Where Potatoes Go to Die

Where Potatoes Go to Die
Photo by Tim Graves Creative Commons license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ Photo by Tim Graves (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Photo by Tim Graves (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

I have a graveyard in my house. It’s in my kitchen on top of the microwave. That’s where potatoes go to die.

Their bakeable skin gradually wrinkles and soon sprouts. If I’m alert I catch the first sprout, cut it out, and add the remaining potato to a dish. Once the rotting begins, however, I’m rarely alert.

That’s when the rot of the potato spreads to me. I focus on the wrinkly skin and mourn the lost food. I feel bad about myself for my wasteful western ways. I feel guilty.

But this is a moment of transition not death. The potato itself is not dying. The potato is reproducing. The tiny, bright green sprouts are not only hope for new potatoes, they are intrinsically beautiful. They are divine beauty in this moment.

Pausing before the divine, I confess I too often waste. I overuse at the expense of others. I want and take in the face of other’s needs. And then I let my guilt be darkness rather than a sign of beauty — of you — within me. May new sprouts grow in my heart that I make decisions that are mindful of those in my town, in my nation, and on the other side of the world.

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A Memory & Hope Upon the Death of Nelson Mandela

A Memory & Hope Upon the Death of Nelson Mandela

901_10151869544736985_1828902241_nIt wasn’t our daughter’s first protest or maybe it was. (Around the same time we’d protested at the Federal Courthouse in solidarity with native American activist Leonard Peltier, who is still in prison after 37 years.)

We gathered in the church parking lot of Memorial Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Louis after worship. We shared sandwiches and cookies out of plasticware before walking the two blocks to the Shell station on the corner where our march from Shell to Shell to Shell would begin. Our goal as people of faith was to shame Shell Oil out of South Africa and to build awareness for the boycott of the company until they did so. As my wife and I pushed our infant daughter in her stroller, we chanted “Free Mandela” and “End Apartheid! Boycott Shell!”

We were young and believed in the impossible. We believed that our action in north St. Louis could change the abhorrent conditions under which Africans lived thousands of miles away. Years have passed. Decades have come and gone. More times than I’d like to admit I have doubted that real change is coming.

As my baby girl nears thirty, I wonder whether hope is justified in a world in which food programs for children and adults are cut and banks get bail-outs. I am discouraged by a lack of empathy for the poor. I wonder if justice will ever come when our prisons are filled with black men and Leonard Peltier remains in prison.  I wonder if peace will ever come after more than a decade of military action in Afghanistan. I weep when the first reaction to conflict in the world is to use military force.

I wonder if love can overcome death, as the Christian narrative tells me, when it doesn’t seem like we can even love one another.

And then I look at the life of Nelson Mandela. An imperfect man in a far from perfect world, his life is testament to love overcoming death. The extravagant love of the One will overcome the impossible as it did in Mr. Mandela’s life.

Though love doesn’t overcome at the speed I’d like it to come. It does come. In the words of  Nelson Mandela,  “…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

Being Remembered

Being Remembered

Listen here or read below.

Molly was just a kid. She didn’t know why the bitter cold Chicago wind blew through the holes in Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 7.23.23 PMthe side of her dilapidated house. Molly didn’t know that not everyone had rats mating in the rafters above their beds at night. Maybe the other kids huddled around their wood stoves in one room because it was too cold to be in the rest of the house.

They didn’t say.

She only knew that the other kids laughed at how she dressed in hand-me-down pants, thrift store tops, and old lady shoes her aunt got her for free.

A twinge of guilt comes over Molly when she thinks about the time she dropped an open can of peaches on the floor. Her mother was soooo angry. Her mother said, “Molly! You careless child! What were you doing? You dropped the last can of fruit we have!”

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Sarah could feel the disapproving eyes on the back of her neck when she swiped her Oregon Trail card to pay for the groceries. Then it was the tap tap tap of the well-dressed professional woman’s fingers on the counter…

The tapping cut into her very soul as Sarah dug for and counted out pennies to buy a twenty-five cent candy for her three-year-old.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

At forty-five Delia still struggled to have a normal sex life with her husband. Bob was a good man but he didn’t understand why she sometimes cringed when he came up behind her too quietly and touched her shoulder.

