You Are What You Eat: An Autobiography

I’m working on an essay about food. It’s an autobiography through food, actually, and it’s still most definitely a work-in-progress. I’ve been thinking about this project, especially how food is so central to our personal identities, ever since I went to see Please Don’t Call Me Homeless (I wrote about that production here and here).

I don’t typically like sharing works-in-progress, but I’ve got it on my mind at the moment, and I’d be happy to get some feedback.

Here’s an excerpt from one section of the essay, “You Are What You Eat”:

The most difficult thing about living on the streets, he said, was not what most people think. It’s not food and clothing that are the biggest problems. It’s things you might not expect: ice water, toilet paper, things you take for granted. Safety. He could stand in line somewhere and get a meal at almost any time, if you knew where to go, he said. A sack lunch. A juice box.

He was off the streets now, performing in a production of Please Don’t Call Me Homeless…I Don’t Call You Homed. He was playing his former self.

Just before intermission, the cast came down off the stage and helped a group of volunteers hand out sack lunches to the audience, to people who had never waited in line in a city park or a soup kitchen for a free meal. The crumpled brown paper bags were passed down the rows until everyone had gotten one. Everyone.

One was passed to me, and I peeked inside. Two squashed triangles of white bread stuck together with a slice of balogna. No cheese. Two vanilla sandwich cookies. A Capri Sun.

This isn’t a meal, I thought. I couldn’t help myself. This isn’t food.

Just that morning I’d sat in the warmth of my own home and had an e-mail conversation about organic, local milk, and whether it was worth the price to buy it. About the life span of cows at factory farms in America. About local food issues, farmers’ markets, and raising healthy children.

As a rule, I do not eat balogna or white bread.

I do not buy sandwich cookies.

But as they passed the sack lunches around, they began to sing. One a capella voice became a room-full.

And I sang, too.

Amazing grace

how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found

was blind but now I see.

Homelessness: Praying as a Community, Take 2

Last Sunday, my sabbath-y meditation was about praying as a community, and I used an excerpt from The Book of Common Prayer as a way to talk about communal prayer. I also mentioned the prayer book of the Benedictines as a good resource.

In the “first vespers” prayer service from the Benedictine Breviary last night, the litany stood out to me as something worth sharing here, with a brief discussion to follow.

Lord God… Shed forth your unending day upon us who watch for you and, with your Spirit as our companion, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, as we pray: Lord, we hope in you.

– Shelter all who lead and serve  your Church under your care, and give them grace to grow in holiness. Lord, we hope in you.

– Look with pity on the homeless, that they find a dwellingplace worthy of human dignity. Lord, we hope in you.

– Give increase to the fruits of the earth, that all people have the food they need each day. Lord, we hope in you.

– Help the sick look with faith on the cross of Christ and find strength in sharing his suffering. Lord, we hope in you.

– Grant that we may seek your face all our days and follow you with our whole heart. Lord, we hope in you.

– Let your loving kindness go with those on their last journey and admit them to heavenly mansions. Lord, we hope in you.

Something I’ve appreciated about using an ordered prayer book is the way it forces me to spend more time praying for others–your community, the world, people who have many more needs I do–and less time praying for myself. We’re often directed to pray for victims of war and violence, those dealing with anxiety and discord, those with physical and emotional needs, basically the “least of these.”

This particular litany mentions the homeless, and I’ve had a lot on my mind recently about homelessness. I appreciate that the litany leads us in prayer for the homeless not for their safety, not wealth, not food, not even just any old home, but a dwellingplace worthy of human dignity.

Most people I know don’t run into homeless people on the streets where they live. It sure doesn’t happen very often here in my little town. But we do have a growing homeless population, especially with the economic downturn over the last few years. Two hundred people in my town (and surrounding county, which is not a very big area) were affected by homelessness last year alone. That’s a lot of people. But we don’t see it because homelessness has a different “face” than we’re used to. It’s the guy who just lost his job, sleeping on friend’s couches, it’s the single mom who is paying weekly for a hotel room because she can’t afford the deposit on an apartment, it’s the 18-year-old kicked out by her mom because they can’t pay the rent, it’s the woman seeking emergency shelter from a home of domestic violence.

Remember my post about the two tunics? I mentioned the Hospitality House in that post, an organization here in our area that is working to provide both emergency and long-term care for those without homes. Our friend Stacey is the program director, and she spoke in church last week about their needs–with the upcoming World Equistrian Games, for instance, all the hotels are completely booked up, and hotels are places that homeless folks as well as the Hospitality House typically turn to for emergency housing. So the Hospitality House, in addition to continuing to run its normal means of assistance is in need of air mattresses and pillows and sheets. Is an air mattress a place “worthy of human dignity”? I’m not sure it is, but it’s something. It’s gotten me thinking.

An hour after Stacey shared in church, we were sitting and taking communion as a congregation, eating the ‘bread of life,’ drinking the ‘cup of our salvation.’ How could we sit there, accepting the grace of God, the free gift of our salvation, like we’re taught in Sunday school, and not be concerned about those among us with nowhere to sleep?

I–we–are concerned. I don’t know what it’s going to look like in our life to do something about it. But it’s going to look like something. And it’s going to look like something soon.