Lord, keep us from speaking of love while hoarding the gifts you have given us. Make us full of discontent as long as there are brothers and sisters living and dying in hunger.

Our church invited people to live off of $5 for food a day. Below are my thoughts, my menu, and whether or not I accomplished what I set out to do.

___________

Monday:

7:15 – I want coffee.
8:15 – I miss coffee. I have a headache. But I found Tylenol with caffeine in it! Win-win! Or is that cheating?

9:00 – Went shopping. Buying food for myself AND my family at the same time was quite depressing. No meat, but I think I was able to do a decent job. We’ll just see if it lasts me until Friday. And seriously… How the heck am I supposed to buy toilet paper and toiletries with such few dollars?

10:30 – My head is pounding… I must be addicted to caffeine. And I ate every spare morsel off my apple.

Breakfast: Peanut Butter toast
Snack: Apple
Lunch: Can of tomato soup. I am staring longingly at my children’s food.

1:30 – I have given in and had coffee. This is a food security challenge, not a “kick the caffeine addiction” challenge. If all of my painkillers and the nap have not made my headache go away, and all I wanted to do was in my room and die, I figured it wasn’t worth it. I still need to go to work and be present to my family.
3:30 – My kids are snacking. I am not.
4:30 – Preparing two separate meals sucks.

Supper: Roast carrots, roast potatoes, and rice.
9:15 – At Boston pizza with my friends after my ultimate game. They are all eating food. I am watching them enjoying my water.

A note on my caffeine addiction. Often, we look at people who are on social assistance and think, “If they only spent their money this way, if they didn’t buy that, if they didn’t spend their valuable dollars feeding their addiction, they’d have more money for food.” Well, yes, that is technically correct. It comes across as awfully judge-y though, and I really wouldn’t want to be your friend if you’re just going to look down on my spending choices. But after hating being awake after a few hours of trying to kick a simple caffeine addiction, I understand a little bit more when people have to choose between feeding a stronger addiction or buying apples. What a crappy situation to be in.

Tuesday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana.

Lunch: Leftovers from yesterday.

Supper tonight: Spaghetti with sauce. And I licked the spoon with sour cream on it.

I find myself getting lots of starches, and very bland food.
I find myself eating because I have to, not because I want to or because the food tastes great.

Wednesday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana.

Lunch: I went to the city for work. My friend offered to buy me a burger lunch. I said I packed my own, being 4 pieces of bread (with peanut butter) and an apple. So we sat in a park, and I watched him eat his burger while he watched me eat my bread.

Supper: Potatoes, corn, rice.

9:00 – I gave in and ate cookies at a church meeting today. I’m trying to limit the amount of food I receive from my well-meaning friends. But I must learn to be less prideful and receive, because receiving enables someone else to give.

I bought 1 L of milk for the week, and am drinking one glass a day.

I find myself hesitating to eat the food I do have, for fear that I will run out. I am slowly shifting from a worldview of abundance to one of scarcity.

Thursday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana.

Lunch: Potatoes, rice, corn.

Supper: Corn, spaghetti & sauce, and a glorious (really) can of beans. I could only eat half the beans, as the other half is for my Friday lunch.

I’m hungry. And I miss butter.

I think I have the challenge harder than most, as I am preparing regular meals for my family in addition to my meals. So I get to watch them eat burgers and taco salad and cheese and strawberries. And I get to put their leftovers in the garbage.

Friday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana

Lunch: ½ can of beans, and I ate 2 cookies my mother in law made. And a brown apple (all my apples are now brown, but I can’t just throw them out).

Supper: It was supposed to be 2 carrots, 1 potato, and rice. But I was rushed to get my kids to swimming lessons, so I ended up stuffing my face with perogies and farmer sausage. It tasted sooooo good.

