My Beautiful Struggle + [story]

When it's not microwave-safe

My grandmothers told great stories. Grandma Mary told me once that she was ready for a first date, hair curled and dress pressed, when her dad told her she needed to come help pick tomatoes before she left. She carefully wove her way through the garden, making sure not to get too dirty, leaning around the plants and touching the fruit only with the tips of her fingers. Then her own father nailed her with a tomato and laughed and laughed and laughed. (She never believed this was a spiteful move, more of a lesson about getting ready for a 7pm date at 2:00 in the afternoon).

Grandma 'Cella had to milk the family cow every day, without fail. "That cow your grandpa Bud wanted so bad - we got her home and she hated him. Every time he went near, she'd try to kick him." So on this tiny farm meant for providing for their immediate family, she had been locked into the daily milking duty. (And imagine it on this winter morning, but before the day of elaborate milking houses).

The reality in which my grandparents grew up and raised their kids contained an element of extremely hard work. If not farmers by trade, families just a few generations ago farmed for the provision of their home. The bounty of tomatoes thrown at my grandmother became the spaghetti sauce and vegetable soup and chili of the following winter.

***

We nicknamed my mother "Microwave Marj." She, along with my aunt and many of the women in her social circle, had figured out how to use this fantastic black machine to get dinner on the table in less than 10. Even better, since she was working more days of the week, she could teach us children to open the can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, put it in the tupperware plastic bowl and hit 1 - 3 - 0 to make lunch. If we were hungry by the time The Young and The Restless began, it was our own fault.

This generation of families pioneered new trails for how women contributed to society. More women earned college degrees and the majority of the women I knew growing up worked outside jobs, positions that required them to punch a clock and spend more time away from home. In order to make it all fit, something had to give. Willing corporations provided the milk, eggs, bread and spaghetti sauce that families didn't have time to tend to for themselves. And the more popular this notion became, the cheaper it was to live the lifestyle - the demand helped increase supply and decrease price. One could hardly raise and feed a cow for the annual cost of milk, let alone factor in the price on your time to milk it (and, if you were my grandpa Bud, the pain and suffering involved in that endeavor).

No blame lies in this - only observation. The years of hard work this particular generation watched their parents endure probably held little luster. Why spend so many days and hours of sweat and toil when a company will do that work for you? It made sense.

***

I just returned from a gathering where women - representative of people, really - acknowledged a spiritual hunger and couldn't quite put words to it. I spoke with longtime believers and those relatively new to the faith. Each conversation contained an element of longing, a dissatisfaction with status quo. A quick scan of the internets will yield you story after story of discontent, disagreement and diagnoses of "what the problem is." Just last week the headlining story in the christiansphere was Donald Miller and why he doesn't go to church any more (and why people agree or disagree with that approach).

The problem doesn't seem to be lack of products. Bibles are printed in abundance (I own no less than 15 if I had to guess. But I'm a nerd.) Churches offer class after class, bible study after bible study. Trips, conferences, seminars, podcasts - we're one of the most well-resourced generations to learn about scripture and our faith and yet we seem to be one of the most cynical and discontented.

***

When I survey my dining room table, it tends to be more reflective of my grandmother's as opposed to my own mother's, which is the way of the world, really. History repeats itself and each generation rebels against the one before in their own [passive-aggressive at times] way. As opposed to tossing my ear of corn in to the micro, wrapped in plastic, we steam it on the stove. Actually the micro tends to leaven my sourdough more than warm my meals. We buy eggs that were laid that morning and what I can't grow due to my poor greenthumb, I buy from farmers without a marketing campaign (thanks to my co-op).

I love to eat out - don't get me wrong, I firmly believe it's the "best part of going to a town bigger than your own." So when an opportunity presents itself to chow down on some highly-processed, chemically-laden versions of food, I jump every time. One time, after leaving such an occasion, my sister remarked, "my belly is full, but I'm still ravenous. It's like I ate something but my body is craving something with nutritional value." The quick-n-ready forms of making meals has zapped the plate of nourishment.

***

I have to wonder about the implications of a society that pre-packages entire diets, requiring nothing but peeling back a sheet of cellophane before zapping it with magical waves. Of course, a survey of our health conditions reflects just that - the high cholesterol, rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity. I think the sky-high occurrences of anxiety and depression also implicate our lifestyle, even if not our food. It's not working. Actually, it's making us sick.

And thus, for our spirituality. What if the fact that we didn't grow it, but instead picked it up off the shelf in pre-packaged (and well-marketed) form indicates that it might fill our bellies but leave us ravenous. And because we're still hungry, we move on to consume the next thing. And the next.

We've been put into a position where we need not work for our meals or our faith. It can be delivered. And, much of the time, we expect it to be. Just recently Relevant received backlash when an author said that "the pastor isn't feeding me" isn't a fair reason to leave a church. We've come to believe that it's some other person's job to grow, harvest, prepare and plate a meal for our immediate consumption that will fill us for the week. I would argue we're a few short steps away from offering it in intravenous form, saving our audience the pesky task of chewing.

So we grab a Bible study on the run, gorging ourselves on activity while starving ourselves of the nourishment of a long obedience in the same direction*. A quick McRun won't ruin our bodies forevermore, but a steady diet of ready-to-consume products won't sustain a lifetime of healthy growth.

***

This weekend we took communion after an emotionally-powerful moment of prayer and repentance. But as I approached the cup and bread, I felt it lacked something. While the moment mattered, it bore more resemblance to what Michael Pollan* would say "your grandparents wouldn't recognize as food." I could dine on this moment, but it was only a small part of the daily work involved with feeding my soul. This meal would only last until I boarded the plane.

Until our generation realizes that the work of God can't be microwaved, we'll continue to starve. Our bellies will be filled with whatever we pick up at the drive-thru, but it will lack the vitamins and minerals required for a fully-functioning faith. Our spiritual health will suffer from our SAD (Standard American Diet) of low-quality offerings.

We can't approach the newest book, study or Sunday morning teaching as the means for which we will see life change. The acts of growing, chopping, simmering and slow-roasting, I believe, are lost but important parts of the eating process. We've reduced food, and spirituality, to what we put into our mouths, forgetting how it got there. When we remove ourselves from the preparation phase of a meal and look only at the final result on the plate - setting aside how it started in raw form, the earth it was grown in, the work involved in making an entire meal - we prioritize a consumption-driven lifestyle, even in our faith.

*Affiliate link