I learned early on that eating was a major motif of the Christian experience. I’ve been trying to practice that part of the faith ever since.
As a child, every time I was at church I had something good to eat. It started out with cookies and Kool Aid in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, then graduated to donuts and coffee later on, then progressed to world class pot lucks and marvelous summer ice cream suppers and now to the brilliant meals I get to enjoy here at Broadway Baptist. Broadway should win the Nobel Prize for eating.
When I was a young country preacher, the defining characteristic of a successful ministry had nothing to do with preaching or pastoral care, but rather with the way you could pack it in at the dinner table. I learned after I first arrived at the West Point Baptist Church of Matanzas, Kentucky, that if I simply “chowed down” I would likely make it in this new, strange, wonderful work I had been called to. One of my predecessors in that little rural fellowship possessed the fatal flaw of being a finicky eater and those country folks talked about him in serious, pitying tones throughout my entire tenure, as if he had contracted bubonic plague. I determined early on that I would not commit that mistake.
This holy centrality of food would move to a whole new level at revival time. The pastor and guest evangelist would attend a daily moveable feast of three huge meals a day, breakfast, lunch and supper. One alone would have been more than sufficient, but the celebration of meals in folks’ homes was a high spiritual value for country people. So, we rotated through the entire congregation in a week’s time and feasted like kings. Even my hardy indulgence for eating was severely tested. I learned to pace myself through these rituals and to apportion and position food on my plate in such a manner that I could not only gastronomically negotiate it but also satisfy and honor my ever-watchful hosts.
Thanksgiving poses a dilemma for us. On the one hand, we want to enter into the gratitude and warm-heartedness of the season, feeling the peace and goodwill that comes from our abundance of riches and provisions we are fortunate enough, simply by virtue of our national origin, to experience. But, on the other hand, the obscene bounty that I have just described presents an insurmountable contradiction and cruel irony in a world of deprivation and disease, want and hunger. This brilliant eating is the exception to the awful rule in our human family.
923 million people across the world are hungry. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes--one child every five seconds. In the course of the sermon you hear this Sunday, 250 children will die because they don’t have enough to eat.
Most poor people who are hungry deal with chronic undernourishment and vitamin or mineral deficiencies. The result is stunted growth, weakness and heightened susceptibility to illness. Poor nutrition and calorie deficiencies cause nearly one in three people to die prematurely or have disabilities, according to the World Health Organization.
Children are the most at risk of undernourishment. In 2006, about 9.7 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. Almost all of these deaths occurred in developing countries, 4/5 of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the two regions that also suffer from the highest rates of hunger and malnutrition.
Most of these deaths are attributed, not to outright starvation, but to diseases that affect vulnerable children whose bodies have been weakened by hunger. Every year, more than 20 million low-birth weight babies are born in developing countries. The four most common childhood illnesses are diarrhea, acute respiratory illness, malaria and measles. These illnesses are both preventable and treatable.
It seems to me that the most authentic way for us to express our gratitude to God this Thanksgiving season is to give generously to hunger relief efforts so that we can bring some of these children to the table of provision. (Click on http://www.wvi.org/wvi/wviweb.nsf for a good, reputable organization called World Vision.)
Even—no especially—in this season of economic downturn, let’s show not only the ingenuity of eating, but also the ingenuity of giving so that others in our global family may enjoy a modicum of what we lavish in daily.
Franklin Roosevelt said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”