Maybe You Need To Say To Your Food Issues, “It’s Not About You.”

{Once again I’m participating in Take & Read, the Patheos Book Club!}

I feel that have to admit that, because I have a faith/food book coming out very soon, whenever I encounter a book that looks like it might have some things in common with my own, I get all territorial and nervous, and feel like I need to point out the ways in which I’m right and this other author is wrong and how my book is needed as a corrective and all kinds of wise and mature and non-self-serving things like that.

I just have to get that out of the way, and to admit, first, that there is a lot to like about Mary DeTurris Poust’s new book Cravings. Mary is vulnerable and honest and has some good tips and some great stories (like her Italian immigrant relatives cooking pasta and tomato sauce over a BBQ pit on a road trip, and all-day cooking events where the Italian aunties and grandmas would bring their housedresses and slippers to help make ready the feast) that I would have enjoyed hearing more about.

Weirdly, though, the image I can’t get out of my mind is of Mary’s own description of the way she eats breakfast: oatmeal, with walnuts and dried cranberries, prepared and eaten alone, save for the company of God, invoked with prayer and a lit candle. What could be called mindful eating is part of the practice that Mary follows and advocates, and it’s the kind of thing that makes me nervous around food. I don’t really care if a study showed that chewing my food more times before swallowing will help me reduce calorie intake, because being that caught up about what I eat (for example, asking of each and every foodstuff “am I okay with this becoming a part of me?”) and how I eat it sends me sliding down the chute marked “restrictive and bordering on crazy.”

Books like Cravings, in other words, however well-intended, seem reinforce the problem that people who are anorexic and people who are binge-eaters already share in common: obsession with food. With due respect to Thich Nat Hahn and everyone else who believes the real way to eat is to do so silently and meditatively: that’s a bunch of malarkey. Food is for sharing together, raucously or not, WITH OTHERS.

For me—and this is why I ended up writing a book—all the very important things to think about in relation to food boiled down to something fairly simple: food, all of it, is a gift of God. Even crappy processed food. Even food that came through a feedlot and was grown with chemical pesticides. Now, if you’ve read my blog—and if you read my book—you’ll know that I don’t think the story exactly ends there. I think some food does speak more clearly of God and of what God loves: justice, kindness, mercy toward animals, stewardship of creation and of the bodies that are a part of it, and so on. Cultivating awareness of the issues around food—justice for workers, kindness to animals, sustainability in relationship to creation—is important, and, for me, was the path to eventually eating with joy.

In other words, what I (and others) have found most helpful in moderating a tendency to restrict or overeat is joining with other people. Eating is not ever something we can figure out on our own. Whatever our own food “issues” are—and I know about food issues, okay?—I think the first thing to say is what Rick Warren said in opening The Purpose Driven Life: it’s not about you. It’s about community, creativity, God, sustainability, kindness, celebration, and joy. If we expand our understanding of the meaning of food, we just might find that our issues around it resolve. Focusing on the problem, however well-intentioned, rarely seems to be effective. I know it never worked for me.

What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You

Posting as part of the Patheos Book Club discussion.

As the mother of two boys who never watch television and only rarely see movies, it seems clear to me that the urge to fight and to defend is pretty much inborn in most males. Oh, I’ve tried to encourage their nurturing nature; they’ve had baby dolls and toy strollers, but they played with these for a mere fraction of the time spent with toy vehicles and various improvised weapons. More than once I’ve caught them lashing baby dolls to chairs for interrogation sessions. They didn’t learn this from movies. It’s just in there, somehow.

David Murrow’s discussion of men–and what they need from their wives–in his What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You relies heavily on evolutionary psychology to explain the male of the species, although he posits God’s design, rather than the long process of evolution, as key to the formation of the male psyche. Once I heard a similar argument from a homeschool lecturer on why boys ‘need’ to play with toy weapons: because “God made them to be protectors.” Need I mention that a certain Seattle-based megachurch pastor relies heavily on this view of masculinity?

