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Grace Notes

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I don't know beans

By Nancy Kennedy

The week prior to Thanksgiving, my church participated in a week of hunger.

The plan was to eat only beans, rice and tortillas for five days to experience what a huge percentage of people around the world eat all the time.

Then we were to take the money we would've spent on food and donate it to help feed orphans in Haiti. In addition, after a shortened worship service, we would be dismissed early to go grocery shopping to buy food items to benefit local food pantries.

Normally when we have a time of fasting, I don't even attempt it. I tell myself that if I did, my motives wouldn't be pure since all I'd think about is how much weight I'd be losing by not eating and what I'd eat once the fast is over. Also, that God deserves better than that from someone undergoing a spiritual discipline.

That's true and all, but the main reason I don't fast is because I don't want to.

But beans and rice I can do and eat that often, plus I make delicious beans. (Soak dried beans overnight in water, then rinse before cooking in chicken broth and seasoned with garlic powder, cumin and red pepper flakes. Simmer on the stove for four to six hours or until beans are soft.)

So, the Sunday we were to start Hunger Week, I made a big pot of beans and ate a bowl of them with brown rice for dinner and no tortillas.

The next morning I just couldn't do beans and rice for breakfast so I ate my usual toast and peanut butter with raisins and packed my usual lunch: a frozen entrée, apple and string cheese, telling myself that I'll just do beans and rice for dinner that week - and no dessert.

At work, somebody brought in a huge bag of popcorn and a lady from the Greek church brought over spinach pie and something with honey and nuts and looked like haystacks, all of which I sampled.

I told myself it was OK because I didn't buy the food myself so I wasn't taking away from the money I had set aside.

That night I ate beans and rice and felt so virtuous that I also ate some chips and salsa because - hello? - chips are made from tortillas and salsa is just a condiment.

The next day was much of the same, minus the Greek snacks but plus a bowl of cereal and a banana. And pudding. With Cool Whip.

On Wednesday, my husband wanted fish and coleslaw, so since I cooked it, I ate it with him, plus a spoonful of beans, which were still delicious but losing their charm.

The next day I e-mailed my friend from church to confess my lack of empathetic solidarity with our starving brothers and sisters around the world.

"When I ate the fish and coleslaw I told myself that I was a hungry person in a third world country and some nice, rich Americans came to my village and gave it to me as a gift," I wrote to her. "It could happen."

It's amazing how easily you can rationalize just about anything by adding, "it could happen."

My friend e-mailed back: "We went to Taco Bell once."

Suddenly, I didn't feel so alone in my feeble attempt at being hungry, even if it was only symbolic.

By Thursday, the rest of the beans went out with the trash and we had baked chicken and roasted sweet potatoes for dinner, and ice cream for dessert.

Prior to Hunger Week, the pastor had said feeding the hungry - remembering the poor - is not optional, but integral to being a Christian. Whether we eat beans and rice for five days or one meal or not at all isn't important. There's no virtue in that in and of itself.

But God does require that we not turn a deaf ear to the cries of the hungry and feed our own bellies and neglect theirs.

"We are God's ambassadors," the pastor said, "to let people know what God is like. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned and lonely, we show others the heart of God."

Truthfully, I'm not good at that, but I want to be better.