Food Democracy

Long ago those miniature, plastic-coated spoons disappeared from our home. They accompanied the gnawed sippy cups and Bob the Builder plates that were sent for recycling. It has been a while since my wife and I battled a toddler’s will against ingesting liquified carrots, spaghetti, squash, pears, chicken-n-dumplings, and other assorted glass-jarred baby foods. In their first days of semi-solids, our children did not hesitate to express their preference for specific types, textures, and flavors of food.

Those preferences continue but have matured to include philosophical and ethical considerations. Instead of struggling through a preference for Apple Blueberry over Sweet Potato, food is chosen by convictions about organic, processed, vegetarian, local, free-range, fair trade, and all-natural characteristics. Even so, my family’s passion for fulfilling their dietary needs is no less intense than when pulverized peas were ejected in a moment of disapproval.

As I’ve watched these convictions develop, I’m surprised by my push-back on beliefs that differ from mine. When I find them unreasonable, confusing, altruistic, or unbalanced I respond with an exasperated rebuttal through a raised voice. I’ve been cynical, skeptical, and grumpy. I’ve balked at purchasing foods that cost more, smell funny, or crowd-out my preferred choices in the pantry. A fan of simplicity, my reserve of patience runs low when I’m required to prepare different meals to accommodate convictions I don’t agree with.

While diversity makes our lives interesting, it can also bring conflict. In my previous post, I mentioned my affinity for solitude and contentment with quiet, peaceful spaces. That independence affords me a measure of control over my circumstances. I can manage and even steer clear of volatile issues as I protect myself from having to reconcile my own convictions with others.

Yet, consistent isolation or cloistering with like-minded people can foster attitudes of justified self-centeredness. Howard Thurman, African-American theologian, philosopher, educator, and civil rights leader said, “All men belong to each other, and he who shuts himself away diminishes himself, and he who shuts another away from him destroys himself.” (The Search for Common Ground, 104) Does Thurman’s proposition apply to the food fights in my household? Absolutely. If I willingly shut-down or fortify myself against different ideas, beliefs, and behaviors I risk not only stunting my development but limiting the quality of my relationships.

When I find myself experiencing repeated frustration, negative emotion, stereotyping or making assumptions, I’ve given my desires inappropriate priority. I’ve allowed my convictions to corrupt my relationships. Henri Nouwen said, “Our human relationships easily become subject to violence and destruction when we treat our own and other people’s lives as properties to be defended or conquered and not as gifts to be received.” (Reaching Out, 119) My goal should not be to convert critics or overpower dissenting voices. To get vegetarians to eat meat or Ford owners to drive Chevys. Those aims can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and division. As a believer in Jesus, my behavior is to support a peaceful unity. I’m to do justice, love kindness, and be humble. This does not mean I jettison my convictions. Nor should it imply that I be silent when I disagree. To the contrary, I should engage, speak, and advocate.

The Apostle John noted that Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Notice the order: grace then truth. The grace our Lord gifts to us should inform our interactions and relationships. We should be kind and hospitable, listening first to understand. We should not fail to offer dignity and respect to everyone, allowing for disagreement while not maligning or disparaging one another. In short, we should love each other.

In the past few years I’ve learned a lot about food. I’m grateful to be led by my children into a new stewardship of my food consumption. Beyond food, I’m seeking to assume a humble, grace-filled, listening posture that promotes dialogue and relationship. I’m praying for strength to hold my convictions while being kind to those who think differently. I’m asking the Spirit for a holy courage to speak with gentleness.

In this third week of Advent, as we continue to ponder our “doing” (week 1) while being diligent with our togetherness (week 2), lets also consider our words, thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Are we advocates and unifiers? Does the grace of Christ pervade our interactions even as we stand firm in our convictions? From peas to politics, how we relate to one another is an indicator of what we think about God.

A Prayer for Unity
Heavenly Father, Obedient Son, Comforting Spirit —
Unified in divine diversity;
Temper our spirits with grace and truth,
and quicken our love toward peace-filled community.

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
(Galatians 6:10, ESV)

With or Without You?

Not A Team PlayerThe air carried a hint this morning. The trees can no longer hide it. It’s coming.

Fall. The season of football and cider is cresting the horizon. Soon, colored leaves will cover the beach sand ground into my floor mats. Windows will open as air conditioning units taper toward hibernation. And schedules will inflate with a fresh cycle of activity.

The summer months afford an opportunity to get out, get away, and refresh. To do many things, or nothing. As someone who craves solitude, I welcome times of uninterrupted quiet. No requests, no demands. Just the peaceful still of me — and only me.

In contrast to those “me only” dreams, last week I shared breakfast with a few good men. Despite a minor setback with finding carb-free options (we were at a bakery — go figure) we successfully procured some dining fare and caught-up on our summer happenings.

One man changed jobs, another sent a son to Uganda for 10-days to install clean water systems, a third made a commitment to be baptized, and the last successfully relocated a noisy rooster. Our conversation ran the spectrum from excitement to pain, from dreams to discouragement. Sipping my dark roast, I listened and wondered at the complex paths we travel. I marveled at the providential intersection of our stories. It is good to live in community.

But I still like to be alone.