This $5/day challenge is kind of rigged. I have used way more stuff that I would have had purchase than simply food. I’ve used: saran wrap, Ziploc containers, toilet paper, shampoo, body wash, hand soap, toothpaste, pain killers, cough syrup, dish soap, and tin foil. That’s more than 25 right there, not including my stove, my fridge, my freezer, my phone, and the transportation to get the food (I live 3 miles from the nearest grocery store).

I’m amazed at all the great conversations that have happened because of this challenge. And many people NOT on income assistance have told me that their meals aren’t that different from mine, or that they spend a similar amount on food. And I think this is great. I think some of the differences, though, come with the freedom that choice offers us. When we are able to buy more food (such as pizza with friends after an ultimate game), or if we eat all our apples because we hungry now (or throw out the apples because they’re brown and gross), we’re able to go to the store and buy more. I’m struck by the importance of choice. If you don’t have the choice, living “simply” can be quite paralyzing and depressing.

Looking back, did I accomplish my goals?

1) Raising awareness: Heck yes. I’ve had lots of great conversations. Our little website has over 1000 views. Many of us didn’t know about the $3.96/day allotted to a single person on social assistance. Now we do.

2) Understand a different reality: Sort of. On one hand, I generally was hungry, ate brown apples, ate a lot of rice, and did my best to live off of $5/day. But on the other hand, 5 days is short, I have bacon and ribs in my fridge for the weekend, I had coffee and used toilet paper, so I understand that even me “depriving” myself was quite contrived.

3) Better advocates: Ummm… We’ll see. Maybe I’ll fire a letter off or two. But I’m not sure if that’ll work. I have to see where this all leads me in the future.

4) Examine my own decisions: Yup. I have a lot of money to spend. And I spend it quite well. How much do I need, and where my money goes, are probably life-long questions. But maybe acknowledging my wealth and my privilege are a good first step.

5) Spiritual Discipline: Sort of. I didn’t have to pray for food, as I knew this challenge was temporary. But I was a bit more thankful for the food I did eat. I am reminded of my friends in Zimbabwe who, 10 years ago, kept telling me that “Wo/man doesn’t live on bread alone.” But it’s an awfully important part. I have some thinking and praying to do about my involvement in food security in my community.

Thanks for following along and/or joining!

“Lord, keep us from speaking of love while hoarding the gifts you have given us. Make us full of discontent as long as there are brothers and sisters living and dying in hunger. Amen.” – Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, March 9

Why I am going to try to spend only $5/day on food next week.

Next week, I’m going to try to live off of $5/ day for food.

Why?

Well, because a bunch of us from Grace Mennonite Church are, that’s why. 

Why are a bunch of us from Grace going to spend just $5/day on food?

Good question.

1)       To raise awareness:  $5/day is more than a single person on income assistance in Manitoba receives.  They get just $3.96/day.   Over the past several weeks, I’ve shared that number with a lot of people.  The responses I have received have been priceless.    People’s jaws have dropped, they’ve exclaimed “What!?!?!?”, and they’ve scrunched their eyebrows as they quickly calculated their last grocery bill (or Tim Horton’s run).  On this count, we’ve been successful at raising awareness, as more people have told me why they CAN’T participate than why they can (usually for good reasons), but they are wishing me all the best and pointing out the best deals on food (thanks!).

2)      Help us understand the realities many people face:  Most of us participating in this challenge are not financially challenged.  So while we all mean well, most of us simply don’t understand what’s it’s like to eat less, eat less healthy, and to spend so much energy thinking about what we’re going to eat.  Jesus says a lot about living with and loving people who are “poor”.  It’s probably a good time for some of us to try to understand a different reality.

3)       To be better advocates:  We understand that talking to government officials and/or business owners isn’t always easy.  And we also understand real change is slow and messy.  But at least we’ll be able to say:  “Hey.  Let’s talk about minimum wage and affordable housing not only in terms of economics, but also in terms of food accessibility and food bills.”

