February 2, 2007
. . . I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.
— Matthew 25:35 (New Revised Standard Version)
Last week the adult Sunday School group at my church began a series of lessons using some of the small group activities that our high school kids undertook at Winterfest, the annual weekend gathering of several hundred area Lutheran youth. The theme of the weekend was social responsibility, the call to become aware of our abundance and to work to alleviate hunger and homelessness and other forms of poverty worldwide.
Activities like this create a certain sense of guilt in me. After all, I just joined a club (not for the first time) where I pay for lessons in how to eat less and how to make wise food choices, all the while aware that most people in this world are hungry and have no choice in the matter. (Yes, most. The World Health Organization estimates that only one-third of the world is well-fed. One-third experience chronic food insecurity, and one-third are starving outright.) And I am also aware that when I say I am hungry, I usually mean that it has been maybe two hours since I had anything delicious to eat.
We saw a video that the class leader said had had a deep impact on the youngsters she worked with. And then we talked about how we as families have traditionally addressed our call to share and to care for the less fortunate.
When Lynn was little, I tried to make abstract ideas concrete for her. The church we attended then collected canned goods for the local food bank and feeding sites on the third Sunday of each month. We piled our cans of tuna and boxes of rice and spaghetti and cereal on a table to the side of the altar. I put a blue wicker market basket in the dining room, and every time Lynn and I went grocery shopping we bought a can of tuna or some other item suitable for this cause, and made a ceremony of putting it in what we called the Matthew Basket.
Lynn was eight when we changed churches. Our present congregation has a deep box in the narthex that is there all the time, and people are invited to place their canned goods in it whenever they have some. Our set of offering envelopes includes one each month for the ELCA World Hunger appeal. This effort is no less genuine and probably no less effective than the way our other church did it, but it is less concrete. One Christmas I put the Matthew Basket away to make room for a party dish, and never put it back. Lynn got to the point where object lessons were less important, and I fell into making my concern for the hungry a daily visit to the Hunger Site and a check in the ELCA envelope every month. (Well, most months, anyway.)
After the class last week I kept thinking about my commitment to alleviating hunger, not only worldwide, but right where I live.
I went down into the basement, found the Matthew Basket (a little dusty and one corner going soft with the dampness that eventually infuses everything in our basement), and brought it upstairs. I cleaned it up and put it on the sideboard in the kitchen. I went through the cupboard and found a can of pineapple juice that I didn’t use for a second batch of party punch, a jar of chopped green chiles and one of chopped olives (also left from the party), and two cans of tuna.
Then, feeling all righteous, I went to my weigh-in and meeting. I lost another .4 of a pound, putting me at a robust 219 and making a grand (ha!) total of two pounds lost. At the grocery store later I bought more tuna and a box of linguini. I also bought two six-packs of Diet Dr. Brown Cream Soda, suddenly in stock again after a long drought.
I did not put one of them in the basket.
I’m generous, I think, but not yet sacrificial.