Food for the Body, Food for the Soul


Food for the Body, Food for the Soul

by Rev. Peter Connolly

Presented at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green, KY, November 15, 2009.
Today we take time to honor the choices that many of you here have made to more closely align your eating habits with your ethical standards. When I asked you all, on the service on October 4, to reflect upon the impact made on you of the details revealed at the church service two weeks earlier when we talked about “Our Food— and How It Gets That Way,” I was surprised and gratified by the response.

Some folks started their statement with the words “I pledge” and I realized that, yes, we were pledging to something that day, we were taking a stand. Quite a few people were not content to claim just one change in their eating habits or ways of getting food— some folks chose to make two or even three changes in their lives.

All together, among us all present on that day, we committed to 95 changes in our choices around food. That is the same as the number of theses that Martin Luther sought fit to nail onto the door of the Church of All Saints in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. I thought of nailing your 95 pledges onto the door of this church, but I did not think I could get permission from the Design and Aesthetics Committee.

Still, this is, for us, the beginning of our own Reformation. We are reforming our eating habits in the name of a larger truth than personal pleasure and convenience. One step at a time. Instead of seeing those pledges on our church door, today we will hear them spoken aloud by members and friends of our congregation. Each of the nineteen folks who have volunteered today will speak aloud several of the pledges made by congregation members. Of course, as pledges were submitted anonymously (for the most part), our readers are representatives speaking these various proclamations.

(Oral reading of 95 pledges to reform food choices by 19 representatives)
Thank you, all of you.

We all have memories that anchor us in the blessings of home. You might remember that bicycle that Santa Claus promised you as a child, the one that was indeed under the tree on Christmas morning, the one that gave hope to the promise that Spring was around the corner. Or perhaps the smell of mountain air as you and your family got closer to your vacation destination. Or the smell of the freshly laundered sheets at your grandmother’s house as you lay down for a nap.

One of the smells that brings back the comfort of home life for me is the aroma of my mother’s roast beef wafting through the house when we returned from Sunday mass. There would be onions sliced across the top and their smell would blend in with the roast—and of course, the roast potatoes, best thing of all, basting in the delicious juices that dripped from the meat. We smacked our lips and did not have to be called twice for dinner.

This is the background to my reception of the news I gathered while researching the sermon I delivered here on September 20—on our food and “how it gets that way.” That news was disturbing. It shook me up. Much of it was new to me; some of it was not. But there was something dramatic in the way Time magazine presented its findings and something in the act of gathering and delivering the information shook me up, as well.

So now, I’m stuck, as are many of you. I could certainly relate to one of the first comments during that discussion period: “There’s a pot roast waiting for me at home and I’m looking forward to eating it.” But I was moved by the testimony of many of you here who, without bitterness or self-righteousness or grandiosity, told of your understanding of the meat-eating process.

One phrase came up several times—I don’t know if I’d ever heard it before, but I certainly never heard it in a way that moved me as much. Do you remember hearing folks talk about the fact that they had decided not to eat “fellow mammals”? That’s quite a phrase, isn’t it? For some reason, it has more resonance that phrases like “fellow creatures” or “fellow living things.”

“Fellow mammals.”

That’s cutting it close to the bone, isn’t it? Well, I’ve given up on the fast food restaurants, as many of the rest of you have, as we heard from this morning’s testimony. And what’s my next step going to be—giving up those roast beef dinners, already so far away in memory? And the roast pork loin that was so popular as a group dinner when I worked in the congregate living programs in Boston? And the baked ham dinners, one of which I enjoyed with one of you and your family in the open air on one of the last balmy evenings of the fall?

And the bacon? Don’t tell me I’ll be giving up the bacon. Maybe the pig is not really a fellow mammal. Maybe it’s some strange kind of flightless bird. I’ll have to look that up.

One of the other messages that touched me was from one of our members who owns a farm. He talked about each of his cows having a personality, a way of looking at him, a way of responding to a touch. He spoke about the strange mixture of feelings that arose when that cow was taken away to be slaughtered.

There is something barbaric, about it, isn’t there? Especially when one introduces the personal dimension. I feel myself moving in the direction of fellow mammals—as a victim as well as a participant in this food chain of life and death. I feel myself moving away from the practice of devouring the flesh of mammals.

