Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

100 posts categorized "Lent"

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.

Lenten Reflections: Dust to Dust

'grass and grey sky' photo (c) 2009, Alfred Straaf - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ecclesiastes 5: 8-20
Mark 9: 2-13
Romans 1:16-23

By Marilyn J. Seiber

I love the lyrical reality of Ecclesiastes.  In simple yet compelling words, the writer hits you with life’s truths, the reality of human nature that we all recognize but often choose to ignore.  Verse 8 starts with, “If you witness…the oppression of the poor and the denial of right and justice, do not be surprised at what goes on….” The question is not do we witness it, but do we think about why it happens and whether we should “pass on by” or do something about it. 

Frankly, I am always filled with admiration for people who tirelessly work on behalf of the poor, seeking justice through fair and affordable housing, food pantries, equal education, children’s safety, and labor and employment fairness.  Seeking justice in God’s world should be job one, but so often we are so busy, so distracted.

Then Ecclesiastes gets to the heart of so many problems—money and the constant desire for it, which creates rampant consumerism and a "gotta have it" society.  The writer does get into Economics 101 and the multiplier effect (“When riches multiply, so do those who live off them”), but that is not the central point.  The central truth of the possible effects of wealth and riches is that no matter how much you have, it is never enough.  Worrying about money and riches brings stress and emptiness, says the writer. “Gnawing anxiety and great vexation are his lot.” He sees a “singular evil”—“ a man hoards wealth to his own hurt, and then that wealth is lost through an unlucky venture.”  Stock market, gambling? Wealth can be gained and used for good or evil.  The chase for wealth can bring a whole society down—witness the financial crisis and great recession. Was the gain by the few worth it to them?  “You can’t take it with you” is the saying.  And Ecclesiastes says, “he came from the womb of mother earth, so must he return, naked as he came.”  Dust to dust.

This should make us re-evaluate our lives and what is important, what brings happiness, peace, and contentment. We must learn to appreciate our lives, count our blessings, and work to do right in the world “throughout the brief span of life that God has allotted.”  If we do this, says Ecclesiastes, “[we] will not dwell overmuch upon the passing years; for God fills [our] time with joy of heart.”

Prayer:  God, fill our hearts with joy and give us the wisdom to work for right and justice, to appreciate the gifts you have given us, and to share these gifts with others.

Marilyn J. Seiber 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: Look! A Free Banana!

'Bananas (edited)' photo (c) 2012, 24oranges.nl - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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

Knowing that fruit is really one of the most expensive parts of our food budget, I took the chance. Nobody was watching. It wasn’t free, exactly, but nobody wanted it. No, I didn’t steal it. It was in the trash bin. Sitting right on top of a bed of dry paper (come on people, recycle!), gleaming yellow with light brown freckles. It looked a bit soft on the bottom end, but the peel was unbroken and clean. I reached down and quickly snagged it, hoping nobody would notice. If someone did see, they would think I was retrieving something I dropped accidentally. I quickly made my way out to the parking lot and chucked it into the front seat of the car to save until my meetings were over.

I felt like a hunter-gatherer or a survivalist who isn’t fool enough to pass by an opportunity for nutritious calories that drop in my lap. Low-hanging fruit, one might say. But plucking someone else’s banana from the top of a trash can isn’t freegan dumpster-diving. I mean, it’s not the same as digging through rubbish bins and scarfing down other people’s half-eaten chicken sandwiches or cold Pad Thai takeaway.

Or is it?

Statistics alert:  More than half of all fruits and vegetables end up rotting in bins, fields, or landfills rather than being eaten. We lose more than we use!  If, as a nation, we could improve efficiency and reduce just 15 percent of our food waste per year, we could feed more than 25 million people just on what we save. As it stands now, it seems I’m more likely to find fruit in the trash than I am to find it in a bowl.

As I watch the budget, I’m aware we’re not halfway through the month, yet we’re two-thirds of the way through our SNAP allotment. We’re cooking quite a bit from scratch (e.g. baking bread, making yogurt). We are trying to be frugal, and are maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet. Yes, a fair amount of consumable assets still reside in the pantry and fridge, but it’s starting to look like lean times will be upon us.

