Monday, August 20, 2012

Not in Praise of Single Motherhood: An Orthodox Christian Response to Katie Roiphe

              Only a small dose of common sense should be required to see that children tend to flourish when men and women rear them together through permanent family units sustained by marriage.  There are many examples of single, divorced, and widowed mothers—and fathers and other people—who struggle successfully to bring up children in other familial settings.  It’s no insult to them to point out the misguided nature of arguments that praise single motherhood as the new normal, as does  Katie Roiphe in her  recent op-ed “In Defense of Single Motherhood” in The New York Times.
               Try as she might, Roiphe provides no convincing answer to the charge that, in the world as we know it, households headed by a single mother are more likely to be financially strapped and associated with challenges that hinder the development of healthy children.   Perhaps extremely wealthy unmarried persons have the resources to hire nannies, chefs, and chauffeurs to take up the slack, but most of us barely get by with both spouses working and sharing childcare and other domestic responsibilities.   Single motherhood is strongly associated with poverty in our society.

Those who work in helping professions know the sadly common story of the abuse of the mother’s children by her boyfriend.  To encourage practices that result in the absence of fathers and the presence of other males in the household is simply irresponsible and promotes the endangerment of children.    And though it is politically incorrect to say it, men and women are different.  It is good for kids to be brought up by a representative of each sex and to have role models of how men and women make a life together.  The lesson given to boys and girls by fathers who are absent from the daily responsibilities of childrearing is not positive.  This is a circumstance for mourning, not for  praise.    
                Roiphe’s argument has little respect for men and actually states that “Young men need jobs so they can pay child support and contribute more meaningfully to the households they are living in.”  What a pathetically low perspective on the role of husbands and fathers!  When a society asks so little of men, we should not be surprised when they behave irresponsibly and simply do their best to  produce more single mothers.  As a married man and a father, it has never occurred to me to think of my financial contributions to our family as providing child support.  That is a minimalistic standard set by the state for deadbeat dads.  Ways of talking about family that encourage such a perspective on fatherhood are profoundly misguided, insulting to men, and ultimately bad for women and children.

                For Orthodox Christians, there is no question that single motherhood is an exceptional circumstance that no one should seek, except perhaps in cases where unmarried women adopt children.  That’s not the circumstance described by Roiphe, who writes in praise of her situation of having two children by two different men, neither of whom live with her or their children.   There’s no question that such scenarios fall short of the marital nature of the intimate union of man and woman as blessed in the Church.  Nonetheless, those who find themselves in such circumstances may repent, lead holy lives, and do their very best to raise their children in spiritually and morally beneficial ways.
               The point of Christian teaching on these matters is not self-righteous moralizing, but humbling accepting the truth about what is best for men, women, and children.  God creates us in His image as male and female; out of our difference and love for one another, we bring new persons into the world.  The more these different types of human beings bond together in love, the better for all concerned and the more we image the Holy Trinity.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Mother of God and Forgiveness: Homily for the 11th Sunday After Pentecost and the Sunday After the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos

