trigger warning: This post talks about food and eating and might be triggering to folks who struggle with those issues.
I'm teaching a unit on food justice with my high school students. I thought I would share a bit of it here and see if other folks are interested in maybe participating. I'm including some of my class notes as well as the handout with the experiments that you can download as a pdf. Let me know if you're interested in participating! I should state up front that I am teaching in a context where families are mostly middle to upper middle class (including some in the upper class), so this is an empathy and awareness raising exercise. It will also hopefully encourage baby steps in life change to live more justly. Radical living sometimes has to start small.
This year our program is called “Experimenting with resistance” and this is the first of our experiments. We spent a bunch of time talking about the book of Mark; we talked about the kind of movement Jesus was trying to create. A movement dedicated to peace making and to inclusion, but also a movement that would resist injustice. When we talk about resistance we’re talking about the steps we can make (both individually and together) to stop injustice from happening and to change the world in which we live.
So we’re going to spend the next several weeks talking about food and hunger. In class we’ll examine different aspects of food justice, watching some clips of documentaries, and have discussions about hunger and food. At home students will be asked to do experiments with their families.
At the bottom of this post is a list with some ideas. But first I want to say a bit more about why we’re doing this and offer some warnings.
I want to say right up front that this unit isn’t about shaming any of us for the amount of food we have or the money that we spend on it. However, sometimes I think that a little twinge of guilt can sometimes be healthy. When we feel guilty about something it is sometimes helpful to sit with that feeling: Why am I feeling guilty? Is there something about my behaviour that I should maybe change? Guilt can be the first sign that something in our lives should change. Shame, on the other hand, is when we start to say that we are bad people because we have enough to eat. This isn’t about shame. Shame immobilizes us, guilt motivates us. This is about being motivated to examine our lives and see where we can live more justly and sustainably.
I also want to say a word about eating disorders. I want us all to be really sensitive to each other during this time. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or are in recovery, I want to encourage you be aware of what you are feeling and to not participate in any experiments that could be triggering for you. If you feel like you need extra support, whether emotional or professional, please talk to me and I can get you resources. Eating disorders affect men and women and people of all ages and I don’t want this unit to be harmful to anyone. So please, if you have concerns you can talk to me.
As we talk about these experiments, it’s important to note that doing things like this are spiritual practices. Justice making is a spiritual practice. When we examine our lives to see if we can live more justly we are doing spiritual work. When we try to bring about concrete changes in the world, we are doing spiritual work. This unit on food isn’t separate from the studying we did on the Gospel of Mark, they go hand in hand. When we talk about Jesus’ call to discipleship; to change our lives and try to be like him this is what we’re talking about: Concrete changes that make us more aware of our connection to one another.
Here is a list of suggested foodexperiments. Some are specific to my context, but you can find substitutes in your area.
Every year for the past 5 years I have participated in Nanowrimo. It's a rather madcap adventure where one writes a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It's always good fun and a bit exhausting. This year I was debating on whether or not to do it.
Each year I have hit my word count but felt like what I had written wasn't worth much. Lately I have been feeling good about the essays I am writing, the non-fiction I am creating, and I didn't (and don't) want to mess with that groove. Maybe this year I should sit out. Maybe doing Nanowrimo is a waste of time.
But I've also been thinking about what Walter Brueggeman calls "The Prophetic Imagination"; the idea that in order to live into a new reality we must first be able to envision it. He says that you need to be able to take things that people can identify with, situations they can understand, and weave them into something Essays and sermons are wonderful, but there is nothing like stories to help us imagine. I think of books like "The Hunger Games" and other dystopian novels that send warnings about what things might become if we don't change, stories like "Harry Potter" that teach us about sacrifice and friendship, stories that take us into lives unlike our own and open up new worlds. In fact, it's the stories in the Scripture that manage to resonate the most deeply.
