenuously, being ‘put back in line’ or simply told off is not something I’m used to. I’m a pretty conciliatory person. There’s a part of me that likes a good debate, but a bigger part of me that just wants to get along. If we disagree strongly on, say, some point of theology or some political position, I’m much more likely to want to talk about anything else just so’s we can not argue.

However, sometimes the stakes are such that I can’t avoid an issue for the sake of a superficial ‘peace,’ or to ensure that people keep “liking” me. I look to Dr. Martin Luther King on this one. Remember his letter from Birmingham Jail? The pastors who wrote to him–well-meaning, of course–urged him not to make waves, create discord, to wait.

But justice too long delayed is justice denied. The time for acting, for speaking, is almost always now.

And the ‘peace’ that comes from ‘not arguing’ is sometimes just a silencing cloth covering injustice.

Yet this does not mean that we have to be, well, mean.

I realized something last week: I can disagree, discuss, yea, argue, with the people I love very best in this world, with none of us doubting the others’ love or even assuming ill will. Why is that?

  • Is it because, from the very outset, we want to move to a place of concord?
  • Is it because we want to know what the other thinks, and why, so that we can understand where they are coming from?
  • Is it because we will love and respect and accept and live with each other even if we disagree?

This country was founded upon some powerful ideas.

One of them being that we are not a monoculture, religiously, politically, or otherwise.

We can disagree, two Americans, and still both be Americans.

We can disagree, two Christians, and still both be Christians.

We can disagree, two friends, and still be friends.

As Pete Seeger sang/said, “I may be right, I may be wrong […] but I have a right to sing this song! (Isn’t that the great thing about America? You have a right–to be wrong!)”

Fun fact: law in 17th century Maryland prohibited the use of the words “Papist” for Catholics or “Roundhead” for Puritans. Because them’s was fighting words, and that’s not what this New Country was ever supposed to be about.

So if you love this land of the free–feel free to disagree. But not in such a way that casts one of us out.

In a way that makes it possible for us all to be in.

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.