Family First: Is that Biblical?

Is there any Biblical precedent for putting “family first?” I would submit that this is a myth and a hindrance to true Biblical stewardship.  In my knowledge of scripture I can’t think of an example of any biblical commands that would say that we are to put our families needs above the needs of others. Yet, I see plenty of biblical mandates to put others needs on par with our own: “Love you neighbor as yourself.” “whatever you do for the least of these, you’ve done unto me.” “if you have two coats, share one.”

Family Photo

I’m aware there are stories in the Bible of families lovingly sacrificing for one another, but there are also plenty of examples and commands of caring for those we are not related to, indeed even our enemies. The reason I think dispelling this myth (if indeed it is) is so important to the topic of stewardship is that I think it is commonly used as a justification for a life of stewardship that is directed primarily at our immediate family.

If we believe in “family first” as a command then we feel justified in spending time, energy and money making sure our kids go to the best schools, live in the “safest” neighborhoods, and have a significant college fund saved up. But what about the other kids? What of our neighbors, whom we are supposed to love as ourselves?

I am not suggesting we neglect the needs of our children to serve others, but rather seeing our neighbor (locally and globally) and their needs with the same heartfelt conviction and commitment that we do our families needs.

Finding My Place in Church

Since March of this year, I’ve had a draft blog post tentatively titled “Yelling from Outside the Church Doors” sitting unpublished. That post was mainly about my inability to find a place where I fit in the church context in the past three years. The same church struggles and disconnectedness are to blame for my writing less then 20 blog posts here since April when I used to write several a week. I’ve been a bit disillusioned the past few years as to where I belong in this “body” we call the church.

I should saw right off the bat that this hasn’t been the source of depression or anything, I’m loving life and all that I’m doing. I just couldn’t find a way to join the church club so I’ve got involved elsewhere. But this post has a bright spot. I think I’m beginning to find a place in the body again. I’m not sure quite what that will look like in the end, but I’ve found it refreshing to be included .

Being part of the conversation is the reason for me coming out of this blogging hiatus. In April, I’d made the shift to focusing Trying To Follow to be just about faith topics and suddenly I felt like I had nothing to say. This blog has always been a place to process my thoughts, but it was mostly an extension of conversations I was having in real life. Lacking those lately on topics of faith and Christianity, I had little thoughts to process in blog form for a while.

All this is just to say two things: 1) I’m getting involved in our church a bit more and I’m enjoying it. 2) I’ve got thoughts to share on this blog again. So stay tuned for more. I’ll probably still keep it to once a week, so look out for next week.

Birthday Book Giveaway

Though I used to try and avoid mention of my birthday, I’ve been finding unique ways to embrace it. It’s a chance to do something fun, or selfish, or ask unique requests of others. So, today I launch my own Birthday Book Giveaway.

Clean Water for EliroseLast week I mentioned Clean Water for Elirose, a children’s book I wrote. Well, for the next 48 hours I’d like to giveaway copies of the book to anyone who makes a donation to the Elirose Charity Water project. Anyone who makes a donation over $5 will get a copy of the book in the mail. It cost me about $5 each to send the book, so please be generous in your donation to the water project. The goal is to raise $5000 from Clean Water for Elirose book sales, which is enough to build one clean water well to provide clean water for 50 families or 250 people.

And there you have it. The point of the Book Giveaway is two-fold. First, it’s an incentive for you to give to a worthy cause. Second, it’s an opportunity to put Clean Water for Elirose into the hands of kids, parents and teachers to help discuss the topic and expose kids to both the injustices in the world and tangible ways that they can help.

Donate to Charity:Water and email me your address before 9am October 8th

Clean Water for Elirose

Four years ago, when we were expecting our daughter, I knew I was about to begin a major shift in my priorities. It would still be a high priority to live out my faith and values, but above all else, the top priority is now to lovingly raise my children and instill those values that are so central to my life in theirs as well. In addition to simply loving my kids, I wanted to help them to see the world the way I had grown to see it. A large community where we are all intertwined and where our decisions impact others.

