Monday, September 30, 2013

Let's talk about food: Signs, symbols, and sacraments

[Renoir, Le verre de vin, 1908]
We're into the third week of conversations about food at St. Barnabas. Week 1 we talked about celebration, because until we really believe that food is good, anything we say about food is likely to be skewed. Week 2 we talked about hospitality and the role food plays in fostering community. Now we're going to look at food as sacrament.

So, what's a sacrament?

If you are of a liturgical persuasion, you probably associate the word with the sacraments of the church, which, like the animals entering the ark, come in twos (baptism and communion) or sevens (those two plus confirmation, marriage, holy orders, anointing the sick, and reconciliation).

Let's back up for a minute and look at the concept itself, not the actions it's usually associated with. A sacrament is a kind of symbol - but not necessarily in the way we often use the word symbol today.

In popular parlance, a symbol is pretty much the same as a sign. Some academics, however, make a helpful distinction between the two words.

A sign stands for, reminds us of, or points to something else. That red octagonal thing on the street corner is a sign that reminds us to put on the brakes. Those yellow and orange leaves just beginning to show up on maple trees are a sign that autumn is here.

A symbol, by contrast, has many more--sometimes even inexhaustible--layers of meaning. That metal band on your finger is a sign that you're married, but it may also be for you a symbol of permanence or value or eternity or faithfulness (and you can keep coming up with more). A good symbol has rich personal and cultural associations. A really good symbol works for many people in many different cultures.

A sacrament points to something beyond itself, but it is more than a sign. It has multiple layers of meaning, but it is more than the religious version of a symbol. A sacrament is a special kind of symbol that actually makes present the reality it evokes.

Three theological examples:
  • Jesus is the sacrament of God: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14.9).
  • The church is the sacrament of Jesus: "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12.27).
  • Eucharist is a sacrament of the church: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10.17).
Back to food. A loaf of bread is not generally a sign. Hansel and Gretel used their bread as a sign, but for most of us most of the time, bread doesn't point to something else: it is what it is. (Some Protestants do see bread as a sign: something that makes them think about Jesus. I confess I've never found bread very helpful in that regard.)

Bread can be a symbol, though, and not necessarily a theological one. "A jug of wine, a loaf of bread--and thou" is not a depiction of Eucharist, but it is richly symbolic.

And bread can be a sacrament. More about that tomorrow...

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Let's talk about food: Building community one bite at a time

[Companions of the Round Table, 14th century]
For some 20 years two friends and I have gotten together at least once a year to celebrate our birthdays. Since 1995 we have called ourselves "Three Tall Women"--that was the year Edward Albee's play by that name came to Chicago. Our birthdays are in February, August, and November, but it doesn't matter. Whenever we can find a time to be together, it's birthday time.

For maybe 10 years two other friends and I have gotten together at least once a year, also to celebrate our birthdays. Since we are all Leos, we call ourselves the Lionesses, and we try to meet in August. This year, though, we're meeting in October. We do what we can.

When my friends and I get together, sometimes we bring gifts and cards, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we meet in homes, and sometimes we meet in restaurants. Sometimes we share joys, and sometimes we share sorrows. But here's the one thing we always do: we eat.

Somehow, food and friends belong together. The word companion comes from roots that evoke shared meals. This is obvious in Latinate languages: "with bread" is con pan in Spanish, con pane in Italian, com pão in Portuguese, and cu pâine in Romanian. My companion is one with whom I break bread.

Breaking bread was a vital component of early Christian life and worship. Brand-new believers "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.... [They] broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts" (Acts 2:42, 46).

Though we're talking about hospitality this week at St Barnabas, community is what's really important. By providing food and inviting guests, hospitable people help to make community possible. So do gracious guests who accept others' hospitality with gratitude and joy, and households who make a point of gathering regularly around the dinner table, and friends who meet for lunch or coffee.

