REAL Happy Meals–an Interview in (at) Christianity Today

The current issue of Christianity Today features an interview with me by the truly lovely LaVonne Neff–who really knows how to ask insightful questions–and it’s online now here.

But to tempt you to make your way on over, here are a few samples:

Eating with joy is great, but lots of us get downright giddy—and our joy eventually becomes diabetes and heart disease. Shouldn’t we worry about that?

Diet-related illness is serious, and it disproportionately affects people who are poor, so it’s something to worry about on multiple fronts. Childhood obesity is a problem, too. But I don’t think joy and that old word temperance (meaning moderation) are mutually exclusive. Joy in food should include awareness of the things God cares about. God cares about those who are hungry, those who suffer the effects of a nutrient-poor but calorie-rich diet, those who must work in farm fields and slaughterhouses at low wages and in unsafe conditions. Thinking about the real people and serious issues involved in food can encourage us in temperance.

Joy isn’t a free-for-all. It’s the deep pleasure that comes by slowing down, recognizing God’s gift, remembering those who don’t have enough, appreciating the labor and resources involved in bringing the food to the table, and purposefully eating with others. If other cultures can blend pleasure in eating with relatively low rates of diet-related disease (as do the French, as do the Italians), so can we.

So what do you do if your kids’ grandparents regularly stuff them with things that aren’t good for them?

{click through for the answer}

Some of LaVonne’s other questions:

Is the evangelical community starting to pay more attention to joy in the created order?

You quote N. T. Wright on the importance of “the small but significant symbolic act.” If a Christian wants to eat joyfully, what’s a good symbolic act to start with?

{and you can read the rest here. If you like what you read, it’s always nice to share. xo}

Guest Post: Gleaning from the Edges

Thanks to Tim Fall, who has blogged here before, for this guest post on gleaning and feasting…

In reading the passage on the word “glean” in Keri Wyatt Kent’s Deeper Into the Word –Reflection on 100 words from the Old Testament, I found Leviticus 23:22 –

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.

Keri pointed out that this isn’t the first instance of God’s instruction to leave something for those less well-off, but it is one of the most interesting.

Leviticus 23 is a list of the annual festivals and feasts the Israelites are to keep. It’s as if God, in the middle of reminding them of the feasts, says, “Oh, did I mention – don’t forget the poor.” It’s a poignant look at the heart of God, who even as he tells his people to feast, reminds them to feed the poor. What good would feasting be if his people forgot the hungry? (Deeper Into the Word, p. 99.)

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New Testament Hospitality

Keri’s insight onto Leviticus 23 made me think of Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 –

So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

Paul, the Pharisee who learned that grace triumphs over law, became very Levitical here, but not in the legalistic sense. No, he understood the heart of God. To paraphrase Keri, what good would celebrating the Lord’s Supper be if doing so meant forgetting the poor, or (as Paul puts it) if it means humiliating those who have nothing? Paul knew that God’s concern for the poor goes back to the beginning of Israel’s existence, and that God’s people should continue to show that care and concern for those who have nothing.

Here’s Paul’s encouragement in Galatians 6:10 –

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

“Good to all people” – what a wonderful phrase. It reminds me that there are people I can be good to, and that I also have a need for people to do good to me. Whether that means I glean from the edges of their fields or they glean from the edge of mine, I hope each day to remember that God cares about all who are in need.

And that’s all of us.

a note from Rachel:

My new book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, you’ll find a discussion of Old Testament gleaning as they work out in the lovely little book of Ruth and how all of this translates to working–and eating!–toward food justice for the ‘least of these’ today.

A Table Big Enough For Everyone (and a giveaway)

My friend Amy Julia Becker has an excellent new e-book out called What Every Woman Needs to Know About Prenatal Testing: Insight from a Mom Who Has Been There.

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Amy Julia writes that her aim was “to write a nonjudgmental book to provide women and their partners with a way to think about prenatal testing before being offered it,” and, as unlikely as it may seem, I think she’s accomplished that, but she also acknowledges that she has a “very particular bias”:

“At the end of the day, I hope that many women will choose to continue their pregnancies even in the face of disabilities. I also hope that our culture will become one in which making that choice is more and more possible, with protection for families with children who have disabilities, including greater social supports, educational options, and health care provisions.”

What Every Woman Needs to Know About Prenatal Testing deserves to be read widely and carefully for many reasons, not least because Amy Julia insists that families facing troubling prenatal diagnoses need opportunities to connect with other families already living with children with those conditions–in other words, she points out the biases of medicine’s clinical context (ie. “here’s the test result and here’s what this means medically”) and the need for women and families to have support in a social (or whole-life) context (ie., “why don’t you meet our daughter who has Down syndrome and see what our life is like?”

