Response by Charlie Raynal to Shannon Jung, “God’s Diet and the Retraining of Desire.”
Shannon Jung argues persuasively that food for our bodies and food for the poor are both gifts of God and moral claims that Jesus entrusts to us. We need, desire, have, and love food, with heart and soul, mind and body. In tragic comparison to our riches and fullness, millions of children and especially their mothers are dying every day from the bodily torture of malnourishment. Beyond our need and desire, far deeper than our love and enjoyment for food, increasing numbers of the world’s poorest people live on the edge of death by starvation. Shannon names this human tragedy and asks us to incorporate the hunger of the poorest of the poor into the energy we give to our own desire and love for food. He asks us to embrace a discipline of our desires and a practical, hopeful commitment in a shared community of compassion for the hungry.
Shannon challenges us by espousing compassion for the people who hunger and honest commitment to personal and communal action. He grounds his moral argument for compassionate action in his reflection on the nature of God and he invites us, as well-fed, sometimes way over-indulged people, to make a positive difference for starving people. From his book, Sharing Practices for Enjoyment1, Shannon chooses two Christian practices, fasting and Holy Communion, which invite us to delight in and share solidarity with hungry people. See Kim Long’s @ This Point response on the praise, joyful communion, and delight in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. [Check out this characterization of Kim’s response.] I offer a comment on fasting and then suggest a practical means of effective advocacy for the hungry.
To be honest, I have never regularly fasted from food as a Christian discipline. Shannon suggests beginning with two meals over an eighteen-hour period. He says through fasting we should find encouragement to engage in self-surrendering, in this specific bodily way, to a period of abstinence from food for reflection and prayers, in order to live more in accord with our faith in the sufficient grace of Jesus Christ and to confess our “weak complicity” in all the networks of despair that cause the suffering of the hungry. Shannon advises us to join with others for mutual support and encouragement in the discipline of abstinence, deep reflection, and prayer. Obviously his recommendation requires a profound personal, even physical commitment, which is different from and contrary to most of our ordinary life-style choices. The benefits of fasting will be in discovering more about our dependence, what is enough, and tasting by choice for a time what many poor people are forced to experience without their choice every day. I am considering how and when I am to respond to Shannon’s challenge of practicing periods of fasting.
I want to ask for partnership in a commitment I have made. More than twenty years ago I joined Bread for the World, a Christian citizens’ movement in the United States whose members seek justice for hungry people by lobbying the nation’s decision makers. Bread for the World selects one emphasis each year, alternating between legislation for domestic and world-wide hunger relief. Individual members study the issue and write or call their Representatives in the U.S. Congress and their Senators, advocating for their informed food policy positions. Last year, Bread for the World chose the five-year renewal of the U.S. Farm Bill for concentration. Bread for the World advocates were not able to persuade Congress to reform substantially allocation of large agri-business subsidies for farm commodities like corn, ethanol, and cotton, in favor of fairer trade with poor farmers in the two-thirds world and to give more assistance for rural communities and family farms in the United States. Large corporate agri-business lobbyists continue to have overweening power in swaying farm commodity policies. However Bread for the Word did succeed in having Congress expand the domestic Food Stamp program and other community-based nutrition programs, as well as including more environmentally sound farming practices in the new Farm Bill. The 2008 emphasis of Bread for the World urges congressional Representatives and Senators to support United States commitments, sponsored by President George W. Bush and passed by Congress, to fund fully aid for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and hunger relief in Sub-Saharan Africa, where thousands of people are dying every day from starvation. Bread for the World encourages Christians to join together in churches to collect an annual offering of letters written to representatives and senators in Washington. It also invites churches to become covenant partners in advocacy for the hungry. For information go log on to www.bread.org. Even a small action on behalf of the hungry by the U.S. government can do more for the poor than many individuals and churches on their own. The practice of Christian citizenship in writing personal letters to Congress saves human lives.
Shannon’s appeal to us for “the retraining of desire” that brings us deeper pleasure and offers more effective solidarity with the poor of the earth gives us practical means to serve Jesus Christ in seeing and serving the hungering children of God. To act in accord with the prayer Jesus taught us, “Give us this day our daily bread,” would be to find part of the answer to our petition in our own personal commitments.
1 Jung, Shannon. Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment. (Minneapolis: Fortress
1. Have you ever fasted as a spiritual discipline? What was that experience like? Did you fast by yourself or was it done in community? How can fasting attune us to loving God and loving neighbor?
2. Charles Raynal details the work of Bread for the World. Have you been involved in any of their work or have you supported another organization that speaks on behalf of the hungry both here and abroad? (See the bibliography for other such organizations.) Does your church support any particular hunger organizations?