Perhaps I’ll keep my eyes open and visit the bin again soon.

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

Lenten Reflections: Looking Through a Different Lens


By Barbara Anderson

I have never had to worry about having enough food—or enough of anything, for that matter. I have been very blessed.  However, sometimes God gives you the opportunity to look through a different lens and your perspective changes. Sixteen years ago, my husband Phil and I were in the process of adopting a baby girl from China. The period of time when we were waiting to be notified that a child had been selected for us was difficult. It was a hard time for me because I had no control over the situation.  I had to place my baby girl in God’s hands. 

While waiting, I would pray for the birth mother carrying my daughter, pray that she had access to good food and was healthy. I prayed for my daughter’s birth, that it would go smoothly and things would be OK. I prayed that my baby girl would have milk and food until we arrived in China to bring her home. I prayed for her health, that someone was watching over her. I prayed she was growing at a healthy rate and was not hungry when she went to bed at night. 

Finally, the day came when we arrived in China to bring our precious miracle home. When she was placed in my arms and I could hold her and see her, I knew that God had heard and answered my prayers. Our daughter, Carrie, had beautiful chubby cheeks and was happy and healthy.

Upon arriving home we visited our pediatrician, who confirmed that Carrie was one of the healthiest babies she had seen coming from an orphanage oversees. For many babies around the world, this is not the case. They do not have access to good food and nutrition. Their birth mothers did not have access to good medical care, vitamins, or nutritious food. 

40-for-1000_logo_blogAccording to Bread for the World, “Globally, more than one-third of child deaths are attributable to undernutrition.” In a world of technology and plenty, why can’t we put an end to world hunger?  We need to work together, through the Bread for the World and the 1,000 Days Movement, to improve maternal and child nutrition so that precious lives can be saved.

During this time of Lenten reflection, ask God what he is calling you to do so that all women and children have access to education, medical care, good nutrition, and a chance at a happy and healthy future, just like my daughter Carrie and your loved ones.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of All Hands In, an Arlington, Mass., ministry working on issues of human trafficking. She is also a past president of the American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Lenten Reflections: Supporting Each Other in Christian Love

Woman_praying_gatheringWednesday, March 13, 2013

Lectionary Passages:

Ecclesiastes 4: 4-16
Mark 8: 11-26
Hebrews 10: 19-25

By Bruce Whitener

In researching background material on Ecclesiastes, I was surprised to find that despite the statement by the author introducing himself as "son of David, king in Jerusalem," an obvious reference to King Solomon, many biblical scholars dispute that Solomon is the author. They cite, among other things, the fact that the source material for the book of Ecclesiastes dates much later than Solomon’s realm. I thought to myself, what difference does it make who authored it? The book is Solomon-like in its wisdom and has good advice for modern-day Christians about how to live a full and rewarding life. The material is short and is well worth reading. American novelist Thomas Wolfe was so impressed with these writings he had this to say:

"Of all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth.” Most Christians are probably familiar with the story of Jesus feeding the multitude by the Sea of Galilee. The second lectionary, Mark 8: 11-26, contains several accounts that may be less familiar. The first involves the Pharisees who followed Jesus around, hoping to catch him in some shortcoming or infraction of the complex Jewish religious laws. They ask him for a sign from heaven, hopefully something that would illustrate that Jesus was really endowed with a heavenly connection, such as the burning bush that was not consumed.

Throughout the Holy Land, there were many magicians and sorcerers that could perform tricks that would impress a crowd; these tricks would lead to a call for donations or an offer to sell trinkets. Jesus refused to show a sign as it would put him in the same class as the itinerant carnival acts.  He said: “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”  He and the disciples got back in the boat and went to the other side of the water where the Pharisees could not easily follow. When they got there, they discovered that once again, they had not brought any food. Fearing perhaps that the disciples would try to buy food from the locals, Jesus warns them:  “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Possibly Jesus was simply trying to ensure that they would not be adversely influenced by the Pharisees and Herod’s minions. Seeing that the disciples had no inkling as to how to get food, Jesus chides them that they do not recall how he had fed the other crowds. Citing their lack of faith, Jesus launches a full scale criticism of their value as his followers.  The second lectionary passage concludes with the story of Jesus restoring the sight of a blind man.

