American Religion is a $1.2 Trillion Enterprise. And People are Still Hungry.

As BoingBoing points out, religion in America is worth more than the 10 biggest tech companies combined.

Globally, Christianity alone grosses $10 trillion a year according to Ron Sider’s classic Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger.  Sider arrives at this number by combing the gross income of Christians around the world with the gross incomes of churches, denominations, and related missions.

I’ve suggested on The Huffington Post and elsewhere that Christians get serious about using 10% of that annual haul (a tithe) to end global poverty, world hunger, dirty water, and other things killing innocent people (mostly children) everyday.

Consider diarrhea. In the developed world, it happens when you eat sketchy food.  Kids suffer through it, add new lyrics to the song, and move on. In most of the rest the world, they die from it.  For children under five, it’s the second-leading cause of death on the planet.  Diarrhea.

That’s true.  I didn’t make that up to shock you, although it should shame all of us rich enough to afford an internet connection, that is, all of us rich enough to survive diarrhea.

Ending Poverty With Global Christianity’s Phantom Trillion generated a lot of discussion.  I followed up with some specific ideas for remedy in Rich, Greedy, and Blessed: God Wants to Save Us, Too.

How long must we sing this song? How long will we horde away our riches while singing songs to Jesus about how serious we are about being his hands and feet?  Jesus paid it all, we say, and all to him we owe.

There are lots of churches where  pastors make serious bank. Some of the richest Christians in this age of hunger are the people supposedly leading global Christianity (always from the front of the room).  I’ve had colleagues like that.

It’s been a long day on the truck and on the road.  I had the privilege again today of feeding people who can afford to eat away from home and doing so at a fair price.  I also watched a woman and her young son leave the Surplus Outlet without the food in their cart because their card malfunctioned.  I couldn’t tell if it was declined, just not working, or if it was a gift card with insufficient funds.  She was gone, from the store and from the parking lot, before I could find out or offer help. I should have tried harder.  I should have done more. It happened so fast. That’s what poverty does.

The thing is, we should all be ashamed. I’m no exception.  I was an hour-and-a-half away from home, had no clue where to direct this woman, but, seasoned as I am, I could have done something.  Seasoned as I am, sometimes I’m still caught off guard.

It’s not enough for me or Ron Sider or Bono (we get mentioned in the same sentence like, all the time) or you to lay out the facts, admit we all fall short, and encourage each other to do better.  We need to do better and more. There are so many ways. Find them. Share them. Do them. Educate yourself and your friends and your churches. Do them together. Tell us about them. Do them again.  Agitate. Organize. Give. For God’s sake, give away.

 

 

 

 

 

Hip Young Misogynists; I Hate the Word “Foodie”

It’s been a minute since I wrote this.  Not so long that the word “hipster” wasn’t already derogatory, but maybe long enough that the word “foodie” was more annoying to me than offensive.  Oh, how times have changed.

Mark Driscoll is no longer part of Acts29.  I don’t know if Acts29 still exists, or if Vintage Church in Raleigh still exists. I don’t know if any of these people are still hung up on gender roles.  But I do know that many communities just like it keep popping up all over the country, and I do know that I still can’t stand it.

As for the word “foodie.”  It’s awful.  Stop using it.  Stop.

“It’s, like, okay for you to like gross shit. But I’m something of a foodie. So.” (Italics indicate upspeak, which is not, by the way, gender-specific. Stop being sexist.)

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Maybe Food, Animal Ethics Start with Thanks

I have a confession to make.  Even as a food trucker and third-generation cheesesteak ninja, I’ve struggled with the ethics of meat.  I don’t eat pork, because I’m pretty sure pigs are smart.  But I do sell it.  That’s a contradiction, but it’s also an admission that I’m not really sure that there’s anything wrong with eating pigs in the first place.

I’m also keenly aware that my OCD and anxiety often center on food. My purity rituals (oh, the books we could write about the origins of purity rites in the undiagnosed chemical imbalances of the patriarchs!) are almost always about consumption,  Matthew 15:11 aside, and I’m forced to take my ethical qualms with a grain of salt as a way of keeping my compulsions in balance.

The Apostle Paul said things about eating meat and not eating meat that was or wasn’t sacrificed to idols.  He also said he’d avoid doing anything that would make it harder for others to embrace Jesus.  He’s an “it depends” kind of guy on a number of things. He also says “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”  This seems in line with Peter’s vision of the end of dietary law. In both cases, Christians are being asked to envision human membership in the Kingdom of God as a transnational, multicultural imperative. Paul also calls maturing Christians to let go of the trappings of earthly traditions as they come to grips with the only culture that matters: The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Interestingly, he likens our readiness for deeper revelation to the transition from milk to…meat.

There are any number of ways we could go with all of this.  Anecdotally, it seems to me that more people of faith are asking questions about the ethics of meat than ever before.  The food supply system in the industrialized world is a far cry from the pastoral scenes we imagine playing out in generations past, and we’re right to worry about animal welfare and cruelty.  We’re right to worry about the commodification of food in general.

