This week I did something that I have not done for a long time; I fasted. My colleague at Arlington Presbyterian Church is on staff at Bread for the World. Bread is Christian organization that empowers people to reach out to policy makers on behalf of the chronically hungry around the world. In anticipation of President Trump’s budget release, the organizational began a campaign called “For Such a Time As This: A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Advocacy”. The prayer, fasting, and advocacy are all centered around what congress will do in response to Trump’s budget proposal. Bread’s executive director, David Beckmann called Mr. Trump’s budget “an assault on people living in hunger and poverty”. The proposal drastically cuts funding for both international and domestic food programs, and cuts $800 billion from safety net programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid. In prayerful solidarity with the work that Bread is doing, I joined with thousands others who fasted for three days.
Back in the day, I used to fast all the time. It was a big part of spiritual practice of the church in which I grew up. I used to take one day a week and completely swear off of food and try to make more space for prayer in my life. I was moderately successful. I think I generally did a good job of keeping my “hanger” in check and I usually was more aware of what the Spirit was doing. I also looked lustfully at doughnuts, but that’s a different story for a different time. Though fasting has deep roots in Christian tradition and is a very biblical spiritual practice, I find that few mainline protestants give it much emphasis if any at all. That’s unfortunate. My experience of fasting has been one of heightened awareness of my own body, a thing I desperately need, and of the deprivation my spirit experiences in times when I am not tending to my own spiritual health.
It also makes me incredibly aware of how centered my life is on food. My fast over last few days was simply until dinner time when I ate with my family and friends. I normally skip breakfast or have a very light one, but the last three mornings I have been jonesing for breakfast food. Lunch is usually my big meal and I have looked longingly at leftovers and with desperation at drive thrus. I’ve been overwhelmed with a desire to snack in the last few days that I rarely ever have. It’s funny how enticing things are when we are told, even by ourselves, that we can’t have them.
More interesting to me though is the reminder of how much access I have to food. I make a good salary and restaurants are all around. I have my pick of apps I can use to have food delivered to me. We almost always have leftovers from previous dinners. I live with an AMAZING cook. I live two doors down from another AMAZING cook. I have access to several really good grocery stores and this time of year, I have weekly access to Farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture (CSA). We go to stores where we can buy things in bulk. We have things that have been sitting on pantry shelves because we’re not in the mood for them. And… we throw a lot of food away.
Ah, the food waste. So last year, I started a worm farm. I’ve learned a lot about my foray into vermiculture; worms die when it’s too cold, worms die when it’s too hot, the things worms like are also enjoyed by maggots, etc… All in all, once you can get past the smell, having a worm farm is a great thing. Those things that we can’t compost end up in the worm bin. Our worms are treated to half-eaten hot dogs from the kids, leftover takeout containers that have been sitting in the back of the fridge for an indeterminate amount of time, and things in the fridge have long since been identifiable. I assume the worms are pleased as they largely go about the business of eating, creating compost, and making new worms, but I still feel that twinge of first world guilt as I look at how much food goes uneaten. We have enough for a family that fluctuates between 2, 4, and 6 members, a dog, a cat, and several hundred worms. We’re among the luckiest people in the world.
If food isn’t a human right than nothing is. Hunger is a completely solvable problem. All that stands in our way is greed and violence. Many of the starving in the world live in war torn areas where attempts to access food can be dangerous and where land to grow food is easily destroyed. Many across the world lose access to family farms because the land is swept up by multinational corporations who use the land for monocultural practices. Other parts of the world are beset by famine and we have to recognize that many of those areas are experiencing the effects of climate change. Our own country is plagued by food deserts where access to healthy food is impeded by urban decay.
When I read the gospels, I see Jesus recognizing the physical hunger of his followers on an equal plane as their spiritual hunger. Jesus literally fed people. How can those who strive to be like Jesus do anything less?
Last week I visited a start up community farm that endeavors to provide free food to a food deserted urban population. I marveled at the ingenuity of the farmers and their willingness both to teach and be taught. I brought them potato plants from my own garden, a small token that I hope has an impact. I looked at their land, maybe an acre at most and wondered how many churches I know are sitting on urban land that would better serve the community as farms or gardens rather than as dilapidated buildings.
The last couple of years I have been immersing myself in the Christian Food Movement. I’m becoming friends with people whose mission it is to reconnect with God through the soil and the communal act of eating. And I see people who are dedicated to bringing healthy and delicious food to those places where access to such things is often incredibly difficult. I’m glad that there are also people who working diligently on the advocacy side of things. I know that I and my church will continue to be involved in trying to influence decision-makers, though I admit, I’m not optimistic on that front. I don’t trust our current governmental leadership to make sure that people are fed and that is why I believe that it must be the church that takes the lead on this issue. People in this country and around the world will literally starve to death if we don’t find ways to intervene. I am not okay with that, not at a time when so many of us have so much. I believe that it is time for the church to see food as its number one issue, the issue that cuts across race, gender, sexual orientation, and politics and is so often deeply connected to all of them. In my days as a pastor I would regularly invite people to come and feast at the Lord’s table. It is time to make that invitation real, tangible, and personal. It is time for the church to say to the world “Come! The table is ready!”