Whole Foods and Christian Ethics

There was a time in my life there was no where I would rather be than a Whole Foods store.  Between the vast selection of all natural personal care products and the variety available at their hot food and salad bars, not to mention the pretty swell wine selection, I was in hippie girl heaven.   At this particular phase of my life, I was deeply interested in the topic of alternative health and finding natural ways to help the body heal itself.  So interested in fact, that I was at the cusp of taking courses that would hopefully enable me to practice in this field.  What could be better than helping people learn to heal themselves of simple ailments, without being at the mercy of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry for every little bug and virus?  How empowering would it be to take your health into your own hands?

  My family had been involved with natural foods, vitamin supplementation and even dabbled in homeopathy long before it was cool (or at least long enough ago to make us weird in a small Ohio farming community).   I did then, and still do, firmly believe that there are foods, vitamins and herbs at our disposal that can heal our bodies in a healthier way than incessant antibiotic usage.   I can attest also to the power of self-hypnosis for pain management as this was my only pain killer for my daughter’s birth and I have seen lives positively impacted by acupuncture and massage therapies.  However, a little over a year ago, I started to be vaguely troubled by the natural foods industry and the direction it was taken, not to mention the avenues it began to occupy. 

In 2014, natural and organic foods are no longer merely fodder for hippie diets; they have transitioned not only into high-income suburbs, but also into churches.  Christian books are issued claiming that God’s intention for our bodies is for them to function naturally, supplied with the proper fuel from locally grown, healthy foods.  Verses sited include how our bodies are temples, therefore, we must honor God with our bodies and references to seed-bearing plants that are to be our food.  Churches offer workshops on the dangers of GMO’s and the benefits of essential oils.  They offer gluten-free donuts with fair-trade coffee during fellowship time.  As a long-time natural health enthusiast, I should have been over-the-moon delighted about this, but I wasn’t.

God has granted me the privilege in recent years of being exposed to people who live at income levels many of us cannot imagine.  For these people, trips to Whole Foods or purchases from Young Living are not an option, unless they chose to live without electricity or a roof.   I try to imagine how I would feel if I were them, entering a place of worship for the first time, seeing posters advertising healthy eating, when I’m just worried about my family eating.   How it would pain me to hear someone telling me eating organic is a way to honor God with my body, when a few organic items would diminish my weekly grocery budget substantially.   Also, I’m pretty sure Medicaid does not cover chiropractic visits and supplements.

It would be easy to read this post and think I am against healthy eating; that I’ve turned my back on quinoa for the sake of the Big Mac.  I can assure you this is not the case; I hate quinoa and Big Macs with equal fervor.   I believe strongly in the virtues of healthy eating and living but object to how we’re teaching it.   I believe as the body of Christ, one of our foremost concerns at all times is to be the poor among us and I would strongly caution against dialogues that make them feel excluded or demeaned.   Why not formulate a weekly menu based on an $80 or $100/week budget that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and proteins?  Why not emphasize balanced eating instead of focusing on grain-fed and non-GMO? 

In Colossians 2, Paul cautions against obsessing over what goes in our physical bodies, saying,

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

While it is highly unlikely he is referencing organic food frenzy in this statement, the central point remains: any time anything occupies our minds continually, be it alcohol, drugs, sex or grain-fed, hormone free steak, it has the potential to become a distraction and a stumbling block to us, not to mention the possible effect it has on others.   I am not saying this to be condemning;I am saying this because I myself I have been there.  While I was busy reading ingredient labels and researching where my chicken came from, did I miss someone in need of help?  In my fervor to educate the world about the evils of simple carbs, did I alienate someone who sat there munching a bagel because it soaked up the excess acid in their stomach caused by their nervousness at being in a new setting? 

Healthy eating and living can be of tremendous value to those who abide by its principles and I believe the church in it’s ideal incarnation makes a priority of the healing of bodies, souls, and minds.   I would only ask that we make it a healing that is accessible to all.  One of the most noticeable characteristics of Jesus Christ is how his message was completely available to all, regardless of race, income or education level.   We must be wary of any presence of elitism and seek always to love, serve and teach the least of these among us. 

