Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stuff that Works

A Young Life Club Talk given on December 18th, 2012 at Long Beach Young L:ice - on the topic of starting a relationship with God, to the theme of Christmas.

Hey Merry Christmas, who want’s this gift? (wait till someone actually gets up and takes it) A gift is not yours until you receive it. It needs to be opened and used for it’s value to be actualized.

So it’s Christmas time, we are all pretty familiar with the Christmas Narrative, Christ was born in a manger to a virgin Mary 2000 years ago halfway across the world, he was visited by angels, shepherds, and wise men, and to celebrate now a days, we get together, sing songs, feast, and give each other gifts. What makes a good gift? (poll the audience)… < it’s nice, it is something you want, it speaks about who you are >

Does anyone know the gifts that Jesus got on his birthday? That’s right, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Why those gifts? Obviously Gaspar who brought the gold was like that cool uncle who just cut you a check so you could get what you really wanted. In all reality, the wise men each saw this baby in a very special way, and gave him gifts that reflected a part of who he was. Like I said, Gaspar had researched the ancient writings about this baby that would be born when these signs came to pass. He read about how this baby would grow up to be a great King, so he brought him gold, to reflect his royalty, power, and wealth. Melchior studies these texts and read about how Jesus would be a High Priest, so he gave him Frankincense, a wonderful, and expensive incense, one that would be used in a ceremony, similar to perfume. Now Balthazar, seems like your grandma who gives you socks and underwear… Myrrh? What the heck is that? Well, Balthazar, had researched the texts and he had seen that Jesus was coming to be a sacrifice. Myrrh was similar to embalming fluid, it was a mixture of spices and ointments that would help prevent a dead corpse from rotting and smelling up the place. It is a strange gift to give a baby, something that seems so far from death, but I think that it was symbolic of the true meaning of Christmas, that God loved us so much that he came down to us as a child, gentle and humble, he taught us and prayed for us like a priest, he died for us as a sacrifice for our sin and he rose from the grave and took his rightful place in heaven as Lord and King for all of eternity. This is such a wonderful gift that we get on Jesus’s birthday.

How valuable is this gift to us? Is it something that we use, or is it something we just sort of decorate our life with, you know, like a Bible on a shelf that everyone gets for confirmation, but no one reads that. I made a little video I want us to watch to set the stage for what I have to say next.

I love how the lyrics to that song deeply emphasize the need for something of value to be used, and how things that really matter can be used literally forever. Few man made things can stand up to the test of time. If we are honest, we look at the gifts that we typically ask for, and we realize that they just don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of life. Hurricane Sandy has taught us a lot about letting go of things and holding onto people. Today’s latest and greatest stuff is eventually just going to be tomorrow’s trash. I remember asking for the latest sneakers so that I could look “cool” and hopefully feel more accepted by my friends, that’s silly right? I asked for video games that offered epic adventures and allowed me to escape my boring reality. Eventually I ran out of “things” I wanted, so I would just ask for money so that I could find experiences that would fill my life up with the happiness that this world had promised me. Over time, the sneakers get scuffed and whatever acceptance I had faded with that sense of lost newness, video games come to an end, and no matter how much effort and how much achievements I earned, the characters in a fantasy world can never love me back. Money get’s spent, memories fade, feelings numb, and in the end, these gifts that I wanted so badly, ended up just being the trash on my curb when my life needed meaning the most.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with life after the storm was throwing stuff away. Sure, it was old, beat up, and barely worked before the storm, but it belonged to me, and that was enough to make it valuable. I can remember all the times I messed my things up, it’s kind of like a “battle wound” that helps you tell the story better. I have a tendency to cling to my stuff, even when it is the very thing that is stopping me from truly enjoying life to the fullest. I think that our lives are just like this. Our lives are beat up, patched up, and fed up, but those are the things that we believe that make us who we are, our identity, our stories.

This is a baby blanket, it’s soft, it’s safe, and it’s good for a dozen things. It can be a cape, a tent, a whip, a jacket, a blindfold, you name it, I’m sure Aspen has tried it. I loved my baby blanket as a kid. My dad tells a story of a time where I pretended that it was a parachute and I tried jumping off the couch. He said it was a lot easier to laugh at it once the fear of going to the hospital was removed. As we grow up, life happens, and whether it’s us who does it, or someone else does it to it, our lives get stained by sin. We get abused, we get hurt, people disappoint us and abandon us. This leaves our lives in a pretty sad state. We try to wash it away, sometimes even bleach it, or sew it up and act like we are better and tougher because of it. We take pride in it and stick our chests out like we’re not hurt, but deep down, we don’t really want what we have, but we also don’t want to have nothing at all. That is where this storm has left a lot of us and I hope that our physical condition is allowed to speak to our spiritual condition, because things happen for a reason.

The Bible is a love letter written by God to us. In many of the books of the Bible, God, who is inspiring and guiding the authors, uses poetry. In the book of Isaiah, God really got my attention with this verse:

Isaiah 64:6 - “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

I was a good kid growing up. I tried my hardest to be nice and to do the right thing. I always did well in school and athletics to please other people and I went to church to make sure that I did what I thought God wanted me to do, or at least look good to everyone else who was watching. I did plenty of bad things when no one was looking, but even the good things I did, so this scripture says, are just the same old filthy rags to God. Once my life is stained with Sin, from the very beginning, no amount of being good is going to change what my life looks like.