This idea of engaging the imagination needs to be more than just heavy handed allegory. It can't simply be "christian fiction" with a nice, tidy moral. There has to be such depth that it can ignite passion and move hearts. Maybe what the world needs is less sermons and more stories. Maybe we need less theology and more characters to emulate.
So this year I will embark on Nanowrimo once again. I'll write furiously (and probably badly) but I will try to use my words to engage that prophetic imagination. It might not be anything worthwhile, but if nothing else it will use different parts of my brain and will help me to begin to articulate the future I want to live into. It will hopefully deepen my own skill for weaving stories that can ignite change.
If you want to join me, sign up at the website and friend me!
Lately I've been talking a bit about rethinking rituals of the church so they can be used to bolster resistance. Today let's talk about the Bible.
I grew up in a church that took the Bible both seriously and literally. We were taught that everything we needed to know about God and about life could be found in the Bible. Reading the Bible in that way causes a lot of problems. It's why, when I first came out, I was desperate to explain away those clobber passages. Not to mention all of the other contradictions that I had to do mental gymnastics to explain away. So, for a while, as I moved out of my fundamentalist upbringing I started reading the Bible like a textbook. It became something that was best put in historical context, a book that needed to be read with a lot of caution. After a while, though, that way of reading the Bible became kind of dry and I needed a new way to read.
I am appreciative of my upbringing for instilling in me a love of the Bible and a deep knowledge of it, because in my effort to reframe how I read the Bible, that love and knowledge has gone a long way. And I am also thankful for the time of reading it like a textbook because the historical context has brought the Scripture alive in new ways and has deepened my formation as a radical.
If we are going to be communities of resistance, we must learn to read the Bible well and with deep love. We can learn from the Psalms how to pray with honesty. We can learn from the example of the lives of our foremothers and forefathers how to serve God well (and often, how to serve God poorly). Our imaginations can be enriched by parables and prophets. We can learn to dream new futures and get a sense of what it means to live together in community.
We learn from the stories about Jesus what it means to live as a constant resistor to empire. We see what inclusion looks like. We understand more about nonviolence as a way of life. We get a glimpse of a new community struggling to define itself and make sense of their experience.
And as we see all of these various types of literature, all of the stories of flawed and holy people, all of the grasping at language to explain God, we learn how to speak and to think. Our lives are shaped and we are strengthened for the work that is in front of us.
The Bible isn't a field manual, but it doesn't need to be. It is instead the story of people on a journey toward God and toward justice. We would do well to let it encourage us and strengthen us, to shape us and change us, to deepen our imagination and to challenge our limited thinking. It is a text that continues to encourage my commitment to resisting imperialism both in the world and in my own heart. It is a text I wrestle with and one that I love. And living in that tension with the Bible helps me also to live in tension in the world.
Last week I talked about some of my initial thoughts with living radically; some of my struggles and concerns, some of my excuses and wonderings. Travis, in the comments, brought up a great question: How do I do this, especially if I don't have a community to support me? That's a great question. I'm not sure it's possible to do this without community.
Community can take a lot of different forms. As an introvert, I have found great solace/comfort in online community. In fact, it's been online where I have found other radicals to share ideas with, to learn from, and to get resources. I have found community in the writings of Dorothy Day, the Berrigan Brothers, and others. And I have been lucky enough to find some community locally. Mark VanSteenwyk (the founder of the Mennonite Worker) lives in my town and has been a wonderful resource. I've also got the guys at SafeHouse Church to lean on.
But I have to admit that I want more. I want to be a part of a community who are trying to live in the way of Jesus. I have long felt called to start a church and I have written before about House of the Transfiguration. Over the past year we have continued to refine and rework the vision for the community and we are getting ready to relaunch. My plan is to start a launch group in January (around the time that I am ordained to the priesthood) and then to start public worship gatherings in the Fall of 2013. We will be affiliated with the North American Old Catholic Church which is a progressive, independent Catholic denomination.