Sorry, I can’t get pigs out my head, even though I really want to get to a point about Karl Rahner, bananas, and original sin.

Sometime over the last year, I read an article about the origins of Jewish and Muslim aversions to pork.  Pigs are water-greedy, hard-t0-sustainably-raise foragers, and the article suggested that the ban on swine arose from how sinfully wasteful it is to use scare resources on that kind of husbandry.  On the contrary, the virtual lack of pork aversions in ancient Europe, to the point of celebration, arose from an opposite ecology:  boars forage mushrooms and roots and other things Neolithic peoples couldn’t spend precious time or energy painstakingly gathering for themselves. So they hunted and eventually domesticated the animals that did it best.  Ever time I think about how wrong it is to eat a pig, I think about that.  It’s damn clever, and it’s how thousands of other species function.  Animals exploit animals. Animals exploit plants.  If we start taking the research showing that plants feel pain, scream when being cut, and warn their friends about impending doom, we’d never eat anything again.

About the banana, then.  Karl Rahner described our corrupt, unjust, and broken market economy as a study in original sin.  The systems that get most goods to market, be they conflict diamonds or Dole bananas, are rife with injustice. They are sinful systems, and they’re the only ones we’ve got.  Every time we engage in the market, we take part in its sinful internalties and ripples. We can’t buy anything in good conscience when it comes right down to it.  The mass production of vegan foods isn’t possible without the creation of ecologically imbalanced monocultures, and the harvest of those grains isn’t exactly an animal-friendly affair. (Here’s another point and counterpoint on that).

Reasonable people will always find themselves tempted to insist that the answer to all of this isn’t something very much like being Amish.  But what if it is?  Sustainably-grown, hyper-local crops.  Sustainably-raised meat.  Giving thanks for the lives of both, and meaning it.  A big part of me thinks we started to get into serious trouble with our food culture and our food supply when we decided to stop saying thanks.  Ecosystems and sentient animals are easy to fetishize and discard when society isn’t thankful for them.

Imagine saying this before your next meal:

“Thank you, God, for the life of this animal.  Thank you, God, for the life of these plants.  Not ‘Thank you for this food, for getting out to us,’ but thank you for these specific creatures, your creatures.  Amen.”

 

 

The Literal Height of Food Privilege

Chipotle burritos delivered by drones are a thing, kind of. The worst part? They’re made on food trucks.

No. I feel like Hopkins screaming “I won’t allow it!” to Tristan in Legends of the Fall.

Airborne burritos are frivolous at best. Chipotle having food trucks is impermissible.

Gram Parsons is the only flying burrito I’m interested in.

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Jesus (Still) Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam

Karl Vaters has a piece on CT.com that ends with these words:

“There are so many faithful believers living Godly lives that very few others will ever consider unique, different or special.

But that’s okay. Jesus never asked us to be unique. He told us to be faithful. And that alone will make us different.”

I can’t help but think of Nirvana Unplugged.  “This is a song by the Vaselines. Well, it’s a rendition of an old Christian song, I think.  But we do it the Vaselines’ way.”

Vaters, I think, is saying that so many Christians get so caught up in the idea of their unique manifest destiny that they lose sight of what he calls the essentials of God’s will.  In many ways, I agree. He parses those essentials oddly, though: “God’s will for all of us includes loving God, loving others, being worshippers, telling the truth and so on. So, 90 percent of what God wants us to do is the same for all of us.”  That’s a pretty big “and so on.”  The are some rather specific ways we’re supposed to do what too often sound like platitudinous calls to “love God” and “love others.”  We’re supposed to love justice, do mercy, walk humbly, and defend the widow and orphan, right?  We’re supposed to do punk rock Jesus things, but too often we tell our people to simply love God and love each other without getting anyone particularly riled up about how radically upending that’s supposed to be.  It’s a sad mistake, and, sadly, a relatively unfaithful one, isn’t it?  If God’s will for us is largely the same, as Vaters contends, his examples ought to brim with the essential specifics, at least.  Mama, that’s where the fun is.

Vaters goes on: “On the other side, God’s will never includes an exemption from character traits like integrity, or an allowance for cruelty. So, 90 percent of what we’re not supposed to do is the same for everyone, too.”  He’s right, of course, about cruelty.  But I have no idea what he thinks cruelty or integrity are.  Does he think the food wars being waged against the American people by giant corporations and lobbyists and politicians are cruel?  Does he think capitalism is cruel?  Is war always cruel, or sometimes, is it justified?  Certainly, Christians of good will disagree about these and other issues.  Are the “right” Christians more faithful?  Are they better at seeing the simplicity of a certain set of essentials that ought to be clear to all Christians?  At the very least, it seems like anything smacking of genteel respectability is suspect, at least for the Jesus I encounter in scripture and in my spirit.  Vaters essentials are general, which is fairly large misstep for someone trying to convince anyone, in the space of a few paragraphs, that God’s will is basically the same for everyone.  Granted, he says “we’re all supposed to do the Bible stuff, and there’s a lot of it.”  But if it boils down to a few things, what are those things?  Love God and neighbor, yes.  Jesus said so.  But how?  Through the radical pursuit of justice, mercy, peace, and freedom, radical, at least, with respect to dominant paradigms (especially, for Jesus, religious ones).

