Monthly Archives: April 2013
Sometimes, living a simple life feels out of reach.
Maybe it’s living in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s trying to balance a work life, a church life, a family life and still feeling like you have a life.
When I feel my life teetering out of balance, the book of Ecclesiastes is a good place to turn.
Oh sure, it talks a lot about everything being meaningless, so on the surface it seems like a bit of a downer. But this book in the Old Testament gives me great comfort because it simplifies.
“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (2:24)
Isn’t interesting that when you really get down to it, the Bible (or in this case, most likely King Solomon, who God happened to give unparalleled wisdom) gives us this simple formula to enjoy our lives.
So often—at least in America—live in complete contradiction to this. We want to eat as quickly as possible because we need to keep moving. We don’t want to spend a long time on food. We eat on the run or in our cars.
And we’re missing out.
My husband and I have been fortunate enough to travel overseas twice, wandering throughout several countries in Europe. What struck me so clearly there is the difference in what a meal means. In Paris, you can’t even really get coffee to go, unless you’re in a coffee shop that caters to tourists. No one is eating or drinking while walking around.
In America, we make meals revolve around our lives. In Europe, their lives revolve around meals.
When I returned home, I found myself wishing I could find the time to live that way. More precisely, I found myself wishing I would make the time to live that way.
If I did that—if we all did that—maybe we could put our food culture in the United States on a better path. We’ve been so bent on getting our food as quickly as possible so that we can move on with our busy lives, our food has suffered. And as a result, our health and our earth have suffered.
As I said here, as Christians our lives should be attractive to others. As in, something should stand out; be different. If we’re so furiously busy we don’t make time to have meals with people we care about it, we aren’t living a life anyone really wants to live.
Eat drink and be glad. This theme reappears in Ecclesiastes five times over 12 chapters. When themes repeat in the Bible I feel like it’s God using a highlighter.
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” (8:15)
First things first: eat.
I think I can do that.
My first foray into cooking quickly turned into a cooking failure.
And by “cooking” I mean heating up a can of chicken noodle soup on the stove.
I don’t remember how old I was, but my brother was teaching me what to do. He was the soup making expert, because he wouldn’t eat anything that looked like a fruit or vegetable. So he pretty much lived off a diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (one of God’s greatest creations) and Campbell’s bean and bacon soup.
When I tried to pour it from pot to bowl, I didn’t expect the handle to be so hot (insert your own joke here), and I dropped every last bit of it down the sink.
I remember thinking then, in between thoughts of New Kids on the Block: I’ll never be able to cook. I’m terrible at it, and it’s not even fun.
Somewhere after college, I realized that I enjoyed cooking immensely. And not just heating up a can of soup.
While it took me a while to get on that bandwagon, I didn’t realize the benefits to cooking your own food.
“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself,” Pollan said. “People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”
What can also get lost when we aren’t cooking? Community.
Obviously, we can go out to eat with people. But cooking with or for someone and sharing food takes your connection to a different level. You might forget a meal out with friends, but you don’t ever forget when a person cooked for you. There’s some fundamental difference there.
Think of how often God stresses community in the Bible. Much of the Bible is a story of one community, the Jewish people. In Acts, we read the early church gathered and shared meals every day. He built us to need community, and often times we see that community strengthened in the context of sharing a meal.
Passover is a meal people have shared with family and friends for thousands of years. For Christians, taking communion connects us to the beginning of our faith, a remembrance of the meal Jesus shared with His disciples as one of his final acts before dying on the cross. He ate meals with people most did not want to be seen with (Mark 2: 13-17), and He did that to make a point.
Honestly, how many of the problems and misunderstandings could we solve if we would take the time to share a meal with someone?
In the first chapter their book Food: A Culinary History by Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari they discuss how cooking food changed civilization from the earliest times.
“The social impact of cooking was no doubt more immediately apparent than were its nutritional implications. It encouraged commensalism, or eating with others, and led to a greater division of labor within the group, all of whose members participated in a regular round of activities associated with eating. The result was more complex group organization.”
If we make time for cooking, we’re making time to strengthen our community, to strengthen our relationships with our family, friends and maybe some people we never wanted to put in either of those two categories. We’re making time to live in a way that God intended for us.
With the Boston events still fresh on my mind and on my broken heart, I am always in awe of people whose best moments happen in the worst times.
I hope that someone says that about me one day. Not that I want to be in the middle of a horrible situation where thousands of lives are damaged forever, but because I want to be someone who puts others before myself in those moments no one expects.