I'm not going to lie, part of this is my own desire to finally have a church that I feel comfortable in. I realize that might sound selfish, but I think it points to something bigger than just me; I am sure there are others who are looking for a church that doesn't quite exist yet. A church that combines ancient ritual with modern practice, a church where all are welcome at the Eucharist table and all are fed, a church that wants commitment and focuses on spiritual development and social justice. It's the combination of things that fed and challenged me when I was in the evangelical church mixed with the theology that stirs my mind and heart now. It's the mix of Contemplation and Action that I find in the Catholic Left, it's the social justice and the daily prayer. It's the fusion of styles and strategies and worlds. This is the community that I want to start in Minneapolis.
I picture a church on fire to change the city of Minneapolis. A group of people who are committed to peace making in the city. I picture house groups that encourage people in their commitment to follow in the way of Jesus, that hold each other accountable, that help to answer Travis' question of "how the hell do we do this?" I picture lots of communal meals alongside of weekly Mass. I picture cassocks and converse, chant music and drum sets, candles and projector screens. I picture queer people and women in leadership. I picture deep faith and radical action.
I'll be sharing a lot more about House of the Transfiguration (including a much more detailed vision and plan) in the coming weeks and months. You can follow us on twitter and on Facebook. I'll also be updating the blog on the website.
In order to make this church a reality, we need some help. There are several ways to get involved:
* You can donate to our indiegogo fund. We need some help with start up costs.
* You can sign up for our prayer list and commit to praying for us. We'll send out an email probably once a month with specific ways you can pray.
* You can share our indiegogo campaign with others you think might be interested/willing to support.
* If you (or your church) have old church goods (patens, chalices, altar linens, etc) that you no longer need you can donate them.
* You can donate CEB bibles to the community.
* If you have friends in Minneapolis who might be interested, you can tell them about us.
Lately I've read a couple of books about the Christian Peacemaker Teams and about Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Melkhite Catholic priest who is a Palestinian Christian and an Israeli citizen. Chacour is working to bring peace by educating Jews, Muslims, Druze, and Christians together in one school. I've also been teaching through the book of Mark and been once again reminded of the power of nonviolent resistance.
As I talk over these issues with high schoolers (and think through them on my own), I realize it's a lot easier to figure out what that looks like in some other community. We have the luxury of distance from the issues. It makes sense for Abuna Chacour to build schools and educate children, it makes sense for the CPT teams to stand in the way of soldiers with guns in the West Bank.
But the work of peacemaking is for all of us. It's been a challenge to me to think through the ways I can work for peace in my own city. What does working for peace look like in Minneapolis? Where are the situations that need Christians to "get in the way" of violence (the CPT motto)? What am I doing at home?
It's easier for me to think about going on a CPT delegation than it is for me to think about standing up for peace at home. I'm realizing, though, that for peacemaking to work it requires that we all be peacemakers where we are.
I have realized that I have kept a bit of a distance from Minneapolis for a lot of reasons. I wasn't sure I was going to stay here, I was working too many hours to really explore, I don't have a way to get around very easily, etc. But if I am serious about being a follower of Jesus, I need to get more involved in my city. I don't know what that's going to look like yet, but I do know that it needs to happen. And part of that work is also rooting out the violence that I know is in my own heart.
Where and how are you working for peace in your community? Where is there a need for you to get in the way?
Last week started a new series here on the site: Rituals for Resistance. If we take seriously the idea that churches are to be base communities for resistance then our rituals as communities should strengthen us for the work of resisting the dominant narratives of the United States. I want to think through some of the things a lot of church communities already do and reframe them as tools for resistance. Last week I wrote about singing.
