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A Place at the Table

13 Mar

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hunger and poverty. Of course, over the past year I have been growing more liberal in my politics, so thinking about hunger and poverty, at least as a part of the whole, isn’t a new thing for me. But the week before last I got an email from Panera that kicked this off again.

See, I have a Panera card. You know, the kind you swipe and get rewards after so many purchases and free pastries on your birthday. And because I have a Panera card, the corporation invited me to a free screening of a powerful movie called A Place at the Table. I know Panera is trying to fight food insecurity through their pay-what-you-can cafes. I don’t know much more about Panera, if they pay a living wage and such. I need to learn more. But I respect that they’ve started doing something, because every movement needs a first step.

End Hunger Now

What Panera did last week was open my eyes.

I knew people in America were hungry. I knew that 1 in 6 people are living with food insecurity–they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I read a statistic yesterday that says 8.3 million seniors go to bed hungry each night.

What is going on in America? Why do we have such hungry people, when obesity is a national epidemic and there is plenty of food to go around?

Well, according to A Place at the Table, a lot of it comes down to two things: corporate greed, and the government’s unwillingness to do something about the problem.

Corporations continue pushing out foods that are loaded with non-nutritious calories. Corporate farms suck up most of the government subsidies on corn, soybeans, and wheat, while family farms and orchards are left out. The government gives public schools a tiny amount of money to spend on school lunches, where far too many children are eating the only meal they get each day; as a result, school lunches aren’t as nutritious as they should be. Did you know the average food stamp allotment is $3 per day? How well can you eat on that? Junk food is cheaper than healthful food, and if you only have $3 to spend, you’re probably going to go for the cheapest things around, right?

The actor Jeff Bridges was involved in A Place at the Table, and at one point he says that if another nation was doing this to our children, we would go to war. But we’re doing it to ourselves. That’s insane.

So viewing the movie got me thinking about all this. As the movie points out, there are thousands of private food charities attempting to fill the gap, and yet the hunger problem is worse than ever. Private charities aren’t the solution. Not that I think the government is a great solution either, considering they can’t even come to an agreement about the budget, but something has to be done.

I posted something to this effect on Facebook the other day, and one of my Christian Republican friends pointed out that too much government assistance creates dependency. I disagree with her for a lot of reasons, and I also believe that a well-designed assistance program would be aimed at helping people get on their feet. But that’s a post for another day.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that we need to be worried about dependency right now. I think we need to prioritize things differently. It’s like triage. If a physician has a patient bleeding to death from a traumatic leg wound, does she worry about making the patient dependent on a wheelchair, or does she apply a tourniquet and amputate the leg? Let’s feed hungry people first, and worry about dependency when we’re sure no one has gone to bed hungry tonight.

Along with watching A Place at the Table, I’ve also been reading a couple of really great books. I started with Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis, and this week I began reading Red Letter Revolution by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne.

What I’ve taken away so far is a lot of jumbled emotions and a strong feeling of conviction. I have to change how I’m living my life. I have to encourage other Christians to change how they’re living their lives. I have to reach out to people who have been hurt and judged and condemned and abused by people in the name of Christianity. I have to stop trying to defend all the atrocities committed by Christians and start trying to follow Jesus.

The subtitle of Medearis’ book is “The Art of Non-Evangelism”, but I would posit that the book is about so much more than evangelizing people (or not evangelizing them, actually). It’s about how Christians look at theology and rules and are-you-a-believer-or-not. It’s about how Christians forget to look at Jesus.

What would Jesus do? Well, I can tell you what He did. He fed the five thousand. He healed the sick. He condemned the religious leaders who wanted to stone the adulterous woman, rather than condemning the adulterous woman. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He told us not to lay up treasures on earth.

He fed the hungry.

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BOOK REVIEW: A Year of Biblical Womahood

2 Nov Year Of Biblical Womanhood Cover

I know I’m not the first person to review Rachel Held Evans‘ new (and apparently controversial) book A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”. But I might be the first person to emphasize that this is a singles-friendly book.

Let me admit this right up front: my first reaction, when I see a book written for Christian women, is to turn up my nose. Oh, look, another book about how to be a great wife and mother, I think. I bet it talks about praying for your spouse or, if you aren’t married yet, your future spouse.

Year Of Biblical Womanhood Cover

Year Of Biblical Womanhood Cover

And no, Rachel doesn’t write a great deal specifically about singles, and she does write a great deal specifically about marriage. She is, after all, married. But she is clearly a married woman who is aware of the concerns of single women.

The premise of the book, for those of you who are male or have been living in a media vacuum, is this: Rachel Held Evans spent a year trying to imitate, as literally as possible, various Biblical depictions of women. A lot of people have disparaged the book as mockery of the Bible, while a lot of people at the opposite end of the spectrum have disparaged the book as old-fashioned or unnecessary. But if you’ve truly read the book, it should be obvious that for Rachel, this was a labor of love.

She didn’t set out to mock or disprove the Bible. She set out to wrestle with it. She set out to live in the tension. She set out to surrender to God’s stories.

And in the end, she didn’t come away with a blueprint or job description of a Biblical woman. She found plenty of descriptions of women in the Bible, though, and she found that the Biblical concept of womanhood is simply too complex and varied to be summed up as a to-do list.

Case in point: the chapter on the Proverbs 31 Woman. Did you know that in Jewish culture, it isn’t the women who memorize Proverbs 31? The men do! It isn’t a recipe for how to be a great woman, it’s an example of how men should praise their wives. The Hebrew phrase used in Proverbs 31, eshet chayil, is best translated as “valorous woman”, which means a lot more to me, as a single woman, than “a wife of good character”.