4)      To examine our own decisions regarding our money and consumption patterns:  In a world of plenty, we often don’t think much about where we are spending our money.  How much do we actually need?  Can we eat healthy with less money?   Can people tell that I follow Jesus by my credit card statement?  

5)      It’s a spiritual discipline.  For thousands of years, people have fasted.  By being intentional about how much we consume, we’ll hopefully become more aware of God’s presence, both in our plenty and in our need.

So that’s why I’m going to try live off of $5/day.  Feel free to join us, wherever you are. (And seriously, we’re not legalistic here… If you can’t do 5 days, do as much as you can.  If you can’t do $5, do as little as you can.  Our church’s name is Grace for Pete’s sake.)  If you want to sign-up (or wish us well), click here and leave a comment!

Kyle

Christmas Commericals, Congo, and Fists.

We just heard the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr who died for his faith. 

Audrey was looking for bulletin cover material, and this is what we decided not to use: 

Image

Getting stoned for a simply preaching a sermon is pretty intense persecution, if you ask me.  But, as a follower of Jesus, I guess he expected it, because Jesus said,

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:10-12.

Fast forward to present day.

Every year at Christmas, we all receive Christmas cards from political leaders and businesses, and we all are bombarded with ads to go and buy stuff.  But recently, if you listen carefully, it’s quite interesting to see who uses the word “Christmas”, such as “We are wishing you a Merry Christmas!”, and who uses a more generic greeting with the word “Holiday” or “Season”.  Examples include “Happy Holidays!”  or “May the Spirit of the Season fill you with all the good things you can imagine.”  Or something awesome like that.

Historically, most people in Canada have identified themselves as Christian, so the word “Christmas” was acceptable.  Now, we are a little more diverse, so people are a little more cautious to use that word.  I understand that. 

But what’s really funny is that some people who identify themselves as Christians get really excited and worked up about people not using the word Christmas.  We see posts on social media about keeping Christ in Christmas, and Jesus is the reason for the season, and most of them involve bearded guys from Duck Dynasty (please, Christianity needs better spokespeople than the Duck Dynasty dudes).  Some people have even called it a War on Christmas.  And it doesn’t really happen up here in Canada, as we’re a little more chill, but In the States, there are actually efforts to boycott the stores that don’t use the word Christmas.   And much of this is rooted in this idea that Christians are being persecuted for their faith. 

Very bluntly, claiming persecution because people don’t use the word Christmas is a bunch of hogwash.  Stephen having rocks thrown at his head?  That’s persecution.  Listening to an ad on the radio wishing me a safe and happy holidays?  Not so much. 

So why do some of us care so much about cards and advertising at Christmas?  Why are some of us so quick to claim persecution when clearly we’re not in jail, our lives aren’t at risk, and we still receive charitable tax receipts when we give money to our church?

Father Thomas Keating, an American monk, describes three “programs for happiness”  which are all a part of our inner landscape.   The apostle Paul calls them the “old self”.  Some theologians call it “the false self”.  Whatever we call them, they are deep within us.

Our need for security and survival. 

Our need for affection and esteem.

Our need for power and control.

These programs of happiness are sometimes hidden so deep within us that we often don’t see how they are driving our actions.  In the pursuit of happiness for ourselves, our family, our “tribe”, we often seek these programs, and often at horrific costs.

Do you see Christmas commercials in there? 

Our need for security and survival.  If we can’t use the word Christmas, we’re doomed! 

The need for affection and esteem.  If I don’t hear the word Christmas, do people not like me because I’m a Christian?

The need for power and control.  Who’s protecting my rights and privileges? 

Ah… So the conflict really isn’t over Christmas advertising.  The conflict is over our souls.  Well, now those Facebook posts make a lot more sense, don’t they?   

And these programs for happiness are inside all of us.  Christian, atheist, “none”, liberal, conservative, rich, poor… All of us.

When we believe that happiness comes through power, control, affection, esteem, survival and security, we’ll probably do all sorts of well meaning things to get that happiness.

