Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

106 posts categorized "Lent"

Lenten Reflections: Write It on Their Hearts

Photo by flickr user Mumu X

March 28, 2013
Maundy Thursday

Lectionary readings:

Jeremiah 31:31-34                
Psalm 89             
Luke 22:7-20                 
Hebrews 10:16-25

 By Kathryn Sparks

Littered landscape
Tent home
Grieving mother
Lost child

Heart, write it on my

Worried earth
Hungry tenant
Furious father
Lonely babe

Heart, write it on

Defenseless greens
Overturned shelters
Cold caretakers
In between brothers

Heart, write it
Heart, write

And they shall be my people!

Nowhere but in the full and final forgiveness could I hope to understand:
“This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God…

we are made


Kathryn Sparks is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Lenten Reflections: Answering the Church Door

Isaac_eating_fruitWednesday, March 27

By Amanda Bornfree

Her eyes held a weariness that I hadn't seen before. She was tired. She sat quietly, with her shoulders slouched, as she held her young boy in her arms. He was restless; hands scratching his head, eyes wandering up toward the ceiling. I could tell he was not eating well. Neither was she. 

I was working late at the church and was the only person to hear the buzz that came from the side door. I had immediately welcomed in the young woman and child. Now, we were in the church’s kitchen. My head was dizzy, from work and the surprise of the unexpected visitors.

It was an early autumn day. No one was yet used to the sky darkening shortly after 5 o’clock. The heat of the summer days was dwindling and the idea of colder days approaching made bodies crave sustenance.

I found three cold apples in the refrigerator, a quarter block of sharp cheddar cheese, half a loaf of bread and some caramel dipping sauce. There was a can of French onion soup in the cupboard. I made her a bowl of soup with shaved cheese on top. She dipped the bread in the broth and fed it to the boy. When he was through, she ate. They were quiet, as most of us are when we eat. I sat across from them at the wobbly coffee-stained kitchen table. Once she had enough, she thanked me and told me about her situation.

40-for-1000_logo_blogHer mother had kicked her out of the house three days earlier. She didn’t share the reason. She was 17 years old and her son was almost 2. She used to come to our summer youth programs when she was 10 and 11. She was trying to reach a teacher that was a member of the church. She mentioned the teacher’s name—I knew her. I had actually spoken to her earlier that day on the phone. So we called her up. After all of the caramel sauce and two of the apples were gone, the teacher arrived. The young woman thanked me again. The little boy had stopped scratching his head and gave me a smile before he rested his cheek on his mother’s shoulder.

I exhaled as the teacher thanked me. At the time, I didn’t really understand why I was receiving so many thanks, but now I thank God for blessing me with the stamina to work late that evening. Now, I’ve realized the importance of that simple act of feeding a mother and a child. And, once again, I thank God for blessing me with the ability to do that, and much more, for women and children.

Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in Bread for the World's church relations department.

Photo: Isaac, enjoying fresh fruit. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

40 Days of SNAP: Help? Help!

Children enjoy a snack at an after-school program in Washington, D.C. (Mark Fenton)

The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.

By Ivan Herman

Church members keep coming to me and asking, “Pastor Ivan, is there any way we can help you and your family? Can we take you out to eat or bring over a casserole for the freezer?” I give a variation of the same answer every time: “Thanks, but no thanks.” “That kind of defeats the purpose of the Lenten discipline.” I know they mean well, but when you find someone who is fasting from chocolate for Lent, do you offer them a Snickers?

As often as I try to graciously say “no,” I must also find a way to graciously say “yes.” Jeremy said, “I took your daughter out for an ice cream at McDonald’s. I hope that doesn’t ruin your budget.” Wyn said during a Stephen Ministry devotional, “Here’s an onion. You can do a lot with an onion.” My father, during his vacation, said, “Even people on SNAP have granddads who give grandkids treats.”

But then there is our dear friend, Crystal. She and her husband, Jeff, know what it’s like to be on SNAP. Some years ago when their first child was born prematurely, Jeff had just been laid off from his job. They had no income, no significant savings, and were consumed with daily running back and forth to the hospital to care for their new baby girl. When applying for assistance to cover the cost of the medical bills for the baby, the social worker told them they could apply for SNAP. “How are you putting food on the table?” she asked them. Extended family and church friends had been graciously providing them food, but their need was evident. While it was only a matter of a couple months before Jeff was back to work and they were off SNAP, in their hour most filled with need it was a difficult decision to say “yes” to SNAP. There is such a stigma attached to asking for food stamp help.