Reading Murrow’s book, I was reminded, however improbably, of Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s excellent book, For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women and their earlier pamphlet, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers. In these books, the authors show how, in pre-industrial societies, women were (and in places in this world, are) at least as much “providers” as men are: responsible for gardening and small scale farming, for fiber and textile production, and for many other things. In industrial societies, what a woman’s ‘place’ should be was less clear.

Murrow sees men’s troubles as stemming largely from their being displaced from their “natural” roles as provider and protector; attributing a large portion of the blame to women’s rights and equality in the workplace, to the “feminizing” of culture (including church culture) and asserting that men are happier when their wives cook for them, keep themselves in shape, and don’t “outshine” them in prayer, among other things. Okay…

I get Murrow’s points: men are different from women, and there are many aspects of life that work better for a female brain than a male one. School, for example–especially in the early grades–is an institutional environment largely shaped by women, and as such tends to favor the way girls and women prefer to learn and interact. Boys would probably do better, for example, in classrooms that allowed them to move as they learn–to bounce a ball as they review math facts, say, or to actually manipulate materials with their hands as the physical or chemical properties are narrated to them.

But what always bothers me about the discussion of men as they are “created” (or evolved) to behave is the assumption that what is ‘natural’ is what men and women are bound to perform, to ‘live into,’ as the church-jargon sometimes has it. Sure, it’s “natural” to compete for the healthiest, most fertile women. It’s “natural” to feel aggression, to want to hunt and fight and protect and defend. We can acknowledge that while also acknowledging that none of us is bound to the baser expressions of our natures–especially when we consider that Jesus did the most unnatural thing imaginable, and let himself be killed, which is hardly a good way to pass on one’s genes.

Then again, maybe, in God’s strange economy, it is.

Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus

{Once again, I’m posting as part of the Patheos book club, Take & Read}

I didn’t expect to like Sacrilege.

I am always happy to acknowledge, even celebrate Jesus’ iconoclastic ways, but I’m not exactly comfortable in the non-churchy feeling ‘gatherings of Christ-followers’ that Hugh Halter advocates.

It’s not that I don’t think that they are a perfectly commendable, appropriate way to be the church, it’s just that I am quite happy to meet and worship God in a traditional, even liturgical, setting. I get it that not everyone feels that way, which is fine.

But I find liturgy freeing, not constraining, and while I agree that some churches could probably spend a little less on operating costs and a little more on ‘the least of these,’ I’m just not convinced that de-institutionalizing church is the answer to hypocrisy and apathy.

For example, Halter remarks that his church reserves one Sunday a month (or thereabouts) to forgo meeting for worship and instead do some kind of service to their community–teaching inner-city kids to play lacrosse and having a barbeque party, say. In a way, this sounds great.

But I would miss singing hymns, hearing the word, celebrating the Eucharist. It is in those humble things–worshiping in word and song and sacrament for just an hour or so–that I meet God and am inclined to see the world outside the church with new eyes. I don’t see how (even occasionally) erasing the tradition of Sunday worship is the best way to make the church more ‘missional.’

(Why not erase an hour or two of something else–TV? Internet? Working out?)

Here’s the thing–I like this book despite not liking a lot of things in it.

I really do like Halter’s insistence that following Jesus doesn’t mean we have to get caught up in all of the social, political, institutional trappings that have grown up around Christianity, especially American Christianity.

But instead of a primitivist (yea, perhaps Marcionist?) turn that says “let’s just read the 4 Gospels and James’ epistle and built our practice on that” (which Halter essentially says), I suspect a better way might be to look to other Christian traditions outside American evangelicalism to discern how other faithful, Christ-following people have lived out (and do live out) their faith.

Because it seems to me there’s a tendency for that which is radical and ‘unorthodox’ to become, over time, a new orthodoxy.

I’m all for smashing the idols that Christians worship, but I’m sticking with the liturgy and with Micah 6:8–He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

It’s not in the Gospels or in James, but it sure does stand the test of time.