One of my first jobs was working in a restaurant. Restaurant work is demanding and often thankless. People are rude (or downright mean) the pay is terrible and the hours are long. But the people that work in restaurants are often amazing and the community that forms in the back of the house is stronger than almost any I have been a part of. I have seen servers pool money for someone who got their tips stolen, buy rounds of drinks for one another at the bar, cover for one another when someone needed an extra day to study, or give up their shift so that another person could make enough money to pay their rent. And then there is the act of serving, of providing hospitality and good food to the people that come to the restaurant. As a bartender I wasn't just serving drinks, I was offering a listening ear, a smile, companionship. I took my job seriously and I did my best to make my guests feel at home. This history made me really resonate with Sara Miles' book "Take This Bread". I highly recommend it. It's a beautiful book about the power of sharing food. She talks about her life working first at restaurants and then later taking seriously Jesus' call to feed people. She started a food pantry that serves guests right off of the altar of the church. It's a powerful story of what happens when we eat together.
We need to reclaim the act of eating together. There is something special that happens when we sit around a table together. When we pass plates of food around, when we pray together over the food, when we drink good wine and laugh. There is something about food that brings people together.
I want to be a part of a community that cooks and eats together. Where we can all sit around the table and everyone goes away full. Where even if you don't have enough money or time to bring something to the table you still get to eat your fill. Where the people who have time and money can bring a little bit extra. There is always enough to go around when we share. We can pull spices out of the cupboards and add them to the veggies from someone else's garden. Someone will bake bread and someone else will bring a bottle of wine. And we'll sit down together and raise a toast to relationships.
This is more than just a potluck, this is creating something beautiful together and then sitting around a common table and sharing it. It's a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. It might mean that our communities need to be smaller than they currently are so that we can make sure that everyone has a seat and everyone has enough to eat. Around the table no one gets overlooked or ignored. There are always hands passing and jokes being told. Everyone's name is known and their stories are heard and cherished.
And we celebrate Eucharist in the midst of the meal. When we serve one another bread and wine and remember the life of Jesus. And we talk about our lives trying to follow in the way of Jesus. Our ritual becomes embodied in the meal and the community. This act fuels our bodies and our souls for the act of resistance.
In my thinking I am a radical, but in my living I often fall far short of my own values and ideals. I've been teaching through the Gospel of Mark this fall and find myself being convicted regularly. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the United States?
I struggle with feeling like there isn't enough I can do. I worry about having enough money to eat or to pay my rent and still feel like I should be giving more money away. I feel like I should be living communally even though even the idea of that exhausts me. I want to buy fair trade food and organic stuff but that stuff is also more expensive (and a longer bus ride away).
So what can I do? And are these things simply the excuses I use to keep myself from doing what I should be doing? What does it mean to live from a sense of "enough" instead of scarcity? How can I share my resources more effectively? How do I navigate my own privilege?
I want to spend some time thinking out loud about these struggles. Being honest about where I struggle and where I fall short. Brainstorm with other people who are trying to live as radical disciples of Jesus in the midst of empire and privilege. I'm hoping that by being open about all of these things I can start a conversation about what following Jesus really means. I'm hoping that we can share ideas and suggestions and guiding questions.
I hope that this can be a safe space for people at all stages of discipleship to share their struggles and what they are trying to do. I'll probably put up some themes (food, money, clothing, etc.) as we go, areas where I am trying to discern a new way forward. If you have themes you want to explore, please add them in the comments or send me an email.
Let's encourage one another to follow Jesus more closely and to live lives that are more just and that help to expose and overturn empire wherever it is found.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
In "Binding the Strong Man" by Ched Myers he spends a lot of time pointing out the various calls to discipleship throughout the Gospel of Mark. He says that over and over again the followers of Jesus are revealed to not really get it, to not really understand what is required of them. Over and over again Jesus calls them back to commitment. (And, by proxy, us as well.)
This is another one of those episodes. People arguing over who gets to have the good seat in the Kingdom. And when Jesus scolds James and John the rest of the disciples are more pissed that they didn't think to ask first. They still don't get it.
I often don't get it either. I don't get what is actually required of me. Or I do get it but I don't want to do it. My ego gets in the way, my pride. I want attention. I want to be seen as a good person, doing good work.
