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.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Lenten Challenge Begins

Some of you have joined the UUMC Lenten Challenge to buy groceries for the week based on the guidelines for families living on food stamps. For the two of us here at the parsonage, that’s $63 for a week’s worth of groceries.

I’m not sure I can remember a time when we came back from a full hour of grocery shopping and the bill was under $100. Clearly some things will have to change. And I’m going to guess—just a wild guess at this point—that there will be ALL KINDS of uncomfortable revelations along the way.

So, day one: planning. Many questions surface.

How much does stuff cost? This sounds horrible, but I don’t pay a lot of attention to prices. I do compare prices, but I have no idea how much a gallon of milk or even a jar of peanut butter costs. This is privilege, sticking its tongue out at me.

There are lots of technical questions, Pharisaical questions, about how to work out the cost of eating over the week. Like: what do I do with the leftover food in the refrigerator? (eat it) Do I count the cereal that I already have, but I’m going to use, or just the new stuff? (figure it in) If I don’t use the Half-and-Half in my coffee, it will go bad, and that would be a waste, right? (right)

This morning we created some menus for the week. We had to be much more detailed than we usually are, because we’ll be buying everything we’re eating. A whole chicken is the centerpiece of our cuisine and it will be recycled through three different evening meals. My old school lunch box favorite, PB&J, will get us through lunch. And for me, it will be cold cereal and bananas in the morning.

We have a grocery list, but we have no idea how much everything costs. (see above) So shopping will be a bit more confusing and time-consuming. Usually we divide and conquer. I remember explaining our process to a young woman checking us out. She thought it was so cool that we split up the list and then met at the cashier. Don’t all old married couples do this? (My list is longer, but Linda takes on the stuff that I would never find in a million years.)

We’re also bringing a calculator. If we fill our basket up and the total is $63.31, it’s back down the aisles to make some adjustments (and buy cheap stuff that is bad for us).

As we worked through the planning, I found myself saying, “It’s only for a week. We can do anything for a week.”

The face of privilege again. With a big question mark that hangs over the week.  What will you do with what you’ve learned?