Sean shared the other week that sin had created a canyon of separation between us. God wasn’t ok with this. This semester we talked about how God put on flesh and came down to dwell with his people as Jesus Christ. He showed us that the things of this Earth are temporary, but that the things of Heaven are forever. He paid the sacrifice that his law required with his own life in our place, and then rose from the grave, conquering death so that we could live forever with him in heaven. We can’t get to Heaven because we’ve been good. We can’t get to Heaven by simply calling ourselves Christians and going to meetings. We can’t get to Heaven by reading the Bible, singing songs, praying, or going to Church. We can only get to Heaven by saying yes to God, by letting go of this rag of a life, and grabbing hold to the new life that he has for us. When Christ died on the cross, it was recorded that the curtain in the temple that had separated one part where God’s spirit was suppose to dwell from the rest of the temple was torn in two. You have complete access to Godin a relationship with Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. He is holding out his hand with a gift in it, but you have to take it, open it up, use it, and allow it to grow. Let go of this life, even though it is scary to let go of the things that you’re comfortable with, the things that we hide behind. Trust that he has far better things for you. Get involved with other people who are discovering this same truth. Campaigners and church are here to be a place where you can grow. If you have any questions, just as one of us, we would love to talk. I will pray and you can feel free to hang out for the rest of the night.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Ethics of Organic Food in America: Responding to God’s Word

ET 501: Introduction to Christian Ethics
Professor Ron Sanders
Winter 2012
Joint Final Paper and Project
Mike Basile & Brian McGee
“The Ethics of Organic Food in America:
Responding to God’s Word in”
March 16th, 2016

We consume food, but food consumes us. Does our desire for food and its procurement through mass production and consumption take us away from natural health and the glory of God?  Does the current food system have an inherent problem that denies health, discriminates, and distracts us from the spiritual?  The more we studied, spoke with experts, and researched the subject the more we came to understand that, by and large, a diet with rich, organic, natural (best if they are green) vegetables, berry-type fruit, nuts, seeds, and lean meat (no pork or shell fish) truly is the best for our overall health. Over the last 60 days, we did our best to put this diet to the test. Mike followed a diet inspired by the food laws laid out in the book of Leviticus. Brian chose to conduct a 30-day raw vegetable and fruit juice fast.

During our periods of dieting and fasting, we gained not only physical improvement, but also spiritual depth. Food had become a master over us, an idol. We were slaves to food, having appetites that were not fulfilled by God’s provision, but by our own. When we removed the idol, we experienced a much deeper connection with God through relying on his provision and strength. We came to conclusions that we had succumbed to a pattern of excuses. Excuses such not having enough time or money to obtain, prepare, and enjoy quality, highly nutritious food. Instead, we had been living in a pattern of choosing convenient, affordable, low quality, non nutritious food. The idol of food that was present in our lives was built on a foundation of two other false idols: time and money. These obstacles are difficult to get around in a fast paced society that demands the most out of your supply of time and money. We found ourselves is this predicament - we had been worshiping false idols, and our bodies and souls were taking the bulk of the punishment. 

We cannot spiritually afford to feed our guts while gripping our watches and wallets. We must observe God’s scriptural design and act out on them ethically, despite the cultural boundaries. Our aim in this paper is to provide a convincing stance that helps everyone develop a healthy process of choosing to honor God with how they obtain and enjoy food on an everyday basis. The following are personal reflections, Biblical analysis, and our ethical solutions to the injustice we found within the American food industry, specifically with regards to organic food.

Mike Basile’s Personal Reflection
Food justice has been something I’ve been interested in for practically all my life. I’ve battled weight gain for as long as I can remember. My family is Italian. We think about food all the time. We talk about “what’s for dinner” while we’re eating lunch. Proper diet and healthy eating was not modeled for me particularly well. 

When I was about 16 years old I started to take initiative for my personal health. I was a high school junior. I came home from school and went to the gym. I ran regularly and lifted weights. I did my best to educate myself about proper nutrition. My journey toward good health began and remained through college. I tried my best to stay in shape and for the most part I succeeded. I was a collegiate athlete so staying fit was part of my role. I ran the Boston Marathon (4:09:25) in 2002 and finished a few smaller triathlons in those college days. 

When the college days ended, my overall health began to take a turn for the worse. Without knowing it, I had developed an intolerance to certain foods -- mainly yeast, gluten, and lactose based products. My normal diet just was not working for me anymore. This put me on the second leg of my journey toward better health. I needed to find a healthy solution to my nutrition, and so I made radical changes to my diet to incorporate the food laws from the Book of Leviticus.

The good news is that after 60 days, I feel great and I have lost 16 lbs. The other news is that it is difficult to maintain this lifestyle. The fast-paced  nature of how I live and the additional monetary costs my family endured, were above and beyond our monthly budgeted allowance for food expenses.

I realized that I live a fast paced and highly social lifestyle. This makes eating “right” more difficult. I spent on average 3.5 hours a day buying, prepping, preparing, eating and cleaning the meals I chose to eat. Before this diet, my meals were mostly "on the go" requiring only a maximum of 1.5 hours a day. The other major obstacle is that the majority of my day I meet with students, parents, teams of leaders and/or staff people. That time is usually spent over a meal. Typically the food choices are pizza, chips, candy, or other junk food. It's often not easy to eat more healthfully while dining out. If I wanted to succeed with incorporating the food laws from Leviticus into my lifestyle, I needed be proactive and choose with intention where and what we ate.

Living in Greenwich, CT, I have close access to clean, organic food. Whole Foods and Robeks are within walking distance to my home and work office. It is not access that limits me; it is affordability. Simply put, it is more expensive to eat healthfully and buy better, high quality food. Over the past 60 days, I ate a small portion of lean protein for breakfast – usually two eggs or a protein shake. Around 10:30 a.m. I would have a vegetable snack. For lunch, around 12:30, I juiced raw vegetables and fruit. I typically included kale, cucumber, celery, carrots, spinach, peppers, cherry tomatoes, oranges, and a variety of berry type fruits. For dinner, I would eat vegetables and a piece of lean meat (chicken or fish.) These foods were not inexpensive. On average, my wife and I paid $600 for groceries compared to our allotted $375 monthly grocery budget.