Are Women ‘More than Enchanting’?

{Once again, I’m delighted to be participating in the Patheos Book Club, Take & Read!}

This fortnight’s pick is Jo Saxton’s More than Enchanting: Breaking Through Barriers to Influence Your World from InterVarsity Press.

I’ve never really hoped to be a ‘leader,’ but last week when I listened to myself on Family Life Radio, I thought,

“Someone get that lady a PULPIT! She has a lot to say.”

(I used to enjoy hopping up into the pulpit to mimic my dad’s preaching and mannerisms, or jumping into the empty baptismal tank to give fake, dramatic testimonies a la ‘Unshackled,’ but I digress.)

Jo’s book made me hopeful because she doesn’t enter into the arguments on whether women should have positions of leadership and influence in Christian churches.

She assumes that they already do.

From the cradle to the cross, it’s women that are by Jesus’ side; while it’s tempting to call St. Paul a misogynist, Jo points out that he refers to women as ‘apostle’ Junia and ‘deacon’ Phoebe. In plain language, Jo handles the interpretive issues surrounding women’s leadership with grace and strength.

Jo also see in the examples of Nympha, Chloe, Priscilla, and other early church women a call to an empowered, missional perspective on domesticity that I find refreshing:

“There are many women who know that their home, not the church building, is a key place for ministry…It happens around the kitchen table, through meals and conversation. Their home is balm for the worn and weary, for those who’ve not experienced God’s love in a community. They seek to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in everyday living, influencing the world around them. The oikos [household] was a powerful strategy for kingdom expansion in the New Testament, and as a model continues to be so today.”


Thanks for the encouragement, Jo!

{You can read a Q&A with Jo Saxton here.}

@stickyJesus: loving your online neighbor

Anyone who has spent much (or even little) time online knows that people can be tremendously mean on the Interwebz, and that there’s a lot of trash in them there Clouds. At the same time, though, the Internet can connect us to other people–whether that’s to people we know from “real life” or people we’ve ‘met’ virtually–and that can be a tremendous source of encouragement. I value greatly some of the friends I’ve gotten to know through writing and reading online.

{Though I will confess that I’m *really* looking forward to meeting some of them in person.}

Because, really, nothing can replace face-to-face. Sharing food and wine and all that.

Whatever your level of social media involvement–or whatever your opinion of such involvement–there’s no denying that Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and other forms of online media are tremendously powerful: if you’re in doubt, consider the role they played in the Arab Spring.

In this new book, Toni Birdsong and Tami Heim offer a primer on using social media as faithful Christians–a hard-copy extension of the resources already at their website, @stickyJesus. I have to confess, there was much in this book that raised my eyebrows. I get a little scared when the Bible and Jesus are used as a models for leadership/business/influence, etc.; I just do.

This line was especially cringe-worthy:

“The Holy Spirit is the global positioning system (GPS) you need to operate online. He is the Power Source that will keep your heart fixed and ministry fruitful. He makes your life and God’s Word sticky to the rest of the world. So don’t log on without Him.”

But, getting past some of the gimmicky cheez ball stuff {mmm, Cheez Balls!} I have to say I would have loved to have this book a few years ago, when all the social media I now use regularly seemed really mysterious and when I may/may not have engaged in some less-than-polite online behavior–like too much self-promo, not enough reciprocity, listening, etc.

Bottom line–loving your neighbor online is not unlike loving your neighbor in real life: it’s about listening at least as much as speaking, seeking to encourage, doing unto others…you get the idea. This book is kind of a Christian version of How to Win Friends and Influence People for the digital age, and if you’re a Christian person who spends a lot of time online, log off for a bit and read this.

{But my idea of a good response to trolls and haters is some gently snarky humor. Answer a fool according to his folly, anyone? That’s in the Bible, too.}

*delighted to be posting as part of the Patheos Book Club!*