Here’s the deal: about 4,000 people started fasting to protest HR 1 (the current budget proposal) and its draconian cuts to social welfare programs for some of the poorest members of our society. When I picked up the story on my Twitter feed on Saturday and read Mark Bittman’s opinion piece, I started thinking about how a simple individual act can often have a significant social effect. Tunisia comes immediately to mind. There is immense potential energy in the symbolic.
But we’re talking about food here. If you know me, you know how I love my food. Some might even call it an obsession. Others may say I’m a food snob. (I would agree with one of the two). I have photographic devotions to Denette’s creations (apple pancakes, leek lasagna, handmade bread) all over Facebook; I’ve built entire gardens to satisfy my desire for the freshest, organicist produce; I stand in judgment of people in line at Safeway with carts full of frozen Hot Pockets and Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs “fortified with iron.” I’ve also been working for years to gain weight, trying to put some muscle on these skinny bones. So a fast would be a big deal for me.
Once I discovered that Jim Wallis was one of the religious leaders who had suggested (and is partaking in) the fast, however, I knew I would join him. I have a deep and abiding respect for Jim. He has come to be one of the individuals I regard as a true ethical leader in both word and deed. Although I don’t share his religion, I do share many of his ethical convictions—among them his commitment to the poor and the vulnerable.
Below is Jim’s list of reasons for fasting, in their entirety:
- Because I am an evangelical Christian and the root of the word “evangelical” is found in the opening statement of Jesus in Luke 4, where Christ says he has come to bring “good news (the ‘evangel’) to the poor.” So to be an evangelical Christian is to try and bring good news to poor people.
- Because some very bad news is happening to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Washington’s battle over the budget — both those at home and around the world.
- Because budgets are moral documents — they reveal our priorities, who and what is important, and who and what are not. To address excessive deficits is also a moral issue — preventing our children and grandchildren from having crushing debt. But how you reduce a deficit is also a moral issue. We should reduce the deficit, but not at the expense of our poorest people.
- Because it is simply wrong — morally and religiously — to focus our budget cuts on the people who are already hurting, and make them hurt more. Programs that are effectively reducing poverty should not be cut. They should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.
- Because there is a selective cruelty going on in this budget debate. Instead of focusing on where the real money is, some budget cutters are actually targeting vital and effective programs that support and protect poor people and some initiatives that are literally saving lives. It was not spending on poor people that created this deficit, and these drastic cuts in programs that help poor people will do little to get us out of our deficit.
- Because to really reduce the deficit, we should put everything on the table, especially the biggest public outlays in military spending, corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, long term health-care costs etc. — all of which could actually reduce the deficit, when much smaller poverty programs will not. Last night, 60 Minutes exposed $60 billion lost in revenue to corporate tax havens in Switzerland — enough to protect many programs for the poor.
- Because there is a difference between deficit hawks – some of whom I know, respect, and work with on restoring fiscal health — and deficit hypocrites, who won’t go to where the real money is, but go instead to the poor, who have little political clout in Washington to defend themselves, and are an easy targets to score political points with a political base. We do not fast today against fiscal responsibility, but against political hypocrisy.
- Because those of us who are Christians are bound by Jesus’ command to protect the least of these. So people of faith ask, “What Would Jesus Cut?” The extreme budget cuts proposed to critical programs that save the lives, dignity, and future of poor and vulnerable people have crossed a moral line. Politicians have only just begun to hear from the many church leaders who are ready to wage the good fight over these bad decisions. This crisis is bringing us together. Those with money and armies of lobbyists have their interests protected. They won’t bear the burden of reducing the deficit. But the work to protect the poor is a Christian vocation and obligation, and we will be faithful to it.
- Because I am blessed to be in the company of dear brothers and sisters, Tony Hall, David Beckmann, Ritu Sharma, the 38 organizations that have joined this fast coalition, and the growing movement of people of faith and conscience who together intend to form a circle of protection around vital poverty-fighting programs. Every Christian, regardless of their political affiliation, is called to take up the cause of the poor and the needy because that is God’s heart, and we will be calling every legislator who says they are a Christian or person of conscience to listen to God’s heart as they make their decisions.
- Because, ultimately, this is a fast before God, to whom we turn in prayer and hope to change hearts — our hearts, the heart of our lawmakers, the heart of the nation. We will pray and fast, each of us in our own ways, for mercy, compassion, wisdom, strength, and courage as we make the critical budget choices about who and what are most important. A line has been crossed in this budget debate; extreme budget cuts are now being proposed and this fast is a spiritual escalation to bring these critical moral choices to the attention of the nation, and to seek God’s help in doing so. “Is not this the fast that I choose,” says the prophet Isaiah, “to loose bonds of injustice … to let the oppressed go free?
Why did I suddenly decide to join? I’m not sure, exactly. There are multiple contributing factors, many of them listed above. But the primary reason is because I’ve gone to bed hungry before. And because I know that going to bed hungry is not only physically taxing but emotionally draining and psychologically demoralizing. In this fine country no one should go to bed hungry. Ever. It’s an issue of misplaced priorities and misappropriated funds.
Here’s my addendum to Jim’s list:
- Because the bootstrap philosophy is really the bootstrap fallacy (maybe it once was true, now, not so much)
- Because I can’t imagine having to put Logan or Kaia to bed hungry (and I don’t want anyone else to have to experience that, either)
- Because 400 people in this country hold more than 50% of the wealth (trickle-down my big hairy…)
- Because for some reason people don’t laugh hysterically at the concept of rational self-interest (I do)
- Because healthcare in the US costs more as a percentage of GDP than in any other industrialized nation, yet we have worse outcomes and cover fewer people (yeah, I got nothing for this)
- Because the average unemployed worker has been looking for a job for 39 weeks—a new record (but not one to be proud of)
- Because at the same time companies are posting record profits (hooray!)
- Because the terms healthcare and profit are incompatible (some things are not meant to be market-driven)
I started fasting at 8:30PM on Sunday after having this incredible meal, lovingly prepared by my better half.
I will fast at least until Wednesday. If you want to join me, feel free! At least I will have someone to commiserate with me as I think longingly about the meal above. Update: Denette is my first fasting partner!
You know the saying: if you want to know how someone feels, walk a mile in their shoes—on an empty stomach.