No one has ever asked me to lead prayer, and that’s always been ok with me. I’m pretty private about my praying. But I’m in my fifth year at Carson-Newman, a Christian university, so I guess it was a matter of time.
A few weeks ago, Dave McNeely, who is a colleague of mine who happens to be married to my childhood best friend’s college girlfriend (I know, small world!), asked me to lead a lunchtime devotion for Social Justice Week. The theme was to be fasting for justice, based around Isiah chapter 58. My main takeaway was that we shouldn’t fast for show, or expect some immediate reward.
So I babbled about fasting into a voice recorder for about 30 minutes, read over my notes, and decided to make my devotion unconventional. I’m not a preacher, after all. Before working on it I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fill the 20 minute time slot. Soon after my babbling I realized I had an entire college course worth of ideas regarding fasting. Here is the devotion. For now you’ll have to imagine me reading it dramatically. Maybe soon I’ll perform it and post it as a video. And maybe I’ll make the course an open source kind of thing that anyone could have access to.
You can hold fast you can read fast I can see fast, faster than you, you can talk fast or fast talk or sometimes squawk. You can fast from food you can fast from fast food. Fasting helps you brood and I’m gonna talk about the opening fasting can provide, it let’s you get inside yourself in a way you normally don’t because we might hear it
but fail to consider it: you ARE WHAT YOU EAT.
This is a rich statement, potentially enriching because it starts with you and ends with eating and you know we have to eat, we’re NOT PLANTS, but what about that part in the middle, did you miss it? It’s what you are, who are you? You are a being you are being in this world and what you eat is a part of you and part of the world. Biologically you know, and it shows, that the plants and animals that God created get converted into useful bits and nutrients that convert to energy and they say if you only eat celery you’ll disappear because it has negative calories.
But biology isn’t all of it, there’s culture and colonialism that we’re part of and we rarely even partially acknowledge that settlers came and stole the land they thought was in nobody’s hands because they couldn’t see the three sisters as anything planned and we’ve inherited that cultural practice of seeing even land as something to be consumed.
Consumption expands the phrase you are what you eat, and since most of us are about to eat lunch, I have a hunch we should change the phrase of interest, you are what you eat to you are what you consume. I don’t want to do performance contradiction! Powers that be presume that we are nothing more than consumers and so what happens to our being, who are we and who can we be when we stop. Consuming.?
Openings, cracks, light gets in where none was before, we’re not going to the store we’re fasting from consumption and those faceless placeless economists who only knew us as consumers now don’t have a label for us and we get freedom to label and relabel ourselves.
I’ve got time to talk about two areas of fasting that I highly recommend, not not eating, I’m fragile and get a migraine every time I accidentally skip a meal, for real, so let’s talk about a major concern, MEDIA consumption.
What media do you devour? Binge? Or slurp? And how do you burp? To get that glut of words or images or sounds down further in your gut? Is it even digestible? Think of the doom scrolling and the algorithms that are controlling our fingers and clicks, taking our freedom, it gives me a tik and a crick in my neck when I forget to fast.
They hired experts in attention grabbing and that may be why we’re having such trouble looking away from the device, and it isn’t nice manners but maybe we’re all a little numb and used to being dumb by which I mean mute because there’s always. More. To read and watch. One. Click. Away.
And then there are the products, commodities and oddities I mean seriously you don’t even have to know if something exists and you search on Amazon and it’s like some inventor was waiting for you to think of the thing you needed and Amazon is ready to sell it to you and deliver in 2 days, nice and easy, but the ease has a cost, every win has a loss and in this case it’s a 12-hour work day with no time to pee for the workers in a faraway land and maybe soon Knoxville. Every dime we save comes with an “externalized” cost to fellow creatures and God’s most beautiful creation our home.
If we fast, the dehumanizing effect of a massive amount of media is now a weight lifted and maybe we can feel lighter and be more human and more humane. And when we stop we have time to heal and reveal God’s creation and plan. We have time to contemplate, maybe even Isaiah 58 today’s theme from which I’ve strayed or have I? Make the connections, don’t fast for show, fast from shows because we can’t consume and pray at the same time, we can’t consume and dive deep into our soul at the same time and we can’t know exactly how we’re being affected by consumerism and toxic media while we’re anesthetizing ourselves with the products that are the source of so much pain. But fast and your physical and spiritual health will rebound without a doubt because we were made by God to heal and all healing can be mutual.
Let us pray
God please help us refrain from consuming and show us how little we
need so we can find peace and wholeness by filling the holes in our
soul with your presence, grace, and love. May we use this grace and
your light to show us not only how we are participating in oppression
but also new ways we can pave paths toward sustainably sharing this
planet with all of creation from the microbes to the mega fauna, from
the minerals to the mountains. Through Christ, our Lord, amen.