I think St. Barnabas' mission statement is slightly defective. "We are a Christian community that is focused on Jesus Christ, centered in worship and prayer, and committed to participating in God’s mission of reconciliation in the world," it says. It would be more accurate if it said "centered in worship and prayer and shared food." We break bread together at the Eucharist, of course (we'll be talking about food as sacrament next week). But we break bread together at lots of other times too:
  • every Sunday during the fellowship time after liturgy
  • several weeks a year with the homeless who come for dinner, a place to sleep, and breakfast
  • the second Wednesday evening of each month at a parish potluck
  • with Foyer Groups and at international dinners
  • at Lenten soup-and-bread suppers
  • at the post-Easter Vigil feast
  • at a nearby soup kitchen and at a halfway house in Chicago
  • when parishioners are ill
  • when parishioners have a new baby
  • at all kinds of church celebrations
  • and sometimes, just because.
What does all this shared food do for us? I love this description from Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone:
We sit at the same time, at the same table, acknowledging our common creatureliness as we stop and do the necessary, joyful business of eating. The same food goes into each of our bodies, building up our cells, becoming, quite literally, a part of each of us. We make memories and get a little closer to one another as we laugh and talk.... Sometimes table chatter is nonstop; sometimes the only sounds are of contented chewing. But regardless, we're mysteriously bound to each other in the breaking of bread.

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Let's talk about food: Hospitality for shy people

[Mother and me, 1950]
Something you should know about tall women who seem reserved and even distant  - they may just be shy or socially awkward, and they may really want to be your friend. I've understood this all my life, of course, but I was well into adulthood when my mother told me she understood it too.

My mother was not the kind of woman who could chat easily with strangers or charm other people's children. She would not have survived as a social worker, therapist, or nurse. If she had belonged to a church that equated righteousness with personally comforting the deranged or the homeless or the dying, she would probably have changed denominations.

I tell you this only to point out that hospitality has many faces.

My shy mother did have close friends, and she was known in our small town for her unrelenting hospitality. During my grade-school years when my father was president of a small college, she invited faculty families to dinner nearly every weekend. It was the late 1950s, and the dinners were pretty formal: white Quaker Lace tablecloth, Noritake china, and Community silverplate. Stemmed goblets filled with Hawaiian punch and ginger ale. Individual Jell-O molds with dabs of mayonnaise. A centerpiece. The amazing thing is that, with virtually no help (my father and I were useless in the kitchen), she managed to make all the hot foods finish cooking at the same time.

This was hospitality, to be sure, but her company dinners are not what impressed me most about my mother's approach. Back in the 1950s and 60s, I've learned, most American social occasions were one big Noah's Ark: you came in pairs or not at all. I did not realize that at the time, because it wasn't the way my mother operated. She had friends whose husbands got sick, or left them for other women, or died. These friends were often at our house. Sometimes we all went out and did things together. I never gave it a second thought.

Years later several of my mother's friends told me that once their husbands became unavailable, most invitations dried up. Couples they used to go out with stopped calling. For a time my mother was just about their only friend who continued to have them over for dinner.

I was dumfounded. It had never occurred to me that the death or desertion or illness of a spouse would make a mid-20th-century American woman a pariah. I thank my mother - a tall, reserved, possibly distant woman - for keeping me ignorant of such heartless behavior. And I thank her for giving me a lesson in hospitality by treating her hurting friends with such dignity that even her daughter had no idea she was doing anything unusual.

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A prominent Republican's views on health-care reform - in 1974

[From Loma Linda University Scope, summer 1974]
This afternoon while looking through old file folders, I came across the opening page of a 1974 article by Caspar Weinberger called "An honest look at needed reforms in America's health care."

Weinberger was chairman of the California Republican party from 1962-68 and served as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Defense from 1981-87. When he wrote the article I found, he was Richard Nixon's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. His Republican credentials could not be stronger.

Here are some stunning paragraphs from Weinberger:
This can and must be a year of responsible reform for our nation's health care financing system. Right now, 25 million Americans have no health insurance protection at all. Millions more have coverage that is clearly inadequate.

Right now, medical costs are threatening to once again climb at a steep rate, following last month's ending of price controls.

Right now, there are communities and neighborhoods in our nation without doctor or dispensary....

What we need, to close the current gaps, is a national program of comprehensive health insurance.

Such a program must not only cover everybody. It must also ensure quality care, and end the wasteful misuse of our medical resources that our present patch-work coverage encourages.

This misuse is costing us heavily. And it is directly traceable to gaps in insurance coverage....
Nearly forty years ago, one of the nation's most prominent Republicans thought we needed - immediately! - a total overhaul of health-care financing that, truth be told, sounds a lot like what Hillary Clinton proposed in 1993, and far more radical than the Affordable Care Act.

So what has changed since 1974, when responsible health-care reform was urgently needed?

The percent of uninsured Americans has increased. In 2012, 48 million Americans were uninsured. That's 15.4% of the population, compared to the 8.5 percent that were uninsured when Weinberger wrote.

