Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Eating

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.”


Unknown said...

Hey Charlie,

I just finished reading Scott Munger's "Rethinking God; undoing the damage" and it turns out to be very timely. I don't agree with all his commentary on the modern church, but do think that he lines up with you firmly on the obligation of Christians to be salt and light. And meat and potatoes and whatever else those who are in need ought to see coming from the Children of God. It is not enough to give a dollar to the Salvation Army Santa at Christmas, or to volunteer at a soup kitchen at Thanksgiving. Charlie, you are so right that we must be looking for ways to daily meet the needs of others. Jesus Christ himself describes the heart of the one who provided whatever was needed - clothing to the naked, food to the hungry, water to the one who was parched. This is not an option for us as believers. We must be His hands and feet here on earth so that the needy might be provided for here and in the hereafter. Nothing matters as much as enlarging the Kingdom of God. No one should die of physical hunger and no one should die without the opportunity to satisfy our innate spiritual hunger for a Redeemer.

So preach it, Brother! Hope to hear you in person soon!

Our love to you and Jana,
Randi & Martin

Charlie Johnson said...

Your comment to be salt and light--"and meat and potatoes" strikes a chord with me, Randi. What a memorable way to put Jesus' ancient teaching. I have just read an article in the NY Times in which Robert Gates argued that in order for us to succeed in our struggle against terrorism we must not only prevail against the forces of violence and destruction, but also proactively rebuild the infrastructure of the failed states that foment this terrorism. Only then will we obviate the conditions that breed this kind of hatred. Maybe we will soon see that feeding the hungry of the world is the best "foreign policy" we can have. It seems our generals have been arguing this too for some time now.

Anonymous said...

So what was the best meal back in those Kentucky days?

Charlie Johnson said...

It would have to be a toss-up between that classic country breakfast with biscuits, gravy, ham, eggs, grits, jams and jellies on one hand. Or, on the other hand, that ole preacher's cliche of a meal: fried chicken. Either artery-clogging way, it was a feast. Thanks for asking; your question let's me sit down at that fabulous table all over again twenty years later!

Anonymous said...

Grits seems like a southern thing, I have never tasted them.

Charlie Johnson said...

Grits are a ground corn concoction best cooked slowly for a long time until achieving a consistency not lumpy or runny but thick and smooth. Served with salt and butter. Yankees use sugar, a ruination.

Anonymous said...

haha, thank you for that chunk of cullenary (sic) wisedom. I grew up in the south, but was raised by yankee parents. So Im a Texan with a New England state of mind. :)

This is Ben Harrison by the way,Steve's son from back at TBC.

I always enjoy your blog Reverend. And I usually comment.

Anonymous said...

Grits are also great way to spackle your walls no matter how you flavor them. ha ha ha

Charlie Johnson said...

Ben, great hearing from you! Your emails are always engaging. Would love to get a newsy update when you get a chance.

Anonymous said...

Hey Charlie,
I dont have your email adress, Im guessing its changed since your time at McAfee.

I am doing great at Howard Payne though. I love it here so much. I also just finished up my first semester of Greek, I can read from the New Testament now in its origional language, it is so cool.

I have also finished a Baptist History course that was one of the most interesting classes I have ever had.

Charlie Johnson said...

Ben, Shoot me a line at charlie@charlesfosterjohnson.com

Be sure to give your folks my best too.


Dave Evans said...


I enjoyed catching up on your latest writings this morning. I had occasion to think of you after listening to an excellent edition of This American Life about a preacher in Tulsa who has some very exciting things to say about Jesus's provision for each and every one of us ... and he means every one of us. I hope you will take a listen to it if you get the chance. A lot of what he has to say reminds me of your work towards inclusion while in San Antonio. Keep up the good work.


Best to you and your family.

Dave Evans

Sarah said...

Pastor Charlie,

My husband and I were under your pastoral care at Trinity Baptist in San Antonio. I keep up with you through the blog and enjoy reading your well-written and inspired entries. My two favorites are "An Arranged Life" and this post. I hope it's o.kay with you, I linked this entry from my blog. Please keep posting when you have the time!

Sarah Morlandt