Delia didn’t like surprises. She’d had too many of those from her mother’s boyfriends when she was growing up. Some of the boyfriends were nice and never touched her but Mom seemed to have a knack for finding the wrong man.

There was one boyfriend who moved in for two years. He seemed to take pleasure in coming to Delia’s room every night after Mom was asleep.

Delia didn’t feel safe during the daytime either. He would shove himself up against her while pretending to give Delia a fatherly hug. He would do it while Mom was making dinner and give Delia a look that dared her to say anything.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Frank had good days and bad days. Folks in town didn’t understand why he went through stretches of time — especially in the winter — when he never stopped in at the pub for a beer with the boys. His wife grew impatient with his seeming inability to do anything around the house.

She told him to get his lazy butt off the couch but putting up the storms just seemed like an impossible task.  Frank couldn’t explain why he had no energy. No pep. No desire. Frank just knew he was depressed. It took every ounce of energy he had to go to work at all.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

***

It seems kind of odd to have this passage in the lectionary on the Sunday before Advent. Why would we want to look at Jesus dying on the cross? It’s not like we even get the resurrection. We just get a depressing story of the One the disciples thought would restore Israel, hanging on the cross between two criminals.

Today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year is traditionally marked as Reign of Christ Sunday, sometimes it’s called Christ the King Sunday. As someone who has a low christology, meaning that in my personal faith, I relate to the human Jesus more than the divine Jesus, . . .

I’ve often found this special Sunday of the liturgical year to be less meaningful than others. The imagery of a king does not speak to me. I know it holds great meaning for others but for me, not-so-much.

Raised in a denomination that grew out of the American frontier, I find it hard to think of Christ as king. Christ as guide, that’s cool. Christ as teacher, that works. Christ as model, absolutely. Even Christ as companion works for me.

But I struggle with the concept and image of Christ sitting on a throne with a crown and scepter. Perhaps I’m too egalitarian, too ingrained in our American experience in which leaders are elected.

And, so, perhaps I’m more fortunate than the disciples when I try to understand this passage from Luke in light of Christ the King Sunday. Unlike the disciples, both the apostles and the other loyal followers of Jesus, I understand that Jesus is not a king in the ilk of David. He’s not a king who will restore the earthly kingdom of Israel.

Now…Like you, I know the rest of the story. This king — this messiah — who comes to us as an itinerant rabbi, who eats with tax collectors and the oppressed is not gonna kick Herod’s tooshie back to Rome. For the apostles and other disciples, the cross was a shock! The king to whom they and we claim allegiance, is dying on a cross unable, in the words of his tormentors, to even save himself.

What does this pericope, this section of Luke’s gospel tell us about the king we call savior? What do we learn about the kingdom of God, about what I call God’s realm?

First, we know Jesus is not going to kick Rome out of Israel. Jesus’ kingdom, God’s realm is not a military power. Of course had we been listening to Jesus as he wandered the countryside, we would know this already. As Nancy Lynne Westfield points out,

Jesus spends more time talking about the Kingdom of God than any other topic or issue…Jesus spent much of his ministry describing the kingdom of God as having different rules and different expectations from the rules and laws and penalties of humanity. (Feasting On The Word, Kindle loc. #12487)

Second, Jesus doesn’t stop thinking about and caring for others — for us — even as he is dying.

 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34a CEB

 I confess that when I am suffering, even if only from a nasty cold, I am less empathetic and less concerned about others. It’s not that I’ll cease to care about you when I’m under the weather but I am less likely to think about you. It’s not something of which I’m proud but it is true.

In Jesus, however, is a ruler who despite torture, beatings, mockery, and certain death prays for his enemies as he is dying at their hands. The Realm of God is a place of undying love. It is a place in which we are all beloved of God.

Third, we learn in this passage that God in Jesus remembers every single one of us. We learn that even a criminal who in his own words is “rightly condemned…[and] receiving the appropriate sentence for what [he] did” (Luke 23:41 CEB) is beloved by God!