Medical costs have soared. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, "the share of economic activity (gross domestic product, or GDP) devoted to health care has increased from 7.2% in 1970 to 17.9% in 2009 and 2010. Health care costs per capita have grown an average 2.4 percentage points faster than the GDP since 1970."

We still have a physician shortage, and it's getting worse.

What has changed, it seems, is the Republican Party.

I wish I had the rest of Secretary Weinberger's article. It was published in the Summer 1974 issue of Loma Linda University's Scope, but their online archive does not include this issue. I have the one page only because it was the reverse side of the last page of an article by my father. Ironically, the title of my father's article was "A theology of hope."

Let's talk about food: Restoring soul to food

[Jan Steen, "Meal," 1650]
"Food has a profound capacity for meaning and fostering community."

So writes Thomas Moore in "Food for the Soul,"an article in Resurgence and Ecologist magazine (Nov/Dec 2008). Moore, a former monk, a psychologist, and the best-selling author of Care of the Soul (1992), believes that food is (or should be) much more than fuel. When we bring imagination to food, we allow it to enhance community, conviviality, pleasure, beauty, spirituality--and no doubt lots of other good things.

"There is always a place for a quick meal," Moore acknowledges, "but everyone also needs communion, the intimate experience of conviviality that only food can provide." Here are two paragraphs from the article that especially pertain to this week's conversation topic at St Barnabas, hospitality.
Food ... brings people together, mysteriously serving the emotional life. Say you have trouble in your marriage. You call a friend for help. Do you say, “I know a solitary place with no distractions where we can have a serious talk”? Or do you say, “Let’s have lunch”? On such occasions do you need the calories or the chemicals? Do you need to deal with your hunger? Or do you know deep down that eating together will intensify your conversation?
Perhaps the greatest challenge in this time of rapid technological advance and the shrinking of the globe is to create a world community. But that important task can’t be done in the abstract. Food can play a role. Food as community, not as a commodity. Whatever power allows lunch to foster friendship, wedding cake a marriage, and bread and wine a religion could make a community of the world’s population. But we need first to restore soul to food.
Moore's article is short but deep. Though my friends who have studied the 16th- and 17th-century Puritans will point out that his comments about "puritanism" have little to do with the behavior of actual Puritans (apparently the first Thanksgiving drinks included "beer, brandy, gin, and wine," for example), the word "puritanical" has taken on a life of its own and I'm willing to give Moore a pass.

St B parishioners, here are some questions we might talk about Sunday:
  • Think of some hospitality stories from scripture. What foods were involved?
  • How does food foster community?
  • Are some foods better than others at fostering community?
  • Do we ever use food as a substitute for community?
  • How might we pay more attention to the "soul" of food?

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Let's talk about food: What I love about St Barnabas

Here are some stories that show what I love about St Barnabas.

About ten years ago, my friend and former colleague Lucille, then retired and in her late 70s, fell in love with St B. A gregarious woman, she soon had many new friends there. A dozen of us gave her a confirmation party at Macaroni Grill (she's second from right in the photo).

Lucille became very active in the parish. She befriended a sometimes homeless, always challenging parishioner who contracted breast cancer. She also befriended the woman's estranged mother and helped bring the two of them together before the woman died. And then Lucille was diagnosed with cancer - first in one lung, then in her liver, then everywhere.

St B parishioners got together to talk about how to help Lucille. Some helped her deal with her dying husband. Some helped her find affordable housing. Some took her to her medical appointments. Eventually Lucille and a few of her friends from St B decided to join an Anglican parish, which was more in line with her conservative beliefs, but the caring continued from all of us. When in her last days she was moved to a nursing home, a St B member was with her. When she died, a former St B member was holding her hand.

That's hospitality, both given and received.

I too benefited from St Barnabas-style hospitality. In 2011, I learned it was time to have open-heart surgery to correct a birth defect. Rev. Donna anointed me during a Sunday Eucharist, and the whole congregation prayed for my healing. David and I flew to Cleveland for the surgery. Bob took us to Midway for the outbound trip, and Estelle picked us up and brought us home afterward. While we were in Cleveland, a priest friend of Fr. Matt's visited me in the hospital.

Once I got home and began my long recovery, St B parishioners were there to help. Sue and Shirley came over and walked me around the neighborhood. A lot of people prepared and delivered meals--Dick and Shirley, Dolores and Paul, Lisa and Bob, Richard and Cari, Mary and Dean, Jean and Bob, Phil and Ashley, Art and Gayle, Al and Sue, Katelyn, Mark and Monica, and others, I think, that I appreciated every bit as much but was apparently too drugged to write down.