Brian McGee’s Personal Reflection
When I sit down for a meal at home, I rarely think about how much money I am eating. How much would this food cost at a restaurant, or how much would this food cost for me to produce myself? How much money did I pay to have my food grown, prepared, shipped, stored, inspected, marketed, preserved, and delivered to my local store for my convenience? I was making choices about food that were purely influenced by time and money, and were devoid of any attempt to honor God with my body. Something had to change, and it needed to be drastic.

In one month, I was able to lose over 40 pounds, simply by limiting my nutritional diet to organic fruit and vegetable juices. This was radical and, at times, an irrational decision. However, I was determined to understand the effect that healthy nutrition would have on my overall health. When determining a quality of health, I measured quantitative physical results as well as qualitative emotional, mental, and spiritual reflections.

During my experience, I juiced raw organic fruits and vegetables three times a day as my only source of nutrition. This allowed my body to enter a detoxing period where my white blood cells, finding themselves inactive due to a lack of ingested toxins, went to work cleaning my body and brain of stored toxins. During this process, the first four days of my fast, I felt miserable, as my blood was filling up with stored toxins. My joints hurt, my back hurt, anywhere near a digestive organ felt inflamed. I wondered what I was doing to myself. On day six, everything made sense. My focus on my appetite, didn’t just dissipate, it vanished. Gone were the physical and mental cravings for food, as my body had adapted to using previous stores of energy from my body fat. I felt much energized, especially in the time following a juice. My body enjoyed the simple, highly nutritious food source it received.

In addition to the benefit to my body,  my mind became much clearer. When researching the effects of fasting, I learned about a system of tubes that runs through the brain delivering dopamine, an essential pleasure stimulant, to the nervous system. Toxins can build up and block these tubes, restricting a person’s ability to feel an accurate level of pleasure. This dilemma is no different than the ones that nicotine and alcohol addicts face; when they do not receive the level of pleasure that they are accustomed to, they simply increase the dosage until they receive pleasure. In my case, it was food portions. I love food, and at a young age, I remember being rewarded for clearing my plate, not leaving any leftovers, which was delightful because it always guaranteed fresh new food the next day. I got to a point in my adult life where a single meal no longer satisfied my demand for pleasure. I had to order appetizers and additions to my meals in order to feel satiated. This came at a great financial cost that I will discuss later. During the fast, my body eliminated the toxins in my brain tubes rather quickly. By the fifth day, my brain had improved focus and decision making ability. When I chose healthful food, my brain rewarded my body with new sensations of pleasure, a much simpler satisfaction, and a sense of self control.

There were many obstacles to my juice fast goals. My family almost doubled our grocery bill in order for me to have access to fresh organic produce. In a typical month we budget $300 on groceries. In the month of February 2012, we spent $586. While we were able to make these changes to our budget for a single month, it would be impractical to continue indefinitely.

After completing the juice fast, I committed to making more conscientious decisions about where I purchased my food. I found a new passion in helping others make positive choices about what they eat. Alongside the physical benefits of losing 40 pounds of excess body weight, I enriched my understanding of what it is to be satisfied spiritually in Christ. Prior to my diet change, satisfaction was like the painful feeling you get after Thanksgiving where you can’t possibly ingest any more food. This was not satisfaction; it was pain, masked by a false expectation that claimed that the only pathway to satisfaction was indulgence. During the fasting period and going forward, my body has adapted and continues to learn that sampling a variety of small portions satisfies more than engulfing large portions of any one food.

Spiritually, I often find difficulty realizing a connection with God. I don’t feel truly present before God in prayer, worship, or times of devotion in God’s word. Before my fast, I had a very unsatisfying spiritual walk. When my lifelong idol of food was stripped away from my paradigm of seeing the world through indulgence, I believed I could find satisfaction in Christ alone, with the same level of obedience that helped me through my fast. 

Scriptural Analysis
The only reliable source for how we can honor God with our bodies is found in God’s Scriptures. When looking at the Scriptures, it is important for us to open our minds to the scope of what is being described and to whom it is being said. We also need to review how the scripture has formed our culture. We can analyze it as a rule, principle, paradigm, or a view of the symbolic world. We can see how it has been adapted into a tradition and how it has been influenced by human reasoning. When looking at the context of scripture, we will find a balance of how we can practically live our lives in obedience to God’s provision.

In Genesis 25:29-34, Esau sells his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of stew because he is famished after a hunt. It is laughable in modern day to think that someone would do this. A birthright is of significant importance. This was Esau’s inheritance from his father Isaac, a very wealthy man. It would be like paying $100,000 for a bowl of soup. Does our stomach really have that much control over us? Do the idols of time (convenience) and money (affordability) dominate our desires so easily? The answer is yes. We sell our spiritual birthrights every day when we choose to neglect to glorify God and instead indulge in our own desires. 

It is alarming at how many scriptures can be found that use food and satisfaction as imagery to describe our relationship to God. Philippians 3:19 says, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Likewise Micah 6:14 says, “You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword.” Finally, Ecclesiastes 6:7 concludes, “Every man's toil is for their mouth, yet this appetite is never satisfied.”  Matthew 6:24 is crystal clear in that we cannot serve two masters; we cannot satisfy both God and Money. Our stomachs are arguably the biggest money pit we own. We need to guard our practices in how we eat, or we will be constantly oppressed by our indulgences.

