On Hunger Games and other rules we make up as we go along

Recently, the justice circuit in Philadelphia has been active as churches, non profit groups, activists and anarchists and OccupyPhilly have all been wrestling with the new Board of Health regulations around sharing food  with homeless people in the city. This is not that story. But it is intricately linked to it.

This is not the story of me and my community making teeshirts and sandwiches and going down to the Municipal Buildings and having a “family picnic” in protest of these laws. This is not the story of The Simple Way’s public statement and the organization’s navigation of its history and its convictions in seeking justice in this particular area.  No, this is a different story; one that is altogether more sinister, shameful and hypocritical. This is the story that speaks to the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” (Jeremiah 17:9). This story begins with me making supper…

Two weeks ago I got an urge to cook. I was home alone, and the chicken was already defrosted and so I set to work, vaguely following a recipe but making a lot of it up as I went along. Experimenting with spices and marinade and yogurt and couscous and walnuts and spiced butternut. The end product was beautiful and so I took it out of the oven and placed it on the counter and took a photo to boast post on facebook. There was a witty and trite status update to go along with it – something about the irony of cooking sunday dinner on the one night noone was around to share it with me. As I was about to send, someone knocked on the door. I snuck quietly across the kitchen and inched open the curtains. Someone was looking through our trash, their back turned to me. I quickly turned around, grabbed the chicken off the counter and hid it in the oven. I then stood debating with myself whether to go and talk to the person and if so, what food I could give them. By the time I got to the door, they had left. And I was struck by deep shame at what I had just done – shocked at the deceitfulness of my own heart.

See I have realized that there are stories that I tell that I “wear like badges” – stories about how hard my life is, or the challenges I’m facing, or how spiritual I am, or how compassionate, self-sacrificing and filled with loving-kindness I am. Well, this story isn’t one of those. This one tells the dark side: the turning away and hiding my food as a brother went through my trash, when just a second before I had been ruing the fact that I had this beautiful meal and no-one to share it with. Truth is, I had noone that I wanted to share it with. It’s easy to stand in a hall and denounce homeless feeding laws; but harder to acknowledge the hunger games we all play. The needs we choose to meet or not meet, the set of usually selfishly driven rules that govern when we  feed, clothe, visit, and take in “the least of these” – the rules based on a confluence of feelings, comfortability, energy, convenience and, often, face-work. I can feed a hundred people a day – prep the food, put aside the time, invest energy and resources – but I wonder if they truly are “the least of these”  if I think they are.

Maybe the “least of these” is the one that interrupts my time and intrudes on my space and comfort with his inconvenient and messy needs. The one I have not prepared a face to meet. The one I have not decided to respond to in advance. The one that catches me off guard. The one who interrupts my quiet Sunday night, my boastings and postings, my puffing up and my pinning of badges. The one who goes through my trash while I hide my chicken in the oven… and later, my head in shame.


7 thoughts on “On Hunger Games and other rules we make up as we go along

  1. Well said Val, I think this is probably true of more of us than would like to admit it! God bless you in your ministry to those around you. Lots of love. Barbie. xx

  2. Val, this is an awesome example of an encounter with the Truth, and our on going Conversion, as God’s Love refines our hearts by His. This is so beautifully written, and your courage to share a glimpse of a stage of your Soul’s metamorphosis in this great Journey, is a Gift to me for mine (and I am sure to many others as well)! It always seems more is gained for God’s Glory and our Churches growth when people are bravedenough to truly tell of our human struggles, learnings and places where God takes our down cast chins into His Hands to lift them up and say “I Love you”. I think this “meal” you just served, placing before the whole internet world…is the boast and pleasure of Christ! Thank you so much for sharing and giving me a place to contemplate my heart! Peace~Kate

  3. Welcome to the human race Val.

    Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

    On the other hand, seek not the condemnation of man, but the conviction of the holy spirit.

    The very nature of the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” can also be a heart of condemnation, criticism that leads to shame, and a voice that does not build, but breaks down.

    I personally think your experience, your thoughts, your conclusions, for the most part…spot on. Its amazing the conditions we set, and boundaries we place, to make serving and loving as convenient as possible to us…and yes it is hypocritical.

    But it is in this space, where we all fall so short, that Christ comes in, fills in the gaps, perfects us, before God. And Jesus goes on and above that, he works in our hearts, fixes, repairs, perfects, creates, resurrects.

    There is no shame, and condemnation through Jesus Christ. And so I ask…really? Shame? Is that how you experience it? Who’s doing that? God, or you?
    Don’t get me wrong, I am not an advocate of “oh don’t worry about it, its all love, poofy pink clouds, lollipops, God wants you to be happy…give yourself a break, yay for grace!”
    But I would beg to question how Jesus would have catered this discussion in person, had had this discussion taken place with him, and not with yourself.
    If Jesus was a guest in your kitchen, and witnessed what happened…would he shame you or would he correct you? Would he look at you with that “you hypocrite” look, or would he point something out gently, and with no place for shame, have a conversation about how you relate to him, and those he has asked you to love….followed by a wonderful discussion about all wonderful uses of spiced butternut?

    – Isa 54:4 “Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth…”

    – 1 Pet 2:6 “See, I am placing on Mount Zion a Cornerstone, chosen, and held in honour, and he whose faith rests on Him shall never have reason to feel ashamed.”

    – 2 Tim 1:17 For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.


  4. you spoke to my heart – thank you… Mr Advocate read John 21 where Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loved Him after denying Him 3 times – I am sure Peter felt shame….Val helped me understand how Peter felt and how gracious Jesus is and how much He loves us.

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