She writes:

“Most medical school training comes in the context of hospitals, and as a result many doctors have experienced children and families with disabilities only in the midst of the stress and pain associated with hospital stays. Furthermore, doctors, by the very nature of their career, have devoted much time and energy to intellectual pursuits. For many physicians without personal relationships with people with intellectual disabilities in particular, the prospect of a below-average IQ constitutes suffering in and of itself.”

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One of my favorite things about this book is how (as in the above quotation) Amy Julia shows the limits of certain kinds of knowledge. Her prenatal tests all-but-definitively told her that her daughter would not be born with Down syndrome–and she was. Yet even as she struggled with fear and anger when Penny was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, she notes, “even in those early hours in the hospital, my anger and fear dissipated when I held Penny in my arms. The abstract concept of a negative diagnosis made way for the positive reality of a baby with round cheeks and an upturned nose, heart-shaped lips and big blue eyes.”

In my  own new book, Eat With Joy, I tell about a time when my family was invited to lunch at the home of some church members with intellectual and physical disabilities–aka, a “group home”:

As the only daughter of a pastor, I’d been to
a lot of boring, “let’s impress the Reverend with our piety” kinds
of dinners. This meal was anything but boring. Seeing adults who
needed help cutting and eating their food and even, in some cases,
who needed bibs was fascinating, if slightly uncomfortable for a
twelve-year-old. But mostly I remember a lot of laughter and so
much happiness that we had come over. […] I can’t remember another meal where the
hosts were so overjoyed at our mere presence.

This comes in the context of discussing radically equal table fellowship as an essential characteristic of early Christian communities, the vestiges of which we see today in the form soup kitchens and food pantries. Sharing food with the hungry is still important to Christians, but

It is the rare group that—like the L’Arche communities
founded by Jean Vanier—regularly practices sharing
meals across the boundaries of social class, background and, in
L’Arche homes, intellectual capability. It’s precisely this kind of
sharing [this knowing-in-context!] that comes closest to Jesus’ ideal.

The vision of a joyful table where all sorts of people are welcome to feast and to fellowship and to flourish is the picture I have of the kingdom of God. It’s a picture that’s hard (maybe hardest!) to see on ultrasound screens or karyotypes, as Amy Julia so graciously (and, yes, nonjudgmentally, truly!) points out. If you are looking for this kind of hopeful picture, or facing frightening prenatal diagnoses, or wondering what questions to ask “before sticking out your arm” for a prenatal test, I urge you to check out Amy Julia’s new book (and for that matter, her older one, too!)

To enter yourself in a giveaway for a free copy of Amy Julia’s new book, please leave a comment (being sure to use your real email address.) Next week, I’ll pick a comment at random, and email the winner a digital copy of the book right away.

On Responding To Criticism

In general, I make it a point to engage very lightly with negative things that people say about my writing; recently I posted on Facebook that I’d given up reading comments for Lent (and maybe forever). As one of my writer friends has said, it’s not especially conducive to good mental health—or to writerly self-confidence—to remain constantly informed of other people’s opinions of your writing. Still, to write for other people should be more than a one-sided conversation, and reviews and comments are an important part of that conversation. While I try very hard not to engage comments on blog posts that are clearly written in a hasty moment after an even hastier reading (skimming), I am troubled by the review of my book by Adam Day at The Gospel Coalition website, and, given the context of the review (a very popular evangelical website) I’d like to respond here in what I hope will be a measured way.

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Adam’s main beef seems to be that the book’s ‘biblical’ chops are inadequate, a criticism he repeats several times throughout the review:

“Overall, the book is heavy on anecdotes and light on biblical content. There’s little sustained interaction with the biblical text, making it seem like Scripture serves as a mere proof-text for many of the stories she recounts.”

“I wish she would have more deeply engaged the biblical text…”

I’m so puzzled by this criticism that I scarcely know how to address it. My book is indeed heavy on stories. It’s certainly not a work of exegesis, but the charge of “light on biblical content” is absurd. Biblical concepts and concerns shape each chapter, and there are Bible references on nearly every page.

Stone’s book would have benefited immensely if she’d answered the question she asks: Why did God make creatures that must eat?

I think I did. You’ll find that on page 32:

“Jesus as Bread of Heaven is spiritual truth but also living metaphor.

We eat every day—several times, if we are so lucky;

without food, we die. We can no more make food grow than we

can make rain fall. We are, as Wendell Berry writes, “living from

mystery,” dependent on forces we can’t control and processes we

can’t fully understand. A physical reality—our bodily dependence

on food and, in turn, on the sustaining hand of the Creator

who designed the earth to bring forth food—daily reminds us of

a spiritual reality: our dependence on Christ. Thus every meal is

sacramental: a tangible, tasty reminder of Christ’s sacrificial

love, especially when we take a moment before eating to consider

the potato casserole or Pad Thai (or whatever!) as God’s

sustaining love made edible.”