How are we to glorify God in what we eat? God lays out a plan in Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:1-21, setting aside animals that are clean, and those which we are not to eat. Throughout the remainder of Scripture, this law is reinforced. Even after the Resurrection of Jesus, where he tells Peter in a vision that he has made all things clean, Jesus uses the imagery of food to illustrate that he has made all people clean and that Peter should not judge non Jews as lesser creations. Paul contributes to the discussion in several ways, even rebuking Peter for his attempts to enforce Leviticus food laws on gentiles, but this was not an argument about the food laws, it was an argument about how one Christian treated a group of Christians. In Romans 14, Paul himself instructs the church at Rome to not let food become a dividing force between those of lesser faith from those of experienced faith. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 that our bodies are a temple for God and that we should treat it as such. We are to be united and we are to hold one another accountable. He later writes in chapter 10:31 that, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

The opening chapter of the Book of Daniel places a conflict before Daniel of whether or not to eat the king’s richly produced food that had been sacrificed to idols. Daniel objects, knowing that eating such food that had been offered up to false gods would be offensive to his God. He instead requested that he and his friends only be allowed to eat vegetables. After ten days, they were inspected and were found to be healthier than those who had remained on a diet of the food that had been offered up to the idols. Daniel modeled a life of putting God before self. Jesus spoke about our attitude when we conduct ourselves in public while fasting during the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6: 16-18, Jesus says:
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, o that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

We can use this model that Daniel provides to develop a pragmatic approach to conducting ourselves within our culture. We can influence others and improve the culture of the food industry by leading by example. If Christians don’t, who will, and with what authority?

Source Analysis
What was the motivation behind our experiment with diet change as it affected health and lifestyle, along with the examination of scripture? Food ethics was our motivation, with a focus on organic and “natural” produce. We sought to uncover, an unethical system that is causing a great social and economic injustice. This is a system that has millions of Americans trapped in a conditioned lifestyle of consumerism and dependence on low quality, low cost products. There are countless families across our country who need to feed themselves on about five dollars a day. When two pounds of organic broccoli costs five dollars, in contrast to a fast food dollar menu where someone could purchase five sandwiches for the same price, it is logical that families in tight economical situations are going to choose easier, cheaper, less nutritious food.

The film Food Inc.
 draws attention to the devastating conditions of our national food production industry, not only to humans, but also the environment and to the sustainability of animal populations. It also stresses the necessity for nutrient rich organic foods in every person's regular diet. Food has aggressively changed in the last 60 years. Prior to World War II, there were about a dozen major food processing companies that controlled about 30% of the market. Today, there are only four major food companies who control 80% of the market. Companies like McDonald’s are the number one purchaser of potatoes, chicken, and beef. When they want to make changes to food policy, their spending power is a significant factor. This injustice leads our nation into despair. Local farmers cannot independently choose what to produce for their community. They are contracted by both the corporations and the government to produce cheap bulk products that will be later altered and added as food substances.

Joe Cross, the maker of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
, was severely overweight, suffering from chronic illness due to a depleted immune system, and had been told by doctors that if his life style didn’t change, that he would be dead within only a few years. Cross conducted his juice fast for 60 days after researching the benefits of organic produce and the necessity for digestive organs to heal during times of rest. After his fast, Cross was in the best physical shape of his life, had mental clarity, and had discovered a new passion to share his discovery with others.

We found inspiration from a book written by Jordan S. Rubin entitled, “The Maker’s Diet.”
 In this book, the author draws heavily from Leviticus chapter 11, a section of the Old Testament that focuses on God’s laws concerning which food the nation of Israel is to eat, and which food it is to avoid. God created us to eat naturally. Rubin argues that a typical diet consisted of mostly fruits, vegetables, wild grain and seeds, fish, raw, unpasteurized dairy products and meat from wild animals. He goes on to say that, “our physical bodies were engineered as marvelous, highly tuned machines, genetically set for nutritional requirements established from the beginning of time.” Our human physiology and biochemistry are geared for the foods the Creator intended for us to eat, not the high-speed output of modern food processing plants or fast-food windows. “Our ancestors,” he argues, “consumed 30 to 65 percent of their daily calories (and up to 100 grams of fiber a day) from a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. That is why, long before the discovery of vitamins, people lived long lives without vitamin deficiencies or major illnesses.” 

In regard to meeting their protein needs, consuming pasture-fed animals, wild game, and fish that were rich in highly beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) accomplished the goal. These fats protected our ancestors against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (131). In our modern culture, animal products purchased from grocery stores are susceptible to contamination from pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers as well as the common overuse of antibiotics and growth hormones in large-scale commercial farms, making these food sources dangerous to one’s health (132). This is why eating the recommended animal proteins from beef, lamb, goat, buffalo, venison, elk, and other clean red meats; fish with fins and scales from the oceans and rivers; chicken, turkey, and other poultry raised in a free-range setting or organically grass-fed is the better alternative (132). 

In regards to fish, Rubin argues, that it “is a wonderfully rich source of protein, potassium, vitamins, and minerals” (146). Fish with the most healing power and highest concentrated omega-3 fatty acids are cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, bluefish, herring, lake trout, mackerel, sablefish, whitefish, Blue fin tuna, and anchovies” (146). In the category of fruits, figs are mentioned more than fifty times in the Bible and are the first fruit specifically named in Scripture (Gen 3:7). Whether fresh or dried, figs have been prized since ancient times for their sweetness and nutritional value. Moreover, grapes were the first crop Noah planted after the flood (Gen 9:20).  Rubin states, “we now know that grapes fight tooth decay, stop viruses in their tracks, and are rich in other ingredients that many researchers believe may lower the risk of cancer” (149).

As for vegetables, green leafy vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, including many nutrients not found in any other foods. Greens contain large amounts of beta carotene and virtually every mineral and trace element. Many experts believe that ideally we should be consuming between three and five servings of green leafy vegetables per day (154). The problem here is that these products (meat, fish, fruit, vegetables) cost more money and are less available than their low quality counterparts in the grocery stores.

