Faith Column: Finding the courage to look around
There is a Christian song from the 1990s that describes Sunday’s Hebrew Scripture. Its chorus reads like the index to the official 101 Ways to Fix Manna Cookbook, kind of like the 101 Ways to Fix Chicken Cookbook my mother had. There are manna burgers, manna sundaes, and of course, manna casserole with a side of quail. The chorus ends with the words: “We wanna go back to Egypt,” where we had melons, beef, barley, and a lot of other foods to eat.
The recently escaped slaves in Exodus complain:
“We wish that the Lord had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death. (16:3)”
A friend and I were talking about our experiences. Somehow the topic turned what it was like to not have enough food to eat as a child, and what that did to us as adults. Both of us could point to memories of watching our parents struggle to put food on the table. She described her least favorite meal: ketchup sandwiches, which is exactly what it sounds like: Two pieces of bread with ketchup (and maybe) mustard smeared on them. My family came up a notch. It was tomatoes and mayonnaise—a BLT without the B or the L.
In this country alone, five million children live in food insecure homes. Around the world that number approaches two or even three billion people. That’s between a quarter and a third of the world’s population. A food insecure household is defined as household in which the family has no more than two days’ supply of food or is uncertain where their next meal is coming from.
If you have ever been part of that population—if you have ever prayed “Lord, give us this day our daily bread,” and really meant it—then it leaves scars on your soul. Maybe it is a persistent fear of it happening again, maybe it is a tendency to hoard food, maybe you make priorities on spending to preference food, maybe you are afraid to cook for fear of ruining the precious food, or maybe you overspend on fancy meals. Maybe you even stay in an abusive relationship because you know there will be food on the table.
The responses vary, but it does not take people much imagination to understand what the recently escaped Hebrew slaves were thinking. Slavery with the certainty of dinner—horrible abuse was a fair exchange for always knowing where your next meal was coming from. Going back meant they wouldn’t starve.
It is not just food that can drive us to make these kinds of decisions. Security, shelter, medical care, and the other real necessities of life can all make us decide to do things that seem counterproductive. We choose to retreat into safe patterns of living. We build fences around our yards and around our country. We choose to believe lies spoken forcefully if they promise security or better access to medical care. We stay with someone who is hitting or verbally abusing us, because we have a roof over our head, or a position in society.
Yes, we understand the ex-slaves all too well. We too fear to leave our Egypt. Once we finally work up the courage to leave, we must find the courage day after day to stay in the wilderness. It isn’t easy. Humans don’t like uncertainty, and will do almost anything, put up with almost anything if we can just be certain.
However, if we can find the courage to look around, we will find God’s provision scattered all around is in the manna scattered on the ground, even if we must ask, “What is it?” and even if we need a new cookbook to fix this strange and new food.
Rev. Deana Armstrong is the pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Craig, Colorado.
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