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Statistics: Only Part of the Story

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.’  — Luke 6:20a, 21a

We love statistics. Sports fans scour the daily box scores; financial analysts religiously follow the market trends; students spend an inordinate amount of time calculating their GPA.

We like it when “cold hard facts” tell the full story. Like Thomas sticking his hands in the holes of the nails of the body of the resurrected Jesus, we love verified facts upon which to hang our beliefs.

For many, statistics are also safe — they provide emotional distance from difficult topics by dehumanizing situations and turning them into numbers rather than people. When it comes to issues of global hunger, however, we must both name and confront the statistics.

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world suffer from chronic undernourishment. That is nearly one in nine people. The World Bank estimates that 896 million people in developing countries live on less than $1.90 a day. Thus poverty is directly linked to hunger.

And while the vast majority of the hungry live in developing nations, there are still 11 million people living in developed countries who are undernourished. They are our neighbors in both geographical proximity and in the spiritual sense of the defining question posed to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

These statistics are startling in and of themselves but they are even more troubling when we begin to see the human face of hunger. These are the people Jesus says are “blessed” — the hungry, the poor, the marginalized.

To take our noses out of the statistics and turn to face those in our midst who hunger with outstretched arms is what it means to be a Christian. To embody the call of Matthew 25: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger” he is also saying directly and unequivocally to each one of us, “Feed the poor.”

This week’s author is the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts and creator of the wildly popular Lenten devotion Lent Madness. When not tending to his parish, drinking coffee, or blogging at Clergy Confidential, he’s likely hanging out with his family that includes his wife Bryna, two teenage sons Benedict and Zachary, his dog Delilah, and a ferret named Mimi. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.

Inwardly Digesting

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.’

— Luke 6:20a, 21a

One of my favorite collects in the Book of Common Prayer is the one appointed for the Sunday closest to November 16 in Year A of the three-year lectionary cycle. Although I’m sure you’ve memorized every collect appointed for every day in the liturgical year, I’ll refresh your memory. It reads as follows:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

There’s just something about that phrase “inwardly digest” that makes me both smile and think. Sure, I have a fleeting image of chomping on the Bible — perhaps as an appetizer but more likely as a main course. We are what we eat, after all, as the saying goes.

But then I move to the more metaphorical realm of spiritual nourishment. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words when he was tempted by satan in the wilderness following his baptism in the Jordan, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” A reminder that we need both physical and spiritual nourishment in order to fully live.

And yet there is something viscerally appealing about the notion of inwardly digesting Scripture. Of devouring this Holy Book that tells the stories of our faith, introduces us to Jesus, actively demonstrates God’s love for humanity, and bids us to go and do likewise. This is the entrée of a fruitful, faithful existence. It is the bread of angels of which we mortals eat and are sustained.

May we maintain an insatiable appetite for the Word of God; a spiritual hunger that never fully subsides. And in so doing, may we be blessed by the fulfillment of God’s love for us.

This week’s author is the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts and creator of the wildly popular Lenten devotion Lent Madness. When not tending to his parish, drinking coffee, or blogging at Clergy Confidential, he’s likely hanging out with his family that includes his wife Bryna, two teenage sons Benedict and Zachary, his dog Delilah, and a ferret named Mimi. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.

From Abundance to Scarcity and Back

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” — Luke 6:20a, 21a

At my parish this year, our Sunday Lenten Series focused on poverty, specifically on issues of homelessness, hunger, and health. We had a mix of outside speakers along with parishioners speaking from their own experience.

One theme we addressed was hunger — both from a global and personal perspective. The most compelling talk was from a parish leader who shared her own experience with hunger growing up in Boston..

Holly spoke powerfully and poignantly about how the imprint of food scarcity leaves a permanent mark; that the fear of not having enough never entirely fades. Despite considerable academic and professional accomplishments, the sense of insecurity has remained throughout her life. When you experience life on the edge, Holly explained, you never feel as if you are far enough away from that edge.

This is an important perspective, especially in an affluent community where most will never know what it means to live without a safety net. Holly’s voice is one that must be heard and heeded if we are to truly stand with those on the margins, as Jesus so fervently calls us to do.

It also helps us engage with Scripture in a less theoretical and precious manner. As Holly herself puts it, “‘Blessed are the hungry and the poor’ does not feel like a blessing to most who experience it. It feels more like a curse.” And you see the heavy toll of poverty even upon those who have left its most immediate clutches; an important lens through which to view “the least of these.”

Hunger and the experience of poverty no doubt does leave a permanent mark with many painful ramifications. But I also see and hear in Holly’s deep and abiding faith, the indelible mark of her relationship with Jesus Christ that has been forged through the water of baptism. She has been marked as Christ’s own forever, not just in good times but in trying circumstances as well. And I remain ever inspired by her witness and her utter reliance upon God’s love.

 

This week’s author is the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts and creator of the wildly popular Lenten devotion Lent Madness. When not tending to his parish, drinking coffee, or blogging at Clergy Confidential, he’s likely hanging out with his family that includes his wife Bryna, two teenage sons Benedict and Zachary, his dog Delilah, and a ferret named Mimi. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.

Holy Sugar High

“Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.’”

— Luke 6:20a, 21a

As our 50 Days of Fabulous exploration of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain continues, we move into the “hunger” phase. Now, for many of us, it’s hard to think about hunger in light of the Easter feast. I mean, we’re full, both spiritually and physically.

We’re still reveling in the warm glow of the resurrection, reflecting on the images, the sights and sounds and smells, of a glorious festal celebration. In unguarded moments we find ourselves humming the hymn Jesus Christ is Risen Today and announcing the previously forbidden word “Alleluia!” to anyone who will listen.