Lisa Lynn, a Dr. Oz health expert, agrees. “To stay healthy,” she says in an interview for this project, “you need to decrease the fat and build muscle. Probably one of the most important food groups of all of them is protein.”  She goes on to say that “vegetables are your best friends [too] in the fat loss world. These foods take your body more to digest (burns more calories in digestion), than the foods themselves so the goal here is to eat 8-10 servings a day.” Clearly these foods are important to achieve a healthy lifestyle, yet how accessible are these types of foods to people living at or below the poverty line?  Lynn argues,
It’s a double edge factor. The marketing toward sugar based, high fructose products and processed foods is a multi-billion dollar industry. That dynamic coupled with the ‘convenience factor’ of ‘fast-food is quick and easy’ is typically too high of a hurdle for a low-income family to hop over. It’s possible, but people are just not very well educated on this subject. Can you blame them? Marketers are pumping out ads left and right that are feeding our unhealthy sugar addictions. We’re hooked on this stuff

According to 22 year old Reginal Gachelin
, a young adult of Connecticut who grew up in poverty, getting quality food was difficult for him.  
We lived on government support so it made things more challenging. Also growing up I often fended for myself as my aunt who I lived with worked 2 jobs and sometimes double shifts. It was a lot easier for me to go to Wendy’s or put something together quick and easy versus making a nice healthy meal for one. 

Patrick Duff
, an 18 year old young adult who grew up in poverty says, “I can afford the junk food. The Fritos, chips and sodas are always on specials. They’re addictive and less healthy – I know.”  He goes on to say, “we grew up in the lower class and we always kind of lived on edge when it came to food. The types of food we would buy would be some fruits, a lot of rice, a lot of sausage, chips. I would eat a lot of bread, pastries, cake – somehow these foods always found their way into our home.”  It was not until a Christian family friend and doctor invited Patrick into his home, that Patrick experienced the significant health benefits of eating organically:
I actually had a nervous breakdown about a year ago and right after that time as I was going through recovery a good family friend, Dr. Gruber and his family, took me in to stay with them for several months. He had me on a pretty strict diet. I think the biggest benefit was the good food he provided for me was prepared for me too. As I look back that alone made it much easier to choose to eat better and more healthy. I cut gluten out of my diet...was eating vegetables, fruit, and lots of lean meat. When I stopped eating the foods I grew up on – I actually lost 50lbs. It was tremendous. I really saw firsthand the benefits. I would have better moods. I was much more stable. Even the choices I made were better as I acted less impulsively. When I don’t take care of my digestive system it affects everything – my mental status, muscle growth, my moods, physicality, energy levels, my brain.  There is no doubt: eating processed foods negatively impacted me.

Jane Sencer
, a local organic food consumer and specialist shared with me obstacles obtaining organic food, which she believes vital for health and her husband's food allergies:
The hurdles I go through are availability, variety, variety in more than one location, and price. Organic food in most grocery stores is relegated to a small section as though it were specialty food. In order for us to get variety and cheaper prices we currently go to three different grocery stores, two of which are not in our town. We plan a day of shopping; bring thermal bags with ice blocks and reusable grocery totes. We do this with the realization that we may not always get what we want, and that not everything is perfectly organic. I add up all grocery receipts for the year, and each year it's a shock to me. Last year we spent $7,008.23 on groceries. Even though I say I don't budget this, we do look at prices and if something is outrageous we do without that food until there is a sale. For examples blueberries for $6.99. I wanted to keep groceries to $400 a month, and we just couldn't do it, last year we spent about $583 per month or $183 over budget per month.

In my interview with a local organic seller, Howard Jandi
, I discovered that much of what we believe is “natural” or organic produce is not true. Many stores carry “natural” products, but do not give a clear definition as to what is “natural” about their product. Much of the food that is purchased from these stores comes from the exact same fields that growers of mass produced fruits and vegetables deliver to your local super market. One pays more money to a company for merely the perception of a healthy decision.

Ultimately, our research aimed to identify a major injustice in the food industry -  individuals restrained by a tight budget and economy are conditioned to purchase cheaper, less nutritious food. This food produces health problems such as weight gain, diabetes, and fatigue. Individuals, who struggle with these health problems, are significantly less likely to compete for job opportunities that provide the necessary finances to change over to a diet of organic products, thus continuing the cycle of low quality food leading to low quality health and restricted income.

The Christian community is charged with being first responders to our communities in the light of popular culture. Every time we spend a dollar on food, we cast a vote for how we want corporations and farmers to operate. Unfortunately, our culture focuses heavily on consumerism, driven by a large supply of convenience products that require little to no extra time to fill needs. Scripture tells us to "shine like stars in this perverse generation (Philippians 2:15)." The body of Christ is called to fight injustice in our world. Food has been the focal point for humanity since the beginning. If Christians are going to unite in our pursuit to end one injustice in the world, we need to develop an ethical food culture. One in which people worldwide have access to fresh, organic produce, a system where animals are cared for and given natural diets, not herded into tight spaces and fed a high calorie, low nutrition, corn based food, just so that they can grow larger in less time. Christians can develop networks between farmers markets, and educate other people about their options. We can help lower suspicions that we have only one choice in where to shop in our community.

The obstacles of time and money are always going to be daunting challenges, but we must persevere. God demands that we conduct ourselves in a manner that glorifies Him. We need to distance ourselves from systems that do not overcome the obstacles, and work outside of those systems. This refers to the major food producers that create easy, but destructive ways of managing time and money in our food production. The short term benefits of saving time and saving money will never outweigh the long term detriments to our land, animals, and ourselves.

As we go about modeling our personal definition of a healthy food ethic, we must take Romans 14 into account. If we use our passion for food justice as a weapon against society, we will do more damage and lose more support for change than what we will win. Daniel achieved prominence because he was willing to allow God to be glorified in himself, as a witness to the nation around him. He never forced it upon anyone else, but he helped change a culture and destroyed idols because he saw an injustice against God and his people, and acted against it in his own life first. We aspire to do the same with the information that we have gained and want to invite anyone that is curious about our accomplishments to look beyond the surface, and find that God has every desire to prosper us, heal us, and dwell within us. It is up to us to glorify him and to keep our bodies as his temple. The food that we eat, how it is procured, and how we share it with the world around us is essential to how we will glorify God in our lives.


