#firstworldproblems – Overfed and Undernourished

firstworldproblems

This is a long overdue blog update! I wanted to post some thoughts from the Echo High School series in the Spring of 2014.  We called the series #firstworldproblems.  This hashtag started appearing a few years back whenever someone from our over-fed, over-protected, and under-challenged culture was complaining about something silly. We are all guilty of it at one time or another. This was a series about the silly obsessions and self-absorption of our culture.

On this theme, I want to talk about relatively new problem for our world: for the first time ever, the number of overweight people is greater than the number of under-weight people globally. You would think that means that people are healthier than ever, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Many of these people are overweight but they are in fact under-nourished. They are deficient in essential vitamins and other nutritional measures. This is because of the rise in calorie-rich but nutrient-poor processed foods that have become a major part of the human diet, especially in developed parts of the world. Don’t dismiss me as a fitness and diet fanatic, I am FAR from that.  This is not just a physical issue. This issue reflects attitudes that have spiritual roots, and it is very important for us to talk about. We eat too much of the wrong stuff.  We eat too little of the right stuff. Taken together, these generalities point to a spiritual problem. We have issues with temperance.

  1. This is an issue of insensitivity. The hard truth about this is that you don’t often hear messages about this for several reasons. One reason is that many preachers feel hypocritical talking about gluttony and such, so they avoid it. Another reason is that we have done a great job insulating ourselves from this issue because of how we compartmentalize our lives. “This is not spiritual, it is just physical. My physical health doesn’t have anything to do with my moral center or my spiritual life…” Yet we are wrong. This issue is spiritual. Our problems with food have spiritual roots. On one hand, we eat far more than our fair share of the food in this world with little regard for those that go hungry.  When we eat and are satisfied, it should remind us that so many people go to bed hungry in our backyard and across the world.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray not for “my daily bread” but for “our daily bread.”  This is not an accident.  We really do get a great deal more than “daily bread.”  This is not self-preservation or survival, but community. It begs the question: how does hunger exist in a world of plenty? In both the Old and New Testaments hunger is linked with those who have been forced by societal conditions into a marginal existence: the poor, the needy, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. These people are particularly vulnerable to hunger because of their poverty. Even in famine, all will suffer but the privileged will be able to buy food from another land. Those on the margins do not have the resources. In Israel care of the needy was not regarded as an act of voluntary benevolence. The poor were entitled to such benefits. Underlying this practice was the assumption that poverty and need were due to a breakdown in the equitable distribution of community resources or to a social status over which an individual had no control (like widows and orphans). Thus, the responsibility for action lay with the privileged rather than with the poor themselves. By contrast, in our society it is commonly assumed that the poor and the hungry of the world ought to bear the major burdens of bettering their own condition. This attitude is thoroughly American: “Let them pull themselves up! Let them work to make something of themselves!”  Yet this attitude doesn’t seem very scriptural. What I am saying here is this is our problem to solve, because we are the privileged ones with more resources to manage. This is from Deuteronomy 15:

There will be no poor among you…if only you will obey the voice of the Lord your God…If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need… You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging… For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore, I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor…

  1. This is an issue of over-Indulgence – Behind this reality is an inability to tell ourselves “no.”  Paul employs a curious phrase in Philippians 3:17-21 – “Their god is their stomach.” This means they live for worldly pleasures.  We all know how our hungers and passions demand satisfaction, so we jump into action. This carnal way of life runs contrary to the ways of God’s Kingdom. Our culture has taken this to extremes. Everything in our culture is about having, consuming, and showing.  Fast cars, nice stuff, gadgets, gizmos, meals, luxury, and comfort.  Good enough is never good enough. Adequate is never adequate. Temperance is a lost virtue.  We don’t really know how to “go the right length and no further” in our culture that values extremes.  This is a moral issue, not just a health issue.  Pleasure is not bad, but when pleasure and comfort come before nourishment we are in for some trouble.  Our problem with over-indulging comes from our instinct to hoard.  Over eating is a way of storing up fat cells for use later.  We consume more calories than we need to live so when famine or hardship strikes, we will have some fat reserves to live off of.  The problem is that for many of us, our lives are far too comfortable and protected from such calamities.  The last time we skipped a meal was because we were too busy, not because we couldn’t afford food. When we read in scripture the commandments about the vulnerable poor, we depersonalize them and ignore them because we cannot identify with their plight of the truly poor. Especially in tough times, our instinct moves to selfishness.  The way of God’s Kingdom is to resist the instinct to hoard and choose generosity instead.  The provision of God might not be lacking in quantity, but in distribution.  Maybe God has given you more than enough so you can give to those with less than enough? I should be concerned not only with my needs, but with the needs of all.  Our culture of over-indulgence is far off the mark.

    Related to the malnutrition of the over-weight is our choice of fast and processed food. Wanting our food “fast” is symptomatic of other problems in our culture, and it also has spiritual implications.  We want our food fast; we want it convenient.  I have heard these same demands about church as long as I have been attending.  People want things on their schedule, the way they like it.  We carry over our consumeristic and intemperate attitudes into the way we interact with our spiritual leaders.  We want things that make us feel good instead of the things that will truly nourish us and feed us.  We settle for flashy, for fast, for superficial instead of going deeper.  Convenience should not be the determining factor when it comes to what we put into our bodies or our souls.

