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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rotting in the Crates

I work at a food pantry that supplies fresh produce and non-perishables for countless individuals and families. Just today we had 18 clients visit us in just an hour and a half! These clients range from individuals and couples to families of 6 or more. They are all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, personalities and so on. There is rarely a dull day at our pantry.

That is even more true now. A local grocery store chain, embattled in a family feud, has had managers walk of the job (and some have been fired subsequently) and workers protesting outside stores. Produce deliveries and stock shipments have either been delayed or haven't arrived at all in some locations. No one to stock the shelves and produce means that fruits and vegetables that has been cultivated for weeks, likely harvested by migrant workers, and trucked to these locations are now rotting in the crates. CRATES full of produce going to waste- all over a family feud. (Now, I'm not part of the family and I'm not a native loyal customer so pardon me if it feels like I'm dismissing a family's clearly troubled relations. I don't discredit that its not a pleasant situation for anyone.)

Through divine intervention, I'm sure of it, local gardeners and other pantries have dropped off their unused abundance. We have huge zucchini, loads of summer squash, lettuce heads, kale leaves, and 4-5 bunches of both radishes and turnips. We already had the very last of our dwindling supply of tomatoes and potatoes out so we ended up with a nice assortment.

We, as a society, have let so much get in between us and our food. Our clients rely on our pantry to supplement their groceries and we can't provide our best service to them because of a third party. How many more family feuds will result in crates of produce wasted? How many miles do peppers have to fly just so we can have bell peppers whenever we want, whether they're in season or not? When we start to become so dependent on our broken food system we put ourselves in a sticky situation.

Instead of flying bell peppers in from Holland (I checked the stickers on the peppers at one of the local grocery chains), maybe we eat seasonally. (Holland- they are flown in from Holland!) Instead of relying on grocery store chains, maybe we can have little backyard gardens that supply a small portion of our weekly produce. The food system, that has become so distant to Americans, would seem a lot more humble and personal.
Let us, as a spiritual discipline, begin to take back our food system and make it personal again.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hear Me Roar!

One of the biggest lessons I've had to learn this year is how to deal with difficult people, uncomfortable situations, and how to be a self-advocate. My dad calls this "letting the tiger out."

You see, my mom wasn't one to shy away from confrontation and she had an opinion on almost everything... and you heard it, asked for or unwanted. My dad is much more gentle and subdued. This is not to say he doesn't have opinion or that he is a door mat. He's just more docile. The apple didn't fall far from the tree- if it fell at all. I usually err on the side of being reserved and sometimes even passive.

Through various interactions and situations this year, I've been forced to grow pretty drastically in this very specific way. Whether its because of a miscommunication or elements completely out of my control it has shown up time and time again. Its been an issue I've been struggling with, knowing I need to be more firm and direct, and this year has been a down and dirty express lane.

After my mom died my dad let the tiger rage. He took amazing care of her for 5 years. He was a faithful and dutiful husband. A true care giver. But that also meant that he had to give up or compromise on a lot of his needs and wants. When he had the freedom to decide things for himself, her grabbed the reigns and was off to the races. His inner tiger was out of the cage and roared loudly. There was no mistaking how he felt. In the process of regaining his autonomy he alienated a few people and we got into a few good spats. Luckily that has all calmed down, we've had multiple heart to hearts, and the tiger is back to manageable ferociousness.

Get used to me letting my tiger growl more and a bit more loudly. Its all about balance though. The key is to keep the tiger from becoming to aggressive but I don't want it to return to being caged up either. I nice leash is appropriate. This new found voice has given me more confidence and I feel much more empowered. Putting peace ahead of my own personhood is not helpful in all situations. Being part of a team or a group doesn't always mean that the team's needs mean I have to sacrifice my wants. Honesty can greatly improve group dynamics. Also, not speaking your truth repeatedly in the name of peace isn't actually peaceful. Its allowing another person to act in certain form of violence toward you. That's not peace. That's keeping your tiger caged.

I'm going to let my tiger roar. Let yours roar too. Maybe we can all start doing this hard but beautiful work called being true to ourselves and with each other.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mission Through Polity

The idea of this blog post is a bit overwhelming so it'll be a continual work in progress.
I spent last week in a confused, yet happy, yet exhausted state. I was all sorts of emotions at all times. Presbyterians know this week as General Assembly- and it's a force to be reckoned with.