Like stone people.

That was a leap, wasn’t it? 

But maybe not…

Here’s the story on Stephen.  He was chosen to serve food to the widows in Jerusalem.  Between feeding the hungry, and new people choosing to follow Jesus, this Jesus movement was gaining steam. The religious and political leaders felt like they weren’t in control anymore, so they worked very hard to get Stephen killed.  And after Stephen called them stiff-necked and accused them of disobeying the law, they dragged him out of court and killed him.

Stephen struck a cord with them.  He named their programs for happiness, their need for power and control, their need for affection and esteem, their need for security and survival.  He was a threat to their happiness, so they eliminated him.  I guess they could have just boycotted his store and signed an online petition, but the rocks were really handy.

It’s often easy for us to distance ourselves from rock throwers or religious fundamentalists… We’re not like that.  But when we start thinking of it in terms of defending our programs for happiness, I wonder how different we really are…

The following is an conversation between Donald Miller and his friend Tony, in the book Blue Like Jazz.  I read it 10 years ago, and it has still stuck with me.

“It’s terrible,” I told him. “In the Congo, two and a half million people, dead. In one village they interviewed about fifty or so women. All of there had been raped, most of them numerous times.”

Tony shook his head. “That is amazing. It is so difficult to even process how things like that can happen.”

“I know. I can’t get my mind around it. I keep wondering how people could do things like that.”

“Do you think you could do something like that, Don?” Tony looked at me pretty seriously. I honestly couldn’t believe he was asking the question.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Are you capable of murder or rape or any of the stuff that is taking place over there?”

“No.”

“So you are not capable of any of those things?” he asked again. He packed his pipe and looked at me to confirm my answer,

“No, I couldn’t,” I told him. “What are you getting at?”

I just want to know what makes those guys over there any dif­ferent from you and me. They are human. We are human. Why are we any better than them, you know?”

Tony had me on this one. If I answered his question by saying yes, I could commit those atrocities, that would make me evil, but if I answered no, it would suggest I believed I am better evolved than some of the men in the Congo. And then I would have some explaining to do.

“You believe we are capable of those things, don’t you, Tony?”

He lit his pipe and breathed in until the tobacco glowed orange and let out a cloud of smoke. “I think so, Don. I don’t know how else to answer the question.”

I wonder what we would do if we had stones that were readily available?  Are we that different from anybody else?  What are we clinging to that gets us riled up?

I had a fascinating conversation with 2 remarkably self-aware teenagers 2 weeks ago, and they asked me a question.  They noticed something in their lives that, when they saw it, felt the hatred rise up in them.  In my opinion, they had good reason to be frustrated, but they didn’t want to let those feelings consume them and dictate their attitudes and actions.

Remarkably self aware high school students.    They’ll turn out just fine as adults.

My response was that often, we come at life with fists clenched.  We’re holding on to something, we’re defending something , we’re clinging on to something.  It could be our possessions, our programs for happiness, our need to be right, our anger, our desire for revenge.   The first part is naming our clenched fists.  And the second part is opening them.

I think the spiritual life is actually one of opening our hands before God, of letting go, of “slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting our existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive.” (Henri Nouwen in Open Hands)

read a great book a decade ago (A New Kind of Christian, by Brian Mclaren) that says churches are really good at telling people what to do, but often do a terrible job at doing it with them.

And so, today, we’re going to spend a few minutes unclenching our fists…

If you’re able to, sit up straight and put your feet flat on the floor.

Think back over the past week.  When you get to something that caused you frustration, that made you angry, clench your fists.

Let’s pray: 

Dear God,

 

I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!

Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?

Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?

Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me.

And what you want to give me is love – unconditional, everlasting love.

 

As you let go of what you’re clenching,  slowly open your hands as if you’re receiving a gift.  A gift of unconditional, everlasting love.

 Amen.  

