golden nuggets from Sirach (7)

 

Every few days I’m posting five passages that have jumped out at me as I read through Sirach (aka: Ecclesiasticus). Here’s the latest batch of gleanings.

Have you been seated at a magnificent table? Don’t be greedy as you sit there, and don’t say, ‘Look how much food there is!’ Remember, a greedy eye is a bad thing. … Don’t reach out your hand for whatever you see, and don’t crowd your dinner companion by reaching into the same bowl. Put yourself in your companion’s place, and be considerate in everything. (Sirach 31.12-13a,14-15)

If taken in moderation, wine makes people’s lives better. What’s life to those who don’t have wine? It was created from the beginning to bring merriment. The right amount of wine consumed at the right time makes for a joyful heart and a light spirit. Too much wine drunk in the midst of strife and conflict makes for a bitter spirit. (Sirach 31.27-29)

A well-advised person won’t overlook an intelligent thought; the stranger and the arrogant won’t cower out of fear. (Sirach 32.18)

Don’t overburden a person made of flesh, and don’t do anything without exercising good judgment. (Sirach 33.30b)

Those who pay attention to dreams are just like people who grasp at a shadow or pursue the wind. … Unless the Most High sends a dream by means of a visitation, don’t pay any attention to it. Dreams have misled many, and those who have placed hope in them have fallen. (Sirach 34.1-2,6-7)

this went thru my mind

 

Christ, Ephesians 5, marriage & the church: Is Marriage Really an Illustration of Christ & the Church? by Kristen Rosser [required reading]

“… the specific picture/illustration given them to imitate is not one of authority and leadership, but of giving and sacrifice. Husbands were told to love their wives the way Christ loved the church when He gave Himself up for her—gave up His power and position to come down to the level of a servant— so that He could raise the church up to His holiness. Husbands’ imitation of this picture of Christ would not involve holding onto their society-given rights and powers, but emptying themselves of them.”

Community, food & social class: Pay-as-You-Can Restaurants Dish Up Dignity in Denver [fascinating!]

“Going out for a meal tends to segregate age, race, and social class, based on one’s ability to pay. At Café 180, the serrated knife that separates wealthy and poor is laid down next to plate, fork, and spoon on the table of fellowship. Here is a radical culinary experiment in dignity and community. … as I pull out my wallet, the employee asks an odd question, one that stays with me all afternoon: ‘What would you like to donate today?’”

Drugs: Have We Lost the War on Drugs?

“After more than four decades of a failed experiment, the human cost has become too high. It is time to consider the decriminalization of drug use and the drug market.”

Les Miserables: The New Testament Parable that is Les Miserables by Marta Layton

“… the conflict between the two main characters – Jean Valjean and Javert – resembles a problem central to Christian morality: the tension between mercy and the law.”

Ministry: Jim Martin: An Interview about Life and Work [required reading]

“Who are the people who have influenced you in the way you both do and think about ministry? … How do you keep abreast of contemporary events, cultural shifts, etc.? … If you could visit with one of your favorite authors who is now deceased, who might that be? … How do you organize your life/ministry for the week? What seems to be beneficial? … What do you do intentionally to keep your soul alive? … What about your ministry brings you joy?”

Writing: On Writing by Joshua Graves

” … writing won’t change your life. … Writing is hard work … Your goal should not be to “publish” … Writing is an act of faith and discovery. … Writing is always merely an extension of your life. … Writing is a communal experience. … Writing is confession. Writing is about telling the truth as you see the truth.”

imagine you, on food stamps (9)

 

Now I know you’re curious as to what exactly I plan to eat in January so, let me just go ahead and tell you while explaining some of the rationale behind my purchasing choices. I refuse to bore you with a daily “journal” of what I ate, so do let me bore you here in a single post with the details of the lion’s share of my eating plan.

CerealFirst, I’m a breakfast person. If I could eat only one meal a day, it would be breakfast. And so for the sake of that meal, I’m willing to make some sacrifices elsewhere through the course of the day’s menu. What that means in practical terms is that I’ll stick with my normal diet for breakfast in January. What is that? Nothing exciting, to be sure – and quite likely to be viewed as “boring” or just plain “nasty” to some of you reading this – but here it is: (1) a bowl of Kashi GoLean cereal (50 cents) with (2) a splash of Silk Pure Almond “milk” (40 cents) and (3) either a banana (25 cents) or a single Kashi Pumpkin Spice Flax granola bar (25 cents). This is what I eat for breakfast probably 360 days out of the year and have done so for the past two or three years. Such has served me well, providing me with a healthy start to the day that gives me energy without weighing me down. By the way, if I go the granola bar route instead of the banana, that works out to 255 calories with 16 1/2 grams of protein and virtually zero grams of saturated fat. Healthy.