The biannual national gathering is a meeting of some big Presbyterian players and a lot of us little guys. I describe it as "the church's Congress." There are committees, lobbying, plenary sessions, interest groups of sorts, and overtures (the church's version of bills).

As the "Food Justice League" we were there to follow some food justice overtures concerning the first 1,000 days of pregnancy and a child's life. This window, from conception to the child's 2nd birthday, is the most vital for development. If there is any sort of malnutrition or famine, the child can be stunted for life *without ability to regain lost development.* Other overtures concerning food sovereignty and precautionary principal were all on the docket. Luckily these measures are all pretty self explanatory and are non-controversial. They don't instigate the bickering that comes with other issues that are more hot topic and in the news. For that I am grateful. But with the "over there" mentality we also loose a chance to be educated and affected on a deep emotional level concerning the atrocities that are happening on a daily basis.

These atrocities are happening in our cities and in our nation, the richest nation on earth.

GA met in Detroit this year. Yes- broke, almost abandoned, crumbling Detroit. Through discernment and thoughtful planning our church decided to invest our 2,000 person strong gathering and all the finical benefits that come along with it into a city that has been struggling for some time. This was a conscience move. Mission through church polity if you will.

Our small but tenacious Justice League decided to do our own mission through polity. Days at GA are full to the brim of committee meetings, organized lunches, making the rounds through the exhibit hall, and plenary sessions. 12 hour days are a blessing, 14+ hour days are the norm. To break up the constant sitting and to get some sun, we volunteered at an urban farm. Earthworks Urban Farm was right down the road from where were staying and had an open volunteer time on Wednesday mornings. You just show up ready to help, no questions asked, no need to RSVP. Its a great idea.

Without any sort of introductions or orientation the farm staff rounded everyone up and we walked to their urban farm, a few blocks from the wash station, greenhouses, and warehouse space that acted as home base. As our group moved through the neighborhood we talked to some of the staff and volunteers. The produce that is harvested from the variety of growing spaces is used primarily in meals at the soup kitchen that is under the same parent organization. A small portion of the produce is sold at farmers markets.

Most of the workers are members of the community and come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of the workers are recovering from addiction, finding their way out of homelessness, and some have criminal records. Those things don't matter. Well, not in the sense that they would matter to most outside their small community. These folks have been working at the farm and are constantly learning life skills through farming. (As someone who has worked on a farm, I can attest that you learn life skills on a daily basis- not just farming skills.) They are helping those who are currently experiencing what they have experienced.

Harvesting collards, scallions, baby beets (for the greens), chard, and sugar snap peas with such a diverse group was so much fun. Everyone was enjoying themselves, honest conversations were being had, and there were lots of smiles and laughter. Picking snap peas was my favorite. Not only do I love to eat snap peas but we got to pick them with an African-American man who was easily over 6 feet tall and wasn't shy about voicing his opinion. He was a riot. We got to talking about states since we're from all over the country and he offers up "You know whats wrong with Kentucky? Their grass in blue." That got everyone laughing.
We, white upper middle class young adults, picked peas with a guy who was our opposite on almost every accord. Now that's urban agriculture. That's community.

Mission through church polity brings you into community with folks who are hoping to grow a better Detroit. Who knew?

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Great Banquet

The parable of the great banquet is an explicit example of how we are called to invite those who are less fortunate to our feasts, our abundance.

Hartford St. Presbyterian doesn't have a lot of youth but we don't have in numbers, we make up in personality. These kids are great! I've been working with them on and off during my YAV year- talking about food justice and donating to A Place to Turn. Then I told them that we'd be participating in the World Vision 30 Hour Famine. Soon the usual teenage blank stare turned into disbelief and perhaps a little rebellion.

30 hours. No food. Only juice and water. Oh and by the way, you're going to be doing donation drives for those who are hungry... in front of a grocery store.

I can hear it now: "But we're hungry!"   "You mean I can't eat for a whole day?"

The youth arrived enveloped with duffel bags across their chest and sleeping bags hanging off their shoulders. We started out by laying out the ground rules for the weekend and playing some games. World Vision does a great job in coming up with games and providing the materials you need to play. All that needs to be done on the youth leader's end is to print some things and divide up the kids into "tribes." This year's edition of the TRIBE game was focused on Central and South America. Teams, or shall I say tribes, represented countries and to get everyone acquainted there were some facts about life in those countries, including the difficulties in finding food and getting an education.