My kids are 4 and 3 now and, as concrete thinkers, reading books with them is one of the most tangible ways to expand their world, next to actually experiencing things in real life. My journey to find children’s picture books that discussed topics like poverty and homelessness, clean drinking water and lack of education, was fruitful, but sparse. It was a genre with books few and far between. And so, I set out to write my own.

Read the book Online
Read the book Online

Clean Water for Elirose is a children’s picture book about what kids drink and how four young kids make a difference in fifth child’s life, Elirose. My goal with writing the book is two-fold.

  1. To provide parents with a meaningful way to discuss a global social issue with their young children.
  2. To use the book as a tool itself for fundraising for clean drinking water.

My hope is that it reaches those goals, if even on a small scale. If your interested in ordering a copy you can do that here. Anyone is free to buy a “teachers copy” for $5, which is the same book, but doesn’t cover the total costs ($3.65 per copy of the book, ~$2.10 for shipping plus envelope). Or, you can order a $15 copy and about $10 if your purchase will go directly to supporting a clean water well project (currently with Charity:Water).

I’d love your help getting the word out if your willing. Review the book on your blog, ask your local parenting mag or paper to write a review, purchase a copy for your library, tell your friends or use it as a fundraiser for your next missions trip. Oh, and let me know what you think with a comment below.

The Problem with ‘Pet’ Causes

Occasionally, when I share with someone about something I’m passionate about, like Fair-Trade chocolate, I’m met with a response that can be bluntly summarized as “That’s nice that you care about that issue, I care about this issue,” as if these were hobbies like crocheting or racquetball. Unfortunately, I feel like that’s probably closer to the truth, that they are merely self-gratifying hobbies, for many and not necessarily an attempt or commitment to pursue lasting change. Disclaimer: I do not mean this as a judgment on anyone, you be the judge of your own motivations. This is as much for me as it is for anyone else.

We live in a very individualistic society where it is almost taboo to actually make an authoritative statement to another person about an issue (“You shouldn’t eat Hershey’s chocolate”). We might talk about our personal decisions, but we rarely demand the same of others. Thus, even those who want to be more evangelistic about their cause (whether it’s fair-trade chocolate or organic produce) find it difficult to do. It’s also difficult because any diversion from the status quo is often met with blind defensiveness and resistance. Rejection is tough.

The result we end up with are ‘pet’ causes. I care about the chocolate I eat, my neighbor only eats organic, a friend tries to reduce their carbon footprint and my cousin advocates against sex trafficking. And, while we each do our small part, this approach is largely ineffective for any of these issues. My personal chocolate choice might make me feel less guilty, but it certainly won’t shift the chocolate industry from using child slaves. My friends reducing their carbon footprint to zero with solar panels and a hybrid car won’t stop the ice caps from melting. or even stop our nations dependence of oil. And unfortunately, we seem to be rather okay with that, addressing our personal guilt on the subject, but not truly affecting massive change for any one cause.

We need to work together. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch your personal cause for mine. Rather, it means we should become passionate and committed to systemic change, not just change that makes us feel less guilt or like personal do-gooders. What does this look like in practice? I’m not totally sure yet. Maybe it means you become more evangelistic for the cause, maybe we become more strategic in how we demand change. What it does mean is that we stop being content with just our own ‘pet’ causes and we get serious about seeing real and systemic change in our neighborhoods, our society and our world.

Steps Toward Change: Meals (Less Bad, More Good)

Last time I wrote here I asked about help doing a food audit. Thank you so much to the folks who were willing to take some time and give me some input on my current food choices. I was surprised by the lack of response, especially considering I know a lot of people that seem passionate about this issue, but that’s a topic for another post.

As I said initially when I started this discussion, I’m very open to making changes in the way my family eats. I’m also much more interested in getting some straight forward tips and suggestions from those who have extensive knowledge and wisdom in this topic, rather then trying to sift through all the information myself (seems we are hesitant to speak with authority, we’d rather direct others to the book we read, a topic for another time again).