If I’m honest with myself, the fear lurking around my mind is that I won’t step up in the big moment; that I’ll end up looking like Jonah.
You know, the guy in the Bible who hides on a boat in his biggest moment, thinking he can run (well, sail) the opposite direction from God and His will.
Spoiler alert: you can’t.
God asks him to do something new, something somewhat crazy: make the people of Nineveh repent.
Jonah flat out doesn’t want to do it and kind of reminds of a seventh grade girl with how he whines about this mission. One thing to his credit, however: he isn’t afraid to claim his faith.
“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (Jonah 1:9)
Not hard to draw the parallel to today, right? As Christians, we are happy to claim that we are Christians. But when God calls us to something new, something maybe a little crazy, we aren’t eager to learn new tricks (I might add here: especially when we didn’t think of it first) or see something in a new light. We might even whine like a seventh grade girl.
When I talk with people about eating more natural ingredients and cutting back on meat, I inevitably get at least one joke about “hippie food.”
Call it what you want, but if hippie food means eating as many natural foods as possible that have been grown/bred in the way they were designed, that is the way God intended us to use these resources. The way He intended us to eat.
And God didn’t talk much about us eating meat in Genesis 1.
“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” (verse 29)
I wish it said, “I give you every type of bacon on the face of the earth and every steak that has sauce on it. They will be yours for food.” But alas, it does not.
Let’s face it: God made hippie food.
As a country, we’ve (finally) reached a point where we’re seeing the damage we’ve done to our bodies and the environment by our food choices and by taking what Big Agriculture gives us. We’re trying to find new ways to get back to the old ways.
While the national conversation on food continues to evolve in positive ways, there are forces trying to hinder that, of course.
As Christians, let’s not look at this the way we always have. Let’s be part of leading the way for change in the food industry in this country. The world needs us in this conversation. God’s creation needs us.
Maybe this is our moment to try something new. Something a little crazy. Don’t hide in a boat sailing the opposite direction.
Happy tax day! Just kidding.
This day often brings to mind the eternal line by Benjamin Franklin:
“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Today, the former is what concerns me, which I know really brightens up the room and gets you excited to read.
That line by Benjamin Franklin remains so famous because we identify with it. We know most of life isn’t certain, but death and taxes are. We know we get one shot here on earth and when it’s over, it’s over.
We may know that undeniable truth in our hearts, but our lives don’t demonstrate to others that we understand.
In Psalm 90:12, we read:”Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
In other words, we gain wisdom when we truly comprehend that we aren’t going to live forever.
Do we live like we know our days our numbered?
We eat like we’re going to live forever. We treat the earth and it’s resources like they will last forever.
We don’t know the hour when Jesus will return to earth, but maybe we’re speeding up the process. Maybe we’re forcing Jesus’s hand.
“More than twenty years ago, we reached a point known as ‘ecological overshoot,’ and now the stress we’re putting on the planet—to feed our consumption and absorb our waste—requires 1.3 planet Earths to accommodate it,” according to Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer.
“In other words, our planet needs a year and four months to regenerate the resources we’re gobbling up each year. (We’re going to need two planets’ worth of resources quite soon, and if the entire world lived the average American lifestyle we would need four planet Earths.)”
So, not only are we wearing our bodies out that God created just for us, we’re also wearing out creation. We don’t put enough thought or care into the idea that we’re not leaving this earth in a better place for our children. And, we’re not teaching our kids how to take care of the earth either.
We won’t last forever. The earth won’t last forever if we continue at this rate.
So, what can we do about this? There are changes you go home and make tonight, and they would not only improve your health and most likely your overall life expectancy, but would also help the earth. I’d call that a win-win.
Here are five quick suggestions:
1. Eat less meat. “For a family that usually drives a car 12,000 miles a year, switching from eating red meat and dairy to chicken, fish and eggs just one day a week—in terms of greenhouse gas emissions—is the equivalent of driving 760 miles less a year.” Imagine if you did that twice a week. It doesn’t require that drastic of shift in your eating habits to make a huge difference.
2. Eat better meat. If you eat less meat, you’ll save money and be able to spend on higher quality meat. Eating animals that weren’t stuffed with antibiotics and fed a diet of corn and soy that they weren’t designed for is without a doubt better for you, and better for the environment.
3. Buy more local ingredients. If the average American meal has traveled 1,500 miles, the more local you buy, the more you can cut down on fuel costs for food transportation. And, bonus: you will probably be eating healthier too.