 

(Thanks to Henri Nouwen and Garth Friesen for this prayer).

2051, Getting the Mail, and Ferraris – The Facade of Unity

In the book of Acts, you have stories of the first new followers of post-resurrection Jesus, the first stories of mass conversions, and the first stories about people gathering as the church.

Sometimes, those of us in churchy world look to this story as a foundational story. We look to how the early church behaved and said, “We should be like that!  They were all on the same page.  They had unity!”

And then we look at what they did and say:  “We can do it too!  We can repent and be baptized and believe that Jesus is Lord!   We can devote ourselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to breaking bread and to prayer.  We can do all those things!  We might not gain thousands of new people join our church in a day, but hey, we can be faithful and do what we’re supposed to do.

And then we come across these sentences: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

Errr…. Yeah, about that one.

But, we’re generous, right? We give money to the church, we give money to organizations building wells around the world, we sponsor kids to go to school, we send money when there’s a natural disaster…  But, I will venture to say almost none of us sell our property and possessions and give to anyone in need, and none of us hold everything in common with other followers of Jesus here at Grace.

We just kind of want to be a bit like the first church, not 100% like it.

I was pondering this text this week, and I got to thinking about my own finances.  Ash and I are like many of you, and through our jobs we have pension plans to plan for retirement. I think our retirement date is something ridiculous like 2051, but hey, save when you’re young!  Ash and I are also like many of you and we have small children.  So every month we squirrel away some money for to put into an RESP for our kids, because I’m sure the cost of university tuition will be something ridiculously high in 2028, when Arianna graduates from high school.   Let alone how much weddings will cost in 20 years.

So, I was pondering this text, and I’m supposed to share my retirement money and my kids’ education money with anyone who has need?  Ha!  Right. That’s funny.  No.  Actually, my exact words were “Get your dirty paws off my kids’ tuition.”  I’m going to be generous and give money where I can, but nobody’s touching my kids education money.  And I’m definitely not selling my house, thank you very much.

Now, one of you may come along and tell me, “Look!  The Bible says that we should do this!  The first church did it!  Even Jesus says so when he tells the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give to the poor!”

If one of you theoretically said this to me, I’d probably get defensive and say:  “That doesn’t apply to me!  You’re interpreting Scripture wrong!  I give money here and here and here, and I give my time, and I even gave someone a ride to the doctor this one time!”

And then the response might be:  “But you could be doing more!  You could be giving more!  You could be more holy!”

And now theoretical me and theoretical you are in a theoretical shouting match as to what we’re supposed to believe and how we’re supposed to live.    Sounds like fun, right?

Now, conventional wisdom would say this: If everyone would just agree, then we’d have unity.  If we all agreed that we’re supposed to sell our houses and give to the poor, or if we all agreed that we can own houses and still be faithful, then we’d all be on the same page and we’d have unity.

But this doesn’t happen. Well, it might actually happen with us not selling our houses, but in reality, I think we’re all over the place with what we believe and how we live.

Some of us give a certain percentage of our money away.    Some give more.  Some give less.  We’re all over the map.

Some of us are concerned about the increasing militarization of Canada.  Others of us, not so much.

Some of us believe in a traditional doctrine of hell. Others of us are okay questioning it.

Some of us believe that we need to be better stewards of the Earth, we so bike places.  Others of us drive in our SUVs to get the mail.

Heck, unity is hard enough between a married couple, let alone a family, or even a larger community.

I think, though, that what usually happens is that we simply don’t talk about all the disunity.  We don’t want to upset the apple cart.  And I get it.

Mel and Audrey and I were talking this week, and we all decided that we weren’t 100% honest in our relationships with our partners.  We choose to bite our tongues quite often for the sake of unity.  And that’s usually a good thing.  Living our lives in constant conflict, or always nagging our each other isn’t very much fun.  But we did acknowledge that we do try to live together and love each other, even when we know we disasgree.

