Can I ‘eat with joy’ while my neighbor starves? (Part 3)

This week we’ve been considering this question:

Is it better simply not to know about the suffering that takes place due to poverty and hunger a world away?

As we saw in the stories from history–the Russian famine of 1921, the epidemic of cholera in Naples in 1911–knowing has a certain power. Concealment, coverups–orchestrated ignorance–never helps.

But while knowledge is a necessary first step, it is not a final step.

Consider:

Herbert Hoover read about the Russian famine and then implemented relief efforts.

A person who has learned facts about HIV/AIDS must then do something [e.g. safe sex] to prevent its spread.

Mosquito nets really help against malaria, but they don’t protect you unless you use one.

William Kamkwamba learned how to generate electricity from a textbook. And then he worked really hard to make one.

But he probably couldn’t have done it without the textbook. It had to be there first.

So then. What about you? What about me?

I’m pretty sure that knowing the needs of the least of these is itself an act of righteousness. But what can we do?

Four ideas to start with:

1. Get the facts and share the facts

Pretty self explanatory, no? Spend some of your online time reading about events in the majority world, including famines and epidemics of eradicable diseases like malaria and cholera. Tweet about them. Post about them to Facebook. Cultivate a genuine concern for your global neighbors. Consider that your coffee, your chocolate, your coconut, your vanilla come from places of extreme poverty; from the hands of people who likely live on less than $2 US per day.

Sometimes I find that reading blogs from places of extreme poverty has a specificity that shakes me out of the dulling effect of broad-brush profiles of poverty. A number of years ago I discovered Joanne’s ‘Babycatcher’ blog–about her experiences as a midwife in Malawi–and couldn’t forget her intimate, firsthand accounts of the effects of poverty on maternal-fetal health.

2. Remember the poor in your prayers

I really believe that praying for people connects us to them in an intimate way. Pray for the people you read about. It is not for nothing that you have encountered them through their stories. Pray for them.

3. Fast (or something like that)

There are many ways to fast in honor of the poor. Some people are able to fast completely for one day per week, some fast for one meal of each day, some fast from meat on given days–in each case laying aside the money they would have otherwise spent on food to give to hunger relief and sustainable development programs.

When I was young, our youth group did the World Vision 30 hour ‘Famine.’ I think there is something powerful in actually participating–however artificially or symbolically–in the experience of hunger.

For some people, full fasting is not a good idea. If disordered eating is part of your story, fasting is probably not for you.

But there are other ways to ‘fast.’ You can practice voluntary simplicity in your cooking and eating in a way that will not deprive you nutritionally but that will help you feel a solidarity with those for whom simplicity is no choice at all.

(The More with Less cookbook is a great resource for such cooking.)

I believe such things are more than symbolic, even if what you can contribute monetarily is a pittance compared with the size of the problem you hope to address. Eating in solidarity with the hungry can change you.

what one boy did for one pair of shoes...

4. Cultivate gratitude for what you have

And this is related to everything we’ve talked about above. For me, the perfect antidote to greed is gratitude and contentment. Oh, that doesn’t happen easily. But when I find myself lusting after some great shoes or something, I find it helpful to stop and consider the shoes I have already. And how those shoes are perfectly good. And how many people have none. And so on.

Same thing at dinner. Do you realize that what you and I eat on a daily basis would be like a once-a-year feast to many, many people in the developing world?

Give sincere thanks to God for what you have.

Gratitude eradicates greed–and makes room for joy–

for you, and for your neighbor.

What else can we do?

It’s Buy Nothing Day!

I won’t be going shopping today, and not just because I live at the end of a long, skinny island whose two main roads will be crowded today with people going to and from the shopping area up west. (But I won’t lie–that’s part of it!)

Today, instead, I’m choosing solidarity with the thousands of people worldwide who’ve pledged to “buy nothing.” It is, I think, largely symbolic–this refusal to shop on the “biggest shopping day of the year.”

Here’s why I’m buying nothing today:

1. Following Thanksgiving Day with a Shopping Day seems to me fundamentally incongruous. A Sabbath from spending is a good way to follow a day that is (or ought to be) dedicated to expressing gratitude for God’s grace(s). Because one of the main ideas of Sabbath is that it is a day when one rests from one’s labors and rests in God’s provision.

2.  I don’t need anything. And chances are, you don’t either. But there are lots of people who have nothing. Buying nothing today is an act of resistance and also an act of solidarity with those for whom buying or not buying is not a choice.

