Monday, August 27, 2012

What would Jesus eat?

This past week the news broke that, for the seventh year in a row, the state of Mississippi boasts the highest obesity rate in the nation.

As a pastor, I want to say loud and clear: this is a bad thing. We need to eat better.

I know, I know. If you know me, your first thought was probably: 'easy for you to say, Nance. You weigh like 50 lbs'. It's true, I fall far, far short of the statistical standard for obesity. But that's on account of my zesty, youthful metabolism. My weight doesn't necessarily mean I eat better than everyone else. We're all in this together. One day my metabolism won't be so youthful.

And maybe this was your second thought: but why should Christians care about what they eat?
That's not as obvious as you might think--'thou shalt eat healthy' isn't exactly one of the Ten Commandments. And we need to be careful here: the Bible is not a weight loss plan. Some Christians take the story of Daniel and his companions' refusal to eat the Babylonian meat and wine, opting instead for vegetables (Dan 1:8-16), as a special Bible-diet--apparently Rick Warren is trying his hand at this right now--but I think that's a pretty astonishing misapplication of the scripture. The Bible isn't going to offer us a step-by-step guide to every decision in life the way some people would like.
Still, I do think eating healthy is important, and there are a few reasons that I can see why Christians might want to take this seriously.

  • The Bible takes for granted that you will take care of your body (Eph 5:29).
  • Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). This idea can be used in some pretty odd ways--weight-lifting nuts will talk about 'keeping the temple beautiful', tattoos are rejected as vandalism, and whatever else--but still, I think this can at very least mean that we should care for our temple's health.
  • As a Christian, you are not your own; you are Christ's and you are called to be about his work. Eating tasty junk food is a me-decision. It says 'this tastes good, and I want it. And I don't even care about the consequences'. Christians don't get to make me-decisions. Everything is a kingdom decision. Maybe, from time to time, seeking the kingdom of God will mean delighting in the cocoa bean that God created. Most of the time, it probably won't. It will mean putting your own desires to death, taking of the cross, and following Jesus down a hard road. When we squander our resources and bodies on junk, we're disregarding King who has laid claim to our lives.
  • Bodies matter. A lot of us have been taught to think of our flesh and bones as a prison, an island we've been marooned on, and we look to the future, to heaven, where our souls can finally be rid of these bodies. That's not a Christian view of bodies. As we confess in the Apostles' Creed, "we look for the resurrection of the body." Our bodies and our appetites aren't going anywhere: after his Resurrection, Jesus still ate (Luke 24:42-43; it was broiled fish, for those of you really wondering 'what would Jesus eat?'), and we are looking forward to a heavenly banquet, after all! (Matt 8:11, Luke 14:15) We're not going to just get rid of bodies and everything that goes with them after death. God created bodies; they're good and they matter. We need to treat them accordingly.
  • Food matters too. Food, as a professor at seminary liked to say, is God's love made delectable. The food we eat is a gift of grace. If that's true, then, as an interesting article from Christianity Today suggests, "Food that causes our bodies harm misuses and ultimately abuses his gift of grace."
Okay, fine. Maybe my faith has something to do with a healthy diet. So what do we do about that?

There are a lot of issues that play into a problem like obesity, but it's safe to say that how we eat is one of them--a big one.
A lot of the eating tips you always hear are worth repeating: pay attention to the amount of red meat in our diet; cook at home more and eat out less; be intentional about your fruits and veggies.... and veggies. There are lots of really simple changes people can make too, like getting a breakfast cereal made of whole grains instead of marshmallows, or switching from whole milk to 1% (or 2%--baby steps are good!). Exercise is absolutely essential also, of course, but we're talking about food.
Rather than repeat all this sort of stuff that you've heard a hundred times before, I'll pass on a helpful new resource.  The EWG recently produced a guide to getting 'good food on a tight budget', and it's all online here. Their aim is to help people on a $5-6 a day food budget find things that are nutrient rich, free of harmful pesticides, and relatively (very relatively) inexpensive. The price estimates on here don't always seem accurate, but the tips and recommendations are invaluable.
Check it out. Explore the site! It's full of useful information that can help all of us lead a healthier, more Christian, lifestyle.

Do you think Christians need to take care of their bodies and pay attention to what they eat? Why?
What are some ways that you've been able to make your own eating more nutritious?

[For a totally different angle on the question 'what would Jesus eat?', see this older post, "Eating Mercifully." Also, United Methodists might be surprised to learn that health and wellness were an important part of John Wesley's ministry. You can read more about that here.]

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