I sometimes call this the facade of unity.  We act like that we’re all on the page, that we all believe a certain thing, that we all act a certain way, but in reality, we know that’s not the case.  Usually, what happens is the people who hold the minority view point choose to keep quiet.  And we do this is all our relationships.

And this isn’t always a bad thing.  We all have beliefs and actions that we can put into the categories of essential or non-essential, core or peripheral.

For example, CFL kickoff is starting soon, and so we have to start making some football jokes.  Ash is a Roughrider fan, and I am a Blue Bombers fan, and our teams are bitter rivals.  One time, someone asked us how in the world we could be married to each other and cheer for rival teams.   My answer was: “Well, I made a top 10 list of things I wanted in a spouse, and CFL team preference didn’t quite crack the list.”

But what happens if we disagree?  How do we find unity in the face of disunity?  (Mel did tell me this week that I’m kind of ruining a great text.  The first believers, as we read, WERE on the same page.  They were of one mind.  But it didn’t last very long.  And here I am already jumping ahead, skipping the good stories and focusing on when it all comes apart.  Sorry about that.)

But here’s a story that has stuck with me.

One of my spiritual director friends was staying at a monastery in California.   The monks there had all taken vows of poverty, they owned nothing, held everything in common, and worked tireless for the poor of their city.  In some ways, they were very much like the first believers.

And then, one day, they received a visitor.  He drove up in a bright red Ferrari.  And 2 monks went out to greet him.

On one side, vow of poverty and service.  On the other, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent as one of most flagrant displays of unnecessary wealth in our capitalistic society.

The monks spoke first.

“Wow. Nice car.  Can you pop the hood?”

My friend couldn’t believe it.  Here, you had two diametrically opposing worldviews, and there was no condemnation from one to the other.  In fact, they were celebrating the beauty of the car, which is a fairly adequate symbol for what the monks consciously rejected.

They were unified about the beauty of the car.  But not the ideologies or worldviews or belief systems behind it.

Unity in the midst of disunity.

How do we live together when we disagree?  How do we have unity in the face of disunity?

Sometimes, in churchy world, we have this phrase, or cliché, that we’ve developed on how to live together when we disagree.  Sometimes we say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  You may have heard it.  It’s meant well, but often it comes across like naming what we think is sin someone  else’s life and telling them to go and fix it.   Some people might it telling the truth in love, others may call it judging.  It’s like telling the guy with the car, “I love you, but that Ferrari is sin.”  I heard it said once that every time we use the word “but” in a sentence, it’s like we cancel out everything said before it. “I love you, but” sounds an awful like conditional love to me.

I actually think the phrase it’s a bunch of malarkey and quite unhelpful.  And I think I’m being generous with my words.  Jesus never said, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  Jesus said, “Love the sinner and deal with your own sin.  After you’ve dealt with your own sin, then you can deal with your neighbours.”  If you are wondering where in the Bible it says that, it’s a paraphrase of Matthew 7 by Tony Campolo.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Love the sinner, hate your own sin.

This is one of the reasons why I love being part of a faith community that centers itself on following Jesus.  Our job isn’t to offer judgement towards the people who own Ferraris, although I often do.  Our job is to name and work on the greed in our own hearts.  Because I can’t control what other people believe or do.  I can’t control what you do or believe, and you can’t control what I do or believe.  Heck, I can’t even control what my kids do, and they’re 1 and 3 years old.

But I can always, always tap into what’s going on inside of me.

And here’s what I like about working on my own soul… To the degree that we are transformed, the world will be transformed.  To the degree that we are healed, the world is healed.

Maybe unity isn’t that far off after all.

Jesus, help us live in peace.
From our blindness set us free.
Fill us with your healing love.
Help us live in unity.

Many times we don’t agree
on what’s right or wrong to do.
It’s so hard to really see
from the other’s point of view.

 Jesus, help us live in peace.