Notice the sequence of events between the criminal who asks,

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t require a catechism class. Jesus doesn’t require recitation of a creed. Jesus doesn’t require the criminal to say, you are the only way to God. He doesn’t require the “correct” theology or that the criminal join the UCC. Jesus doesn’t even require baptism.

What Jesus does is, he responds immediately saying,“I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43b CEB

We learn that God’s Realm is open to the most incorrigible, those who have committed heinous acts, to mothers who scold children who drop peaches, to child abusers, and impatient professionals in the grocery line.

God’s Realm is open to each and everyone of us. Grace is grace is grace is grace.

 Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

*** 

Molly’s mom was doing the best she could to hold the family together. Food was expensive and they had very little. She felt so guilty every time she thought back to the day she reamed Molly out for spilling those peaches.

It was just so hard to make ends meet. They were on food stamps after she’d been laid off, they were out of cash, they were out of everything…and it was still three days until her Oregon Trail card would be reloaded.

She wished she could tell Molly how sorry she was for that day, but she was just too embarrassed and too ashamed.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Phyllis was in such a hurry that day but she had to run into the market for just a few things. She got in a slow line and then — THEN — the woman in front of her whips out her Oregon Trail card. “Must be nice,” thought Phyllis. I have to make ends meet AND pay for her!

The woman in front of her looked so much more “put together” than Phyllis felt. Phyllis wished she could be casually doing the groceries with her children. She wished someone else would pay for her groceries.

Instead she was on the way to a high-pressure meeting.

Phyllis didn’t realize until the woman was on the way out the door that she’d been tap tap tapping her fingers on the counter.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Joe was in prison. He’d gotten sloppy. He’d molested the wrong child and he’d been caught.

Joe had found Jesus in prison. A lot of folks thought it was a ploy to get parole sooner. They didn’t think he was sincere.

Though Joe still had desires for kids, he understood that it wasn’t ok behavior. Joe was genuinely sorry for what he’d done through the years. Anyway, Joe found Jesus in prison. And he realized that regardless of what he desired, it was a sin to act on it. He realized that it was wrong to hurt others.

He also knew that though he didn’t deserve it, Jesus forgave him. The prison chaplain called that grace.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Finally, after three years of his friggin’ laziness, Frank’s wife kicked him to the curb. He just laid around the house. She couldn’t get him to even go out for a beer with his friends let alone take her out dancing or put up the storm windows.

Someone suggested he was depressed but she knew better. Frank was just a lazy good-for-nothing and she threw him out.

She wasn’t sorry either. She had to take care of herself. She had to start living her own life.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

***

We are all sinners. Sometimes we ask forgiveness. Sometimes we know we should ask forgiveness and we don’t. Sometimes we’ve hurt others and we don’t even realize it.

Always God loves us. Always God nudges us, trying to get us to listen and change. Always God pushes us to forgo judging and empathize with others. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.

Always God loves. Love doesn’t give up. It doesn’t say, “yes, but”. It encourages us to right behavior. It nudges us to mimic Christ.

But always Love forgives. Love is grace.

We’re often uncomfortable with this kind of grace, this kind of love. It seems so impractical and over-the-top. We want to set boundaries for love. Writes Nancy Lynne Westfield,

This kind of forgiveness is a challenging notion for many of us. Part of our inability to believe and trust the forgiving power of God’s grace and mercy is our inability to believe that other people deserve mercy. We want to judge whom God lets into heaven. (Feasting On The Word, Kindle loc. 12492)

But in the unfolding realm of God, we are called to live by different rules. In the unfolding realm of God, we are all beloved.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

[And] Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 CEB

Amen.

***

This sermon was preached by Tim Graves at the Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ on November 24, 2013. Tim took the SNAP Challenge during the week prior; he was on the final day of the experience on the day he preached this sermon. The text for the sermon is Luke 23:33-43.

SNAP: Two Dimes & A Penny

SNAPChallenge_Layer-1I’ve stood behind folks arguing about twenty-one cents on their grocery order before. Adamant, they don’t back down while others wait behind them. Clerks are often not very helpful looking with disdain at the person who bickers over two dimes and a penny. I admit sometimes I have been impatient when standing behind this scene.