Maybe there is a New Year’s Resolution in that. God forgive me, my mother would not know what to make of that. No, I don’t think I’ll be having roast tofu in any form any time soon.

Today’s service is in large part a tribute to the social actions that this church is embarking on on two fronts: walking to alleviate hunger and reforming our own habits of eating. In both cases, we are performing actions that extend beyond our sanctuary and have a ripple effect in our community.

So today, I do not offer you a sermon, but a homily, something shorter than a sermon and intended to provide edification on a practical matter. It comes from the Greek word homilia, which can mean to have a kind of communion with one another.

Food for the body, food for the soul. And what is all this about “soul” you may ask. “Soul” can mean a number of things. Some traditions hold that a “soul” is the spiritual part of a living being, something which is separable in existence from the body. Often, the “soul” is considered eternal. It is distinct from the body’s material matter. It is the spark that animates that matter.

Out of dull matter comes living being, eternal yet ephemeral. “Soul” is something real and something imagined, paradoxically. It is imagined into existence as a way of trying to explain something which seems inexplicable—the miracle of life. And we honor life by honoring the soul.

The word “soul” will have no meaning at all for some of you. For others, the definitions I’ve given will come close to matching your own conception. As Unitarian Universalists, we say that “The living tradition we share draws from many sources,” including: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”

Some will equate the word “soul” with the word “spirit”— “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the soul and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life.” Some will find that direct experience as a part of what constitutes the mystery of the soul.

I have a very specific image of what soul means. It includes two beliefs that I hold as facts: one is that each of us is uniquely individual. There is no one anywhere exactly like us, there is no one who ever was exactly us, there will never be anyone who is our replicate or duplicate.

The other belief is that each of us exists in common stock. Each of us is a representative of a shared history that will become a shared destiny: each of us exists as one entity in a stream called humanity. Each of us shares in that commonality and there is no escaping it.

These two truths exist in tandem and are inseparable. And the place that they meet, the place where each of us stands as a unique individual and each of us is aware of our shared humanity: that place is the soul.

It is as eternal as humanity is eternal and is as ephemeral as each of our lives is ephemeral. It is what we share and what we are. In making wiser choices in the food with which we nourish our bodies, we make wiser choices in the way our souls are fed as well.

Today we take our soul work one step farther than before in terms of slightly adjusting the culture in which we live. Nineteen folks here, at least, have chosen to stop patronizing fast food restaurants, those establishments, it can be argued, that feed the engine of the factory farm culture. I now ask all nineteen, including myself and as many others of you as are willing, to sign petitions I have drawn up that will be delivered to fifteen fast food restaurants here in town. Here is the text of the petitions:

(Read text of petition)
The petitions have been laid out on a table in the [Emerson] Room. I ask you all, if you can in good conscience, to sign these petitions addressed to the various franchises of the McDonald’s Corporation, Burger King Restaurants and Wendy’s Old-fashioned Hamburgers. I, with some of you in solidarity, I hope, will hand-deliver these to the managers of these restaurants in the coming week. Our aim is to raise awareness of this issue and so to foster change. I hope you will join me in this soul-building work.

Thanksgiving Day

My personal celebration of Thanksgiving Day has usually started by attending a church service at King’s Chapel in Boston. Some of our members accompanied the Youth Group in June on a trip to Boston where they visited that church, the first church to claim the Unitarian name in this country.

I love to start the morning in a worship service because it grounds me in the real significance of the day, consciously taking time to stop, be thoughtful about the bounty in my life and be thankful. Sometimes the bounty seems pretty meager, sometimes it overflows like a cornucopia. Sorting that out is part of the meaning of the day, too.

In that spirit, we are offering a Thanksgiving Day service this year at the church. As we already have a tradition of Thanksgiving potluck in late afternoon, the service will directly precede that at 4 PM. I know that many of you have your own dinner plans, but certainly all are invited.

As to the potluck itself, the sign-up sheet is still posted on the bulletin board in the Olympia Brown Room. Who will be our volunteer for mashed potatoes? Thank you again to Nancy Garrett who has graciously offered to prepare a turkey with gravy and dressing. Dinner is at 5 PM.

The Start-up Seminar

Last weekend was the Start-up Seminar here at the church, offered by the Rev. Lisa Presley, district executive of the Heartland District. We had a good showing on Friday evening and a very good turnout of those in church leadership positions on Saturday.