 

 

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Canned

I got fired yesterday. Naturally, they didn’t use those words; instead, I was reassured I was not terminated from the company per se, just from the job I currently held, that I had the option to work another job within the company for about half the pay.   This action floored me because I had never received any kind of disciplinary action or at this job, or even had a conversation about how I could improve my performance. As far as I could tell from sales numbers and the results of a recent inventory, the store was performing up to par without major losses; I had never stolen from the store and did not have any attendance issues.

To add insult to injury, this was a position I had held for less than two months, a job I started a mere two weeks prior to the store opening, two weeks in which to get the store completely staffed, set up, receive training on all company procedures, bookkeeping and store process.     I had thrown an immense amount of time and energy into learning what I could in the time I had; to hiring the best people I could, to running and arranging the store as best I knew how. In spite of this, it was still apparently not good enough.

Not good enough. It is a phrase that has haunted me for years, a fear that lives and thrives constantly below the surface, that terror that I will do my best, only to find it inadequate.   Of course this situation brings with it concrete problems; after all, I have a family, a mortgage and a budget, all of which depend on my bringing income in, but this isn’t what keeps me up at night and brings angry tears to my eyes.   It is being able to honestly examine my actions, my performance, my behavior, and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt I had done the best I can. I think on some level I had wanted to find a major flaw in my performance or attitude, a recognition that I had not really put my all into this, when in reality this experience had from beginning to end stretched me to my mental and physical capacity.

Knowing I had done my best, worked hard and been honest and seeing that this has still proven inadequate scared the shit out of me. It meant I was more than I realized subject to forces beyond my command and my abilities.   I had long ago accepted this in personal relationships (you can’t make someone like you), your health (you can still fall ill in spite of best efforts to stay healthy) and the weather (I do live in Ohio), but I expected a certain level of logic in the workforce. After years of working, I had seen people go from verbal warning to written warning to probation to termination. There was some safety in this, an opportunity to correct behavior or to realize it was time to look elsewhere because you were not able to meet expectations, unreasonable or otherwise.

As I sat looking at the poor woman the decision makers had sent to deliver their news, as I pressed her for their reasoning and received only vague answers, such as they “just wanted something different” , someone with a “firmer hand.” I heard they had someone in mind and the reality of the situation hit me. This is not about me. This is about a young company not yet governed by conventional human resource’s standards, about owners still basing their decisions on how they feel about certain types of people who are outside their comfort zone. I recalled their hesitancy at moving people of certain races and sexual orientations into positions of leadership, their displeasure at my decision to staff my store with people who had lived and worked in the nearby urban area most of their lives and not source the surrounding suburban areas for employees.   I have heard their consternation with music that is not classic or soft rock played in their stores and watched them give certain people second chance after second chance and give others the boot without much warning. I could see patterns and determining factors in the faces and demeanors of who stayed and who went.

In that moment I was able to feel strangely grateful I did not fit in this mold; it’s like when someone calls you crazy and you’re glad you aren’t their version of sane. In spite of all their money and power, I knew something they didn’t. Through this experience, I had been placed seriously out of my comfort zone and had learned to interact with a demographic I had little experience with. I had learned what I had always suspected; that people are just people, that we are all driven by the same basic needs and desires. I had my ability to stay compassionate challenged and while I was tempted at times to use a “firmer hand” (i.e., keep the “undesirables” in their place), I stayed true to myself.   I met people controlled completely by substances try to scam the store because for some reason, that seemed like the only way to meet their needs. I also met and hired some of the most honest and hardworking women I have ever had the privilege to be around, single moms who lived and breathed their children’s well-being.

Despite this moment of clarity, the rejection still stung and the anger was still there along with the   desire to write a long nasty letter criticizing everything from their silver spoon, house-on-the-hill mentality to the middle school gossip ring they depending on to make their decisions.   I chose instead to have faith and look forward. One of the biggest gifts of faith is perspective: knowing and believing that though something hurts now, it won’t hurt forever, remembering that you survived and been brought through worse, and truly hoping that this speed bump will be a stepping stool to something better. It’s realizing that even if that speed bump is not a stepping stool but instead causes you to stumble and fall further, you’ll survive that too.   It’s knowing I have skills and abilities and personality traits that are worth something and seeking people and situations that recognize and appreciate that because I believe they’re out there. I really do.

