God Has Given You Good Gifts. Learn to Love Them Well.

While I do realize that it might be taken as a teensy bit self-serving to share emails from readers, this one was so good that I begged the good person who sent it to me to allow me to share it, which she graciously allowed me to do.

(Identifying details have been removed.)

I’m a pastor in a poor, rural church, and I am going to be preaching on the topic of food. During seminary, through the influence of Robert Capon, Wendell Berry, Albert Borgman, as well as some good friends, and classes examining capitalism and technology I came to see my eating choices as directly flowing from my love of God and love of neighbor.

Because I’m interested in the topic and have been actively reforming my own habits, I was excited to be given this opportunity to speak to my congregants, but I was struggling with how to approach the subject without increasing shame for many of the overweight members of our church, and the poor members who struggle to afford to eat well, even in an agricultural community. 

I was so grateful to find your book that reframed the conversation for me. I had seen food as a mix of invitation to grace, through delight, and a call to obedience and love, but your book, with your emphasis on joy, helped me to see that all of the ethical points that I would like to make can all come out of the invitation to grace.  They flow out of love for God as we receive his gifts, and learn to love in the way that he loves. It is grace all the way down.

…It was such a relief to me to come to see that, instead of saying, “you all need to make better choices for the sake of God and neighbor,” I could say, “God loves you and has given you good gifts. Learn to love them well, to receive them from God’s hand, and everything else will fall into place, from health to justice.”

Much like, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will be given to you as well.”

The sermon went well, thanks in large part to your writing. When I sat down a woman from the congregation, who has struggled with her weight, and who I often hear disparage herself about what she eats, whispered to me, “That was so great because you invited us into a better place without all the negative.”

Can I tell you truthfully that this means more to me than sales figures, endorsements from famous writers, and suchlike? My book is not perfect by any means, but I wrote it in hope and faith that it would sprout little wings and scatter seeds of hope and joy in the world. When I get to hear of one of those seeds sprouting into something lovely and beautiful, I am so, so, so grateful.

{To read more about why you might want to read my book, click here. And then here.}

{Regarding books and what they can do for us, THIS SHORT FILM! Watch it!}

Remember and Then Feast; It’s Not BBQ Day

I was perhaps seven years old when I first read the first few books in the American Girl ‘Molly’ series, even though I didn’t actually receive the coveted doll until the Christmas I was ten.

It’s hard to say what made me love Molly more than the other American Girl characters then available: Kirsten, the Swedish pioneer; Samantha, the orphan being raised by her wealthy grandmother at the turn of the century.

Like my friend Andrea, who also had Molly, I supposed I loved her glasses, having had worn glasses every waking minute since the start of the third grade. I loved the little silver locket with the picture of her father, an Army doctor, in it.

And I suppose being raised by a history buff who’s especially knowledgeable on the second world war helped, too, as did the fact that my grandparents were all roughly Molly’s age in her time. I loved the things that Molly did with her friends to help out ‘on the home front’; things like knitting blankets for soldiers, collecting scrap metal, and growing ‘victory gardens’ so as to conserve resources for munitions. The books are filled with what philosopher Albert Borgman calls “focal things”; things that

“ha[ve] a commanding presence, engages your body and mind and engages you with others.”

It was this, and the sense that Molly, as a girl only about my age, was able to participate in something so much larger than herself, that captivated my imagination. I loved her stories. I loved her. Truth be told, she–and all her clothing and accessories–remain in what eBay sellers might describe as ‘mint’ condition in my parents’ house to this day, and over the years, I have taken her out to dress her, re-braid her hair, unpack and repack her schoolbag, and page through the tiny replica of a 1940s Nancy Drew novel that fits nicely inside the nightstand next to her bed.

You don’t have to hunt around very long to figure out that ‘pacifist’ would be a fair label to put to me, except that I greatly prefer the notion that theologian Walter Wink calls the ‘third way,’ the way that Jesus embodied, of resisting evil but without force. And so while I have no problem with patriotism–and even consider myself fairly patriotic, in that I love my country–my country’s involvement in war, torture, unjust incarceration, the death penalty, and other things troubles me deeply.

However, I’m also troubled that sometimes  those who  share my so-called ‘progressive’ (but really, ancient) values on nonviolence sometimes seem to resent patriotism, or feel that honoring the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families undercuts pacifist commitments. We can certainly argue the when, how, why and whether about war, and the possibility of just war, and so on. We can discuss what might be the various merits of a universal draft (with a conscientious objector option for civil service) as against a volunteer army. But for all that, I was unreasonably depressed (though not really surprised) to see the American Girl company’s Facebook status the other day:

Screen shot 2013-05-27 at 11.58.19 AM

What I want to say today is really quite simple. Whatever your convictions on war and peace, today is not the ‘unofficial start of the summer season.’ It is not Barbeque Day or Picnic Day. From Beverly Cleary’s lovely book, Emily’s Runaway Imagination, which I read about the same time I first read the ‘Molly’ books, I learned that today was not always known as ‘Memorial Day’; it was, in fact, Decoration Day, the day on which people would, appropriately enough, given the weather in the US at this time of year, drive out to the graves of loved ones and decorate them. Clear away rotting leaves and make room the crocuses to bloom. Lay a wreath. Say a prayer.

When I was still small enough to play with my Molly doll in public without anyone thinking me strange, I was also a Girl Scout. I loved the focal things we Girl Scouts did; I loved the badges and the uniforms. And I loved marching on Memorial Day down to the docks where a bugler would play ‘Taps’ and we would throw wreaths into the water, one for each branch of service. It was solemn. It was sad. It was beautiful. I believe we then marched back to the fire house for hot dogs and baked beans.

In these hugely divided times, where patriotism is seen as partisan and where a critical stance toward some policy or other is decried as ‘unAmerican’ (what strikes me as truly unAmerican is declaring that a different opinion is unAmerican), it is easy enough to turn Memorial Day into Cookout Day, or Picnic Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love barbeques way too much and long for them when I’m living overseas (as I am now), but Memorial Day–Decoration Day–is about more than just another day off from work. It is about remembering and honoring the lives lost to war (and, I think, remembering the lives lost in nonviolent struggle and by the innocent victims of war) it is–or should be–about clearing the deadness of winter away so that the hopeful blooming of spring can be unsprung. A day to remember that, in the Christian story, death and war and pain do not get the final say.

That should not be not partisan, or even political in anyway. It should–or at least, could–remind us that all flesh is like grass. That flowers bloom and flowers fade and flowers bloom again, and, hope against hope, we who are given the gift of one more day; one more chance to take in a picnic or a barbeque or a parade can remember that not everyone has received that gift.

Remember, then, and then feast.