I found Lisa to be an excellent facilitator, offering us reassurance for much of our work and challenging us to look at things more directly if she felt we moved off target at all. We worked through a long list of church tasks and responsibilities, deciding separately and then together, which tasks belong most appropriately to the minister, which to lay leadership. It was a pretty smooth process with lots of laughter to ease the knots of tension that popped up periodically.

There are one or two areas still to work out. Results have been compiled: we have Brent Oglesbee to thank for that. They have been presented to the Board of Directors where they met with approval. They will be disseminated to the congregation at large.

The Church Auction

I have been struggling with what I have to offer for the church auction which is coming up this Saturday, the 21st. I have to share with you an exchange that occurred on Saturday at the Start-up Seminar. During a discussion about fund-raising, I heard a curious phrase: “We could pimp out Peter.”

My responding comment was this note: “Plan to teach the congregation the use of religious language.” Now that is a curious idea—”pimping out” the minister. After asking around a little as to what this might mean, I haven’t been able make much headway.

So this is my offer to the congregation for the auction: Please get together to decide what outrageous or mad or meaningful contribution I can make. If your joint contributions total $300—that’s just $10 a piece from 30 people– tell me what it is you’d like me to do as your “pimping out” service and I will be your servant.

Perhaps I can offer a class on “The Use of Religious Language in Unitarian Universalist Churches.” I can promise you this: it is unlikely that future years will see the “pimping out” of the minister, so this will be your last chance.

The CROP Walk

The T-shirts for our CROP Walkers are in. We have Lee Huddleston to thank for that. They will be available for sale after the service, during coffee hour. Please see Zee Evelsizer with your $10 donation and pick up your handsome evergreen shirt with Chris Conway’s design of our present church building on the back.

This section of the service is called “From the Sanctuary to the Streets” and I can’t tell you how pleased and proud I am that we can name such a section in our service. We have had, I think, 16 volunteers from this church or through this church who have volunteered to walk on next Sunday at 2 PM, but, more importantly, to raise funds to alleviate the problem of hunger here in Bowling Green as well as internationally.

I am volunteer #1 and I’m pleased to share the news with you that I, with your help, have raised $360 so far and so have reached my goal. I’ve been in town for 3 months now and don’t know too many people, so I’ve had to be creative about fundraising.

I met with Erin Howell last week; she is the marketing director of the South Central Bank where I have an account. Their decision was dependent on a Board meeting, but I got word Friday that they will make a corporate donation of $100. “To whom should I make out the check?” are sweet words, indeed.

Where do you bank? Who is the marketing director there? My auto insurance is with Allstate; I’ll be dropping in on their marketing director this week.

A note of caution about language: When I went to the drive-in branch of South Central Bank, I asked to meet with the manager there whom I’d met when I set up my account. When we sat down, in my typical transparent fashion, I started out “I’m here to solicit you.” Her eyes got big. What’s coming next?

So, you might want to consider something like “I’m here to solicit your donation.” Or leave the “solicit” out of it altogether. I’m helping with hunger relief here in town”— maybe that would be a good way to start.

It struck me that if I could raise $360 after living here for 3 months, if any of you have lived here 20 years, say, that means you can probably raise $27,000 or so. So, you have your work cut out for you.

Seriously, we’ve set a goal of $1300 in the hopes that each of our initial 13 volunteers could raise $100. It’s not a great amount, but it’s a reasonable expectation for our first year of social action in this field.

At this time, I’d like to ask each of our CROP Walkers who is in attendance today to stand. Please note carefully who these fine folks are so that at coffee hour you know who to look for to make your pledge. We are asking for donations in the $10 to $25 range. CROP Walkers may sit down.

Now, here’s a secret—it doesn’t really work that way. Volunteers have to actually ask potential donors: people like to be asked. Think of five folks you have some connection with or whom you’d like to and plan to speak to them at coffee hour.

To the congregation at large: if we have not yet asked you for a donation, we apologize: we have not been doing our job. If you have been asked, whether you have donated or not, please respond to the volunteer “I’ve already been asked” so that folks who cannot contribute for one reason for another do not have to explain themselves more than once.

Thank you all for making it possible for us to take the work of this church to the streets of Bowling Green.

Note. CROP Walk. “CROP” stands for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty. The CROP Walk is organized under the auspices of Church World Services—webmaster.


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