I’m not talking about standing atop Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration, or in Nablus, in the modern day West Bank, at Jacob’s Well, where Jesus and the “Samaritan” woman met.
I’m not even talking about any Biblical sites, really. I’ve yet to have the privilege to experience those places.
The kind of holy ground I’m speaking of is found in the geography of our own stories. And for me, holy ground is at the corner of Chicago and Franklin on the Near North side of Chicago, Illinois. Holy ground for me is the Starbucks there, just off the Chicago stop on the Brown “L” line.
In April 2001, I wandered into that Starbucks with a brand new copy of Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger by Ron Sider, grabbed a cup of dark roast coffee, sat down and devoured the pages. My life was forever changed. (My copy was the 1997 20th anniversary edition; the original edition came out in 1977).
Page after page, Sider details the economic divisions in the world, the real life effects of poverty and hunger on children, public policy and Biblical and theological reflection on the church’s role in fighting hunger, poverty and disease. He even opens the book not only asking questions why we have “1 Billion hungry neighbors” but analyzing the “uneven distribution” of the world’s wealth. Powerful stuff for 1997 – even more controversial in a year like 2012 when the President was accused by many conservatives and Evangelicals for policies that “redistributed the wealth.”
As I said, I sat there in that multi-national corporate outpost of Starbucks and ate the entire book up. Every page was underlined, every paragraph was marked up. It changed my life forever and is one of the touchstones of my faith journey. Eugene Peterson has written about “the most striking biblical metaphor for reading,” namely of St. John in Revelation 10:9-10 eating “the little scroll” handed over by the angel. He goes on: “The book he ate was Holy Scripture. Assimilated into his worship and prayer, his imagining and writing, the book he ate was metabolized into the book he wrote, the first great poem in the Christian tradition and the concluding book of the Bible, Revelation. (Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson)
Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger, for me, was a necessary side course to the great feast of the Scriptures, and Christian tradition. It was the right supplement at a time when my evangelical faith was in tatters. You see, I was discerning a call to ministry, and more immediate, to attend North Park Seminary to receive the necessary training to do so. But I was a sort of spiritual wayfaring stranger that Spring. I had just left my fundamentalist, conservative evangelical leaning college ministry at Ohio State. I left, at the time campus chapter President, because I was being accused of asking too many questions. The questions: “What would it look like if we tried to live out the Sermon on the Mount? While we evangelize on the Quad and in our dorms, can we also invite folks to service at the homeless shelter downtown? What is salvation for those living with AIDS in downtown Columbus, or farther away in Africa?” Those questions didn’t make sense for my tradition at the time – they got in the way. And so they encouraged me to leave.
Thankfully there were other, literally Sojourners, out there along the way. I was thankful I stumbled on Ron Sider’s book, I was lucky enough to “accidently” pick up a copy of Jim Wallis’s magazine. These aren’t accidents, though. They’re the small, subtle, earth-shattering movements of the Holy Spirit.
Why talk about allegorical “eating” and personal journeys in a week focused on the issue of Hunger in our world, the week before the US Thanksgiving holiday? Because issues of real hunger are intimately connected to real, hidden yearnings of our spirit. And the week immediately after the re-election of President Obama, when so many baby-boomer evangelicals are “shell-shocked,” lamenting the “loss of the culture war,” I want to introduce some younger friends who are on the frontlines of fighting hunger in our world. Fellow younger evangelicals who may or may not have voted for Barack Obama – they’re too hard to pin down; their set of issues more diverse.
Thankfully, younger evangelicals on both right and left, conservative and progressive sides of the US political debate, are truly living out the questions laid out by Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Younger evangelicals, their pastors, and their worship leaders are all not only talking about spiritual hunger but are finally addressing the real hungers of the now “Bottom Billion” in our time.
Something’s changed; the evangelical church, like a post-Thanksgiving feast, is waking up from its malaise.
So this week I want to talk a little about hunger, politics, and share some stories from a younger group of friends working to end hunger, and yes, maybe redistribute the earth’s riches a bit, like those first Christians in the Acts of the Apostles.
As we journey together, we need to take action together, too. The ONE Campaign (where I spent much of the last 4 years) is running a campaign to enlist congregations across the country to stand up against global hunger and urge our decision-makers in Washington and elsewhere to make measurable commitments to reduce chronic malnutrition for 25 million kids by 2016 so they can reach their full potential. They’ve got a great discussion guide you can check out here: http://www.one.org/blog/2012/10/11/ask-your-congregation-to-join-one-against-hunger/
Adam Phillips is project consultant for Covenant Kids Congo powered by World Vision. An ordained Covenant pastor, Phillips co-led the revitalization of Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. He served as a delegate to the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, Sarah, an urban educator.