Adam goes on to say that if I’d really engaged Scripture, I would see that

“food reveals to us God’s provision for our daily need, our need for humility since we recognize we depend on him (Deut. 8:3), and the importance of trusting him. Food points to something greater than itself. Indeed, the fact we depend for life on something outside ourselves should direct our gaze to the Lord who sustains life.”

Ahem. Do you see why I’m scratching my head?

And then there’s this:

Additionally, Stone could benefit from balance. She doesn’t mention the place of moderation in eating. In her attempt to focus on enjoying food, she neglects dealing with deeper concepts like fasting and feasting and stewardship of our bodies.

“Fasting and feasting and stewardship” are“deeper concepts” than “enjoying food”? The concept of joyful eating, to a reader paying any attention at all, is that it encompasses these concepts as well as “enjoying food.” Page 159:

“As we’ve seen thus far, eating with joy is more than simply

sitting down and enjoying your food (although that’s a big part

of it!). Eating with joy means accepting food as God’s gift—

“God’s love made edible,” as Norman Wirzba put it. It means

choosing food, as far as we are able, that affirms a flourishing

life for the land, for the animals and for the people that bring us

our food. It means eating food with others in ways that lead to

our mutual health and flourishing. And it means embracing our

creativity as people made in the image of the Creator God to

prepare food in ways that celebrate God’s gift while bringing enjoyment

to all our senses.”

And as to the charge of not engaging fasting and feasting, page 166:

“The words simplicity and celebration—or, if you like, “ferial” (ordinary)

and “festal” (feast day)—are helpful in shaping a practice

of joyful eating day to day, week to week, year by year. The alternating

rhythms of feast days and ordinary days belong to the

church year and to cultures that still follow traditional and seasonal

patterns of eating, but this is a cycle that most of us have all

but lost.”

Adam concludes the article by repeating the tired charge of “not biblical enough” and ends with this:

Most of all, I wish she would have celebrated the most important aspect of joyful eating—fellowship with God.

Again, head-scratching. The idea food is a conduit of God’s gracious and daily sustenance—“God’s love made edible”—is repeated so often throughout the book that it’s embarrassing.

So I’d like to ask: What’s really going on here? Did Adam Day read my book carefully at all?

I’d have appreciated if the book review editor at The Gospel Coalition had done a little fact-checking before posting such a review that so lightly engages the actual substance of the book while criticizing so heavily and so inaccurately.

What do you think?

“There’s Something For Everyone Here.”

The lovely Aubry Smith recently posted a review of my new book, which you may read in its entirety here.

But here are some of my favorite parts, with my comments italicized and in brackets:

“I’m also nine months pregnant, which brings its own set of complications to the table: I indulge in some cravings, but I have a bit of anxiety from reading too many baby books that warn us that “every bite counts,” and that promise if I just put all the right ingredients in my mouth, out comes a perfect, healthy baby (although, somehow all of my kids have survived the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper cravings). There is also the fear of gaining too much weight.”

{Yes!!! YES! I am fond of pointing out that during one pregnancy I lived on Canada Dry ginger ale and Breyer’s vanilla ice cream, and that during the other, I was all quinoa-kale-organic eggs-etc. One of my kids gets every virus that goes around. The other has hardly been sick a day in his life. Guess who was gestated on which diet? But that’s a post for another day…}

“Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that Stone is a realist who pushes us toward the ideal. Using William Webb’s hermeneutic of redemptive movement, Stone insists that we start where we are, and make slow movements toward embracing the vast goodness of food. Don’t eat in community yet? Schedule 2 or 3 meals and build from there. Can’t afford organic, local, free-trade, cage-free, or otherwise ethical food yet? Try making one meal per week that fits the bill and work up as you can. Never cook from scratch? Pick a simple meal or two to practice with, and when you’ve perfected them, pick another. There is something for everyone here.”

“I also appreciate Stone’s non-snobbish approach to food. So your friend serves you non-organic vegetables or meat raised unsustainably? Accept the gracious gift with love, just as it was offered to you. While encouraging us to care for creation, Stone also pushes us to love our neighbor. She doesn’t attempt to solve all the complicated ethical questions, but she does help us think through them and perhaps live with a little tension as we wait for God’s justice to fully come to our broken planet.”

“I’ve been craving cinnamon rolls for weeks – the gooey, homemade kind that usually brings me a lot of shame after eating it. You know what I did last week while in the middle of this book? I made some. I kneaded that dough for 15 minutes and longingly waited all afternoon for them to rise. I didn’t skimp on the ingredients to save calories. And when I pulled them out of the oven after dinner and served them to my family, I ate one. I soaked up the excitement and pleasure of my little boys who weren’t expecting dessert. I praised the God who put all these ingredients on earth just for our enjoyment. And I just really enjoyed my cinnamon roll.”

{Yay! YAY! I wrote this book hoping that it might help people enjoy God’s gift of food a bit more in a culture that has endless food anxiety, and to raise questions of justice and ecology and health WITHOUT adding to that food anxiety.}

Thanks, Aubry!