Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Friendly Beasts

I have been eating meat during Advent. 

If I ate a typical American diet, that might not be such a big deal. But I don’t, and it is. 

I wrote my first essay on Eating Vegetarian in fifth grade. Among my motivations: a) trying to rationalize with my classmates who teased me for bringing soup, yogurt, hummus on a pita and an apple for lunch almost every day while they were packed with ‘Lunchables’ or sent to school with a package of cookie dough or cream cheese, and b) hoping that in my rational and strategic demonstration of the personal and social health benefits of various degrees of vegetarianism, my classmates would join my enthusiasm and eat beans instead of pepperoni. It might be a surprise to hear that I didn’t convert anyone.

I have read lots (and write lots) on eating meat, not eating meat, ethical meat eating, high protein diets, etc. I am not about to write you a dissertation on sane eating. But I will share a few thoughts on eating meat during Advent.

First, let me come clean: I am not ‘A Vegetarian,’ and haven’t been for some time. I do happen to be married to ‘A Vegetarian’ which is kind of nice, seeing that I rarely eat meat (there were a few years I ate it about once a week, now it is closer to once every month or so.) “Meat” here means meat. Fish, chicken, beef, etc. If it is the flesh of an animal, it is meat. It is also nice to be married to A Vegetarian because I am not confident with my meat-preparation skills. However, I did happen to make a turkey for Thanksgiving and it happened to be the best-tasting turkey I have ever tasted (it just so happens).

I am not ‘A Vegetarian,’ but tend to eat vegetarian. One benefit of eating vegetarian is that it is really easy to lose weight! Unfortunately, if you are a person like me, with a relatively high metabolism, who doesn’t eat a lot of sweets (or a lot of anything, in general), you may find yourself losing lots of weight without wanting to. And then, once underweight, feel so weak it is hard to walk up the stairs. At that point, you might find yourself craving steak in your sleep.

Everyone needs a certain amount of protein, and really, despite the trendiness of eating protein bars and shakes, there is rarely any reason to eat more than a normal amount of protein. If you’re trying to build muscle in the beginning of training for something you’re not used to doing, then you might need it. If you’re really overweight and making your body use its fat for fuel (which is dangerous, but less dangerous than obesity), then you might need it. If you’re underweight (which can be more dangerous than even obesity), then you definitely need it – to gain muscle mass. Anyhow, it’s probably best to consume protein in the form of God-given whole grains (yes, real, actual whole grains in the form of grains!), beans, eggs, dairy, nuts, and lean meat before reverting to a totally unnecessary Man-made processed and packaged snack.

Well in our diet we’ve been running very short on protein. I’ve doubled the protein we eat, but I am unable to build muscle mass on it. So I’m eating meat, too.

I keep thinking about the old French Christmas carol, “The Friendly Beasts.” In the song, the animals of the stable each give something to the baby Jesus. The donkey carried his mother, the cow gives him his manger, the sheep gives him wool to keep him warm, and the dove sings him to sleep. I have eaten meat about twice a week during Advent. And I think about the Friendly Beasts, and about our friendly beasts, the dogs that share our lives with us, whose personalities sometimes seem so human… I think about how each animal has something more to offer than just his meat, just like each person is worth so much more than simply what’s in his bank account. Okay, the song is often sung by little kids, and seems a little cutesy. But I am being completely sincere and am not wearing a little donkey tail while I sing it. I’m moved by this carol, which reminds us that God is with us and that even the animals know what reverence is. So, we can afford  to be a little reverent, too.

I am eternally grateful for the leftover beef I just ate for lunch, and for about the fifth time I have prayed for this animal: wishing health and happiness for the cattle whose body is helping my body to heal and grow. I am grateful for the rice and lentils we’ll eat tonight, but I can’t help but feel humbled and honored when I eat meat during this Advent season.


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Advent Compost

In this season of Advent, we’re focusing on letting go; so in my life I’m trying (emphasis on trying) to live each day as though it is an apple going in to sauce. One day at a time, I’m cutting off the bruised parts, picking out the tough cores and processing out the seeds and peels. In my house, none of these things go to waste because they are food for the worms out back in the compost pile.

Since I believe that God is supposed to be our light, that means I believe that I am not the light. I believe Advent is a time of preparation, and that if Jesus was born in a stable, I certainly don’t need to clean up for him to find my home acceptable. If Jesus is the light, then we don’t have to prepare the runway – he’ll find us, and he’ll bring the party.

