Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lent and Fasting, Part Deux

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about fasting as a Lenten practice, and the fast begun by faith leaders and Congress members out of concern for the looming budget cuts. I've also been thinking a lot about my call to ministry, and what exactly I'm supposed to do with my life. I know what I should do morally, but vocationally, not so much.

Well, today a friend of mine posted this video on Facebook:

Yet again, my thoughts focused on suffering Americans and my feelings of powerlessness to help others. As I wandered the official website,, I found this article on how to join the fast. It explains that there are many ways to fast, and that those who participate can choose the method that works well for them.

Since I have a very high metabolism I didn't think that I would function well with low blood sugar. I had no idea that fasting can also be done by forgoing solid food and only drinking for one day, or that one can fast just one meal a day, or that one can use the method of Ramadan, in which one eats a large meal after sundown. Imagine that! Even though I have been a Methodist for 16 years, I had no idea that there are options for fasting.

Realizing that needy Americans and our immoral budget proposals have been on my mind (and in my status updates) for most of the last month, I decided to take the plunge. I'm going to fast from solid food one day a week until the new budget goes into effect. Perhaps I can't lead a march on Washington, but I can do this. So I will.

I may not know what I'm doing with my life for the next five years, and I may not be sure what I will do with my life in the long term either. But I know what to do with my life right now: I'm going to witness to God's concern for the poor.

God cares that all God's children have what they need.

Probably the most oft-quoted verse from the book of Amos is the part about "let justice roll like a mighty stream." The context of this verse, Amos 5:18-24, is an oracle of destruction delivered to the rich in Israel during the 9th c. BCE. It's pretty scary to read:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
   Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
   as if someone fled from a lion,
   and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
   and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
   and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
   I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
   I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
   I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

Amos and other prophets whose oracles ended up in the Hebrew Bible said some fearsome things about what will happen when God's judgment will finally come down on sinners.

The point for Christians today is that God will not put up with oppression of the poor. In 9th c. Israel, the rich had enslaved their own countrymen (the poor), and priests had blessed all their efforts to build up their own wealth and land. God sent Amos to prophecy because no one was listening to God. Someone had to tell slave owners, corrupt rulers, and capitulating priests what was going to happen. God was going to judge them for letting the poor go hungry and keeping all the food and land for themselves.

Those who take the Bible seriously must also take seriously God's concern for the poor. Today Christians have different ways of thinking about God's judgment than the ancient prophets, but the spiritual meaning is clear. God cares for all God's children. And those who love God should care too.

I'm showing I care. I'm fasting to witness to God's care for the poor, and God's objection to policies that further deprive those who are already hanging by a thread.


UPDATE 4/19:
After speaking with some friends at Bible study and my alma mater, I realized I needed to clarify some things. First, John challenged me to differentiate among the many budget bills in Congress. Although the 2011 budget took effect on 4/14, Congressman Ryan's 2012 budget drastically cuts health care for seniors in order to continue Bush-era tax cuts. John kindly reminded me that this will not come to a vote until October.

My good friend Anthony is a veteran faster. He asked me about the particulars of my plan, and gave me some good books to read. I plan to take them out of the seminary library and share my favorite parts with you. He also suggested that I try my weekly fast for one month, and then discern whether I should keep fasting until the vote on the 2012 budget. I will take his suggestion and update in a month!

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