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!}

The Peace of Wild Things (with photos of animals seen on a recent safari)

For me, there is nothing quite like being outdoors, and, especially, seeing wild creatures, as an antidote to anxiety. I don’t think there is anything particularly unusual or strange in that. God’s strangely comforting words to Job involved proclaiming himself as involved and caring in the lives of the wildest and remotest creatures, Psalm 104 celebrates God as the one who knows the comings and goings of animals, and feeds them, and Jesus points his hearers’ attention to the birds and the flowers as evidence of God’s loving and continuous care.

I love Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” which, to me, somehow expresses all of that. Several years ago, when we were enduring particularly stressful times, I memorized it while washing dishes and repeated it to myself in bed when I couldn’t sleep, and when I longed to put on my hiking boots and wander into the wilderness, but had to stay home to change diapers and put kids down for naps. It’s worth reading and re-reading, I think:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

{via gratefulness.org}

I am, faith in Jesus notwithstanding, quite expert at “taxing” my life “with forethought of grief,” and that is just one of the reasons I love wild things: they cause me to consider that I am as beloved, or more so, than these creatures that God so loves.

Here are some of the wild things that gave me peace and grace this week:

kingfishers
kingfishers
bathing
bathing
delight
delight
impala
impala. so beautiful.
into still water
into still water
tree
wild, beautiful trees

{All photos by the Stone family. Feel free to share so long as you link back here. Thanks!}

The Groaning Table

I have a guest post on the Slow Church blog, which is written by my friend and fellow forthcoming IVP author Chris Smith (also of Englewood Review of Books. Chris recently asked a number of friends to read, reflect, and write on Wendell Berry’s essay “Health is Membership.” Here’s my contribution.

The Groaning Table

My grandmother was born at home in New York City in 1925 – exactly the time when more and more women, especially city women, began to choose hospital over home as the place to have babies. It wasn’t that my great-grandmother was afraid of the hospital or of doctors; or that she wanted to keep the baby away from sick people who might have contaminated the hospital halls. Rather, it was that she’d heard that the hospital didn’t have very good food.

I remember great-grandma Katherine the way you remember a dream by the mid-afternoon, in random yet related pieces. When I think of her, I see first a shadowy image of her – a tall, square-shouldered woman – in a chair, which cuts quickly to a snapshot of her smiling over a plump, baby version of me in a garish vinyl seat. There’s also a 5-second clip of the two of us laughing over the black dog, Chloe, who prances and plays a piece of red blanket. And that is it. The rest of what I know is what I have been told.

She was born in the 19th century to a mother who had left Ireland in the potato famine and who then married a horse trainer that she met on the steps of the 42nd Street library. She had influenza in the pandemic of 1918; she spent a year in bed and recovered. This is a fact my grandmother will refer repeatedly to as evidence, first, that we are the inheritors of ‘hardy genes’; second, that resting in bed is the best medicine for a cold; third, that, before going to bed with a cold, you should have a hot toddy made with Christian Brothers brandy, a remedy of Irish Catholic grandmothers, never known to fail.

I want to believe all of this so much; to exist someplace where the advice to drink a hot toddy and go to bed when I’m feeling achy and congested is solid wisdom (not antiquated and vaguely irresponsible) while the advice to take some drops of echinacea and zinc and continue dragging myself through my routines is dangerous and faddish. To live in a world where a woman’s decision to give birth at home because she knows that, at home, the food will be good is sensible, not selfish.

{Continue reading the rest at the Slow Church blog…}

Generations of Unbridled Delight

When I was a child, one of my favorite places to go on Long Island was the Long Island Game Farm, a perhaps-antiquated name for what is a small children’s zoo where you can pet, feed, and cuddle with a number of silly creatures.

My mom and I took the boys there recently, and what a time we had!

Baby black-bellied sheep nibbled on our fingers...
We hung out with a really charming donkey.

One of my favorite features of this particular place is that there are certain pens you get to go in and out of freely, including one with small deer and one with (squeal with me!) baby goats!

For a semi-outrageous fee you can buy little bottles of milk to feed the 'babies.'

Looking back at my face in these pictures, I’m thinking that my opening line “when I was a child…” is inaccurate. Apparently I’m still a child.

The actual children had a great time, too:

 

Graeme (center) got knocked over by baby goats repeatedly, which did nothing to attenuate his passion for them.

But it was truly three generations of animal love:

With a long (ish) history:

Oy, the glasses. These were so wrong.

I love places like this. I really think they can help children experience a sense of wonder at and compassion for God’s creatures. But I’m always stunned by two things:

1. So many junky toys being hawked.

2. So much junky food.

I don’t want to pet sweet creatures and then go eat hot dogs made from their mistreated buddies! This is an absurd disconnect!

(Not saying no meat. But Certified Humane chicken fingers and hot dogs might be an appropriate step…and would it kill them to offer a veggie burger!?)

I wonder if places like the Long Island Game Farm could do more to offer a fuller vision of what it looks like to coexist peacefully with animals–even without being vegetarian. As Wendell Berry writes:

“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.”

 

 


Don’t Save the World. Just Save Your Scraps.

Sometimes reading and writing about issues surrounding food, hunger, and justice is just plain depressing. Like most people, I want to contribute to the flourishing of the earth and all people on it; I see that as God’s call on all of us, though it takes different forms for all of us as we pursue our various vocations.

For all of us, it’s easy to feel powerless–like there’s nothing we can really do to make the world better. In fact, we’re probably doing more to make it worse.

Wendell Berry writes in his essay, “Think Little”:

“Every time we draw a breath, every time we drink a glass of water, every time we eat a bite of food […] we are causing the crisis. Nearly every one of us, nearly every day of his life, is contributing directly to the ruin of this planet. A protest meeting on the issue of environmental abuse is not a convocation of accusers, it is a convocation of the guilty.”

So be humble, says the venerable Mr. Berry. And while there’s nothing wrong with large-scale action, Berry urges us to “think little”:

gorgeous rich compost! turn scraps into gardener's gold!

“I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening…[a person] growing a garden…is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.”

But of course, gardening requires knowhow, time, land, and other resources.

How ’bout this, though? Just try to waste less food.

North Americans throw away TWENTY TWO TIMES the amount of food Sub-Saharan Africans do each year-240 pounds/person/year versus(gulp) 11 pounds/person/year.

Don’t try to save the world. Just save your scraps! Make veggie stocks with cores, tops & peels before composting them, freeze leftovers, don’t overbuy…etc.

{See these resources for more how-to. And read about my favorite thrifty cookbooks here and here.}

20 tips on wasting less food here; 10 more tips here!

learn how to compost–because then it’s not waste; it’s recycling.

www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

New York Times: “A War Against Food Waste”