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Two Meals, Not One

November 10, 2009

I was recently reminded of a somewhat strange practice introduced to me by a former colleague of mine named Chuck. On the five or so occasions in which Chuck and I shared lunch together outside of school, I was always shocked to hear him request a box for his food as soon as his meal was set down in front of him. On one occasion, I can remember another colleague asking Chuck why he was asking for a box before he had even taken a bite of his food.

Chuck’s response still stands out in my mind: “This is two meals, not one.”

The practice continues to strike me as strange, in part because I’ve never experienced anyone do this other than Chuck. But, more so than the act itself, I think I’m still struck the most by the completely foreign mentality it reflects.

As Americans, we live in a culture predicated on excess. To be an American is to possess “stuff” and to possess it well beyond our needs. Excess, we learn from a very early age, is one of the principal keys to happiness.

Not happy with your life? Just set about making more money; buy more stuff; drive a car with more horse power; build a home with more square footage.

But what does “excess” even mean in a consumer culture like ours that stands or falls on its ability to blur the line between basic human needs and the stuff we simply want? How do we know, in other words, how much is too much?

We tend to measure excess in terms of our own contentment. If we’re not satisfied, it’s not excess. If we’re not happy, we must not have too much. If we can eat it all, if we’re not full to the point of having to unbutton our pants at the table, it’s obviously one meal, not two!

Even within the church, determining what actually counts as “excess” has become an almost entirely subjective exercise. With a problematic theology proclaiming God as “the source of all our gifts” (yes, that’s from our doxology), it’s not hard to understand how easily we justify spending money on our wants as a church before the tangible needs of others.

But, let me ask, if God is truly “the source of all our gifts,” what are we to make of the unavoidable conclusion that God has decided to withhold even the most basic “gifts” of food and water from the thirty thousand people that die of hunger every day?

Perhaps we ought to seek an answer to this question before the next time we thank God for our luxury automobiles and McMansions…

1 Timothy 6.6-10: “…there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 12, 2009 2:57 pm

    This is great. Props to Chuck for his meal-splitting. Perhaps I too can reduce what I consume. I pray we can un-learn our excessive ways and learn that what we’ve been given is 2 meals… not 1. Maybe that second meal is for someone else.

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