4. Cut down on any foods that are packaged or boxed. Again, you would be contributing to less fuel being used to transport food, which means less fuel polluting the atmosphere. And, that means you would be buying fresh ingredients so that you can…
5. Cook your own food. I’m not blinding you with science here; you know the numerous health benefits to cooking your own food. You control what goes into it. Your health will improve. So will your life expectancy.
As the Psalms remind us, our days our numbered. Once we understand that, we gain a heart of wisdom.
I think the world could use a few more of those.
Somewhere along the way, we lost our connection with food.
Our connection comes only by way of the grocery store. See food. Buy food. Eat food.
We lost our connection with what’s in season.
We want apples in July, we can have them. They’ve been flown in from southern hemisphere; we consume produce picked weeks ago instead of days ago in the name of having what we want when we want it.
We have no idea who is growing the food we eat.
We have lost our connection with God’s creation.
Ellen F. Davis puts it simply in her book “Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible”:
“Holiness in Leviticus is not primarily a quality of individuals (“you” is a grammatical plural here); holiness is the character of a community observing a comprehensive pattern of life that is healthful. As we shall see, the Priestly vision of holiness emphatically includes the land, the covenanted community of creatures who prosper along with a people living in accordance with the design of creation—or, alternatively, who suffer when the intended pattern is violated.”
And aren’t we suffering?
In a Mark Bittman column in the New York Times from a couple of years ago, he stated that 90% of heart disease is lifestyle related (read: diet related). Type 2 diabetes is projected to cost us $500 billion a year by the time we hit 2020. We’re suffering physically and as a result, financially. If those two areas of your life are suffering, there’s a good chance your spiritual life is taking a hit too.
Ramsey talks about using cash more and our debit cards less. He said when we use plastic to buy things, we don’t feel the pain of losing our money. When we use cash, the pain sensors in our brain actually go off. We become much more aware of what we’re losing.
Maybe that’s where things went wrong with what we eat. We don’t know our land, and we don’t know what goes in to growing food. To many of us, it just shows up at the grocery store and that’s good enough for us. We don’t know the difference between food grown sustainably and food grown in a way that damages God’s creation.
We lose our health and maybe most importantly to God (it’s up near the top of the list at the very least), we lose our community.
Let’s re-gain our feel of food. For the sake of our health, our community and God’s creation.
(P.S.: if you saw a post from me yesterday about “moving on” I simply published that post on the wrong blog. I’m not that smart; you heard it here first.)
If someone told you about a product banned from the European Union, China, Taiwan and Russia, what would you do with that information?
Ignore it? Probably not.
Except that we do ignore that information. In fact, we consume that product. At astronomical levels.
U.S. meat, to be exact.
What most of us eat two times a day is most likely a meat product that has been banned from being sold in Russia, China, Taiwan and the European Union.
If you want a good overview of why, read this article from NBC News. You know how we get all high and mighty on our athletes for taking hormones and steroids to try and enhance their performance? Well, most of us aren’t trying to hit home runs, but we’re ingesting hormones and steroids anyway.
In David Kamp’s book, “The United States of Arugula,” he explains simply what’s gone wrong with the meat industry in our country.
“Feeding on grain before they were fully capable of digesting it, the cattle often developed stomach abscesses, diarrhea, and bacterial infections. On top of this, the immune systems of the calves were weakened by the stress of being separated from their mothers and carted off to feedlots without proper weaning. To stave off gastrointestinal-tract ailments, (Orville) Schell explained in Modern Meat, commercial ranchers took to preemptively feeding their animals antibiotics.”
As Christians, we can’t ignore what is happening in the meat industry in this country. We have too many laws from God, Old Testament and New, about how meat should be treated.
Whether you believe we need to adhere to these dietary guidelines or not, the concept obviously mattered to God. Check out Leviticus chapter 11. He seemed to have some super specific ideas on this subject.
If you’re a person that believes God created the world and that we should be good stewards of that gift, that quote from Kamp’s book probably disturbs you. It disturbs me.
If we believe we should be doing what God designed us to do, that needs to apply to animals too.
And I’m not in any way suggesting that we should all become vegetarians. Some people want to go that far, and that’s great. I love bacon and burgers too much to go that far personally.
But as Christians, we need to be people who ask questions. Who read labels. Who eat less meat, so we can save that money and buy higher-priced meat that goes to farmers or ranchers that treat and fed these animals as God designed them to be.
Truly, this should make us (Christians) more upset than anyone. We should be leading the cries to make livestock treatment more humane. God did not intend for these animals to be injected with hormones and antibiotics.
And I’m pretty certain He didn’t intend to have us eat it.