Why I Am Not a Movie Heroine

I have always found myself inexorably drawn to and fascinated by those books and movies that feature female leads encountering a major setback in life, only to triumph due to their wit and vigor. In these stories, the very event that seemed the end of the road was in fact the impetus that propelled these women to find their dream, be it a house, job or man.   I love the concept that failure holds with it such possibility, that we are often too comfortable to see that we are truly miserable, and this failure is the first step to happiness.

Conceptually, I love it and spiritually I even believe it, but realistically, I doubt it.   While watching an impeccably written and/or acted saga of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, I feel my spirit soar and sink along with the heroine’s, as though her path was mine.   I laugh with her, cry with her, have faith in her; yet the question remains, how do I react when I am faced with my own setbacks?

The answer to that my friends, is “not well”. Recently I was faced with my own large setback when a week ago, I was terminated from the job I held without warning. While I would love to be able to honestly tell you I immediately saw the possibility for growth in my situation, truthfully I am much more likely to see the possibility for bankruptcy.   As much as I would like to present for you an image of a woman unshaken by her circumstances, honesty compels me to confess I may have issued my own series of doomsday prophecies.   I would love for you to envision me calmly sipping green tea after an hour long yoga session, but I must disillusion you with the picture of me washing my Steak and Shake down with a bottle of red wine.

I can think of plenty of reasons the framework of these stories won’t hold true for me; I’m not rich or particularly beautiful, my education level consists of roughly half of a bachelor’s degree and I suffer varying levels of anxiety in new situations. Add to this I am the mother of a one-year-old whose life goal is apparently to tear my house to pieces, with another baby on the way and a complicated though mostly happy marriage to a man with his own demons, and I hardly seem a candidate for success.

An important phase the brave heroine undergoes is her own reinvention. Whether she gets a makeover that transforms her from an ugly duckling to a swan or discovers her previously untapped skill set can morph into a lucrative career or that the ordinary man right under her nose is in fact Prince Charming, it is this event that is the turning point in her story.   At this point, her story and her life change from a tragedy to a triumph, from a failure to a success.

The issue I have with this is mostly locale; very often she is able to get away to a beautiful and calm setting to recover her lost self. As much as I try to envision this for myself, it’s really hard to get in touch with your guiding compass when you have morning sickness and your little one wiping snot on your neck.   I certainly do not expect to see, “unemployed pregnant mother living in a condo bordering the ghetto discovers happiness and fulfillment in the midst of swelling ankles and cleaning up spilled cat food”, in the synopsis of the latest hit movie for women.

I recently read that our brains are programmed with a negativity bias. This bias causes negative events to stand out far more profoundly in our minds than positive experiences and is a residual effect from days gone by. In the past, this would serve the purpose of keeping us alive; i.e. a caveman may forget where his favorite berries are but he would not forget the shadows where a saber-toothed creature lurked, whereas in our modern age, it’s main function is apparently to cause pessimism. This made me feel a little better to read this; I am a lifelong cynical realist but it’s not because I’m depressing, I’m just apparently too lazy to fight my natural impulses.

The article suggested the difference between optimists and pessimists is less inborn cheerfulness and more discipline. Our brains can actually be reprogrammed to focus more on the positive than the negative. Seeing as I feel fairly confident I am unlikely to be eaten by a large animal anytime soon, I think I may give this a try. The concept is simple; think of a moment that made you happy and fixate on that, forcing yourself if you have to and over time, this will become a habit your brain will divert to more naturally.

What if the only difference between the women in those movies and books I so loved and me was simply a matter of attitude and perspective? What if the thing that is holding me back from happiness and fulfillment is not circumstances and wherewithal, but proper neural programming? At any rate, it’s worth a try; after all, what do I have to lose?

Trying to discover life, meaning and purpose in the midst of cleaning puke off myself.