I was completely overwhelmed. In a good way.

When we talk about hospitality next Sunday, there's nothing I can teach St B parishioners. I've learned from them, though, that the best hospitality isn't something I do--it's something we do together. I'm looking forward to talking about it together too.


This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Let's talk about food: Abundance vs deprivation--where's your focus?

"Diets don’t just reduce weight, they can reduce mental capacity. In other words, dieting can make you dumber."

That's the beginning of a fascinating New York Times article called "The Mental Strain of Making Do With Less." Its author, Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan, is coauthor (with Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir) of a just-released book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. I haven't seen the book yet, but the article ties in well with the conversation we had at St Barnabas this morning about food as celebration.

Mullainathan writes:
Psychologists find that dieters have spontaneous self-generated cravings at a much higher rate than nondieters. And these cravings are not the dieters’ only distraction. Diets force trade-offs: If you eat the cookie, should you skip the appetizer at dinner? But that restaurant looked so good! Many diets also require constant calculations to determine calorie counts. All this clogs up the brain.
The result of diet-induced brain clogging? A measurable decrease in "logical and spatial reasoning, self-control, problem solving, and absorption and retention of new information"--which tends to lead to self-defeating decisions.

If we want to relate to food wisely and joyfully, we need to start with abundance, not deprivation. That's true even if - especially if - we really should be eating less, or differently.

A couple of years ago two of my family members were living with major dietary restrictions. When I realized I'd be cooking a week's worth of meals for both of them, my first reaction was panic. But then I found a website that listed all the things they could eat. To my amazement, the list was long, and it included a lot of delectable foods. My attitude changed just as soon as I printed the list and displayed it on my refrigerator door. I no longer had to think about deprivation--what they couldn't eat. Here was abundance--far more than we could eat in a mere week. Four whole pages of abundance, with color illustrations!

Next Sunday at St Barnabas we'll be talking about hospitality. There are a lot of hospitable people in my parish, and I'm eager to hear their stories. I'll write about my experience of St B's abundant hospitality tomorrow.

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Medicare Part D: Another year, another huge price increase

I signed up for Medicare last month. In addition to standard Medicare, I added Part D, the prescription drug benefit. My 2013  costs, if they had covered the entire year, would have come to $529 for insurance and $330 for prescription copays.

Today's mail brought the rates for 2014. The insurance premium has increased to $650, or by about 23%. Copays have also increased, to $616, or by nearly 87%. The total increase - assuming I won't need any additional medications - comes to 47%.

I was not happy when President Bush proposed and AARP supported Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit. The idea of insuring seniors' drugs was good. The resulting law, which specifically forbids the federal government from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies, was insane.

Well, "insane" is putting a good face on it. The financiers who supported the companies who bought the politicians who voted for the law were by no means insane. They were lining their own pockets, never mind the rest of us.

It's obvious, isn't it? If the government gives away money without limits and accountability, retail prices rise, insurance premiums rise, and consumers end up paying as much (or more) out-of-pocket than before the government stepped in.

Want proof? Take a look at this chart from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Notice that the U.S. government spends about as much of its GDP on healthcare as other developed countries (without, however, insuring everybody, as the other countries do). Notice that, unlike citizens of other countries, U.S. citizens spend a whopping amount in addition to what the government spends. The difference? Those other countries put strict limits on what pharmaceutical companies and other medical suppliers can charge.

Some Americans suggest that the government should just stop subsidizing things like health care and education. That doesn't make sense unless you think that only rich people should have access to schools and hospitals. But it makes more sense than subsidizing something without putting a ceiling on what the lucky recipients can charge for their goods and services.

I am going to look for a different Medicare Part D insurance company. I don't expect to find one that's much better, however, until our lawmakers learn to say Yes to middle-class and disadvantaged people and a loud, resounding No! to rich institutions and individuals who want to get even richer at our expense.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Let's talk about food: Maybe some of us should love food more

[Renoir, 1881: Le déjeuner des canotiers]
Q. What is one of the best ways to look good, feel good, and enjoy a long life?
A. Celebrate!

Yes, it's counterintuitive. Most Americans are convinced that if only we could eat little enough fat, ingest few enough calories, spend enough sweaty minutes at the gym, and drink exactly 5 ounces of red wine a day, then we might live forever--with enough expensive medical intervention, of course.

How dreary.

The French, par contre, are famous bons vivants. They enjoy butter, red meat, long loaves of fresh bread, and out-of-this-world pastries. They love their wine, they tend to avoid exercise, and they get 30 days of paid vacation every year.