Second, if I eat nothing else, I eat some vegetables every day and commonly avoid fried foods almost completely. While I realize fresh vegetables are the healthiest way to go, I elected long ago to go the microwave route. I’ve found that the Green Giant “Healthy Weight” offering (sliced carrots, sugar snap peas, black beans, and edamame) appeals to me and I was able to catch these on sale for $1.00 per package early this week at Target and so, I stocked up the freezer. Throw in a little bit of tuna, grilled chicken breast, or whatever and a person has all that’s necessary for a simple, low fat lunch or supper. This meal, along with breakfast, should provide the vast majority of the protein and fiber necessary for each day.

Third, while the preceding will be the foundation for my nutrition in January, the groceries that made up the sack of groceries I received from our church pantry – along with misc. food items I procure along the way over the course of the month – will round out the makings of my month’s meals. This is where the real variety in my eating will happen. If I slightly exceed my $4.00 budget one day, I’ll make up for it by cutting back in some slight fashion the day before and/or the day following.

And having said all of that, let me say one last thing: while you might see a post or two in this series during the month of January, don’t expect for me to break radio silence on this subject until Feb. 1.

Until then … anyone care to join me in this project?

imagine you, on food stamps (8)

 

Now let it be noted from the start that I fully realize the way I’m going about this “food stamp project” in January is a bit unfair. How so? It is unfair in at least three ways.

First, many who qualify for food stamps are often quite limited in terms of time. No small number of them work two jobs, and in some cases, even three. If they have children living at home, their time once they arrive home is most certainly at a premium. Any and all time spent on food preparation means it’s time that can’t be spent doing something else (i.e. – doing laundry, helping with homework, maintaining a vehicle, etc.). Consequently, for quite a large percentage of folks who receive SNAP benefits, the choices made in terms of what food to acquire boils down primarily to this single question: “What food can I buy that can be prepared in the least possible amount of time with the least amount of attention required in doing so?

Second, transportation for many who receive SNAP benefits is a complicated affair. Many do not have a car and so, they must walk or ride a bicycle wherever they go. On occasion they might be able to hitch a ride with a friend who has some wheels, in which case they are dependent all the more on the choices of others. If they do have a vehicle, due to their limited funds they can’t drive around just anywhere looking for the best prices and deals on food. For some, what funds they have available translates into being able to drive their vehicle only straight to work and back, and precious little, if any, more at all. As a result of any or all of the preceding factors, a great many people on SNAP are forced to make their grocery purchases not on the basis of where the best deals and selections can be had, but on the basis of what is located closest to their residence. Translation: the local convenience store (i.e. – stop-and-rob).

Third, there is a kind, and degree, of temptation that comes only from living in the intersection of limited money, time, and transportation. For many who receive food stamps, life is so full with work, family needs, and all the essentials related to keeping food, clothing, and shelter as happening matters in one’s life, there’s little time for leisure or pleasure. It is in that context that the temptation to maximize the self-pleasure that can be found in life’s moments is most keen. For some, that will be about making food choices not so much with the question “What’s good for me?” in mind, but with this question in view: “What tastes good to me?

And so, all of this adds up to a bit of unfairness in my project. For while I have tried to keep time close to the top as I have made my food selections, time has not always been my sole, or even number one, criteria. Similarly, I have not purchased any of my food at a convenience store close to my residence, but have instead watched for items to go on sale at large businesses and grocery stores. This has given me quite an edge not only in what I can get for the money I spend, but has also enabled me to make some more healthy and/or palatable choices. And in all of this I’ve tried to purchase food more toward the “healthy” end of the spectrum than it is toward the “this gives my taste buds a zing” end of things.

But despite these inherent shortcomings in my project’s composition, I plan to forge ahead, and will if anything by doing so know that I haven’t even begun to taste all of the challenges and difficulties associated with eating on $4.00 per day.

imagine you, on food stamps (7)

 

At MoSt Church we assist, on average, 90-100 families each week for about 49-50 weeks of the year. And we’ve done this for many years. No brag, just fact.

Once a year, around the first or second week of December, we put on what we call The Big One food distribution. On that day, we assist, on average, 400 families with food in one day (actually, within two hours). This year, we were privileged to assist 436 families in The Big One distribution on Dec. 13.

