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Lent (or Fasting For Feasting)

Lent has always been an important time, but not a traditional one, in my life. I remember as a child, being told that, if I so desired, I could give something up to remind myself on a daily basis of the sacrifices of Christ; this is a generally held way that many followers of Christ celebrate the Lenten season. I would say that there is nothing wrong with that interpretation of the text. However, in all honesty, how does my sacrificing chocolate or coffee from my daily routine help anyone, unless I decide to give the monetary savings to someone in need? For that matter, why I would do any of this at all if not to help others, as Christ did? Each year since becoming independent, I have instead attempted to reorient myself toward a healthier lifestyle or one that is more helpful to others, while focusing on the teachings of Christ. In recent years, I have even attempted a different kind of challenge with Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago, a challenge that works toward helping others with my sacrifices.

The idea is that of a communal fast. No matter what the content of the sacrifice, those who commit to the fast attempt to reorient their focus toward God, as well as better understand their relationship to what is being sacrificed. The so-called compact attempts to remind those involved of the people around them who may be lacking in ways they personally are not. As such, we as a community focus on social justice and how our relationships affect the world and people around us in different ways, both good and bad.

The following text comes from this year's Lenten Compact announcement from the pastor of Kimball Ave Church, Bruce Ray (I call him "Dad") (reprinted with permission):

For the past several years, Kimball Avenue Church has embarked on a corporate fast during Lent.  We call it the Lenten Compact. Some of you have participated in the Compact in the past and we invite you to join us again this year.  "Fasting For Feasting: Sharing Your Food with the Hungry" is an opportunity for each of us to evaluate our food intake and food spending habits so we have a balanced relationship to food and so we can have something to share with those in need. The Compact begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13 [and runs through Easter Sunday]. There are some steps you and your household can take now in preparation for Lent so we can be obedient to God's call to feed those who are hungry.

Click the following link to see the details of this year's compact (PDF). You may also be interested in checking out the blog for daily devotionals throughout the Lenten season here.

Challenging idea, no?

To give you an idea of previous years, my wife and I joined the entirety of Kimball (and other sister churches around the US) last year in "40 Days For Shelter", a Lenten Compact focused on those that lack homes, security, and other forms of shelter in their daily lives. During the 40 days, we fasted from home improvement, which sounds funny (or lazy), but allowed us to refocus on those that have nothing or very little, including those that don't even have enough money to replace burned out light bulbs. Living in our first home, Lexi and I are always working to update and make our living situation more comfortable, but for those 40 days, we were left realizing that many don't have comfort or the ability to afford the comfort they desire (and deserve). In addition, all the money that would normally go toward home improvement during that time was to be donated in the end to any charitable organization that would either help people find housing or help secure those that would otherwise be homeless. Many words come to mind when discussing such a compact, but "traditional" is not one of them.

Again, the content of the sacrifice is not necessarily the point, but the reorientation and refocusing of the relationship to that content. This year, the focus of the compact is food. "Fasting For Feasting" is focused on sharing our food bounties with those who would otherwise or still will go hungry during Lent. Despite the abundance of food at the local grocery store, there are those in our backyards and around the world who go hungry every day; this is not justice. I would implore the reader to read through the compact for a more complete picture, but the specifics are as such (quoted from the aforelinked PDF of the compact): "Starting Wednesday, February 13, 2013 and continuing through Good Friday, March 29, 2013, all participants will voluntarily limit their weekly food budget to $63.35 per person per week. This budget represents the average weekly spending for those households living below the poverty line."

In addition, the compact suggests ways to participate aside from the imposed weekly food budget, some of which are, even more generally speaking, good advice. Being a foodie, the compact this year will be challenging, but not out of the question (see previous discussions on frugality). Lexi and I strive to shop sales and eat-in normally, as I am a cook and love to experiment in the kitchen. In addition, we don't like to spend all of our money out on food, when we can make things at home, better (sometimes) and cheaper (all the time).

Speaking of monetary conditions of the compact, the original planned weekly food budget was going to be based on the amount low income families get from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), around $33.35 per person, per week. Let's do the math on these numbers, so we can get an idea of how difficult these numbers are and would have been, respectively. At $63.35 per week, a person lives on approximately $9.05 per day. In other words, no Starbucks, no eating out, and no excessive spending or snacking (if you're into that type of thing). However, at $33.35, that number drops to $4.76 approximately. I do this math only to ask a question: how do people live on these amounts while still eating healthily? (They don't!) Or better put, how do we as a country and global community allow people to live on these amounts? Insane.

I also wanted to provide an idea moving forward, even if you do not plan to participate in the compact: try to live on $63.35 for a week. Or if nothing else, go total your food spending (that includes ALL food and beverage expenditures) and see how close you get to the approximately $279 you'd get during an average 31-day month. As an additional challenge, Lexi and I are attempting to start from scratch. We have a practically empty fridge and very little in the pantry. We will be purchasing only what is available in the budget from week to week and those things we currently have on hand, we will add into the overall value, as we use them. Finally, at the end of all this, we will be matching the amount we spend on food and giving it to a variety of food co-ops and pantries around our city. As we go through Lent, expect that much of my posting will be updates about this endeavor.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers, as we embark on this adventure into social justice. Please think about joining us, as we strive to help others in need.