So during Advent, I’m cutting out the stuff I don’t want to preserve. If I don’t want to keep it on my shelf to eat later on, then I’m giving it to the Great Composter, who with light will turn those rotten parts into soil. From soil we are made, and to soil we return.

I’m not saying I’m rejecting part of myself. I’m saying I’m choosing to keep what I want to preserve: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. And the hopelessness, the hatred, the anger, and the fear – those bitter tastes don’t need to get put in the sauce. I don’t want to keep revisiting the negatives all winter long.

So that’s why it goes in the compost – to await the light of Christ. We let go of it and over time, God’s light will turn it into something a little more useful.

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Feeling a Little Better Food

Well, last post I mentioned that I was having some trouble with my appetite due to loads of stress and emotional pain. Well now I’m feeling a little better.

What I’ve been doing is changing nothing in my daily routine except making sure to eat SOMETHING. Anything. Even if it is a slice of bread with cream cheese on it (which I have been eating for ‘lunch’ every day lately).

Did you know when your blood sugar goes way down, it can make you cranky? Yep. When my blood sugar gets down because I haven’t been eating enough, my capacity to handle stress and the pastoral care needs of my parishioners becomes less and less. My head starts to hurt, I start to get weak, I get ‘snappy’ with the dogs (or my husband).

Does that ever happen to you? If it does, you probably know: at that moment, the most important thing is to break the cycle. And the cycle goes both ways because eating too much or not eating enough both affect our mood negatively. But the cycle is this: stress = not eating regularly = irregular moods = stress.

To break the cycle, I am just making myself eat something. And it is helping. Little by little, it is helping to keep mood swings at bay, which helps decrease the stress. It is helping.

Did you know the same thing can happen in our prayer life? A very wise, spiritually mature woman told me, “Sometimes you can’t pray. It just doesn’t come naturally and that’s okay. God doesn’t need you to pray – especially if it isn’t authentic.”

We can lose our appetite for food, AND for prayer when we have enough pain in our lives. And that’s okay. For awhile, we don’t have to eat if we don’t feel like it. For awhile, we don’t have to pray if we don’t feel like it. But sooner or later, like the feeling I get when my blood sugar is so low, I know I HAVE to eat something. Anything … I get the feeling like I have to give some of the weight I’m carrying around with me to God. I need God to hold something for me. Anything. And when I say, “Oh my God, I can’t do anything else. I’m leaving it to you.” That is an authentic prayer. And it leaves me feeling a little better, and ready for a snack.



Bad Day Food

I’ve been having a lot of bad days lately. So it’s been on my mind.

One of the churches I am a pastor of was burned down by arsonists in October of 2009. They are a small community church in a rural area and due to their age and economic situation, their proposals to build a new church building were denied by our governing body. This weekend, they voted to discontinue as a congregation, effective Dec. 31st. That makes their last Sunday service Christmas morning.

I don’t want to use this blog to air my work issues. But I have taken a little break, and this is why. I am having bad day after bad day and have been for a really long time and so I want to open it up this question to you:

What do you eat when you have a bad day?

Some people eat comfort food when they have a bad day. Some people restrict what they eat when they have a bad day, or gorge themselves on a few beloved treats. Some people drink a lot of alcohol or eat only chocolate…

When I have a bad day, one of my favorite things to eat is a big bowl of pasta (rigatoni) with sweet, spicy tomato sauce, eggplant, basil and melty fresh mozzarella. But when I have a string of bad days, months, even, when the good parts seem few and far between, I lose my appetite entirely.

You know, what we eat when we feel bad says a lot about us. I think generally, I really like my life and want to give myself healthy things to eat. When I have a bad day, a nice, well-rounded pasta dish calms me down, and gives me energy the next morning to face the day! But when I have a lot of bad days, I don’t finish my breakfast. It isn’t because I am trying to control my body, or trying to lose weight. I just don’t feel like eating. I don’t feel like anything. The uneaten toast on my plate screams loud and clear: I am in so much pain, I’m think it would be easier to be apathetic than to actually care about what is happening. (Even though I do care. And am really hungry.)

The thing is, I am not suggesting in any way that my many bad days is out-of-the-ordinary. I KNOW plenty of you have been through this. I work with enough people to know that lots of folks out there are having lots of bad days and it shows up in our eating habits. Sometimes, the bad day shows up in our eating habits before we know it’s going on.

I want to invite you to share what you eat when you have a bad day, and what you think it says about you. Check back in in the next few days to hear more about Bad Day Food.