A few Sundays ago Crystal approached my wife, Susan, in the church parking lot. She thrust a brown paper grocery bag into her arms without asking. “Take it. You’ll need it.”

Inside the bag was a handwritten note:

Ivan and Susan,

Well I thought this could help you in more ways than one. Besides the simple fact of needing more food than money can buy, any extra food can always help.

But also in my life I have found it to be easy to be on the giving end of help. It is a hard thing to ask for help from a friend, family member, or stranger. But when your family is in need you have to push aside pride and be willing to take a helping hand.

So this is our gift to you, some food for thought.


Annie Lamott’s newest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers distills our conversations with God into these simple words. She said in an interview that “Help …is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”

Even among generations there is a marked difference in the ability to ask for help and the perception of SNAP. A March 3 article in the Sacramento Bee explored the need among seniors. There is a growing population who are seeking food assistance from food charities, yet who won’t seek help from SNAP.  “So many are eligible for CalFresh food stamps, … but they look at that as a welfare program as opposed to a nutrition supplement.” River City Food Bank saw the number of older adults seeking assistance rise by 25 percent in 2012.

I’m convinced Crystal is right. It is easier to be on the giving end of help than it is to ask for help.  I don’t always ask for help when I need it.  But I do pray that when I ask for it, that I will have the wisdom and ability to push aside my pride to do so.  I also pray there will be assistance programs like SNAP to provide that help.  And when I don’t ask for it, yet still need it, may there be generous hearts with overflowing brown paper bags that come unbidden.

Ivan Herman is associate pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.

Lenten Reflections: Growing and Thriving

Twin babies preemies

Photo: Pat Donahoo's twin daughters, courtesy of Pat Donahoo.

Monday, March 25

By Pat Donahoo

Babies! Whether it is mom, dad, grandparents, aunts or uncles, we all get so excited about babies. When we hear the news of expectant parents we throw parties and buy gifts and start planning what the life of the child will look like. We think about bright eyes and chubby cheeks and smiling, happy faces.

I planned all of those things for my first pregnancy, too. Then, at seven months along, I began to have problems with my health. In spite of a blizzard outside, I was sent to the hospital for tests. A quick x-ray (before the day of sonograms) showed that there were, in fact, two babies. Oh no! I need a second crib and a second car seat and twice as many clothes and bottles and diapers…..Well, at least I had two months to prepare.

40daysTen hours after my x-ray, in the middle of the blizzard, I went into labor. The doctor said not to wait, to get to the hospital immediately because the babies were coming too soon and we needed to be certain to get there before they were delivered. They arrived two hours later—about 12 hours from the time I found out there were two of them. They lost weight, had breathing problems, had to be fed intravenously. It was 16 days before I was permitted to hold them in my arms.
Scary? Challenging? Yes. But within a year they had each gone from weighing just three pounds to falling within normal development range. Because they had to be on oxygen those first few weeks of their lives they had to be tested for possible vision problems later. But, after those initial challenges they grew and developed normally and there were no residual difficulties.

How can preemie babies thrive? Why is it that some babies go full term and still struggle? The truth is there are a whole host of reasons. One of those reasons can be addressed: nutrition during the 1,000-day period from the start of a woman's pregnancy through her child's second birthday. I was blessed to have nutritious food, vitamins, and excellent medical care during my pregnancy. When this unexpected challenge came along my daughters were healthy enough to be able to overcome those early difficulties. How different might the outcome have been without that safety net? If they survived, they might still have had physical or learning challenges. Full-term babies without the proper care face those same challenges.

During this time of Lent, as we journey toward the cross we may travel in despair, or we may remember the rest of the story and the hope that the events at the cross birth. As we face this challenge of child nutrition, will we give in to despair or recognize the hope that lies in the fact that we can do something about it?

Pat Donahoo is executive director at Disciples Women.

Lenten Reflections: What Makes a Champion?