Jesus doesn’t want us for sunbeams.  Vaters and the Vaselines are right about that.  The problem, though, isn’t uniquity (I made that word up, because uniqueness is so clunky).  The problem is vague, generalized, moralistic therapeutic deism.  And who the hell wants that?

My opposition to MTD isn’t about harking back to the fundamentals of the Fundamentalists or anything along those lines.  It’s about the fact that Christianity without specifics (and specifically radical specifics) isn’t Christianity.  Jesus told the Rich Young Rulet to sell all his skubalon and give the proceeds to the poor.  That’s specific, and it demands we wrestle with a specific set of values that seldom show up in our churches.  We’re far too interested in being respectable, upwardly mobile, materialists to ever profess the radical social, economic, and political specifics of God’s universal call. We’re content to opine about the moral (and moralistic) ramifications of life away from Christ rather than live with Christ in the trenches of a theology he was killed for.

With all of that set, Vaters is on to something.  Doing God’s general (though still, radically specific) will in how we relate to each other, to injustice, to society, to cruelty, to scarcity, (and so on), ought to sharpen in us the mind and spirit of Christ, ought lead us ever away from the comfort of our sunbeam kingdoms and into the radical grip of his call and kingdom.

Changing gears:

We have many food truck bookings this week for which we are grateful.  The fair and festival season, which we love, is coming to an end and we’re sad to see it go. We continue to develop our brick-and-mortars, and there are countless administrative things that need attention for various aspects of our business.  But it’s also worth it to me to do this. Thank you for reading and sharing.

Blessings,

Chris

Here’s a picture of some new baskets of farm-fresh produce at our Downtown Allentown store.  These are straight from a Mennonite farm in Topton. Get these on any of our sandwiches and support local food!

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Some Pun About Feeding People, Feeding the 5000, and then the 17 People Who Follow My Feed on Twitter

I’ve been a “religious professional” for 13 years. I’ve been working in my family’s food business for 30. In the past year, a few things have happened.

I’ve been a “religious professional” for 13 years.  I’ve been working in my family’s food business for 30.  In the past year, a few things have happened.

  1. After doing mobile concessions for over 40 years, we entered the food truck business last May.
  2. In the fall and winter, we got the opportunity open two brick-and-mortar operations, one in the still-pastoral setting of western Lehigh County, and one a few miles away in downtown Allentown, PA, where urban renewal, the creative class, enterprising locals, shades of political corruption and everything else you might imagine are intersecting to create dynamic change in the fastest-growing city in the state.  Once known mostly for the Billy Joel song, The Queen City  is shaking of its rustbelt rust, and our family is heavily committed to seeing rising tides lift all boats.  Easy stuff like that.
  3. I began a stated-supply ministry at a small church in western Lehigh County.

A few things about me.

I graduated from Yale Divinity School in 2005 and The New School’s Creative Writing program (MFA, Fiction) in 2011.

I’ve written here and there across the web and in print. I made some people mad with this.

I’ve worked in small churches and big churches, and with great pastors and not-so-great ones.  Great people and not-so-great people.  Suffering people, all.  Like me, like you.

Sometimes, I break liturgy.   The guiding lights in that collective are far flung now, so we do it in different ways.

I make great cheesesteaks.

I’m 36 years old.

I miss my grandfather and my grandmother, every single day.

I have OCD and General Anxiety Disorder.  People who say “I’m, like, soooo OCD,” generally annoy me.

I once got scolded by a pastor for using the f-word on Facebook to talk about exactly what we should do with the stigmas surrounding mental health issues.

Most of the funerals I’ve done have been in bars or on the low.

I’m fairly outspoken, but I try not to be outspoken for the sake of being outspoken.  At this particular moment in history, that is sometimes hard.

I’ve got some manuscripts finished and half-finished.  Many, many songs.  My first song-writing partner was my cousin when we were 6.  My second was a friend named Scott, who I love like a brother.  He died when we were 28.

I’ve starting picking up the guitar (again).  I love DC Comics.

I can drop weight fast, but not when I’m on SSRIs.  Being on them and a little full in certain places is better than being off them and thin.

My family is mostly Italian and Pennsylvania Dutch.  I am made of red sauce and bacon dressing.

Even so, I don’t eat pork.  I’m terrified that pigs are as smart as people say they are.

Dogs have souls, in any case.

I like Leonard Cohen.  I liked him before you did. I hate when people say that.

In person, professional baseball players are so much bigger than they seem on TV.

I am the emperor of oranges, now follow me, ok?

Love,

Chris

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