My goal is over the next several months, maybe year, to make changes in my families eating and purchasing habits toward a more ethical end. But, I need your help. The first step I’d like to take is to consider the meals that we make with some frequency and sort them into “bad” and “good” categories in consideration of ethics. I know this will be a little hard to do, but I think it’s worth a shot.

Here is how I’d like to try and do this. You’ll need to come to the blog if your reading in email or rss. In the comments section I’ll list meals that our family eats with some frequency (I’ll list just the basic title, not complete recipe). I’ll list one meal per comment and then you can reply to specific comments/meals with your comments about that meal. I’m looking for feedback about how good or bad meals are on a spectrum, so give it a 1-5 star rating if you’d like. Keep in mind I’m much more interested in how my food choices impact the lives of people, not so much the health benefits to my immediate family.

Additionally, if you’d like to add meal suggestions, recipes, etc in separate comments that would be super helpful. I’m looking for your most ethical meal ideas that are also low budget (and not overly complicated to prepare ideally). My initial goal is to start having more of the Good meals we make and less of the Bad meals. Slowly, I’ll add other people’s recipe suggestions as well. That’s my plan anyways.

I know this might all seem rather lazy on my part to not simply read the books and watch the movies myself, but sometimes this is the way that I best process things, relying on the wisdom of the community around me, and I think there are others who do similarly. Looking forward to your responses.

A Virtual Food Audit

A few years ago, a friend lent me the book A Life Stripped Bare, in which a family spends a year trying to live ‘ethically.’ They went about this in a very creative way by basically asking a handful of wise ethically-minded people to “audit” their lives. The people came in and basically went room to room, cupboard to cupboard, discussing items, energy choices, etc. I thought it was a very creative way to learn about these things, and as a concrete examples person, it helps me when things are specific.

So, I thought I’d try my own experiment. On my most recent shopping trip, I bought most of what I might buy during a grocery run, and I snapped pictures of everything as I put it away. I’ve posted the individual items up in a private photo album. What I’d like to do is invite a handful of auditor’s who are knowledgeable on food issues and ethics to view the album and comment on items. Anyone interested can comment below or email me and I’ll invite you to the album.

My hope is that I get specific concrete input on the food choices I’m making and move toward changing those that need changing. I plan on making the album public, or a summary of the album after the ‘audit’.

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For this that are interested, here is what I’m thinking would be a good system for this audit.

I made a facebook album, so the viewer can like or comment on each item. If the auditor approves of continuing to buy a particular item they will “like” the item. If they don’t choose to “like” the item they need to put some comment specifying why not. Comments can be left for a range of things, so they won’t necessarily count as negatives always, but at least the likes will serve as an indicator of support for an item.

I did not put specifics as to the quantities of items that I usually buy. There are some that are only an occasional meal option for my family, but in an effort to make it more universal advice and input I want to leave it to comment on the specific item, not the quantity or frequency of consumption.

We’ll see how this goes.

Sorting Out My Food Values

In my last post I wrote of some of my hesitations and concerns about the food movement. They where not major concerns but simple annoyances or critiques that I’d felt. The conversation that ensued was wonderful and I really appreciate those who took the time to reply to what I’d written and engage in some dialog. They were convincing arguments and I appreciated them. I’m willing, like I said before, to make changes in my families food choices. In thinking through it further, I recognized some values I have that seemed, at least in my head, to counter making changes in my food choices.

I think I’ve traditionally thought of food choices as being related to two specific values: personal health and environment. Eating healthy is a way to make choices for your immediate family to have better personal health and avoid the obesity epidemic and related disease. Eating organic and/or local is better for our environment, less pesticides, gas used on factory farming, shipping, etc. Oh, and third, free-range meat and eggs as an animal rights value. I know there’s more to it then that, but that would be the quick summary of how I’ve thought about the food choices.