Three-year-old Mary plays near her house in Kamuli, Uganda. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Friday, March 21

By Amanda Bornfree

There’s a stillness that comes over me during the season of Lent. This stillness is soft yet strong, and each day, the stillness becomes stronger.

During this Lenten season, my attention is not only focused on my own spiritual growth and that of my community, but also on the growth of the 1,000 days movement. How does one become a champion for maternal and child nutrition? How does one become a stronger advocate for such an important cause?  What makes a person willing to stand up? These are the thoughts I have during moments of prayer and reflection. I know there’s not one answer.

40-for-1000_logo_blogIs it purpose coupled with perseverance? Does one become a champion by chance, or is it strictly a calling? Is a champion’s stance enhanced through experience, or from study and research? Is a champion someone who has landed at the intersection of compassion and courage? Perhaps a champion is someone who believes in moral rights and defends them? Or maybe a champion is someone who just does what needs to be done—someone with a good heart and common sense? Is it clearly our duty as Christians to be champions? Is it in our nature as Christians to be champions?

As the questions and thoughts come, I return to the stillness with my heart wide open. I’m not anticipating that any particular answer will come, or even any answer at all. I’m simply preparing myself to be moved by the Holy Spirit, to be open to playing the role that’s needed in order to shine light on the 1,000 days movement and to fight hunger and malnutrition.

I ask that you, too, during your moments of stillness, look inside yourself and become a champion for maternal and child nutrition. As a woman of faith, I believe it is in our nature to be champions for this cause.

Amanda Bornfree is a member of Bread for the World and a consultant in the church relations department.

Lenten Reflections: Do It Now

'give' photo (c) 2010, Tim Green - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ecclesiastes 11:1-10  
Mark 10:17-31
2 Corinthians 3:7-18

By Phil Hanna

The gospel lesson for today is the familiar story of the rich young ruler (though only Matthew calls him young and only Luke calls him a ruler) who asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life.

Jesus answers that he must observe the commandments.  But he does not list all of them.  He omits the first four, which concern our relation to God, and lists the next five, four of which tell us what not to do to our fellow humans. The one positive commandment—honor your father and mother—he puts last, rather than the first, on this list. He omits the commandment against coveting. Is this because he thought the man was too rich to covet anymore? And he adds to the ten commandments one about not defrauding people. Is this because he knew the man got rich that way?

When the man claims he has followed all of these commandments since his youth, Jesus adds another new one. He tells the man to sell all his many possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.

The man is unwilling to do this. Like most of us, his possessions make him comfortable. Like most of us, he will make a will, and only give away his possessions after he dies.

The call to us to “Do it now!” is too hard for us to follow.

The Teacher in today’s chapter of Ecclesiastes was full of “Do it now!” In verse 1, he tells us to send our bread (that is, give our money) upon the waters (that is, send it out even if we are not sure where it will end up). In verse 2, he tells us to send what we have to as many needy as we can, now, because disaster may prevent us in the future. In verse 3, we should be like the clouds that are full; let our goodness fall as the rain falls. In verse 4, he criticizes those who want to wait for perfect weather before sowing or reaping.  If we always wait for the perfect time to do something, we will never do anything.

There is work for one and all

Do it now, do it now.

Hear the Master to thee call.

Do it now, do it now.

. . .

Can you help an erring one?

Do it now, do it now.

Stay not for “tomorrows sun,”

Do it now, do it now.

M. M. Lightcap  

Phil Hanna is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Lenten Reflections: Quiet Words of the Wise

'Lend Me a Hand' photo (c) 2010, Toesmasha - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ecclesiastes 9:11-18
Mark 10: 1-16
1 Corinthians 15:20-26

By Stacey Gagosian

The Ecclesiastes passage spoke the most to me.  It begins with a reminder that read, to me, a bit like “you win some, you lose some,” and that there are no guarantees that winners will always win and losers will always lose.  This can be somewhat encouraging when feeling like the hand you're dealt is always a bust.  Going further into the passage, I could hardly read it without thinking of the current political situation in Washington, D.C. “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one bungler destroys much good.”  This is a very good reminder that we all need to stop shouting and do more listening.  Nonetheless, sometimes I wish the wise would raise their voices just a little bit; then again, probably I am shouting too loudly to hear them.