In her bestselling 2005 book, Mireille Guiliano claimed that French Women Don't Get Fat. Some do, of course, but only about 18% (compared to 33% in America). Weight, however, is not the point, even though Americans are obsessed with it. Health is a lot more important. French women win in that category too, living to about age 85 (compared to 81 for American women).

How can the French eat so richly and live so long? Researchers call it the French paradox, and they don't agree about how it works. Here's my theory, for what it's worth:

If you really love good food, you'll stock up on fresh produce, fresh-baked breads, fresh meat and fish, scrumptious cheese, and homemade desserts (unless you live near a French pâtisserie). Why waste time on junk food, convenience food, or fast food? To quote scripture out of context, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food" (Isaiah 55.2).

If you really love good food, you'll eat it three times a day. You'll suspect that people who snack on crappy stuff all day and then come home too ravenous to cook real food probably don't have their priorities straight.

If you really love good food, you'll turn your meals into celebrations. You'll eat beautifully, choosing a variety of colorful foods and, sometimes, putting flowers on the table. You'll eat mindfully, savoring tastes and aromas. You'll eat gratefully, giving thanks for farmers and cooks and grocers and friends.

You can celebrate whether you're at a party, at table with family and friends, or eating alone. Eating regular, beautiful meals of fresh food is not all that hard to do. It doesn't have to be expensive. It's a lot more fun than the usual American way of eating. And, oddly, celebratory eating tends to make us look good, feel good, and live long.

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'll be leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Let's talk about food: Naked, no doubt hungry, and definitely not ashamed

[Rodin, Le baiser]
It's odd that Christians--people who claim to believe that God created the earth, sustains it day by day, and intends to create a new earth--are often so mixed up about sex and food. How long would the earth's inhabitants last without coupling and eating?

And yet most Christian writers right up to the 16th century praised celibacy, sexless marriages, and arduous fasting. Bless Martin Luther for loving his wife (and the beer she brewed), but lots of us still seem to think that good sex and good food--if not actually sinful--are at least pretty low on the religious values hierarchy.

Has it escaped our attention that, according to our most sacred literature, God made a naked male and a naked female, put them in the midst of grain fields and orchards, and told them to multiply?

Have we noticed that, in the great poem that is the last book of Christian scripture, the celebration of the triumph of good over evil is portrayed as a marriage supper?

Why are we so nervous about our bodies?

Well, such nervousness has a long history. Philosophers going back at least as far as Plato have favored the soul over the body. St. Paul often sounds like he does too (though theologians, e.g. E.P. Sanders, point out that his spirit/flesh dichotomy isn't really talking about the soul vs the body at all). And the Roman Empire was full of teachers who posited a radical dualism between soul and body--with the soul, of course, on top. The author of the first letter to Timothy described such teachings, and rejected them:
They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer (1 Timothy 4.3-5).
I wanted to illustrate this post with a painting of Adam and Eve enjoying themselves in paradise. I thought it would be easy to find: just Google "creation" or "paradise" or "Eden," throw in "Adam" or "Eve" to narrow the search results--piece of cake, right?

Sadly, no. Just about every painting that came up was about the Fall. Eve having a chat with a snake. Eve sharing her apple with Adam. The primal pair fleeing Eden, earnestly hiding their genitals.

My Google search discovered no rejoicing in the beauty and goodness of the fresh-made earth. No sumptuous breakfasts prepared by the Creator for the wakening humans. No primordial picnics au naturel.

Just guilt.

Hey, Christians, can't we do better than that?

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'll be leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Let's talk about food: The apple wasn't the problem

[Cranach the Elder, 16th c]
If we're going to talk about food, we need to start with theology. Before chocolate was invented, a snake put "sinfully delicious" and "decadent" on the menu. Somebody fell for the marketing ploy, and we've had a complicated relationship with food ever since.

We've also had a complicated relationship with sex, and with siblings, and with weapons of mass destruction. It's all there in Genesis (where the WMDs are swords). And pretty soon, right-thinking people started coming up with rules to keep people from doing bad things. You can have sex with this person but not that one. You really shouldn't deceive, sell, or kill your brother. Beat your swords into plowshares.