After what would have been dinner time we all spread out our sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, and changed into our PJs to watch "We Bought a Zoo." I thought a movie would keep them distracted for a few hours and they might not think of their hunger pangs. It mostly worked. There were some comments here and there about watching a movie and not having snacks. Something about it being a crime against humanity or something... ;-) Next was the easiest part: sleep. Playing games and not eating to refuel is rough. I was tired, but then again I'm not 16.

We woke up the next morning and started off with a devotion. Our conversation was great and some of the youth had some pretty deep thoughts about sharing God's love, not just our resources, with those who are in need. Our next stop was a local grocery store to host a donation drive for the pantry where I work, right next to the church.
Wow was I impressed! Our hungry, hot (it was unusually hot that day) talked to strangers going into the store, telling them about the Famine and A Place to Turn, and letting them know that they were asking for donations. In total they raised over $300 for A Place to Turn and got 4 plastic storage bins full of food donations! Even on top of that they raised $250 for World Vision! What a group!

I am proud of our youth for making it through all 30 hours. Not one of them gave in to temptation, even in front of a grocery store. Our youngest participant was 10, our oldest was in their 40s. We even had different nationalities represented.
Our small, diverse, enthusiastic group made a difference in the world! What could be better? We shared our great banquet.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

God in Your Salad

The Trinity. God in 3 persons. Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

Heard it since you were in Sunday school right? Well, have you ever compared the Trinity to salad dressing? Or the church to palette flavors? Probably not. Have no fear- it'll all make sense by the end of this post!

Salad dressing, as we learned today in our Salad Dressing Throwdown (yes, we had a competitive salad making-off-- and you should too!) is comprised of 3 main components. 3 components like the Trinity. See how I did that?
Salad dressing= salty -- fatty -- sour

A proper, palette pleasing salad dressing has all 3 parts: salty, fatty, and sour. Granted salad dressings come in all sorts of combinations but those 3 parts come together to form one. Like God, no? Does God not have 3 facets that come together to form one? The building blocks of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all essential to form one being. One being that when active in your life creates one, not only palette pleasing but also soul pleasing, experience. 

The secondary flavors of good salad dressings can also relate to faith. They relate to parts of our faith journeys.

Remember those great moments when you are "on fire for God" as some would say? That's the hot/spicy part of your faith journey. Your faith is alive, you're ready to go, you've got the fire. Maybe you're bold and you go on a new service trip or maybe you have discovered a passion for a certain topic. Whatever it is, you are ready to blaze a trail in the name of faith.

Sweet faith are those sentimental moments that give you the warm fuzzy feelings. When you realize how much you are loved and the unfathomable grace we've received, our faith becomes very rich and deep. We keep coming back to these moments and wanting more as we do with our favorite dessert or sweet treat.

I'm a lover of the outdoors and frequently find God when I'm out in the sunshine, gardening, or hiking in the mountains. Being outside in Creation is a form of herbaceous faith. Herbs and so many other wonderful, beautiful things were created for us to enjoy. If you ever need to be reminded of just how beautiful our Creator is- take a look outside. The mountains, trees, rivers, and weather were all created by the most masterful artist. 

Finally, the indescribable part of faith. Sometimes we get just a small taste of it and other times it last for significant periods of time. The umami flavor is one of pleasure and satisfaction. Its usually found in things like meat and seafood but its rather elusive on our faith journey. Its when everything is aligned and we feel whole, blessed. This is the "cup overfloweth" kind of bear hug from all aspects of our lives.

I think of umami faith as the faith we are all trying to reach. Does that mean there won't be pain, transitions, spicy moments, or questions? No. Our faith can eb and flow but umami, just like in culinary terms, is the 5th taste, the one that no one can quite describe but everyone enjoys it. Whether everything is going wrong or you're shooting for the stars remember that God is everywhere, including in salad dressing.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bread of Heaven

What do you think of when you envision a monastery?
A stone building?
Beautiful gardens?

A large, ornate church?
Monks wearing robes and sandals?

That's what I pictured too- and most of it is accurate but there is much more to a monastery than silence and hooded monks.

When people found out I was going to a monastery for a Lenten retreat, most made some joke about the difficulties of being silent while drinking beer. Again, accurate but not the point. The point was that I was going to a place of devout religious life where men made life long pledges to follow Christ. A place that would teach me a lot about this title I'm trying to live out- Christian.

