Recently, I heard a story.
A friend’s father ran into the superintendent of our local school system and struck up a conversation. She mentioned that they, like many other cities and counties on the East coast, had closed schools in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately there wasn’t much damage where we live. Unfortunately, the decision of whether or not to shut down schools is more difficult, more heartbreaking than most people might imagine. When it snows or floods or power goes out, the superintendent gets calls from students begging, “Please don’t close school.” Because when school is closed, it takes away the only meal some children were going to receive that day.
Food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture defines it as ‘a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.’ And in 2011, 14.9 percent of households in the United States experienced food insecurity. That is, they had difficulty feeding all members of the household due to ‘lack of resources.’
And in light of our impending leap off the fiscal cliff, I’ve been thinking about those who might find themselves hungry in the coming months. Children, the disabled, the unemployed, the elderly. Imagine telling your son or daughter on any day of the year that you are sorry, but there is nothing to eat.
Now imagine it on Christmas.
Hunger is hard to bear in all cultures, but there’s a special reverence for feasts and food in the Christian tradition. For Christians, hunger is more than a secular affliction; it is a failure of communion.
We find multiple feasts in the bible – Passover and the Last Supper especially come to mind. Then there is communion, where we consume Christ’s Body and Blood. Doing this weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on your denomination, reaffirms and embodies our belief that we are united with Christ though grace, love, forgiveness, and the His Sacrifice. Additionally, God’s Kingdom of Heaven is portrayed as a feast where everyone is welcome. From the Gospel of Matthew, I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 8:11). Heaven is not a restaurant. It is not a “come if you can afford it,” kind of place. Just come! Rejoice. God has invited you to God’s table, and what a glorious table it is.
But sometimes, as Christians, we struggle to take our “inside the church” faith and turn it into “outside the church” policy. Knowing that nearly 15% of Americans struggled to feed their family last year, what do we do?
Well, what Obama did was reject GOP Fiscal Cliff proposals that would have made major cuts to social safety net programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which distributes food stamps to almost 47 million people each month. Obama remained firm, which makes me proud. But going over the Fiscal Cliff will have its own repercussions. Tax increases for everyone means that the United States will likely dip back into recession. People who have jobs now might lose them. And those that don’t will struggle more mightily to find one.
As we transition from Advent to the Christmas Season, and as we transition from 2012 to 2013, let us be extra mindful of our brothers and sisters who, sometimes or always, struggle to put food on the table for their family. We ought to think about where our charitable donations are going and where our volunteer hours are spent*. What is your church doing to feed the needy in your community? It’s something that we need to think about, as difficult or guilt inducing as it may be.
And so I will leave you with something from one of my favorite hymns, the Canticle of the Turning.
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears every tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; There are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!
*I spend my time at The Haven, a day shelter in Charlottesville, Virginia. They operate wholly on donations and manage to feed breakfast every morning to any and all who show up. This Christmas season, consider a donation to The Haven. Thanks and God Bless.
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