The rules helped to restrain bad guys, and they gave would-be good guys some helpful pointers. Still, there were plenty of bad guys to go around, and good guys could get pretty anal about what other people should or shouldn't do. Anyway, it's obvious that you don't create a good marriage simply by avoiding sex with the wrong person, and you don't have a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner simply by not killing your siblings, and you don't banish war simply by wiping out as many weapons as possible. The rules are helpful--adultery, fratricide, and genocide are really bad ideas--but if you want a Peaceable Kingdom, you're going to need more than rules.

Same with food. We have a food problem all right: famine, starvation, and food insecurity in some places; morbid obesity, addictions, and eating disorders in others; and everywhere an amazing increase in diseases exacerbated by eating badly. So of course we have come up with rules: Cut back on fat. Cut back on salt. Avoid sugar. Avoid carbs. Eat low-glycemic index carbs. Eat less meat. Eat no meat. Count calories. Eat your vegetables. Eat organic. Eat local.

Some of our rules are nonsense, and some exist so snakes can sell more products. But many--such as Michael Pollan's famous "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants"--are excellent. Trouble is, though some of us follow the rules (sometimes with the result of improving our own health but sometimes to the point of obnoxious self-righteousness), the world still has a major food problem. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.

So here's the theology, which may sound vaguely familiar to people who have read St. Paul's letter to the Romans:
  • Food is good, though the world has a serious problem with it.
  • Rules for healthy eating are good, though nobody follows them perfectly.
  • Even if we followed food rules to the letter, we would not solve the world's food problem.
  • We need a whole new way of thinking about food: one that emphasizes celebration, hospitality, and sacrament.
  • Then we can just forget about the rules, right?
  • Wrong. Many of the rules are excellent in their place; they just aren't capable of restoring paradise.
  • Only celebration, hospitality, and sacrament can do that.
This Sunday at St B's midhour, we'll talk about food as celebration. Next Sunday, September 29, we'll look at food as hospitality. October 6, we'll discuss food as sacrament. We probably won't talk about food rules at all.


This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'll be leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Let's talk about food: The Bible says "Let's parteeee!"

[From the Schmalz Brewing Company]

If you are under the impression that the Bible recommends a life of dour deprivation--especially of good food and drink--read Deuteronomy 14:22-26 for comfort:
Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish--oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.
And the tradition continues in the New Testament. Remember the winemaker for the wedding at Cana!

[Andrea Boscoli, 16th century]


This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'll be leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Let's talk about food: EAT WITH JOY

 No, let's not talk about food.

Not if food means a dreary presentation about weight control or pesticides or glycemic indexes or, God help us, "nutrients."

But wait... what if food brings to mind generosity, friendship, hospitality, pleasure, healing, creativity, gratitude--JOY?

That's how Rachel Marie Stone has learned to think about food, after several years of seeing food as the enemy. Now, by contrast, Rachel believes that "God made eating sustaining, delicious and pleasurable because God is all those things and more. When young students begin at yeshivot," she writes, "they are given a dab of honey on squares of wax paper--and admonished: 'Never. Forget. What. God. Tastes. Like.'" Her book, Eat with Joy, might change the way you think about food too.

There is no textbook for the conversations about food we'll be having at St. Barnabas for three Sundays beginning September 22, but if Rachel's approach interests you, you may want to buy (paperback or Kindle download) or borrow (the Glen Ellyn library has a copy) Eat with Joy and read at least the introduction and chapter 1 before the 22nd.

I interviewed Rachel for Christianity Today when her book came out last spring. You can read the interview, "Happy Meals," here.

And definitely read Ellen Painter Dollar's delightful review of Eat with Joy, which begins:
It is fitting that I’m writing this review of Rachel Stone’s new book Eat with Joy (InterVarsity Press 2013) while eating lunch at a local French café—an establishment that embodies why Rachel insists on seeing an authentically made French baguette as a gift to be enjoyed, white flour and all, in her generous, thoughtful, creative, challenging, God-centered vision of what food is, and can and ought to become.

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'll be leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Let's talk about food: Chocolate Cake

Someone has just offered you a big piece of chocolate cake. What do you say?

--Oh, I shouldn't.
--Could you give me just half a piece?
--I'll diet tomorrow. 

Chocolate = Guilt. Shame. Regret.

Unless, of course, it's your second birthday.
Or unless you've been reading your Bible about food.

"Let us eat and celebrate."
Luke 15.23
"Eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food."
Isaiah 55.2
"Feasts are made for laughter."
Ecclesiastes 10.19

So when did we trade celebration for guilt, delight for shame, laughter for regret?

What did Jesus mean when he said, "Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18.3)?


This is the first of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'll be leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll be posting about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.