The third and final lectionary passage is a letter, The Epistle to the Hebrews, one of the books in the New Testament. Its author is not known, although Christian tradition holds it to be the Apostle Paul or perhaps one of his assistants.

The primary purpose of the letter is to exhort Christians to persevere in the face of persecution. The central thought of the entire Epistle is the doctrine of the Person of Christ and his role as mediator between God and humanity. The most compelling directive in the letter is that believers are to consider how they can be of service to each other, especially stirring up each other to the more vigorous and abundant exercise of love, and the practice of good works. As the young church was entering a time of persecution, more and more Christians were reportedly “shrinking away” from collective worship. The letter specifically urges Christians to band together in communal worship, supporting each other in Christian love.

Prayer: Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me. Amen.

Bruce Whitener  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: When Potlucks Become a Problem

'potluck' photo (c) 2009, Heidi De Vries - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/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

Our second grader, Camilla, will cap off a project about ancestry with a dinner at school. Each student is to bring a family artifact to display at the dinner, as well as two dishes to share: a main dish and a vegetable or dessert. Each dish should serve 8, says the assignment sheet.

Well, this is awkward.

It’s not a huge expense—we are putting maybe five extra dollars into this meal from our SNAP grocery budget—but it was just sort of assumed that each family could afford to buy and prepare food for this special event. What if we really couldn’t spare it?

Continue reading "40 Days of SNAP: When Potlucks Become a Problem" »

Lenten Reflections: Along the Way of Grief


Inez Torres Davis (l) with a Bread for the World delegation to Africa. (Bread for the World)

Tuesday, March 12

By Inez Torres Davis

Come with me to a poor, urban neighborhood in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It's 2011, and I'm with a delegation from Bread for the World. We are headed up a sharp stairway that stops and starts in unexpected places. We carry food along this uneven, broken way, this Via Dolorosa.

Soon, I surrender my bag of powdered milk because the stair heights range from three to 18 inches. This is our second-to-last day in Africa and after all of the walking of the past 10 days, my troubled foot requires the cane I brought with me, just in case. Still, the help of my fellow pilgrims is what is getting me up these stairs, this way of grief, in stifling heat. 

40-for-1000_logo_blogWe are taking this food to two families. The food is for their graciousness in allowing a bunch of well-meaning U.S. Christians to learn from them the way of the cross. We are only visiting one family because the other family has had a death. A four year old under-nourished little boy died last night in Dar es Salaam. He died because his little, weak body could not endure chicken pox. Chicken pox is a deadly disease along this way.

This house where death has visited is on our way to the second. As we reach this house a woman’s sharp and painful wailing dissects us and great grief wraps itself around our legs, our minds, and our hearts. We stop outside her door in an African heat that seems to increase exponentially with her suffering. We suffer with her. We pray. We furtively look into one another’s eyes as we leave the food that we brought for this family on this way of sorrow.

By the time we get to the second house we realize our catalog of questions for them has shattered. We have inhaled enough of the poverty to make our chests hurt. We have ingested enough of the sorrow and we have grown heavy with knowing.  We have already learned enough. We are more than a little numb.

But I want to describe this space to you; at least, I will try. I am standing at one entrance of what is perhaps an 18x18 foot cement building. I stand at one end of a very narrow hall that opens on both sides, dividing the space further. Wide halls are not needed—there are no fat people living here, and those who can't walk don’t use wheelchairs.  Multiple households live here.  Sixteen people call this space, divided into five or six quarters, home. 

There is a communal cooking ring in the narrow hall. Blankets hang across six doors. As we hand the food—which now looks, to us, like not nearly enough to address such a great need—to the mother of the second household, she thanks us profusely. 

I need you to see this woman. I need you to see her children. We must all do more! Please, carry this story beyond the borders of this page!  Please know that we must make sure that funding for USAID, Feed the Future, and the 1,000 Days Movement continues. But we must also be bold enough, and inspired enough, to see the gospel as it is preached along this way of suffering. For the hope of the resurrection, we must ask!

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

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