What really made me, as a single woman, love Rachel’s approach, however, was when I reached page 178 and saw this quote

Growing up in the Church, I must have heard a thousand times that my highest calling as a woman was to bear and bring up children. While men could honor God in varying capacities through work, family, and ministry, a woman’s spiritual aptitude was measured primarily by her ability to procreate. Even as a child I noticed that the church deaconesses hosted dozens of wedding and baby showers each year, but never a housewarming party for a single woman or a celebration dinner for a woman who passed the bar or graduated from medical school.

That passage told me two things: Rachel Held Evans understands how single people are overlooked in the church, and Rachel Held Evans doesn’t view me, as a single woman, as someone who’s worth less than a married woman with children.

I could go on and on about what a great book this is, but frankly, there are lots of people who’ve done a better job than I could–Ben Witherington, for one. I could talk more about the controversy that has grown up around the book, but Rachel Marie Stone has done a great job of discussing that.

I just want to recommend that single women not pass this book over thinking, “Oh, it won’t address single women.” I want to recommend that men not pass this book over thinking, “Oh, it won’t address men.” It does both.

And I, for one, am living for the day someone calls me eshet chayil.

Infographic: Singles in America

24 Oct The Changing Face of Adulthood

I love infographics. I’m not a mathematician, and numbers make my brain feel fuzzy, so I love having a way to visualize what those numbers really mean. Given the caveat that I am absolutely not gifted in math, there may be errors in the following infographic, and if you find some, please feel free to point them out.

That said, I would like to present Singles in America: The Changing Face of Adulthood. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Research Center, and quotes from Bradley R.E. Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, I compiled the following graphical representation of singleness in the United States.

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Book Review: Five Love Languages for Singles by Gary Chapman

9 Jun

When I started this blog, I decided I need to read as many books written for or about singles as I could. Years ago I read a few books that I probably will refrain from commenting on, because my memory is short, and all I remember is that I hated them. (When God Writes Your Love Story, I am looking at you.)

Side note: I’ve been hampered in this effort by the local library’s poorly developed collection of books on single life; there are six books on singleness in the online catalog, and one of them is Jennifer Love Hewitt’s book about needing to be in love. Yeah, seriously.

Anyway, the first book I read on this topic was Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages for Singles. It was probably a good book to start with, because Dr. Chapman gets a lot of things right.

For one thing, he didn’t write a book that ought to be subtitled: Why You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You or How to Get a Spouse. In the introduction, Chapman writes,

Married or single, young or old, every human has the emotional need to feel loved. When this need is met, we move out to reach our potential for God and good in the world. However, when we feel unloved, we struggle simply to survive. I am deeply convinced that the truths in this book will enable single adults to learn the skills that lead to loving and being loved.

But he’s not talking just about finding a spouse. His book acknowledges all the relationships in a single person’s life, from family to friends to roommates to coworkers, and, yes, to romantic relationships. Though there is a slight emphasis on dating and marriage, he doesn’t sideline all the other important relationships in a single person’s life.

In fact, in the situations he writes about where a single person wants to find a mate, he actually teaches them about the five love languages, then instructs them to try learning the love languages of their parents. This would seem to imply that Dr. Chapman knows singles are whole people regardless of our marital status, and that a romantic relationship might not be the most important one in our lives.

If you’re not aware of the five love languages, Chapman defines them as Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. I believe I’m a Quality Time person myself, but my mom is an Acts of Service person, and my dad, I think, is Words of Affirmation. Mom and I have discussed this, though, and neither of us is sure about his language.

Something I really liked about this book was that I could immediately apply what I took away from it. I didn’t have to wait until I was dating someone. Learning to speak someone else’s love language is useful whether you’re trying to win over a stubborn coworker, get a messy roommate to be more considerate of your neat-freak habits, or just show your parents or friends how much you appreciate them. Since reading the book, I’ve tried to focus more on performing acts of service for my mom, whether it’s helping her with her yard work or designing a logo for her new market garden business. We’ve always had a great relationship (my mom is my best friend), but I can honestly say I think it’s better now that I’m speaking her language.

Something else I like about the book is the chapter for single parents. I’m not a single parent, and I hope never to be, but I’m glad Chapman doesn’t overlook the fact that a huge number of people are either having children without ever marrying, or becoming the sole provider and caregiver for their children after a divorce. I had a friend and coworker my age who had three children, none of whom shared a father. It gave her some unique challenges to face. Love languages can be applied to kids and teenagers as well as adults, and Chapman gives clear ideas on how to do this.

Chapman categorizes single adults in five ways, and admits there may be other categories they fit. He writes about singles who have never been married, who are divorced, who are separated but not divorced, who are widowed, and single parents. He acknowledges just how many single people there are in the world today, especially in the United States (as of the book’s publication in 2004 he cited 4 out of 10 adults as single. I think we’re closer to 49% of the U.S. population now). And he makes it clear that we single adults matter to him.

I confess, Chapman also got points for quoting my favorite Christian scholar and writer, C.S. Lewis:

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you love someone, you will presently come to love him. (Mere Christianity)

This has got me thinking, even more, about how I deal with some of those Christians I was talking about earlier this week. I need to remember, as Bird pointed out, that a gentle answer turns away wrath. And I need to act as if I love them, whether I’m angry at them or annoyed with them or not. And that will lead to me being a more loving person.

That can only be a good thing, right?

My Own Double Standards

2 Apr

Some of my favorite books are Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series. Strong fantasy with lots of action, but full of character-driven plots. I’ll try not to spoil them for you, but one part that used to trouble me was the main character’s love life.

SPOILERS BEHIND THE CUT

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