The other passages acted more to remind me that we are a church reformed and always reforming and that the Bible is a living, breathing document, continually reinterpreted, and not always taken literally. Further, these varying stories all remind us that we must not discount the weak and innocent, and that sometimes it is these very people who can lead us in the right direction. 

Prayer: Dear Lord, we are so grateful to you for sending your son, Jesus Christ, who has made it possible for all to have eternal life.  Help us to embrace his message, his love, and each other in order to discern wisdom.  Help us to use Lent as a time to stop shouting and start listening.  Amen.

Stacey Gagosian is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

40 Days of SNAP: The Best Food for All


Marie Crise is able to use her SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables at the Abingdon Farmers Market in Abingdon, Va. Are we doing enough to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious, fresh food? (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.

By Susan Herman

I’ve been a foodie since the late '90s, when the film Big Night came out, and Alton Brown started his TV show Good Eats. Ivan and I love to host BBQs and theme parties, planning and prepping for days beforehand. Bring on the Inauguration Day clam chowder, the King Cake, the Robert Burns Supper! Most recently I enjoyed a blogger cookie exchange with other local foodies, and really enjoyed myself.

But since taking the SNAP challenge, I’m surprised to feel anger welling up. Anger toward myself and toward my fellow foodies. Here’s why: we have a class bias. We aspire to eat the best food, but how many of us also truly aspire—and take action—for everyone to have access to the best food? Why do we allow such a gap to exist?

By “the best food” I’m not talking about lobster and caviar. I can’t afford and don’t really lust after those things. I’m talking mainly about fresh, local fruits and veggies, preferably those that are grown without chemicals. (Yes, there were a few fruits and vegetables featured in the theme parties I’ve listed above.)

And I’m talking about fish that are responsibly harvested, eggs from chickens that have room to roam (and chicken from chickens that have room to roam), beef and pork from cows and pigs that aren’t treated with hormones and producing swamps of toxic waste.

Stuart Leavenworth, editorial page editor for the Sacramento Bee, questioned in a recent Forum section whether Sacramento is ready to face the challenges of the “Farm to Fork” movement. He contrasted mayor Kevin Johnson’s plans to brand the city as a food destination with the reality that “most consumers purchase the cheapest food available, regardless of season.” Being a food destination will mean that more restaurants are serving locally-sourced foods and that events such as the Foodie Film Fest draw healthy numbers. And this will be a good thing, a positive challenge for Sacramento. But how can we also ensure that low-income people, particularly in this rich agricultural region, can buy and cook that fresh-from-the-farm good stuff?  Many area farmers markets are now able to swipe EBT cards and accept SNAP dollars, but, unfortunately, junk food still usually provides more calories for fewer dollars—and hungry people are often forced to choose quantity over quality.

I just waded through 330 typeset pages of unbridled wonkery—a book called All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America? by Joel Berg (2008, Seven Stories Press), which was recommended to me by a social worker friend. A great read. Toward the end, the author notes that some farm-to-fork advocates assert that increased food prices "are a good thing because they deter people from buying junk food.”

How do you answer that, friends? Is that class bias? Is it helpful?

Susan Herman is an independent editor and coordinates the Northern California chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Lenten Reflections: The Poor Will Always Be With You?

Tohomina Akter washes pots and dishes in a pond near her home on the morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Tuesday, March 19

By Inez Torres Davis

"The poor will always be with you."

These words have bothered me for much of my Christian life.  To me, it infers God’s limits as well as our own. It is possible for us Christians to miss the mark, but is it possible for God to be unable to get us to be inspired enough to end poverty? Of course, these are idle thoughts, not intended to be idolatrous, but reflective of the struggle I have had for decades with the seeming inevitability of  hunger and poverty. The poor will always be with you?

Years ago, while at Bible college, I was inspired as I sat and read this passage. I gained perspective by remembering the edicts:  Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to? What is the context in which these words were said?

Jesus was speaking to Judas.

40-for-1000_logo_blogJudas was the fellow who handled the finances (what finances there were) attached to Jesus and his entourage.  The suggestion may be made that Judas’ desire to overturn Rome and establish the new and improved Kingdom of Israel was as pointed as his ability to make sure cash was available to him for his handling of the expenses. This was likely not a system of economic cooperation he used, so it is legitimate to wonder if Judas would have really given that money to feed the hungry had he been given it.

