Ask and you shall receive

by Jordan Green

I have sometimes been tempted to sissy out on Food Not Bombs.

I suffer from a hang-up that has been a hallmark of my line of work since about 1900 when journalism acquired the dubious status of “responsible profession” – which is the notion that a practitioner should never get involved in something they might have to write about, particularly if it’s even a little controversial.

Outside of work, sleep, church and a fledgling social life, Food Not Bombs is the only activity that gets any of my energy and time. It’s not exactly like serving on a parent-teacher association or a vestry. I’ll just give three examples of why volunteering with Food Not Bombs falls outside of the pale of acceptable civic activity.

Food Not Bombs made a “terrorist watch list” presented by a senior resident FBI agent to a University of Texas law school class in the spring of 2006. And as I’ve reported in these pages, Greensboro Food Not Bombs defied an order by UNCG police to stop serving food without a proper permit at an assembly earlier this year. Then there’s the matter of Food Not Bombs sometimes serving food that has been retrieved from Dumpsters. I quickly run out of things to say in an argument about this because of my limited store of knowledge about the science of culinary hygiene, but I feel confident that the food comes either in sealed packages or is washed and cooked before we serve it.

Once you get past the gross-out factor, Dumpster-diving brings up a host of philosophical issues that go far beyond our humble efforts at Greensboro Food Not Bombs. Start pulling that thread and you’re going to have to think about the global food production system, the inherent inequality of an economic arrangement that leaves some people well fed and others hungry, our society’s obsession with cosmetic beauty and our tendency to structure our identities around our habits of consumption. For more on this, I refer you to my friend Liz Seymour, whose blog explores these questions with unequaled eloquence.

Mine is a song of praise for God’s blessing on our local Food Not Bombs chapter, and for the way the community has pulled together in support of our work. Over the past six months we’ve undergone a process of separation from St. Mary’s House, the Episcopal chaplaincy for UNCG. Last Saturday, Oct. 13, marked a milestone in our transition as we hosted a banquet at our future home, the Hive. So far, we’ve raised more than $900 to install a kitchen at the Hive, a new activist center in the Glenwood neighborhood with an emphasis on social justice, small-scale entrepreneurship and community building.

My perspective probably runs against those of both my secular anarchist buddies in Food Not Bombs and my sisters and brothers in Christ at St. Mary’s House who wrestle with discomfort over our nonhierarchical approach. I very much see God the Holy Spirit at work in the unfolding saga of Food Not Bombs. My experience with the group has illuminated the process of conversion, which in a radical sense means the possibility for sinners to put aside old and destructive habits and come into a place of healthy and reconciled relationships.

I go back to my first stint with Food Not Bombs in San Francisco in 1993, when we willingly subjected ourselves to arrest to serve soup and bagels in front of city hall in violation of the municipal government’s efforts to push poor and homeless people into the shadows so that they would not discourage tourist spending.

I vividly recall a man watching the police arrest volunteers and commenting on the irony of Mayor Frank Jordan pursuing such an exclusionary, anti-poor policy since, he said, the mayor’s ancestors had come to America from Ireland during the potato famine, a historical tragedy exacerbated by British colonialism. This street commentator held out hope for the mayor though. He noted that Paul had been one of the worst persecutors of the early Christians before he was struck blind on the road to Damascus, an event that led him to become the chief evangelizer of the faith. I was a nonbeliever then, but that conversation revealed something about authentic Christianity to me.

Last Saturday, Oct. 13 was a proud moment for me. And we showed the guests at the banquet our best. We provided a feast made from donated ingredients and labor. We regaled them with great poetry, drumming, African string music and comedy. We built community by bringing people together.

My favorite moments were hearing Lowell perform a talking-blues song on the electric guitar about getting arrested in New Mexico for offering a child half a chocolate bar, and hearing Tim, a friend who sleeps outdoors, describe our mission: how we collect food that would otherwise go to waste and prepare it for people who would otherwise go hungry, how we operate without a budget or a paid staff, how we’re open to anyone and make no distinction between those who serve and are served, how we sometimes face harassment from police, and how we have thousands of autonomous chapter around the world.

I am reminded that God provides abundance when at first it seems we have no resources to draw upon. God redeems and provides a greater purpose for those of us who have felt pushed aside by society – myself not the least. God shows us that we can change.

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