Friday, April 23, 2010

What Should I Eat? Community and the Individual

As Quakers, we talk a lot about community, one part of the handy SPICE testimony acronym. And in a world that often isolates and estranges us one from another, the idea of a real community gives us all sorts of warm fuzzies. As part of a true community we receive support, nurture and love. We find meaning in providing that same care to others and in identifying as a member of something bigger than ourselves. But as just one of many members in a community, these connections with others sometimes rub against, or even clash with, the individual. The group as a whole may have different needs or expectations than I, as an individual, do. Some other individuals in the community may feel strongly convicted about something in a way I do not. Greater society tells us when this happens that it is always the rights of the individual that override the constraints of the group. I, the individual, am the ultimate authority on all things pertaining to me.

But, is this the way that we, as Christians and Quakers, are called to live? Does this reflect the kingdom of God? Can I be part of a community and do whatever I want? To me, the answer seems clearly no. Jesus calls us to love one another, be in community with one another, and be members of a body. And sometimes this will mean that I will give up some of my individual agenda in order to be caring for others in the community.

As a newlywed committed to living her life jointly with another individual, this situation is often before me. In a somewhat mundane example, I like boxed macaroni and cheese, especially with tuna in it. My husband, Micah, is not a fan. And so, I choose to not eat boxed mac and cheese when we have dinner together, instead eating something we both will enjoy. Of course, I could say “I want macaroni and cheese and that’s what we’re having. So there.” I would then get what I want to eat, but I also would be selfish and choosing my own needs over those of a person I love. The beautiful thing about this situation is that I know that Micah would eat boxed mac and cheese for dinner because he knows I like it. He too would surrender his own agenda so that I could enjoy my cheesy noodles.

This surrender of our own demands so that others might be welcome and a full part of the community is part of being a family of faith. A youth pastor I knew growing up once told a story of a kid he had in his youth group who had been previously involved in some really dark satanic stuff. One day, the guy came over to the pastor’s house and his kids were watching a movie. The movie deeply disturbed the teenager as it reminded him of the satanic things he had been involved with and struggled to leave behind. The pastor turned the movie off and from then on when the guy came over the family made certain that movie and any related toys and games were put away. They themselves did not feel convicted about stopping watching and enjoying the movie, but they choose to not put a stumbling block in front of a brother.

For a third example of this balance between individual freedom and community, there are those among my friends who choose not to drink out of religious conviction. I personally do not feel convicted in this way. But when I am with these friends, I do not drink and a certainly do not suggest that we go out to a bar during our time together. It is the kind and understanding thing to do. I choose to abstain from behavior I would usually take part in so that I can be in fellowship with them.

That in one community there would be people who have different convictions on how we live out our life is nothing new. Paul felt the need to write in Romans advice on how to proceed when we differ on such things.

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval. (Romans 14:1-4)

Paul goes on saying:

Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. (Romans 14: 20-22)

And what is more loving for a community than that? I show I care for other’s by putting their needs above my own. By loving their spiritual health more than I love my freedom to do whatever I want. And as a reward for such a sacrifice, I also have my spirit cared for and am in communion with my brothers and sisters.

-Faith Kelley


Doug Sloan said...

How many of us have seen or participated in placing a hand on the wall of the sanctuary and saying, “This is not the church.” Do we have any idea what we just said? Have we ever taken a far look in the direction we just pointed? What happens when we extend that thought?


NRSV Matthew 6:19-21

NRSV Matthew 6:24

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.”

He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
NRSV Mark 10:17-22, Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 18:18-23


What do capital campaigns and 6- or 7- or 8-digit mortgages (or any mortgage) and stained glass windows and basketball courts and dining halls and sculpted altars and custom communion tables and plentiful paved parking lots have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do fund raisers and all the accompanying effort and bother and time and finding and organizing the required workers have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do praise bands and church orchestras and multi-rank pipe organs and choir robes and folders and music purchases and multi-line PA systems and multi-screen video systems and rehearsal time have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do membership drives and attendance numbers and baptism numbers and bequeaths and endowments and liturgical and non-liturgical employees and salaries and committees and their meetings and church boards and their meetings and, consequently, the unavoidable church politics have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

Much of what we call successful Christianity and successful worship and successful congregations has nothing to do with living and sharing the Good News.

Once we begin to think of our faith in terms of success or achievement or community stature or statistically significant gains or business models or budget processes or administrative requirements or leadership roles or membership trends or appropriate organizational structures – at that point, we have become the money changers – we have lost our faith and deserve to be driven away for we are neither living nor sharing the Good News.

What would happen if the church – every congregation, every regional office, every national office, every seminary – was sold and the net proceeds were used to establish a trust fund endowment to support sustenance, medical, legal, and education services for the poor?

Congregations would divide into small groups and meet for worship in the homes of different members. Just imagine: No offerings, no church governing boards and no board meetings, no committees and no committee meetings, no rehearsals, no fund raisers, no capital campaigns, no finances, no buildings, no property, no maintenance or repairs or replacements, no employees, no membership drives. Just imagine: Only worship, only studying, only witnessing in word and service to each other and the world.

“You may say that I’m a dreamer…”

Ken said...

My wife and I were married under the care of Buffalo (NY) Friends Meeting in 1972. I have been a vegetarian since 1967. Neither my wife nor any of my seven children is vegetarian, although they have all refrained from eating meat for up to five years each. So your question is very meaningful to me, since I do most of the grocery shopping for the family and, over the years, have prepared most of the meals, including buying, preparing, and serving meat. Marriage and parenthood are wonderful opportunities to learn to love what you do not understand.

Charity said...

Thanks Faith. You call us all to live in the way that Christ called us, laying down self in service to others. If all those who were free abstained in the presence of those who were not; if all those who were not free to partake gave freedom to those who are; we would find so much more peace and productivity where it really counts!