We need silent spaces. Detours from the din. Yet retreats to a quiet oasis must be bounded. I’m easily lured to the out-of-the-way corner. A closed-door room. The library. Places that limit encounter. But too much “me” distorts my perspective. The world loses its color. My empathy atrophies and my grace becomes small.

I become lonely.

Henri Nouwen said, “Real loneliness comes when we have lost all sense of having things in common.”* The stories of my neighborhood friends are, in part, my story. Sure, we all live near one another. But that’s not what makes their story mine. Rather, we are bound together in our humanness. We are joined in the outworking of maleness and marriage. We fell trees, share tools, read books, and watch March Madness — together. We are communal.

So as summertime fades and fall activities filter into the calendar, I must recognize my craving for quiet. At the first hint to escape, I need to do the careful, wise work of prayer, seeking Spirit-guided help with making room for people while making room for me. To prioritize a daily refreshment of gratitude through God’s Word. To find joy in the grand adventure of life — with others, and alone.

*The Return of the Prodigal Son, p.47

A Mighty Throw by a Wimpy Kid

Field Day.

That mini Olympics held annually in schoolyards large and small. With blue, red, and white ribbons, laughter, crying, triumph and defeat, field day signifies the end of another school year. At my school, it was also the only day of the year when pizza was served for hot lunch. So long, Shepherd’s Pie!

As a child, I wasn’t a spectacular athlete. My skinny frame, underdeveloped musculature, and shy demeanor gave rise to a competitive package on par with a domesticated rabbit. So on field day, I heaped a mound of performance anxiety with a dash of desperate hope alongside my cherished slice of sausage pizza. Thus, field day ‘fun’ was loaded with potential for hurt and disappointment. In fact, there’s a brutal injustice documented in my personal field day annals.

My great mistreatment happened in the context of a competition that was all the rage in the 1970’s – the softball throw. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s the gist: stand on a baseball field at home plate (don’t step over the plate or you’re disqualified) and chuck a softball as far as you can. Not exactly the best measure of athletic prowess, but it fit the bill for simplicity and measurability. At least that was the theory.

The day was sunny and hot – even for early June. Summoned to my turn at tossing, I bent over to select one of the rubberized softballs. I had to fight discouragement as I struggled to wrap my hand around the ball with a grip tight enough to pick it up one-handed. My feet were enveloped with puffs of dustiness as adrenaline propelled me step-by-step toward home plate. I channeled all my nervous energy toward my shoulder while I envisioned launching that ball into low-earth orbit.

Holding my breath, I stepped back, took a baby crow-hop, and hurled that ball like a human trebuchet. Flat and true the ball flew toward second base. It soared beyond the infield and landed safely in the clover that was the outfield lawn. Clearly, a throw to be proud of. A toss that surpassed my expectations – as well as the distance thrown by several of my competitors.

As the ball meandered to a stop, I looked with anticipation at the teacher standing beside me with clipboard and whistle. I awaited his command to go stand at the spot my ball first landed, staking claim to my impressive toss. Instead, with emotionless tone he proclaimed my throw hadn’t surpassed any of the top three throws currently marked on the field. I was to sit down.

But he was wrong. My throw had eclipsed at least two of those marked on the field. I saw it. The kid standing in the field saw it (the ball went over his head for crying out loud). But this teacher, who in that moment was the steward of my field day dreams, didn’t bother to watch my display of softball throwing excellence. Perhaps he was too busy cleaning sausage pizza from his whistle.

It was a gross injustice. A scandal in the making. In perplexed silence I stood, waiting for the voice of reason to speak. But my ears only heard the distant cheers from more joyful – and fair – competitions. I looked up at the teacher, pleaded with my best non-verbal toe-headed cuteness, but received a second command to take my place with the spectators. I sloughed away, stunned. Where’s Billy Martin when you need him?

Although more than three decades ago, I find it strangely curious how often that field day memory bubbles-up. Such frequent recurrence deserves my attention. Through it, I’ve learned that I’m quite sensitive to personal injustice. These days, it’s not a mistake with how far I throw a ball that puts me in tension. The adult life offers more sophisticated ways to get slighted or misjudged or made the victim of false perception or misunderstanding.

Conversely, each day brings temptation to be the assumption maker as I collect circumstantial anecdotes and craft plausible storylines. It’s ironic that even when I don’t watch the toss of the metaphorical ball, I’m confident of it’s landing place. Really, I know where it landed. Trust me.


Am I capable of creating field day fiasco?


My misjudged throw provides ongoing help with my relationships. It broadens my perspective on how things said, not said, or implied can be twisted together into suffocating distortions. Or, when given good care and attention, all forms of expressed communication can be woven into a wonderful tapestry of warm interaction. Staying straight and clean and forthright with friendship is tough work. There’s nothing simple about working toward short accounts and fostering redemptive interactions.

I like fair treatment. Too often, I think I deserve it. My heart has an inherent wickedness, so when injustice comes, the summons to revenge is alluring. I must wrangle my desire for personal justice with gospel love.

That means I own my part. I seek and offer forgiveness. I think well of others. I give what I want to receive. Most importantly, I leave judgment to the One who sees all things with perfect clarity.

I know He saw my throw. And that’s good enough for me.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10, ESV)