The poor will always be with you, (Judas).

So, maybe, just maybe, Jesus was not addressing the inevitability of poverty as much as he was describing poverty as it relates to greedy folk? The kind of people who want more, more, more!  More money. More power or control.  People like Judas, who was able to exchange Jesus for some idea of grandeur and thirty pieces of silver.

At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children, age 5 and under, die each day due to poverty. And the number would be much higher if older children were included in that figure. These dear children “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world.”  Today, 2.6 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation and about 885 million people do not have access to clean water. 

So, the children die from treatable diseases without an anointing. But the money for the ointment that could have been pressed to their skin went somewhere else.  It did not feed their bellies or eliminate their suffering or prepare them for burial, it went elsewhere.  Where did it go? 

The poor will always be with you, (Judas).

Inez Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Lenten Reflections: Faith and Acts of Discipleship

'prayer candles 1' photo (c) 2010, Adam - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

By Claudette A. Reid

Six days before Passover Jesus went back to Bethany, where he had raised Lazarus from death. A meal had been prepared for Jesus. Martha was doing the serving, and Lazarus himself was there. Mary took a very expensive bottle of perfume and poured it on Jesus' feet. She wiped them with her hair, and the sweet smell of the perfume filled the house. A disciple named Judas Iscariot was there. He was the one who was going to betray Jesus, and he asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” Judas did not really care about the poor.

He asked this because he carried the moneybag and sometimes would steal from it. Jesus replied, "Leave her alone! She has kept this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me." (John 12:1-8, Contemporary English Version)

We are more than halfway through our Lenten journey, and it is time to confess that I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. Of course "hate" is not the best verb to use here but let me try to explain, and hope you’ll forgive me for not finding another word.

I love Lent because I get to focus more intensely on my journey with Christ. I get to appreciate that there is something personal and intimate about being asked to join Jesus on his journey to Calvary. That’s special. But I "hate" Lent for the very same reasons! Because the more time I take for spiritual introspection and serious contemplation, the more evident it becomes that I am utterly insignificant when compared to Christ. My sinfulness and my unworthiness seem more magnified during this season, and I’m forced to do my some “Spiritual Lenten Spring Cleaning.”

40-for-1000_logo_blogJohn 12:1-8 is, for many of us, a familiar story: Jesus’ anointing at Bethany. But even as I’m learning to be an advocate for the poor and marginalized in the hopes of eradicating poverty and injustice, I have a new problem. I find myself questioning why Jesus chose to declare: “…You will always have the poor with you… .”  What’s more, here during my Lenten Spring Cleaning, I find myself in an embarrassingly awkward position, actually agreeing with Judas, the crook—God help me!

Although I unequivocally deplore Judas’ evil motives, I have been asking myself why Jesus didn’t encourage Mary to sell the perfume and use the proceeds for the poor. What was he implying, even as he endorsed and accepted the lavish (and seemingly improvident) indulgence from Mary? On the surface, it feels as if this is a hopeless condition leaving one to speculate: If Jesus, who knows all things, can say that we will always have the poor with us, why bother?

My questioning, albeit genuine, is momentary as I turn away from the questions in my head and focus on my heart. I’m relieved to discover that my faith will not allow me to cop out and settle for the status quo, because the Jesus who is being anointed days before his burial, is the same Lord who has directed us to provide for "the least of these." This is the same Jesus who, on numerous occasions, took great pains to ensure that the simple, common folk had their physical needs met. 

Our faith journey and acts of discipleship do not ask us to choose between providing for the poor or offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Our faith and works are inextricably woven. It is true that we follow in the steps of the Jesus who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and comforted those who mourned. And this is the same Christ on whom we dare to lavish our praise and extravagant worship in gratitude for all that he has done on our behalf. Mary did just that.

As we contemplate the cost of Jesus’ death on the cross, I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s worth much more than a bottle of perfume.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your great sacrifice. Because you gave your all, we too, shall live! Help us to be willing to give our all for you, and for the poor whom you love dearly. Amen.

Claudette A. Reid is coordinator for women’s ministries with the Reformed Church in America.

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