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!}

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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?

Why and How to Minister with Meals

I’ve written a number of times about bringing a home-cooked meals to people.

It’s a time-honored tradition, one my family and I benefited from richly following the birth of our second son in St. Andrews, Scotland. When there are new babies, or when there is illness or death, bringing a meal, far from being a mere symbolic gesture, does at least 2 things:

1. It lets the person/family off the hook from planning/shopping/preparing dinner.

2. It lets them know that they are not doing this “thing” (cancer, grieving, new parenthood) alone.

{These observations are from my friend Ellen’s post this week–she learned firsthand the power of meals when she had cancer and she and her family were fed for 8 weeks by friends, acquaintances, and a few people they’d never even met!

“And it suddenly made sense, this impulse to feed people who are going through something life-altering.”

Recently I became aware of a nifty website that aims to facilitate such sharing of meals. It’s called MealTrain.com, and it’s an easy way to organize meals for someone. It’s free, you can put the word out via email and/or Facebook, and it allows you to note the receiving family’s preferences and/or allergies as well as to indicate what you plan to bring (so that the new family doesn’t end up with lasagna–or whatever–4 nights in a row.)

And it’s free!

Meals are a great way to communicate love and care in a variety of circumstances–

  • when a new family moves into a community
  • when there is a death
  • when someone is ill, injured, or hospitalized
  • when someone has had a miscarriage, or during a difficult pregnancy
  • when there is a new baby
  • when someone’s spouse has been recently deployed

Maybe you can think of more reasons. Whatever the reasons, a meal given to someone is a means of grace made edible. I don’t want to go all preachy on you, so I’ll just say this: think of a time when you were so tired, or sad, or overwhelmed, or lonely, and cooking dinner was really the last thing you wanted to have to worry about. Imagine what it would’ve meant to have a friendly face show up with a meal made especially for you.

What have been your experiences of giving and receiving meals? Have you used MealTrain?

(Just to be clear–I’m writing about Meal Train because I like what they’re doing, not because I’m receiving anything for doing so!)

A Disturbing Tale (and, Please Be Kind to Your Server)

So the Palm Beach gazillionaire John Castle apparently broke his waiter’s finger for bringing the bill to the table (as, reportedly, his wife requested) instead of charging it to the account.

Ouch.

Treating restaurant servers kindly is very, very big in my book. Once upon a time three times, I was a restaurant server, and there are plenty of people in my life who have done that very same work.

It’s harder work than you might imagine it would be, if you’ve never tried it. What’s involved varies from restaurant to restaurant, but it’s always more than taking orders and carrying plates.

In one place I worked, we cleaned, set tables, refilled condiments, prepared salads to order, garnished soups, cut bread, rolled silverware, sliced lemons, and poured certain drinks. That, and we had to watch the timing of our diners’ progress, decide when to ‘fire’ the next course, and multi-task, prioritize, and re-prioritize endlessly.

CC licensed; credit here.

And that’s without the obligatory friendliness and small-talk. It’s hard work. I wasn’t particularly great at the logistical side of serving, but I enjoyed the interpersonal part of it.

Except sometimes. Because people really can be mean to the server. Sometimes it’s for no reason. Sometimes it’s because they’re unhappy with the food, or how long the wait is.

(By the way. Most of the time? Those things are not the server’s fault.)

Which is reason #2 why you should not dock your server’s tip for slow service. Chances are, it’s not his fault. And though it’s popular to assume that tips are for rewarding good service or punishing poor service, it’s not really quite fair to do this, partly because of Reason #1.

Reason #1 is this: in most states, servers earn a pittance–well below the minimum wage. Tips are their salary! Sound unfair to you, the consumer? Well, maybe it is. It would be better if servers were just paid more and restaurant prices were automatically surcharged 20%. Because here’s something most non-restaurant folk don’t know: the server doesn’t pocket all the money that you tip! Most–no, probably all–restaurants require the tips to be split and/or shared among all the servers plus the bar (if there is one) plusthe bus-persons. ‘Punishment’ and ‘rewards’ don’t really work when this is in play (as it usually is).

CC licensed; credit here.

Beyond all this, there’s the fact that servers are, well, your neighbors. Yeah, you’re paying them to ‘serve’ you, but they are just like you: worried about their bills, worried about their kids, trying to make it through school, trying to make ends meet, trying to keep it together, feeling tired, feeling lonely, juggling a thousand things at once–you get the idea.

And so love your server as you would love yourself. Treat them as you would like to be treated. Most of the time, they want to do right by you. So do right by them!

And remember: the way someone treats a server is telling–

If you’re on a date with someone who seems nice, but is a jerk to the server, they’re probably a jerk.