Friday, February 22, 2013

The Food Stamp Challenge, Part 2

This Sunday, we’ll be gathering after late worship to talk about the Food Stamp Challenge that some of us have either completed or are going to try as a Lenten practice.

I discovered that enough people have taken on the challenge that it’s now thing. There’s even a Wikipedia article on the challenge.

The challenge is not without controversy. Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ, took the challenge and many dismissed it as a political stunt.

Some of the “learnings” I’ve read about from the challenge fall in the category of stuff we should know if we had been paying attention or listening to friends and neighbors who’ve been on (or are on) food stamps. Like, people on food stamps don’t go out to restaurants. They don’t drink lattes. They don’t buy organic food. Really?

What I’ve been forced to think about is how my attempt to eat on $63 a week for two is not anything like what it would really be like for someone who has lived for a significant period of their life in poverty. I’m cutting back on certain foods and making different choices, but I have all kinds of material and immaterial benefits that they don’t have.

I’ve also been pushed to think more deeply about the whole idea of Lenten practices. Why do we put ourselves through these ordeals? Is this a carry-over from more severe disciplines of the medieval church? Is this just another way of covering over my Protestant guilt? I did my thing for the poor with this challenge, so I’m good for the rest of the year.

Is it the intention that helps us move beyond Lent as a competitive sport? Is there a way to bring more mindfulness to Lent so that it moves beyond the simple acts of giving this up or taking that on to something deeper and clearer?

I like what Nadia Bolz-Weber says about Lent: “Lent is about looking at our lives in as bright a light as possible, the light of Christ, to illumine that which moth and rust can consume and which thieves can steal.   It is during this time of self-reflection and sacrificial giving and prayer that we make our way through the over grown and tangled mess of our lives. We trudge through the lies of our death-denying culture to seek the simple weighty truth of who we really are.

I hope you’ll join me for conversation this Sunday about the food stamp challenge, about Lent and about the wider subjects of spiritual disciplines and Christian spirituality.

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