Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bring Hope to the Table

My morning devotional time is usually brief. With a kid to get out the door to school, it fits between the alarm and the shower. Daily lectionary readings in my inbox keep me grounded in scripture. And inward/outward (an online ministry of Church of the Saviour in Washington, D. C.) challenges me with a thoughtful idea. But this morning, breakfast came first, and the surprise spiritual spark of the day was on a box of Kroger Corn Flakes.

A cereal box usually has some sort of marketing message for its target audience. Lucky Charms has cartoons. Cheerios talks cholesterol. Special K shows slim, attractive women touting weight loss. Odds are your breakfast cereal knows a little about you. You are what you eat, after all. But the advertisers know you also eat what you are.

My corn flakes this morning spoke to me (but not like Rice Krispies' "snap crackle pop"). The back of the box said something about hope.

Yes, it was written by someone who probably works in the corporate offices of a large food distribution company, and yes, it was probably approved by some mid-level executive whose job it is to protect the company's brand and drive profits. But the message was a good one. It was about Kroger's partnership with Feeding America. Among other things, it said:

"In the past five years, Kroger and you have helped provide 560 million meals to needy families in our communities."

It talked about their food rescue program, bringing perishable foods from the store shelves to local food banks. I thought of the fresh breads and baked goods, the sandwiches, salads and fruit, that we serve at Daily Bread to Lynchburg's food-insecure. When I see employees at our local store pulling the deli sandwiches off the shelf at the end of the day, I know who will eat them tomorrow.

It talked about in-store donations to stock food banks with dry goods. And I thought not only of the food donation boxes by the check-out line, but of the hundreds upon thousands of starter sacks of food we've packed at the Rivermont Area Food Pantry over the yearsFinally it said that to make an even bigger difference, customers should hold food drives in their communities and make donations themselves.

All this is well and good. I was impressed with Kroger's commitment to feed the hungry. When good and generous corporate citizens address the critical needs of the communities in which we live and they do business, it's a sign of hope. But something nagged at me after I spooned the last drop of milk from the bowl. Good as it was, something was missing.

The box talked about essential moral actions, which are relvant for any person of faith, any person of good will. It didn't say it in so many words, but as a Christian it wasn't a stretch to get from the Kroger message to the charge that not to feed the hungry would be like walking by on the other side, ignoring the man robbed on the Jericho road. It would be like letting a bleeding person bleed, or withholding CPR . It would be like denying an AIDS patient the lifesaving drugs that commute the death sentence of the disease. Jesus had clear words for those who have two coats when a neighbor has none.

Let those with ears to hear (even if it comes on a cereal box)...

Because there's more that has to be said. I supposae what niggled in my mind's ear was this. For those who have not only ears to hear but voices to speak, more is required. We have a further obligation. Feed the hungry, yes. Of course. But then take it to the next level. Speak up and speak out. Work to reform a system that allows hunger to persist.

No one who studies such things denies that we can produce enough food to feed the entire planet. We have the capacity. We have the technology. We even have the ability to distribute food wherever it is needed. What we don't have is the will, the sense of moral necessity to take care of our neighbor with more than a charitable donation. What we're lacking is a collective will to establish justice.

There is nothing just or equitable about anyone in this day and age dying of malnutrition, undernutrition, or starvation. God tells Micah the first thing required of God's people is to "do justice." So we shouldn't just talk about it it. Let's do it! We have the ability to grow, process, and distribute healthy food to every human being on the planet. What we lack are just economic and political systems and a collective moral sense of urgency. Sometimes we have the urgency, but we don't believe we can make a difference. What we then lack is hope.

Hope for the Christian isn't aimed at the improbable or unprovable but is aimed at God's vision of human flourishing. Our hope translates into concrete actions like sacking starter bags in the food pantry. But more: it means advocacy, education, and lobbying efforts to reform unjust distribution systems and transform hardened and cynical hearts. It means calling out bad corporate practices that deny life's necessities to those who can't afford them. It means being critical of any form of capitalism that is so completely laizzes faire that it elevates self-centered liberty above the other-regard of unconditional love. It means using democratic processes of the public church to persuade, to inspire, and to implement.

Do all this in faith and we "bring hope to the table," as my Corn Flakes copy writer suggests. But the hope of food for the hungry comes from a larger, even more inclusive table than any board room or editor's desk. Hope that will change the world comes from a table set with the memory of sacrificial love. Hope comes from a table where all are welcome and no one is denied. Hope comes from a table where justice and peace kiss, and they promise to spend the rest of their lives in partnership for the flourishing of all of God's children.

It takes courage to bring this sort of hope to the table, a hope that feeds the hungry, yes, but also works to eliminate the structural causes of hunger. It takes a willingness to imagine a better world, more just, more loving, more reflective of shalom.

So, what are you having for breakfast?

Blessings and Peace,