I’ll try to keep these brief, but below are some of my values that I’ve found in conflict with making food choice changes.

Cost
Most of the ethical decisions I’ve made related to my lifestyle cost less money then the alternative. Biking rather then driving for example or sweatshop-made clothing for thrift store items. Rather then buy lots of fair trade chocolate instead of slave-made chocolate, I just rarely buy chocolate at all, it’s a luxury item after all. None of these things increase my costs. We can probably just chalk this up to being extremely frugal, or cheap, however you want to look at it. I think this is one of the reasons that I find the switch to more expensive food options as difficult, because unlike almost all my other ethical choices, it will consistently cost more.

Opportunity Cost
This is one of the main reasons that I’m consistently looking for ways to spend less money, the opportunity cost of that money to do good for others. I’ve previously used the example of the end scene in Schindler’s List when he recognizes his watch could have bought the safety of more Jews. The opportunity cost of the watch had significant value, people’s lives. I feel the same way when I think about what our finances could be going to. If I could spend $30 a month extra on organic foods to ensure the health of my immediate family or I could sponsor a child to ensure their provision through life, I’d probably go with the child everytime.

People First
I think, whether or not you believe in Global Warming, caring for the planet is an important factor in the decisions that we make. To a lesser degree, I think there is some merit to treating animals with care. However, the thing that vastly trumps those values in my ethical system is people. So, issues of slave labor, sweatshops and worker rights will win out over environmental concerns every time. And I know that they aren’t mutually exclusive, that environmental impact is often a direct cause of terrible working conditions, etc. It’s the human impact that will dictate my decisions far more then the effect on environment or animals.

I think that’s enough for now. The exercise above is not to make an argument against changing my food choices, but rather, laying them out so that those who are more well read on the subject can help point me in the right direction and help me walk through making changes to my families food choices.

A Critique: Food Choices and the Food Movement

In recent months, I’ve been encouraged by others to think a bit more critically about my families food choices. I’ve since watched and read a bit and I find myself still a bit skeptical. If an outsiders generalization of my readers is correct, my skepticism regarding the popular food trends of local and organic might be a bit controversial to you reading. I’m hoping it is, because I’d like to get some feedback and thoughts on the topic and am quite open to having my views changed.

I have to start with a bit of a disclaimer. There are a lot of things espoused by the food movement that my family is already doing. We’ve almost always composted and recycled. We don’t buy a ton of processed foods (microwave type stuff) and we don’t eat red meat much (I never ate it growing up). We even bring our own bags usually. Oh, and we’ve tried to garden in some form most summers. So, along the spectrum, there are a lot of things we are already doing. But, there are some things we aren’t.

We shop at Aldis and Cub, not Whole Foods, The Wedge or other organic/coop/local type places (I’ve tried occasionally). We don’t buy organic when it comes to our produce. And we don’t buy free-range, cage-free, grass-fed or anything when it comes to our meat. And, I haven’t been all that compelled to change those choices. Rather, I’ve had some concerns or critiques.

  • The Food Movement seems to be a primarily motivated by self-interest. I’m not saying individuals might have larger societal interest in mind, to that point, the information that’s presented is often in the form of national statistics of obesity, disease, etc. However, the changes that are being done and created are individual family choices. It’s families with the financial means and resources changing their families purchasing habits. I’ve seen very little collective action to encourage more systemic change (Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution might be a minor exception).
  • The justification and reaction seems to be from one extreme to the other. It’s clear our nation has some health issues, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, so on and so forth. And I definitely agree our eating habits are heavily at fault. We eat very unhealthy, highly processed food, and far too much of it (this last part is my vice). However, I don’t think the only solution is to buy local and organic. We’d be a much healthier nation if we ate more fruits and vegetables, organic or not.

There’s more thoughts I’ve had, but at risk of making this too long and not getting some conversation going, I’ll stop here. I’d love to hear your thoughts about food, organic, local, etc and why your making the current choices you do. And feel free to challenge me on the statements above or choices we make.

Thoughts on the Journey