  2. This is an issue of imbalance – Eating is not a problem, and even eating plenty is not necessarily gluttony.  The Bible balances feasting and fasting, there are appropriate times for both.  Balance is the key.  An occasional indulgence is even appropriate.  The problem is when excess becomes every day! Our culture has no place for fasting, and it makes feasting irrelevant by turning every meal into an indulgence and every occasion into excess. We tend to go from one extreme to another.  Wisdom is what is needed to know when fasting and feasting should interrupt our constant lifestyle of temperance. Please hear me: this is not a message about weight loss or vanity, but it is a message about knowing when enough is enough.  It is crazy idea but it would change so much about our physical, emotional, and spiritual health: go the right length and no further.  Have the right amount of fun.  Eat until you are satisfied, and then stop.  Have a treat once and a while.  Learn the power of moderation and balance. This is what the virtue of temperance is all about: going the right length and no further. It is habitual moderation. Not just because it is good for your body but because it is good for your soul and even for our world. This virtue should be reflected in the way we use energy, the way we use money, the way we eat and drink and celebrate. Temperance is rooted in valuing eternal things over earthly things. Some people see God as the big killjoy in the sky, waiting to kill their fun and spoil the party.  Other people treat food itself like the enemy, like we should eat beans and rice only and enjoy a dessert at our peril! Church history knows of monks and ascetics that abused their bodies and denied themselves anything good.  These people have it wrong.  Imagine there is a road with a ditch on either side. Temperance is the balance of driving down that road, avoiding the ditch on either side.  Temperance is the ability to know when to abstain and when to participate. Balance is the key.

 

Dirty Green Paper

Money is powerful stuff! It might not seem like a topic that should come up in church, but money matters to us so it matters to God. Our country has a problem when it comes to money. We do not know how to deal with it. We are part of a VERY small percentage of the richest people on earth, and maybe even in history, yet we forget how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have. Sometimes money works like this: if we get it, it gets us. If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it. When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us.

For these reasons and more, your relationship with money is closely linked to your relationship with God. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money and how we relate to it, and he taught there is a line of connection from our wallet to our heart. The truth is this: we have problems with money that have spiritual roots. We will never truly find financial peace if we ignore the inner condition of our hearts that make us susceptible to money pitfalls like greed and debt. God talks about money all over the Bible, and if you were to follow his instructions, you would have more money, give more money, and make your money work harder for you. Money isn’t evil. It isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money, however, is the root of all kinds of evil. Money can be something powerfully evil, but it can also be something powerfully good! I think at a very basic level, our relationship with money should look like what God told Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God wants to bless us, and it is our job to channel that blessing to others! With this in mind, Echo is having a conversation over the next several weeks about how to relate to money righteously.

After we get some of it, we can basically do 4 things with it:
• Spend it.
• Give it.
• Save it.
• Invest it.

This Sunday, we talked about spending.

First, Good spending starts with settling the “ownership” issue. Jesus explained this once using a coin in Matthew 22:15-22. The way Jesus phrases his question would have reminded his audience of Genesis 1-2, where human beings are created in the image of God. In whose image was the coin created? Caesar’s. In whose image were we created? God’s! When Jesus says “give to God what is God’s,” he is not saying God is not concerned with money. Jesus is implying that God is asking for all of us. The message of the Kingdom of God is one of total surrender. Why should we be concerned about our cash? Because our feelings toward it and how we use it are a huge part of who we are. Remember, there is a line of connection from our heart to our wallet. The starting point to righteous attitude toward money is settling the ownership issue: everything belongs to God, so I have to use whatever He entrusts me with responsibly.

Second – Spending easily becomes out of control, and our culture has even invented ways of spending more money than you have. You combat this with a budget, which is a spending plan. A budget is a tool to help us plan and to help us make our money work toward our goals. It helps us do something we all have a hard time with: telling ourselves “no.” A budget means you have a plan, you have counted the cost, and you are working toward a goal. Budgets can be complicated or simple as long as they balance income and expenses. The simplest lesson anyone ever taught me about money: every time you get 10 dollars, give one of them to God’s work, put one of them in savings, and spend 8 of them wisely.

Third – Your spending habits reflect your values.
If you spent $50 a month on Mountain Dew, we could confidently say you really like Mountain Dew. The problem with that comes in when you consider “opportunity cost.” It means that if you use your $50 to buy the Mountain Dew, you won’t have that $50 to buy your friend’s x-box game when he sells it. We might have all the money we need, but we can’t have everything we want. What a budget does is help us make choices about how to spend money in advance, so our choices will better reflect our values instead of just buying things on impulse. Marketing is so effective, people often buy things unplanned in the moment and regret it later. Living on a budget, no matter how much money you make, will protect you against this. Another thing to consider is what you actually spend money on. This is about recognizing that you vote with your wallet. When you choose to guy a product from an organization or person that you don’t agree with, you are actually supporting them and their issue. You can do this the other way too: actively support products and companies you think are doing something right. This is just another way money is powerful.

Questions for discussion with your teen:

*Talk about the family’s budgeting process. If you can, invite your teen to join you paying the bills or planning the budget for the month. If you don’t have a budget, why not?
*Do you think you are more of a spender or a saver? What do you think about your spending habits?
*What does it mean to “vote with your wallet?” Is there anything we support as a family with our money that doesn’t reflect our values?