"11 Facts About Organic Living | Do Something." Do Something. (accessed March 10, 2012).
Duff, Patrick. Interview by Mike Basile. Personal interview. Greenwich, CT, March 9, 2012.
Dunning, Brian. "Organic Food Myths." Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Podcast. (accessed March 10, 2012).
"Fasting." FalconBlanco - An intention to relate and respond to Life - Art of Living. (accessed March 10, 2012).
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. DVD. Directed by Joe Cross. El Segundo, CA: Gravitas Ventures, 2010.
Food Inc. DVD. Directed by Robert Kenner. New York: Magnolia Pictures, 2009.
Gachelin, Rejinal. Interview by Mike Basile. Personal interview. Greenwich, CT, March 9, 2012.
Jandi, Howard. Interview by Brian McGee. Personal interview. Oceanside, NY, March 7, 2012.
Lynn, Lisa. Interview by Mike Basile. Personal interview. Greenwich, CT, March 9, 2012.
Rubin, Jordan S. The Maker's Diet. Lake Mary, FL: Siloam, 2003.
Sencer, Jane. Interview by Brian McGee. Email interview. Huntington, NY, March 6, 2012.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Your Life: Feast or Famine?

The Spiritual Tradition of Fasting
and its Implementation into the 21
st Century Western Church
Brian McGee
SP500: Spiritual Traditions and Practices
Dr. John Bangs
September 14, 2012

Is your life a feast or a famine? The spiritual tradition of fasting is an ancient practice that is incorporated into nearly every religion. Fasting physically from food has traditionally been used as a method of feeding the spirit. The denial of self indulgence is believed to be essential for an awakening of spiritual vitality. Historically, within the context of the Judeo-Christian narrative, the tradition of fasting was practiced regularly for the sake of deepening one’s connection to the Holy Spirit, mourning a loss, and to prepare for trials. Moses fasted atop Mount Sinai for forty days as he communed with God. Nehemiah mourned the destruction of Jerusalem for days. Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert before starting his public ministry. The tradition of fasting can be associated with the season of Lent in many Christian denominations. Outside of the realm of religious practice, fasting is also used in medical treatments as a form of restoring regular function of the body’s systems. An athlete might fast in order to prepare their body for training.

Diogenes Allen writes in his book Spiritual Theology that there is a journey with three stages. The “active life”, the first stage, deals with the realms of practical advice that should invoke behavioral change or praktike (practice) that will help in overcoming evil actions. Theoretike, the “contemplative life” consists of the second and third stage of the journey: physike, the contemplation of nature and theoria, the interaction with God through other creatures. The purpose for spiritual theology is to guide us in the journey of loving God and loving our neighbor.1 It can be asked again, is your life a feast or a famine?

Just as the Bible has several examples of fasting, it also has several food centered metaphors that deal with spiritual growth. The Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 5 in the NIV, says “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Verse 16-17 ends, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” Galatians chapter 5 verses 22-23 goes into more detail on what the fruit of the Holy Spirit is, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

The practice of fasting is a conduit through which the Holy Spirit tempers desires for wickedness. It is through the denial of the flesh that spiritual fruit is able to grow from mere applied behavior and blossom as instinctual habit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is the very nature of Jesus, his characteristics that indwell in a person and are made full through their sharing with others the gift that God has given them in new life. Marjorie Thompson writes in her book Soul Feast, “fasting from physical food can scarcely be experienced as spiritual until it is joined to the sense of feasting on God’s gracious love and responding by loving others. Feasting prepares us for authentic service.”2

John chapter 15 invokes a vivid contemplation of a fruit tree, for descriptive sake an apple tree. Jesus Christ is the life giving branch, people are the vines, and Jesus bears the fruit in them. Now what happens to this fruit once it is ripe? Does it simply stay attached to the tree as an ornament, a mark of accomplishment? No, such results would be unnatural to God’s design for fruit. Why would God chose to flaw an analogy where the fruit serves as the primary vessel for sustenance of another creature? When an apple reaches ripeness in the wilderness, it will fall from the tree and be devoured by the ecosystem of life surrounding the tree, henceforth dying to self, and providing the essential bed of soil for the reproductive seed within to grow in optimal circumstances. This contemplation of the natural world evokes a very strong reaction for the Christian. When the Holy Spirit cultivates its fruit in a person’s life, it is not for the enjoyment of the person per say, as they will undoubtably still receive enjoyment from being like Christ, but its primary purpose is for the reproduction of faith in others.

Allen invokes a strong connection between our spiritual journey and the fulfillment of the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 37-40, NIV) Like the fruit that falls from the tree after it has abided in Christ and has been formed in his very likeness, a person is called to die to themselves, surrendering their will, so that the love of God would be reproduced in the communion with others. The Christian must take inventory of their life and understand that when they invite others to commune and share with them in their faith, that they must first be bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit so that what they are inviting outsiders to is not a famine, but a glorious feast! Jesus said that his body was the bread of life and that his blood was the cup of the covenant, a person can only be sustained by him alone. One’s spiritual health depends on their appetite for the nature of Jesus. Do they desire to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, or to pursue their own wickedness? This is why fasting has proved to be an essential tradition in the Christian faith.