Now folks from our community (Baytown, TX) can receive assistance from our pantry once every thirty days. And this thirty day period corresponds well with my plan to eat for a month on the equivalent of a diet sustained by food stamps. So I said to myself, “Self, food stamps are meant to supplement a family’s pantry, not be the sole source of it, so why don’t you receive from the pantry what folks would receive through it and then supplement that with what you can purchase with the equivalent of SNAP benefits (aka: food stamps), that is about $4.00 per day?

It sounded like a good idea so I took myself up on the suggestion and swiped a random sack from those put together for this year’s Big One food distribution. Now to be fair, let it be understood that folks who came to The Big One this year typically received three sacks: (1) a sack of produce (mainly onions and a watermelon), (2) a sack of meat (some frozen chicken), and (3) a sack of assorted food (primarily canned goods). The sack I swiped was a sack of assorted food (3).

Now I know you’re curious as to what was in my sack so here’s a picture (below) of the sack’s contents. And you should know that starting on Tues., Jan. 1, I plan to live the month of January on what you see below and whatever food I can purchase for $4.00 per day – just like a number of folks do who come to our pantry in Baytown, TX.

Pantry-sack-Dec-2012

No, I haven’t ate Spam in decades and I haven’t ate Vienna sausage in years. I rarely eat beef anymore, so making acquaintance with chili again will be something new and sweet peas aren’t high at all on my list of favorite things. I’ve ate very little pasta the past couple of years, so mac and cheese and Ramen noodles will be a fresh experience, but I love blackeye peas, baked beans, soup, corn, peaches, tuna, cranberry sauce, and cornbread (though preparing the cornbread will require me to purchase milk and eggs) so, all in all, I’m quite pleased with what I discovered in my sack from our pantry. A quick check proved that none of the items were out-of-date and as a bonus, some of the items were low sodium or no salt (a good thing for I have only only very rarely added salt to food the past 20+ years).

Rest assured, I’m not at all surprised by what I found, for the folks who work our pantry do a superb job with what they have to work with week in and week out. Glory be to God for the generosity and labor of love that exists for those in need.

this went thru my mind

 

Budget & food: On A Budget? 9 Cheap Ways To Eat Healthier

“I’ve compiled the tips you need to get on your way to a week of eating beautifully for $36. … Buy in bulk … plan ahead … buy generic … go dried when you’re using herbs … sign up for a store card  … go green … forgo convenience … make more …” [BTW - that $36 figure is over one-fourth more per week than is allotted for food stamps in Texas.]

Castoffs, giving & your stuff: Are You Done With That? Photographing The Results Of Your Good Will

“Consider the stuff of our everyday lives — the clothes, the sheets, the toys and, eventually, it all gets trashed — or donated. And that donation process can seem a bit like magic. We drop off our used stuff, and the items disappear — or so we think. But what truly becomes of it? Where does it go? And what does it look like? Freelance photographer Wesley Law wanted to know. … It took him nine months. … Law says he has some more investigating to do to — and for now, he’s still searching for the final resting place of all our good will.”

Consumerism: Consumed by Consumerism

“… 91% of emerging adults [age 18-23]— 91% are more or less happy with our current levels of consumerism. Only 9% register serious concerns about consumer choice.”

Jesus is Lord: What Does It Mean to Preach Jesus is Lord? by Ed Stetzer

“… when the early Christians chose to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ as their declaration, they were literally choosing to align everything with Jesus, even their own lives. Their words were not trite statements. They were downright treasonous. They echoed a subversive rebellion against the establishment that clearly resonated their allegiances and alliances. Those three words changed everything …

“As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, ‘How can we do kingdom work right here and now?’ We establish embassies of sorts, representing God in an alien land. The most significant work that we do will not be in huge, stadium-filled ways, but in small, primarily unnoticed ways. Simple. Sincere. Subversive …”

Parenting & technology: Apps for Children Fall Short on Disclosure to Parents, Report Says

“The apps often transmit the phone number, precise location or unique serial code of a mobile device to app developers, advertising networks or other companies, according to the report by the Federal Trade Commission, released Monday. … The agency reviewed 400 of the most popular children’s apps available on Google and Apple platforms, and reported that only 20 percent disclosed their data collection practices.”

Politics: Think Congressional Gridlock Is Bad? If Reid Changes Filibuster Rules, Look Out

“… rare is the honest-to-goodness filibuster anymore, made famous in the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where senators actually either talked a bill to death or its supporters into making enough changes to end the filibuster. … The ease with which such modern-day filibuster threats can freeze the Senate helps explain why they are being made at a record pace.”

imagine you, on food stamps (5)

 

Note: The following is not an account of any one conversation I’ve had with any one person regarding the Imagine You, On Food Stamps project, but is a composite derived from a number of conversations.

