Exploring: The Church, Theology and Food

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A Number In Need

Communion Bread

My former Professor Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook once said to me that after reading Dr. James Cone I was now turning into a tree hugger.  There are many experiences in my life that have informed who I am and where my ministry has taken me.  Over the past four years it has been in the area of food insecurity in the West Cambridge. Somerville area.  Located in the heart of some of the priciest and hottest real estate market are pockets of food deserts as people juggle paying rent, paying for medication, providing for one’s children and buying food.  My parish in Somerville had been connected to a food pantry, which is located in West Cambridge.  Recently, I found out that the three day a week pantry beginning in February is only going to operate once a month and will remove all current volunteers.  I am saddened and appalled.  Let me share a few of the stories of the people who have been served by the pantry, some of them current food pantry volunteers.

Mr. and Mrs. M come to the pantry once a month.  He was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and Mrs. C does not drive.  The volunteers at the pantry were present when Mr. C said his taste in food had changed due to his chemo treatment and the he now craved the small juice boxes that the pantry provided.  The volunteers filled a plastic bag with juice boxes.  To make matters worse their only son had just been arrested for attempted murder.  The volunteers heard their heartbreak and have included them in our daily prayers.

Ms. E., is now raising her 5 grandchildren and money is tight.  If Ms. E. had not stepped up to take the children they were going to be placed with the State.  Money is tight so she relies on the pantry to make ends meet.

O’s husband made $36 over the threshold for food stamps.  The family of three food stamps were cut to $11 for the month.  Volunteering at the pantry gives her both dignity and provides food for her family.  You cannot feed a family of three on $11 a month.

P’s son suffered brain damage from a skiing accident.  She has had to leave her job to take care of him full time.  P’s son wants to be of service so they come to the pantry once a month to volunteer.

G’s apartment had a fire and she lost everything last year.  The volunteers at the  pantry asked her what she needed and provided some household goods when she moved into her new place.  Her friend A monthly bakes the best anise cookies in the world for the volunteers.

Y has the most amazing organizational skills that one can find, and can keep all the food pantry volunteers on task.

Mrs. A takes a train and two buses to pick up food for herself and her neighbor who is housebound.  Two years ago her husband passed and the pantry provided a safe space for her to cry and grieve.

Mr. W has diabetes and the volunteers knew to offer him alternatives when we had sweets.

A’s children all have a gluten allergy.  Volunteers would put aside gluten free products.

K is a vegetarian so she gets double vegetables instead of meat.

There are many more food pantry stories that will break your heart and make your heart sing.  The pantry not only provided food, but provided a place of prayer, rest, respite and laughter.  The pantry was a place where one did not only sign people in, give them bags of food and then moved on to the next person.  It was a community within a community.  A community that prayed together, ate together, laughed together and cried together. Ms. E made the best chicken and beans and rice.  Her door was always open and a heaping plate of food was always hot and ready.  When her nephew dropped out of community college it took the food pantry volunteer village to convince him to return. 

Getting to know people, really know people was the real work of the food pantry, recognizing their worth and dignity as a Child of God was in many ways more important than the food provided.  Some of the volunteers were in need of food for their families and the pantry gave them a sense of giving back, a place where their skills could be appreciated and utilized. Current volunteers who will be dismissed next week by a casual thank you and a Whole Foods cake.

All of this is going away.  The pantry will be a place where a person will wait outside in the cold winter months, in the rain, in the humid heat of the oppressive summer sun. They will be signed in, giving the identical packed plastic bags and sent on their way.  We have lost our way as a church and as a community when we can sit in a place and perch of personal privilege to look down on those in need and only recognize them as a number in need. God help us all.




Reflections from a dear friend of mine.  A word of caution there is a story from back in the day.

It Started with a Question…

It’s funny how things got started. My son always curious about his familial history asked for a copy of the family tree as well as a collection of the family recipes. This brought me to talking with my sister, with whom I began to reminisce about growing up. She remembered our baking Mandelbrot with my grandmother. (Neither of us was sure how to spell it). As I mentioned elsewhere, it was the first thing I learned to cook and with that began my passion for creating food.

Being in a whimsical mood, I posted this on line. A very dear and old friend made a request and opened a door. (I don’t think she knows just how dear a friend she is. We haven’t talked much these past few years. But some of you have people like that in your lives. You seem to be able to pick up with them from where ever you left off as if it were yesterday. She is an Episcopal Minister now and goes by the title Reverend Doctor…. But I just know her as Karen, sometimes KC. I am so proud of what she has accomplished even if I can’t quite come to including the “Reverend Doctor” and her name in the same sentence. It’s just not how I know her. That doesn’t diminish the pride I feel in what she has done with her life. Especially since this is the same person with whom I used to danced until dawn at a transvestite (or to be politically correct, transgender) disco club followed by breakfast at a greasy spoon Russian diner in lower Manhattan and made fun of the people we worked with at Sotheby’s and christened the Fine and Decorative Chachka Department there… eons ago.)

But I digress and for good reason… Because from simple things… a question, a reminiscence, an inquiry suddenly becomes an opening into sacred places; familial stories; life long connections, and a desire to learn and uncover more. Karen, The Reverend Doctor ;), asked me to send her the recipe for Mandelbrot along with the stories. And that opened another door and some more reminiscences; Of my family; of her and our friendship; other family members, other friends. It became a living process; Or to use Karen’s word… “Sacred”.

I shared with her the story of how my Dad and I spent his last days together listening to the Mariners lose and my plaguing him with questions, anything I could think of, about his life, our family, anything at all. I knew as he was passing, a door was rapidly closing and I wanted to keep it open as long as possible. I wrote about my grandmother and who she was, growing up, based on my father’s stories about her; how she emigrated from Lithuania in the 1890’s at the age of six, I believe; Her involvement with the suffragette movement in the early 20th century; About my grandfather whom I only met twice and had almost no memory of. He was a button salesman I found out. Who sells buttons for a living? But he did. It was another era. One that ended long before I was born.

And this is just the beginning. Some veil has been lifted and while it is easy to gently poke it back into place, I am not sure I want to… It’s not about going back to the past. It’s about celebrating it, revering it, reveling in it … “Sacred Places”.

I am inviting you to consider undertaking a similar journey. What are your stories? Where are your sacred places? Where are the connections that gently travel between friends and family, loved ones and ones almost forgotten. Where do you come from? How did you get here? Who was there along the way? Who was there before you? And who are those who will be left behind in your absence? Are there debts of gratitude that have been acknowledged or have they been left unpaid and still lingering? My friend the Reverend Doctor, my friend Karen quite possibly doesn’t know the debt of gratitude I owe her. She may not know how much the fact that I got to grow up and mature as a man was because of her influence in my life. It is a gift she gave me that she may not even know she bestowed.

And all of this started with a simple series of questions… “Do you know our family tree?”. “Do you have the recipe you used to make with Grandma?” “Do you remember….?”

I invite you, this holiday season, while you’re gathered around the table or in front of the fire, or where ever you come together…Start a conversation…Ask a question…. “Do you remember…?” And don’t hesitate to follow where that can take you. Take the journey, follow the path, if you come to a fork in the road, take it.

And if you care to do so, I invite you to share them here, with me, with us. They are sacred and they deserve to be released and shared because these sacred stories are what connects us as a race of people. Before there was ever a written language, there was the story. It is what transcends borders and race and beliefs and differences. It is what brings us together in a shared human experience. They are the ties that bind. But they also can be what releases us…