Macrina Wiederkehr, a sister of the blah blah blah order explains the positive value of fasting in her book Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary:
Fasting is cleansing. It cleans out our bodies. It lays bare our souls. It leads us into the arms of that One for whom we hunger. In the Divine Arms we become less demanding and more like the One who holds us. Then we experience new hungers. We hunger and thirst for justice, for goodness and holiness. We hunger for what is right. We hunger to be saints.
Most of us are not nearly hungry enough for the things that really matter. That’s why it is so good for us to feel a gnawing in our guts. Then we remember why we are fasting. We remember all the peoples of the world who have no choice but to go to bed hungry. We remember what poor stewards of the earth we have been. We remember that each of us is called to be bread for the world. Our lives are meant to nourish. Fasting can lead us to the core of our being and make us more nourishing for others.3

The Christian must be very careful warns Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline, “To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want. At times there are such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands. Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained.”4 

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware adds to the conversation, “We do not fast because there is anything in itself unclean about the act of eating and drinking. Food and drink are, on the contrary, God’s gift, from which we are to partake with enjoyment and gratitude. We fast, not because we despise the divine gift–so as to purify our eating and drinking, and to make them, no longer a concession to greed, but a sacrament and means of communication with the Giver.5

Jewish author Abraham Joshua Heschel stresses that the Sabbath is a day of rest and relief. The Sabbath is a day of praise and not petition, and that fasting on such a day is forbidden6. For the Christian, this invokes a wonderful time of contemplation, one in which the imagery of a banquet in heaven is being served. A true feast is awaiting the believer as described in Isaiah 25: 6-8.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

Therefor, if the Christian believer is awaiting such a feast, it is to be anticipated and celebrated in the body as a foreshadow of the glory of God that is to come. As it is tradition during the season of Lent to utilize Sunday as a day to omit the fasting process and to enjoy the fellowship of the body. In such a situation, it is the act of fasting that heightens the enjoyment of the time together. It is more the habit of the modern church to over program event driven times of fellowship that rarely accomplish a heightened sense of fulfillment from being in the body. In the agricultural world, before a seed can be planted, the ground must be tilled, broken apart, allowing for air and water to enter into what was previously dense and compacted. In doing so, the seed is given room to spread roots out and establish a fertile base. Prayer and fasting are the tools that till the soil of a persons heart. Without fasting that is focused in prayer on communing with God, the seed of faith will find it difficult to spread its roots out freely. The living water of the Word, the life giving breath of God and the light of the Lord will have an inadequate system in which to be received. Ultimately, the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be lacking, and the life that was designed to be a banquet for the body, will now serve only as an invitation to a famine.

The current shifting of post-modernism throughout Western Civilization places the church at a fork in the road. During the classical age of the church, spiritual traditions were routinely utilized and were formative to developing social and cultural norms. However, the modernist movement, steeped in the discovery of the unknown and the scientific explanation of things once thought unimaginable, shifted the church from a center of spiritual formation to more  of a center of spiritual distribution. The church began the model the new king of the era – the corporate business.

While Catholic, Orthodox, and other liturgically centered denominations were able to retain many of their rich spiritual traditions, other groups of reformed believers sought to model more purely the monastic and apostolic origins. Mass and O’Donnell write about John Wesley’s strong emphasis on individual moral and spiritual accountability. Wesley’s held to a legalistic understanding of the means of grace as: faithfulness in corporate worship, frequent Communion, private and family prayer, daily study of Scripture alongside fasting and abstinence.7 While it is commendable to establish such discipline along a spiritual journey, there is a dangerous snare of allowing pride to enter into the action and practice of discipline, corrupting its God centered nature, and causing the person to center the focus of achievement onto themselves. The same folly as mentioned in Richard Foster case, man can easily lose focus of God initiated discipline and contort it to be a device that man uses to get what he wants.

The twentieth century saw a slow transition away from modernism in the western world. After the horror of the World Wars, the church was mostly silent in the face of such opportunity to right wrongs. The growth of the music industry, developing technologies, and the increased mobility of the family unit all gave great support to the growing post-modern movement. Art, philosophy, and politics have dramatically shifted over the last seventy-five years, large and in part to a growing sense of relativity around the subject matter of truth. No longer is the question being asked, “Is it true?” Instead, the post-modern mind asks, “How do I feel about this?” Churches are adapting to answer the later question, but are also leaving behind cumbersome traditions that don’t easily appeal to the natural senses.

Allen brings fasting back into a post-modern perspective by invoking a paradigm shift, “hunger, toil and solitude are the means of extinguishing the flames of desire.The hunger of fasting is a constant reminder of the sacrifices made for us by God incarnate in his earthly life. Each time we feel hunger or resist the temptation to eat and drink we are reminded of why we are not eating or drinking, namely because we want to become people whose entire heart, mind, soul, and strength are devoted to loving God.” He continues, “One of the most important barriers to the spiritual life is that we tend to regard God as our opponent, not our helper.”8 Sad, but true.

The god that is worshiped in much of post-modern civilization is the god of the self. Fasting is one of the only tools, that when used properly, can realign us into a state of dependance on something larger than ourselves, something that is outside of us, and yet at the same time deep within ourselves. Fasting bridges the gap between the primitive Adam who hunted his food from day to day and our modern refrigerators that provide for us what we want, when we want it, how we want it. Fasting is the denial of self provision and self communion, so that communion with God can be achieved in such abundance that the very presence of God overflows from our vessel into the greater reservoir that is the body.

The individuals corporate spiritual life should not outshine their private spiritual life. There are too many churches that have fallen victim of a modernist movement to slap a logo and slogan on spirituality, write a jingle for it, and promise the masses that it will cure all their problems. In turn, those that have found themselves dissatisfied with the modernist approach have moved away from the truth and have sought after a fulfilling the of the emotional capacities in spirituality. While more organic, unfortunately this approach is a vessel with a leaky crack and requires constant cycles of filling and emptying. 

The classical value to spiritual formation was modeled by so many of the patriarchs of our faith and ultimately illustrated by our Lord on the cross. We must fast from this world, loosening its dominion over our desires, and yearn for the true sustaining goodness of Jesus Christ. If we eat of this world, our lives will be a famine to the body around us, but if we fast, the soil of our hearts will thirst for the goodness of God and bring out an upright shoot that will promise to be a feast bearing source of spiritual fruit. It is in dying to self that we find life in the body around us.

  1. Diogenes Allen, Spiritual Theology (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1997), 9.
  2. Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1995), 87.
  3. Macrina Wiederkehr, Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 53.
  4. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (HarperOne, 1988) 49.
  5. Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995) 116.
  6. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005) 30.
  7. Maas and O’Donnell, Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990) 321.
  8. Diogenes Allen, Spiritual Theology (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1997), 83.