{Tomorrow, why not check out these alternative gift catalogs at Heifer International, World Vision, and Samaritan’s Purse?}

3. Call me “Christian”–not “consumer.” Buying nothing today reinforces this: my identity is not in what I have, or what I buy, but in who I am and whose I am: God’s–and God made me (and you!) to create and to connect–not just to consume. Connecting with others and creating–creating memories, music, or mukluks (sorry, but my daddy’s a preacher and I just can’t resist alliterating)–is deeply satisfying in a way that consuming can’t ever be.

Have a joyful ‘buy nothing day,’ folks!

(Click here for a pattern to knit your own mukluks. Hee hee!)

When Jesus Was Our Guest

The other night we had a fellowship meal at church. The best part was that the boys got to run around and play for an hour beforehand, which helped pique their appetites considerably.

We got to catch up with friends with cute, long-distance grandchildren:

Turns out the HVAC guy + my dad make pretty good spaghetti sauce!

We broke bread together. We reflected on the early church’s practice of love feasts and on Jesus’s promise to be with us when we gather in his name.

And we cleaned up together.

And Christ was with us:

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest,
May this food by you be blest,
May our souls by you be fed,
Always on the living Bread.

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest; Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest

Amen.

(attr. Martin Luther)

here’s the tune you can sing it to: Redhead 76

Here you can watch it in sign language:

A Mouthwatering Work of Culinary Genius

So between my birthday (last month) and Tim’s (yesterday) and the book contract, we had the opportunity to do some serious celebrating.

Not far from us is one of the very finest restaurants on the East End. We’ve eaten there twice before (well, three times if you count the time we went only for dessert) but only during ‘Restaurant Week,’ during which they feature a different menu with smaller portions.

Each time was nonetheless thrilling–to put it in the form of an analogy:

GREAT HOME COOKING : NORTH FORK TABLE’S FOOD ::

is as:

is to:

The food at the North Fork Table is kind of in a different category from other food. There are a lot of reasons why that’s so, but all I can say for sure is that when I eat it, I’m thinking, “this is so good that it can hardly be for real.”

And this time–with the fuller menu–it was, if possible, even better. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how enjoyable this is because I think our culture doesn’t allow us to speak lyrically about food without branding us ‘foodies’ or ‘snobs.’ Improbable though it may seem, the atmosphere and presentation is unfussy. It’s just really good food.

And without further ado:

the atmosphere is beautiful...the champagne is beautiful...even the menu is beautiful!

tuna tartare for tim
house-cured charcuterie for a between-course treat
a second course of squab on butternut squash for tim
and a second course of locally caught striped bass atop brussells sprouts and parsnip puree for me
long island duck for tim
and humanely raised veal for me
I forgot to take a picture of the dessert before I decimated it...
and they sent us home with house-made mallomars.

One of the things I love about going there is how serious, yet joyful, everyone is about their work. They’re artists, and creating things of beauty–even if those things are edible and consumable and fleeting–consumes them. I love that. I’m grateful for them. I’m grateful for the bounty of where we live.

I’m grateful to the Giver of All Things.

No Peace at the End of Anxiety

So I signed a book contract this week.

I don’t want to share the details widely (yet) but I do want to tell you that the book came before the blog.

[If/when] you read it, you won’t be all “but this is all stuff I’ve already read on the blog!”

At least, I hope not. But I’m trying not to worry about that.

I’m trying not to worry about all of this.

Because I think I’ve learned something important this week:

there is no peace at the end of anxiety and worry.

I’m basically a happy person. I want to ‘live with joy’ all the time.

But even though I’m happy, it’s easy for me to fall into worry-traps–and worry is a trap.

I get a contract with the perfect publisher for my book…and then I’m thinking:

“what if I can’t finish this book?”

“what if my sales numbers are bad and I can never publish another book?”

“what if I never have another idea for another book?”

But the ability to read, to think, to write? Are they really mine, anyway?

Are the things I do merely a product of my own efforts?

No: my life–right now–is a gift.

There’s no peace at the end of a worry-strewn journey; there will always be more to worry about.

(Ha! Because just a short time ago I was worried I’d never get a book contract!)

So I’m trying to be grateful in this moment, and the next, and the next.

Because how much more does the God who clothes the lilies and feeds the birds delight to care for us?
{Um, readers? I didn’t suddenly turn into Rob Bell, although I realize that the style of this post might’ve confused you on that point.}