Today I empathize with the panic of those who argue over small change.

With three dollars and fifty-four cents left in my food budget for 2-1/2 days, I went to the market in my small town yesterday. I was thrilled to find that there was an abundance of bananas left and, since this was the end of the week, they were only thirty-three cents a pound. I would have fruit!

Then to my joy was a new rack of Braeburn apples sale priced at 79 cents a pound. I would have apples and bananas to supplement my beige noodles and rice at home. Yes, I would have fruit! I couldn’t afford any more vegetables and all I had left at home was a quarter of a zucchini but, by golly, I was going to have fruit.

My order totaled $2.50 but since I am new to this living so very close to the edge, I didn’t realize a mistake was made. I was charged for one Braeburn apple at the 79 cent a pound and one Fuji apple at $1.49 a pound. That thirty-seven cents overcharge matters to me this week. It will buy a baking potato if I can find a small one in the pile.

When you’re poor and living near the edge every penny counts. When you’re days away from pay day or a refill on your food stamp card, of course, you argue over two dimes and a penny.

The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place. Jeremiah 22:3 CEB

Related Articles
Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13
SNAP: The Veggie-Noodle Balance 11-21-13
SNAP: The Glop That Plops 11-22-13
SNAP: Ouch, Ouch, Ouch 11-23-13

SNAP: Ouch, Ouch, Ouch

I came across this blog from Rebecca Barnes, who is also taking the SNAPChallenge this week. She is including her family in the experience. I teared up reading this c

omment from her blog,

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 7.27.16 AM“Last night, I actually pretended I couldn’t read my sweet girl’s pantomime of wanting a drink from the snackbar, during her second game of the evening for which she was working hard as a cheerleader. I thought, I should have made her take a water bottle. I should have planned better, even though earlier she said no, she didn’t want to take her water bottle. I can’t afford to go buy her a drink. But, she’s standing there, thirsty, and I’m looking away. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.”

I’m not teary because of this child; we know that the SNAP Challenge her family is taking is a contrived learning and advocacy experience. I cry because too many mothers and fathers and too many children live like this every day in the wealthiest nation on the planet.

“Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion?And, that, THAT is a sin for which we are collectively responsible. Luke 11:11-12 CEB

When we place mothers and fathers in the position of giving their children scorpions when they need fish, we sin. We live in the wealthiest country on the earth. When children are hungry, we have failed. All of us. We have all sinned.

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Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13
SNAP: The Veggie-Noodle Balance 11-21-13
SNAP: The Glop That Plops 11-22-13

SNAP: The Glop That Plops

SNAP: The Glop That Plops

I came home last night a little after eight. I was ravenous. I’d intentionally skipped dinner, planning to eat after my 6:30 meeting.

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I looked at the ninety-three cent box of macaroni and cheese. It was going to take too long. (I was ravenous, remember.) The instant rice is running low and besides I’d had rice at lunch. I looked at my remaining baby carrots but turned away from them. I’m rationing what fresh vegetables I have. I ended up with a cup of leftover tomato soup poured over a slice of bread. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. 

It wasn’t enough.

Wanting more soup, I went back to the fridge and found the leftover condensed mushroom soup. It kinda just plopped into the pot. I warmed it up. It kinda plopped into my bowl. I ate it. It kinda plopped into my stomach.

I was full now but felt like, well, I felt like crap.

***

Reflecting this morning on my mistake — eating that condensed mushroom soup — I am thinking about my mindset at the time. I was hungry. My belly was empty. Without healthy choices available to me, I ate what was available.

I think about how these kind of food choices effect children’s learning and adult performance on the job. Yes, many folks on SNAP are the working poor. I know how I feel this week. I know it is effecting my focus and efficiency.

I am not hungry this week. I have enough food to eat, at least so far. But it is not enough to assure folks have enough to eat. Adults and children alike need to have healthy, nutritious food to learn, grow, and strive. 