Or sometimes it's just laziness. Or wanting to be comfortable. The daily mundane. I get deluded into thinking there is nothing I can do to change things. Or that doing this little thing won't make any difference (for good or ill).
It can be easy, in North America, to feel powerless to change anything. Or to be paralyzed with privilege or guilt about said privilege.
So what is the solution? I don't know. Maybe being aware of it. Maybe recognizing these impulses in ourselves. Maybe serving as much as possible. I am trying to be aware of the ways in which my life doesn't match up to the values I say I hold and trying to take steps to change that.
What does this passage bring up for you? What are you thinking about for your sermon next week? What other resources might you bring in? What questions do you have?
Today starts a new series here on the site: Rituals for Resistance. If we take seriously the idea that churches are to be base communities for resistance then our rituals as communities should strengthen us for the work of resisting the dominant narratives of the United States. I want to think through some of the things a lot of church communities already do and reframe them as tools for resistance.
I love to sing. While I don't do it as often (or as well) as I did before my voice changed from transition, I still love it. I love to sing while doing dishes, while in the shower, or the rare occasions when I get to drive a car. It's wonderful to sing alone, but something really special happens when you sing in a community. When it's a song that everyone knows and you can get your heads out of the music, when you can sing with volume, when people start to harmonize and bring in new sounds, that's when music is at its most powerful.
I want my community to be a singing community. Singing gives strength for the journey. It expresses things that can't be said in other ways. It allows you to express deep emotion.
We need better church music. We need singable church music. We need new protest songs. We need songs that can be learned easily and sung with gusto, songs that can be improvised on and harmonized. Songs that can be sung with full bands or with voices alone. Songs that can be sung during vigils and marches.
We need songs that speak to our current struggles, songs that challenge us. We need songs that expand our vision of God and the world.
Our current church music isn't cutting it. So many of the old hymns are beautiful but have triumphalist language, blood metaphors, masculine language for God, and are very, very hard to sing. So many new worship songs are trite and cheesy. They emphasize personal piety but ignore communal responsibility. Our protest songs haven't been updated since the 60's. Where is our new music? Where are the songs we can sing together?
We need more songs like this:
and like this:
We need to be singing communities. We need to lift our voices and sing together. Because something happens when we sing together: we become one. We learn how to breathe together and to listen to one another. We learn how to rely on one another. And this is what a ritual of resistance does; it teaches us how to be in community with one another. So let us sing!
It is finally here! A couple of months ago, I put out a call for a Queer Theology Synchroblog and today is the day we all share our posts! This is the day when we speak for ourselves, when we inspire others, when we share the gift that queer theology is to the world.
If you still want to participate but haven't submitted your post yet, feel free to put a link in the comments. I will be updating this post to add more entries as they come in! My entry is over on the Camp Osiris blog.
The theme for this year is "The Queer God".
the Anarchist Reverend shares his thoughts on the Queer Christ over on the Camp Osiris blog.
Peterson Toscano shares "The Lost Gospel of Thaddeus."
Shirley-Anne McMillan writes about Mother Christ.
Adam Rao shares why he is not participating in today's synchroblog.
Kaya Oakes writes about God, the Father/Mother.
Brian Gerald Murphy talks about A God Bigger Than Boxes.
Clattering Bones writes about The Queer God.
Daniel Storrs-Kostakis writes writes about An Icon of God.
Jack Springald writes about Avalokitesvara and queering gender.
Amaryah Shaye Armstrong writes about Inclusion and the Rhetoric of Seduction.
Jamie-Sue Ferrell shares Love, Us.
Unchained Faith writes about The Breastfeeding Father.
B Cubbage writes about The Love of the Queer God.
Harriet Long writes Re-membering My Body – The Queer God, The Queer Christ & Me.
Grace writes about What the Queer God Means to Me.
Delfin writes about The Divine Scoundrel.