The monks of St. Joseph's Abbey are monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, known as Trappists. The Trappists are a Roman Catholic order of monks and nuns that can trace their history as far back as 1098. The order seeks to live in unity with God through Jesus Christ by practicing a life of prayer, worship, and hospitality. The daily of a monk is both regulated and free. Its an interesting paradox, which we got a small taste of during our short time there.

Monks rise at 3am and retire at 8pm. They attend services for the Liturgy of the Hours; one service once every couple of hours. The first service is vigils at 3:30am and the last one is compline at 7:40pm. And yes, I did attend the 3:30am service, once. Between services the monks work on grounds, have time for prayer, and have time to read and study. The Liturgy of the Hours services and work take up a majority of the monk's daily routine but he does have some free time to pursue his faith. Many take time to walk the grounds, read one of the books in the enormous library, spend time in prayer, or talk with their Brothers.

We attended most of the services, none of them were mandatory, and spent our mornings in conference with a monk named Father Peter. He entered the life in a monastery in his native Germany where he spent 25 years there before moving to the abbey in Spencer, MA. He's been there for 18 years. His dedication was inspiring. He entered the Trappist lifestyle as a young adult and has stayed with it even though a monk is not married to monastic life until he takes final vows.

One of the main things that hit me time and again during the week was the intention and dedication of these men to a life centered on their faith. They rise at 3am to worship their Christ. They attend multiple services a day and live a life of contemplative prayer. I took a few walks during my time at St. Joseph's and most of the time I ended up in the visitor's chapel. Every time I was in the visitor's chapel, at least one monk praying in the lowly lit, silent abbey church. Their dedication to a life of constant worship and prayer is fascinating and awe inspiring. I don't think I've had that amount of dedication for a single hobby, never mind a way of life.
Their way of life is their daily bread. They live on the the love of the Spirit and keep Christ as their focus. When they take the Eucharist they take part in a breaking of bread that is over 2000 years old. The Love is their sustenance.

They are nourished by the Spirit, the bread of heaven. I am hungry.

(Photo from:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Farmed and Dangerous

When I got home from work the other day one of my roommates greeted me with a big smile and a very enthusiastic "You have to watch this!" I obliged and was not prepared for what I was about to see, in a good way. Chipotle has created a video series called "Farmed and Dangerous" which is a tongue in check revision of any action movie with an evil villain, explosions, and a hero willing to risk life and limb for a noble cause concerning us all.
Yes, a burrito chain has sponsored an episodic series about the dangers of questionable ingredients. This is the world we live in now- for better, for worse.

While all in good humor, this marketing campaign does have a good message. I'd even venture to say its one of the defining messages of the food justice movement- how our food is produced matters. It matters big time.

Despite the mixed reviews on the series and whether it really address issues (or whether it addresses the right issues) I think Chipotle played their hand very wisely. If for a moment we forget that this gives them even more brand recognition and is good for their bottom line, the issues discussed during the, frankly, strange videos are indeed worth while. Quality, responsibly grown meat and produce is key to the burrito joints success but shouldn't that be the case for all of our restaurants and meals? Shouldn't all restaurants be concerned about the quality of the ingredients they put on our plate? "You are what you eat" is a phrase everyone has heard at some point in their life. If most of were what we ate we'd likely be ashamed. Who wants to be a burger or a two-liter? I find it interesting that a country with a saying like "You are what you eat" continues to allow factory farmed meat and fertilizer laced produce into our bodies without much foresight into how these things are leading to disease of both man and planet. I say "without much foresight" because there are people who discuss produce integrity, if you will, and who fight the good fight but as a whole our nation has let agribusiness run the show. Its similar to letting the fox gaurd the hen house.

Our farming culture allows the majority of produce to be grown with pesticides and fertilizers that are made of unpronounceable compounds. Chickens and animals raised for meat are kept indoors all day with no access to grass or sunshine. The term "farmed and dangerous" is not far off. Its a cute play on words that carries a lot of meaning.  The pesticides that are sprayed on acreage all across the country are harmful to those who spray them, the consumers who eat that produce, and the plants themselves.

I no longer want to put up with "farmed and dangerous" produce and protein. Its not a status-quo I am willing to literally swallow. How do we fight for "farmed and wholesome?"

"Farmed and Dangerous" can be found here.