The Cave

Brian McGee
August 5th, 2012
Fuller Seminary • SP500
Spiritual Traditions and Practices
Glen Eyrie • Colorado Springs, CO
Silent Retreat Reflection

Do I stay on the path or do I climb the rock face? These are my lasting reflections from my time of silence following our retreat at Glen Eyrie. I came into our week of classes exhausted after two, week long Young Life camp trips combined with the preparation and follow up work that comes with them. My physical exhaustion was only multiplied by my mental exhaustion from preparing for our class. Emotionally and Spiritually, I was crushed. The day before I left for Colorado, I was told by my local committee that my position with the area was being consolidated with my director’s job and that my services we going to be transitioned out of our local area. I missed my wife and daughter, and deep down, just wanted to run away from life.

Regardless of how I felt on the inside, I packed my bags, put on a smile, and went off to class. In our time of retreat, a lot of the work that we had been doing was able to permeate my defenses and work into those cracks in my heart caused by the last month of trials. After our morning dismissal, I walked over to Echo Rock Canyon and saw a trail head. I live on a flat island that lacks real opportunities for wilderness adventure, so my decision was already made for me, I was taking this trail where ever it went. It was an aggressive climb along the side of some beautiful red rock spires. I came to a part of the trail that forked off naturally away from the rocks and a path that looked a little less traveled along the face of the rock formations. I wasn’t ready to take it easy, so I continued to follow the path along the rock face. I scaled the side of the sloped path, feeling the soft sand and grit work its way into my fingers, a feeling I had been longing for.

I arrived at the top of the path, the rock face leveled off to form a new trail that encircled a final rock spire. I felt really satisfied with my decision to not take it easy. As I reflected on the climb, thoughts rushed my mind from the last six years of my journey. My imagination drew connecting points from my life journey and my recent climb. I was on the top of a large rock with a trail before me that I can continue to travel on, this was an optimistic forecast for what was before me. I felt reminded that my journey was not over.

I spent the next hours exercising the techniques found in Saint Ignatius of Loyola's Examen process. Psalm 84 quickly brought me back to my teenage years. One of the first worship songs that I learned while part of my first small group Bible study was “Better is One Day”. It allowed me to easily acknowledge all of the great gifts God had given me. I really enjoyed spending some time just sitting in verse 10, “I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.” Over the last few months, as I forecasted my career change, I anxiously worried about whether I should stay in a ministry environment or to take a position in the business world using my graphic design degree. This verse helped me to remember that whether I do one or the either, I should avoid the earthly spoils of comfort and power that would come with living the good life. I entered into my period of  asking. I wanted to know God’s desire for me, I wanted to know who he saw me as. Before he answered, I needed to unveil myself of what I was not. My life is filled with many false gods that require me to placate my identity. I entered into a period of admitting these sins and repenting from serving under them. I would no longer allow money, power, achievement, and comfort to control me. I declared that I would enter my Lord’s house and dwell there, resolving to find my comfort only in him. Psalm 32 was a sweet acknowledge of his forgiveness, and brought a new joy into my heart.

At the completion of the examen, my heart felt rejuvenated, but unchallenged. The worries that age a man, felt temporarily lifted, and a teenage fire burned within my bones. I longed for something stupid, something irrational; I wanted to do something without limitations. I walked along side the path surrounding the rock spire, and I saw a small cave about 30 feet up. There was a natural crease in the rock formation that would make for a possible climb. I tossed aside my bag and sweatshirt, and grabbed ahold of the rock. I climbed up to the cave and sat down to rest. I was overcome with excitement that I had done something that really involved risk. There are a lot of things in our daily lives that we consider risky, just driving a car in New York for one thing is taking your life into you own hands, but the risk is negated by a sense of repetitive numbness. There isn’t a healthy fear and sense of satisfaction that comes with achieving the risk when there is a visible safety net in place. 

As I sat in the cave, I reflected back on what I had done. The climb up the rock face required a lot of sacrifice. I had to take off the things I was carrying that would burden me. I had to step out of my comfort zone by walking off of the known path. I had to scale upward on an unexplored surface without the proper gear or safety personnel. I knew that the path that God has for me in the near future will be very similar. There will be things that I need to let go of: relationships, family proximity, and responsibilities. I won’t necessarily have what I need for the journey, but God will provide a way and urge me forward. I won’t be familiar with the path ahead, but it will test me, challenge me to grow, and provide a new perspective into not only God, but also a bird’s-eye view into myself. The alternative path would be safe, familiar, and while challenging, will not guarantee the opportunity for a new perspective.

While I was in the cave, I positioned myself to look deeper into God’s word in a period of Lectio Divina. Psalm 139 was my guide in this time. I really connected with it’s themes of overcoming abandonment. I rested on the verse: “search me O God, and know my heart, see if there be anything in me that offends you, and forgive me.” I repeated this prayer continuously as I rested in the cave. I was reminded of two additional scriptures as I contemplated the magnitude of God’s word. The first was the Old Testament account of Elijah in the cave as he searched for God’s voice in the earthquake, the firestorm, and the great wind, but could not find it. God’s voice came in the soft and gentle wind. The second account was from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus reminds us not to worry, for look at the flowers in the field, how they are more beautifully dressed than even Solomon's court. I glanced outside of the cave and there growing along the edge of the rock were small little flowers, not only surviving in arduous conditions, but thriving. I took a picture of the view [cover page] to remind me of God’s promise. He spoke to me in a very gentle wind that day.

It was good to begin my climb down and return to our class room where we could enjoy the Eucharist together. I am very grateful for the opportunity to reflect and to grow in my perspective of how God see’s me. The class offered me several opportunities to grow in community and to share my insight with others, as we all grow closer to Christ.