***

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Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13
SNAP: The Veggie-Noodle Balance 11-21-13

SNAP: The Noodle-Veggie Balance

SNAP: The Noodle-Veggie Balance

It was more of a noodle dish with some veggies than a veggie dish with some noodles. Still, I was proud of my creation last night. With a little spaghetti sauce, macaroni noodles, carrot pieces, and zucchini I created a tasty dish. True, the noodle-veggie balance was off. It was heavier on the sauce and noodles than it would have been were it not for the SNAP Challenge (eating on the equivalent of a food stamp budget) that I am taking this week.

A vegetarian, I am conscious of the food I eat. While I am tempted by junk food and have several sweet teeth, it is a rare day when I don’t eat more than the recommended daily allowance of  fresh vegetables and fruits. Cheeses, legumes, and the occasional tempeh and tofu are my protein sources.

And, though my meal was tasty last night, I begin day three of the SNAP Challenge (food stamps), I feel weighed down and sluggish. My digestive system does not seem nearly as efficient as is usual. The beige wonderland of noodles, rice, almost-fluffy white wheat bread, which is what I can afford on a daily budget of four dollars and fifty cents, fill my stomach. They also are negatively effecting my sense of general well-being. I’ve begun fantasizing about the veggie bake and fruit tray I will create at the end of this week.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? I have a choice. This is a one-week experience for me and my body will recover. Next week when I make the same dish, it will be a healthier veggie dish with a few noodles. My overall health will not be damaged by a short detour away from healthy eating. My kindred, people who live in our wealthiest nation, live with poor nutrition because as a people we don’t have the will to deal with economic injustices that favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

The wealthy get tax cuts; the poor get food benefit cuts. We find funds to go to war while twenty-five percent of children live in poverty (1). Like the skewed noodle-veggie balance of my meal, we have chosen as a country to skew the wealthy-poor balance in favor of the wealthy.

God have mercy on us for our sins against our poor neighbors.

***

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Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13

SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious

SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious

After delaying the start of the SNAP Challenge, I realized I wasn’t ready. I should have done more PR about it within my small town and the congregation I serve. I should have planned a menu. I should have gone to the grocery sooner. 

I’d already delayed the start of the Challenge. And now I was hungry.

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Almost on auto-pilot I went to the freezer to get a meal and pop it into the microwave so I could eat as I worked atthe computer. The frosty breeze in my face, I realized that if I ate my typical lunch, I would expend two meals worth of cost. My favorite freezer to microwave meal cost $3.29 but even the cheaper meals, are well over a buck-fifty.

I put my shoes on and went to the grocery with a short list. I realized immediately that this was going to be harder than I thought. The healthy produce-centric meals I usually prepare for myself would not withstand my $31.45 budget for the week.

And, so, I lingered near the fresh green beans but moved on. They were too expensive. I was pleased to find baby carrots on sale at one dollar this week. For lunch I picked up a can of black beans and instant rice. I’d do something with the carrots and the one zucchini squash and mushroom soup for dinner. As I reached the counter — as if in protest — I grabbed three 15 cent tootsie pops. I needed dessert!

As of the morning of the second day of the SNAP Challenge, I have spent two-thirds of my budget for the week. Looking at the box where my SNAP food is kept, I predict a lot of beige meals. I have rice, noodles, and almost-white wheat bread. With my remaining $10, I’m hoping to supplement with fresh vegetables and fruits and — perhaps — more delicious tootsie pop desserts.

On the first day of the SNAP Challenge, I’ve already become more anxious about my food. Will it last? How will this carbohydrate heavy food effect my feelings of well-being this week? Why did I buy that can of black beans when I could have saved 75 cents and had more food with the dry beans? I should have planned better!

If I am anxious about food after one day…
If I am anxious about food when my only risk is I will “fail” the Challenge…
If I am anxious about food when I have money for more in the bank…

If…
…how is it for my kindred who face this everyday?

If…
…how is it for those who are also trying to raise children on this kind of budget?

They asked only that we would remember the poor, which was certainly something I was willing to do. Galatians 2:10 CEB (Read in context.)

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