Perhaps we’re still digesting the fancy feast that followed the eucharistic feast. The succulent lamb, the coconut cream pie, the Peeps. We are sated by joy, by food, by a sense of community. And it feels good to hold on to the metaphorical and literal sugar high of Easter for as long as we can.

By Daniel Schwen – Own work, CC BY 3.0

But inevitably it all comes crashing down. You can’t sustain the high forever, no matter how hard you try. And you’re left with the same old you, staring back in the mirror. We talk in lofty rhetoric about transformation and new life and resurrection but in the end we can’t help but think, “Is that it?”

In this sense, Easter Day is not unlike the feeling a child has after opening every last Christmas gift. No matter the abundance, after the wrapping on the last present has been torn open, we’re left with a feeling of emptiness as we plaintively ask, “Is that it?”

Which is precisely why embracing these 50 days of Easter is so important. Because even when our supply of jelly beans dips to the one flavor we can’t abide (hello, “buttered popcorn”), Easter continues. This is not “it” any more than “it” is finished on Good Friday.

We tap into the joy of this season long after the “high” wears off. And we seek after the joy of the Lord that abides rather than the fleeting happiness of a feast that is ultimately and quickly cleared away.

 

This week’s author is the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts and creator of the wildly popular Lenten devotion Lent Madness. When not tending to his parish, drinking coffee, or blogging at Clergy Confidential, he’s likely hanging out with his family that includes his wife Bryna, two teenage sons Benedict and Zachary, his dog Delilah, and a ferret named Mimi. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.

Their Home, Too

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)

As our jeep trudged through the tall grasses of South Africa’s Sabi Sands, our guide Mac explained his hesitancy to get any closer to the mama and her baby rhinoceros. “We take our cues from the animals, and this mama wants to protect her baby. This is their home, you know?” It was the second day of a 5-day safari, and a fellow traveler had asked why we had not moved as close to this pair as we had done with some of the region’s other game. Over the past 24 hours we had sit 15 fit away from leopards mating, elephants bathing, and a stunning array of aqua and maroon birds descending onto the tops of trees. The privilege of the trip was never lost on me, but Mac’s words deepened my awe, humility, and gratitude. “This is their home.” Up until that trip three years ago, my knowledge and concern for the variety of species on our planet was committed but distant.

However, years of poaching and development in the region have nearly eradicated many of these beloved creatures from their native lands. During the 1980s, a handful of conservationists within the country’s travel industry sought to transform their work into one that elevated preservation of the land, its species, and the agency and voice of people indigenous to the region over mere profit. The efforts have paid off, but there is still so much more to do.

Today marks the 47th celebration of Earth Day. Our commemoration of this day could not be more important than it is now. As the natural habitats of thousands of species erodes at a deadly pace, our society’s regard for the earth has been reduced to a political battle of wills. To some, creation and her creatures are mere tools of convenience and consumption. Rising rates of asthma in urban areas and the ongoing water crisis in Flint and other cities, testifies that those who are economically disadvantaged bear the brunt of our apathy and detachment toward creation. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a way of life in God’s kingdom though.

Jesus’ beatitude “blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom” tells the truth about our existence: people of all economic means, especially those who have less or have suffered the brunt of economic exploitation, are not only blessed by God, they deserve the same respect and rights as those with economic privilege. Let’s never cease to forget that our utmost care of creation—or, lack thereof—not only affects us, but everyone.  This is their home, too. This is everyone’s home

 

This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.

Grace

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)

It’s called Grace.

On Sundays, one hundred men and women, the majority of whom are living in recovery or are without a permanent address, gather for worship. There’s no doubt their singing emerges from the pit of their gut—from trial and victory, heartache and forgiveness. Passersby can hear their voices, and even their tears, outside the storefront doors. During the summer, a seventy-something retired educator drives an old coach bus through the neighborhood, “Kidz Praise” blaring through the speakers. Each afternoon, she picks up nearly 30 kids who would otherwise go hungry during the long summers. Once they climb on the bus, it’s not long before their voices drown out the music. They know the words by heart and sing as though they are unstoppable. On Friday nights and Saturday mornings, men and women gather to study the Bible, shoot the breeze, and find a safe space until the shelters open.

Grace sits in an abandoned storefront on the edge of a neglected, tired, and resource-strapped neighborhood in Florida’s Panhandle. Grace is filled with hardship, struggle, failure, pain, and death. But Grace overflows with hope—dogged hope born of a fight for one’s daily bread.

I met the people of Grace more than 10 years ago. I had been assigned to serve at another faith community—one with a multi-million-dollar budget and some of the town’s wealthiest residents on its membership rolls. But after a week at Grace I didn’t want to leave. Perhaps it was the authenticity of the community. Perhaps it was the raw hunger and need—spiritually and physically. Perhaps God was having mercy on my privileged naiveté. To many, folks at Grace Mission were fools and failures at worst, a do-gooder project at best. But even if they were fools, they were the kind of fools the apostle Paul says we should all be: people whose life has been shaped by the power of the cross. They often spoke of a day when all would be welcomed at Christ’s table.

Even still, none of that changes the fact that they remain mired in a system that regarded their daily needs as entitlements ripe for the chopping block and their health care and safety a luxury or privilege for the deserving. We cry “Lord, have mercy,” but such cries are too easy to hide behind. May we all be so bold as to be fools together. Fools who never settle until all are at the table—both now and in the life to come. Fools who refuse to settle for anything but the transformation of the world. Fools transformed by grace.

 

This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.