Oh, the conversations this project is generating!

“David, aren’t you afraid?”

“Afraid of what?”

“Of what eating like that for a month could do to your health, that’s what!”

“No, not really. Should I be?”

“Yes! That stuff can’t possibly be good for anyone!”

“That ‘stuff’?”

“You know what I mean. I mean the food you’d have to live on that can be bought for $4.00 a day.”

“Oh, you mean the ‘stuff’ we’re content for other folks to live on as long as we don’t have to live on it ourselves, don’t you?”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I mean those people who receive that kind of food are only getting what they deserve. You don’t deserve that.”

“I’m not sure I understand your point. Help me here.”

“They’re in the fix they’re in because they wanted it that way. They made some bad choices and now they have to experience the consequences. If that’s all they have to eat, let them eat it. Perhaps they’ll learn from the experience!”

“Really? ‘All’ of ‘them?’ How do you know the situations of all of the lives of all of these people? I doubt either one of us would say, after a little reflection, that every person who is poor – or even the majority of the poor – chose to be poor or want to remain in need. And even if what you’re saying is true – and I don’t believe for a minute that it is – what does that have to do with eating on $4.00 per day for a little while?”

“Okay, we both know there are surely some exceptions, but you and I both know most of the money going out for food stamps is just a waste.”

“No, actually I don’t know that … and I don’t believe you do, either. I only know a great many people don’t eat nearly as well as either of us and I think we both would do well to remember that often. Doing so would surely change the way we think of and live with the people around us.”

“So you’re telling me people who make their own bed shouldn’t have to sleep in it? I don’t feel bad for bums who won’t work. It’s in the Bible for crying out loud!”

“I’m saying none of us knows what all went on to get anyone to the point they’d cry out for help with putting food on the table. We mustn’t presume we know what they’ll do with any or all of the help that’s offered to them, either. If they do happen to misuse some, or all, of that help, that’s on them, not us, and it’s between them and the Lord. It’s no excuse or reason for us to not be merciful. Besides, no small number of the ‘them’ you’re talking about are little children, people who have absolutely no say in their circumstances or their sustenance, but who like the rest of us, need to eat every day. There are more than a few words about mercy and about leaving all judgment to the Lord in the Bible, too.”

“I don’t think I’m being ‘merciful’ to them if I see them driving a newer car than I drive!”

“Again, we don’t know all the circumstances of their lives, do we? And, I must say with all kindness, but with forthrightness, I find the way you’re lumping and labeling all sorts of individuals together under the word ‘them’ and as people of suspicious character as degrading and dehumanizing, both of which lead to being judgmental.”

“So you’re saying I’m judgmental! Who do you think you are? I have eyes to see how some of them live.”

“I thin I’m someone inviting you to join me in eating the same thing other people eat for a little while just to see what that must be like.”

“Well, you can count me out because I don’t want anything to do with those folks!”

“I think you’ve established that quite clearly. And that’s the real issue, isn’t it? Not your fears for my health, but your own insecurities over who receives help and how that doing such might draw you closer to some you have little care for … and that’s very uncomfortable for you.” Right?”

[Long pause] Maybe.”

“Then let’s pray. Let’s pray right now on what we both must surely agree.”

“Father in heaven, by your goodness and mercy and in the name of Jesus Christ, we pray that neither one us ever gets to such a point of need or want that we’re ever tempted – much less frequently tempted – to cheat, lie, or steal.

“Because only you are the Most Holy One, we pray you would ever deliver us from setting ourselves up as judges of others. May we both be always content to leave all of that up to you.

“Because you are the Creator of all, we pray that our fear of others would melt away. What can man do to us?

“Because you are the source of all that is true strength, we pray that our fears based on our own frailties and weaknesses would recede through growing faith in you. May that faith lead us daily to where we know by faith you would have us always go: doing good to all as we have opportunity.

“Open our eyes to truly see every person we meet. Deliver us from seeing ‘around’ people. Open our minds to discern what you would have us to be them. Help us to think the way our Lord and Savior thinks. Open our hearts daily so that we love others – all others – with the love you have for them. May we be channels of your blessings, not filters. And may you open our hands so that we are genuinely giving people, seeing as how you are so generous to us in so very many ways every day. Amen.”

[Long pause] “Perhaps I was a bit … hasty. I’m not saying I’ll do this! I am saying ‘I’ll think about it.’”

“Thinking is good and an all too rare commodity these days. Let’s continue to think – and pray – about these things together.”