This year for Lent I was thinking about something a friend of mine, Karen Wilk, had been talking about in the lead up to Lent. She noted that often people give things up in order to focus more on God and try to drop something that may cause distraction to our lives. Karen suggested that a similar action could be done to draw closer to God by picking up a new discipline over Lent, to form something new in us. So with that in mind, I decided to give up eating fruit and I decided to add reading theology from a different cultural context than my own.
Why did I give up a food group that the Canadian food guide tells us that we need each day, you ask? Well, as part of my reflections on food justice I have decided to change some purchasing habits. Winter is a time when we in northern Alberta cannot produce fruit as readily and we may only have local access to fruit that has been stored or preserved. We can, of course, go down to the grocery store and find a full selection of fruit from around the world, but I have started to feel uneasy when picking up the bananas and grapes that are marked on the package as coming from Chile, New Zealand, Ecuador or wherever else half-way across the world.
My own convictions of eating more locally should line up across the spectrum of the food guide, so I decided I should not be buying fruit that is transported all around the world. Much of our population has moved into urban centres and may have somewhat forgotten our connection to the land. There are some really powerful theological principles of place that tie our connection to God and those around us with an essential link to creation, the physical place we live, the physical places where we grow our food. I really admire the traditional teachings of Indigenous peoples all over the world—from what I can see, they are some of the most connected people to the land and have a strong sense of community and connection to the Creator.
Our health can be directly related to the health of our place and if it is not, than there is a good chance our own benefit is at the peril of someone else’s place. When we buy fruit from other places world wide, we may not be realizing that there is a good chance that they are growing and exporting that fruit in poor conditions, for minimal wages and getting none of their own produce.
Buying and eating locally and seasonally, being conscious about where things come from and where our waste and pollution is going are all local aspects of considering food justice on a global level. Many of these principles were common nature to people living more directly on the land like Wendell Berry, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and John Muir and we would do well to not forget their writings and the contributions they have made to keep us from completely destroying the land that sustains us. Things like gardening, supporting local small scale farmers, Community Shared Agriculture (CSAs), and urban farmers markets can help us eat healthy food, maintain a connection to those that produce it, and teach our children about its importance.
My other discipline for Lent was to read the Gospel as interpreted by people from completely different contexts than my own. I have been studying about justice for the poor, liberation theology, and the spirituality of economics and have been reading authors who lived in Central America and the deep south of the USA, and who had to deal with extreme poverty, racism, and oppression. It has been eye-opening, saddening, and convicting for me. The book I decided to start with was the Cotton Patch Gospel, by Clarence Jordan. The author’s story of starting Koinonia Farm in the 1940’s, during the civil rights movement, is extremely inspiring and Jordan’s writings are full of lessons for us today. There is also a great short documentary called Briars in the Cotton Patch that is also quite good.
The other author that I have just picked up is Gustavo Gutierrez, who is a philosopher, theologian, and priest from Peru. I look forward to reading some of his writings and I pray it continues to form in me a heart of compassion and hands of service with others. I also pray for the conviction and conversion of hearts that can allow flourishing to happen all over the world, even in the darkest of situations. My prayer for you is that you will also explore what it means to love your neighbours, love those in need, and ask God for a heart of service.
What about how? How has Lent continued to impact you?