BUIES CREEK -- Think about the happiest moments of your life. Chances are they involve food and eating, said Norman Wirzba, a Duke University professor, the author "Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating" and the speaker at Campbell University Divinity School’s Reavis Lecture Series held Thursday in Butler Chapel.
“I don’t know if there can be anything more delightful than to enjoy a meal together with people and, in that eating together, learn to experience the world as it is—love,” Wirzba told pastors and Campbell Divinity School students, alumni, faculty and staff Thursday over two one-hour sessions. “Eating is no trifling affair. . . . It goes to the heart of our lives as Christians. It goes to the heart of our work of ministry in the world.”
Read the Bible, he said. In there, you’ll find references to food and eating everywhere. Jesus, for example, “was always either coming from a meal, at a meal or going to a meal,” Wirzba said, quoting a commentator on Luke’s gospel.
That food and eating mattered to Jesus shouldn’t be surprising, he said. “Eating serves as a witness of God’s presence in the world. . . . When we [eat] well, we not only experience Sabbath delight, I think we also move to and participate in God’s reconciling of the world.”
But in today’s urbanized, globalized, “fast-food nation,” Wirzba said, many of us want our food cheap and convenient. Because of that, the food system of today is “premised upon degradation,” which includes treating animals and agriculture workers as economic units, he said. That means that “with our eating," he said, "we have made ourselves bad news in the world”—many Christians have come to eat in a way that does not honor God or God’s creations and that does not serve as good news or as a testimony to God’s presence in the world.
How can Christians change this? One of the best places to learn about what good Christian eating looks like is to turn to the Lord’s Supper, Wirzba said. “John 6 is a very important passage. [It says] ‘Jesus is the bread of life.’ . . . John 6 is telling us that Jesus is our nurture, and we ‘eat’ Jesus so we can be God’s nurture to the world.
“Jesus is our food so that we can be food for the world.”
Wirzba offered the following practical suggestions on how to eat well and on how to be food for the world:
- Become more educated about how the food system works. “Today’s eaters are the most ignorant the world has ever known; we don’t have to be ignorant. There is a lot of good information out there for us to understand how the food system we have came to be and what its practical effects are.”
- Make choices about eating better. “We can decide that we are going to find the farmers who are growing the food in a way that honors the land and the animals and the workers, and we can start to support them rather than the places that don’t honor the life of these other creatures. We should become more educated about the agricultural efforts in this area that are trying to honor the life forms God has given us.”
- Become more involved in the growing of your own food. “I’m not nearly smart enough to grow all my own food to eat, but it’s important for me to have a garden to remind myself constantly about my own impotence and ignorance, so we can become more humble, more grateful eaters.”
- Eat together more. “The reason why eating together matters so much is because it becomes the place where you the church’s ministry happens. That’s where you learn this person is ill and needs help. This is where you learn this person’s tractor is broken; can someone help him fix it? Need and help come together around the table.”
Want more? Read full excerpts from Wirzba’s two talks on the university’s We Are Campbell blog.
About Norman Wirzba: He is a research professor of theology, ecology and rural life at the Duke Divinity School and a research professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. His research interests focus on the stewardship of God’s creation, agrarian studies, and the relationship among place, land, community, church and human thriving. Wirzba’s most recent book is Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating. His other works include The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age and Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight.
About the Reavis Lecture Series: L.B. and Mabel Reavis established the L.B. and Mabel Reavis Professorship and Scholarship program at Campbell University in 1991 to promote the ministries of evangelism and church growth. Funding from the program supports the Reavis Lecture Series, which brings distinguished scholars and Christian leaders to campus each year to speak on topics related to evangelism and church growth.
Article and photo by Cherry Crayton