It is fitting that Congress set All Saints’ Day as the day to cut SNAP (the program formerly known as Food Stamps).
The day we celebrate all of the saints that came before, all the saints in our midst, and all of the saints to come, All Saints’ Day is one of the church’s principle feasts. It is one of the four preferred holy days for baptism. It is one of the most important days of the year for Christians because, unlike the other feasts of the church, this one focuses less on GOD and more on GOD’s mission for humanity, as seen by the people, real people, which includes us.
This is the day we made it harder for many of our neighbors to eat.
And every time I hear someone quote Ben Franklin as if he wrote the gospels, I want to remind them of that important conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21:1-19:
Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him and each time Peter’s response is of course I do! And each time Jesus tells Peter to feed Jesus’s sheep.
This is a deep story, which I preached this spring, but there is an important element that must be held here: Jesus connects love of Jesus with feeding people. With caring for others. This is consistent with the Great Commandment to love GOD and neighbor. But this is also so specific. It does not say this:
Jesus: Simon Peter, do you love me?
Peter: Of course I do!
Jesus: Then teach my sheep how to fend for themselves.
A Fast from Excess
Our Bishop challenged the diocese to take on the personal challenge of living for a week on the amount given to SNAP recipients. There has been a great deal of conversation generated on the Facebook event. More importantly, there has been a lot of reflection about habits and feelings. The participants in Eastern Michigan have taken seriously the nature of a fast—that it is a time of heightened awareness and discernment.
For our part, there has been heightened awareness of the strata of excess and the challenge to our sense of priorities—not from a place of excess, but from the place of choosing between health and hunger.
The public debate about health and hunger is almost always had on the part of our need to refrain from eating junk food—that national obesity is about a lack of will power or poor decision making. Rarely do we acknowledge as I did some time ago that crappy food is much cheaper. Or that obesity may not be a sign of our excess, but of our poverty. That I could eat 6 or 7 McDoubles for less than the price of a decent steak (and I’m not even talking good steak) is less a sign of excess and more a sign of our true collective poverty.
There is also a poverty of safety. As my true partner writes this week in telling our story of fasting:
A barrier we came across is that many generic brands either do not label for cross-contamination/facility sharing or they label that their products are made on the same equipment as other products with peanuts. As a mom that has had to watch my daughter go through an anaphylactic reaction, I will not take any chances on my daughters safety.
Labeling isn’t enough when a family is trying to put safe food on the table, they are forced to buy cheap food, and the cheap food can kill them.
Feed My Sheep
There are so many ways I have been mindful of food justice throughout the week, much of it coming through reflection at the relativity of poverty. That we tended to shop at or near the SNAP level already. That the question isn’t the amount of excess we live with, but our insulation from what always comes with living at the level of need. The insecurity. The constant vigilance at where every penny is spent. The hard decisions to make about what foods can be served multiple times and for snacks. How to pack lunches when prepackaged foods are so much more expensive.
And none of this deals with the looks and snide comments people make about our decisions. As a friend pointed out, she didn’t get a funny look when her $30 grocery bill included two indulgences: potato chips and a 2-liter of Coke. Unlike so many around us, she didn’t bear a Scarlet P on her chest.
Jesus exposes the greatest crime found in society—whether it be led by the Pharisees or the Romans, or today’s American versions—is that we allow our neighbors to be hungry. Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him—intimately, if he knows Him completely—and Peter responds by saying yes, I have affection for you.
Feed my sheep.
As I wrote this week, in response to All Saints’ Day and the Fast:
Jesus is challenging us to see where all of GOD’s people are. People that are in pain and suffering. Not so that we can rush in and rescue them, but that we can find them and be with them.
And today, I add this to it:
“…but that we can find them and be with them and feed them.”
We don’t fast to play at being poor. We don’t fast simply to confirm our thoughts. We fast to feel and when we feel, we are compelled to act. To specifically act on behalf of the Kingdom of GOD—to change things. To not be consumers but to be feeders.
Question: How will you be more feeder than consumer?
How might you move from worrying about being fed and toward worrying about how you might feed?