I Corinthians 9:2-12
Matthew 18:23-35
         Today we continue celebrating a great feast of the Church, the Feast of the Dormition of Mary the Thetokos    When we think of the Virgin Mary, we cannot help but marvel at the unique and glorious role that she plays in our salvation.  For the Son of God to humble Himself to the point of becoming a human being, He had to have a mother.   God entered into creation and became one of us through her.  She was truly the temple of the Lord in her miraculous pregnancy.  And Mary had the astounding role of raising Jesus Christ, of nursing, loving, and guiding Him as any mother does for a child.  She lived a life of great piety and purity all her days, and the tradition of the Church teaches that the Theotokos was a much loved and respected figure in the early Christian community in the years following Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
The icon of the feast of the Dormition shows that Christ came with the angels to receive Mary’s soul upon her death.  All the other apostles were present, but St. Thomas did not arrive until three days after her burial.  When the tomb was opened so that he could see her one last time, Mary’s body was gone.  The first one to receive Christ had become the first one to share in His resurrection, to follow Him body and soul into eternal life.  Through Mary, Christ descended to earth.  And now through Christ, Mary has ascended to heaven.  And as she said when she appeared to the apostles the evening of that third day, “Rejoice, I am with you all the days of your lives.”
Our Lady the Theotokos is herself an icon of our salvation.  She models for us what it means to accept Christ and to love and serve Him.  Her death and ascension are reminders of our destiny, of our hope, for the fullness of eternal life in the Kingdom.  And now she is with the Lord in heaven, praying for us—for the Church and the entire world-- interceding with her Son on our behalf with the boldness of a mother—the same boldness that she demonstrated in asking Christ’s to help with the shortage of wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.  That was His first miracle in John’s gospel, and He did it upon the request of His mother, even as He continues now to respond to her prayers.  
No, we cannot fully understand the mystery of the eternal Son of God having a human mother or of their relationship to one another.  For these amazing truths are part of the great miracle of the Incarnation:  that Christ really did become one of us in order to make us partakers of the Divine Nature, in order to bring us into His eternal life.  And Mary the Theotokos is the prime example of one who is truly united with Christ, who shines with His holiness.  Throughout her life, she led the way in loving and serving Christ; and upon her death, she led the way into the life of the Kingdom.    
            If we want to follow her example of participating so fully in the life of God, we need to take very seriously our Savior’s parable in today’s gospel reading about the importance of forgiveness.  A servant owed his king more money that he could possibly earn in his entire life.  When he couldn’t pay, the master was ready to sell him and his entire family in order to cover the debt.  But the servant begged for more time to pay, and the master showed mercy even beyond his request.  He actually forgave the debt; the man owed nothing and he and his family were safe from punishment.
            Then that same servant found another servant who owed him a much smaller sum of money.  But that man didn’t have enough, so the first servant had him put in prison until he could pay the debt.  When word of his response reached the king, he was furious that the man to whom he had shown such tremendous mercy would not even be patient with his fellow servant.  So the king put the first servant in prison until he could pay all that he owed.  Jesus Christ concluded this parable with the harsh warning:  “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
The Lord’s point is that if we are participants in the Divine Nature, if we are truly in Him, we must forgive and forget; we must show others the same love and mercy that He has shown to us.  Remember what the one who told us to forgive seventy-times seven said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  There is no limit to the forgiving love of Jesus Christ.  And if we are in Him, there can be no limit to our forgiveness either.  We who want His mercy must show it to others.  Otherwise, we reject Him and condemn ourselves.
If we are honest, we will admit that we all have lots of room to grow in forgiving those who have offended us.  Unfortunately, we find it much easier to judge, hate, and condemn than to love and forgive.  For ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, we have distorted our relationships with one another, allowing fear, judgment, and insecurity to separate us.  Early in the book of Genesis, their descendent Lamech brags that he will avenge himself seventy-seven fold.  In other words, if you accidentally bumped into him he would kill you and your entire family.  You wouldn’t want to mess with him.  Well, our desire for revenge probably doesn’t go that far.  We may not avenge ourselves seventy-seven fold, but we often find it almost impossible forgive seventy times seven.
Remember the words of St. John’s Epistle:  “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.”  It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and souls that we will find the strength to stop lying in this way, to treat others as Christ has treated us. 
Like any other area of weakness in the Christian life, the struggle to forgive should begin with confession, with an honest acknowledgement before God that we hold a grudge against someone else, that we have not forgiven that person.  Even as we ask for God’s forgiveness, we should ask for His help in being reconciled and forgiving completely whatever wrong has been done.  We must treat them with mercy and also pray for those who have offended us, asking God’s blessings on them.  And when we are tempted to dwell on what they have done or to judge them, we must immediately turn our attention to the Jesus Prayer or at least to something else that distracts us from this temptation.  No, none of this is easy.  None of it is immediate.  But if we consistently turn away from unholy thoughts, they will lose their power over us.  If we get in the habit of not paying attention to them, they will diminish.  And then we will enjoy a new freedom to forgive our enemies from our hearts, to replace grudges and resentment with love, to be at peace with them, as much as it depends on us.
We rarely think of the Theotokos in relation to forgiveness, but have you ever noticed that we have no record of her  judging or condemning those who murdered her Son?  That’s truly remarkable and a sign of her great holiness.  Even as He prayed from the cross for the Father to forgive them, Mary held no grudge either.  Imagine that:  a mother not being consumed with hatred for those who crucified her only child.  
So during this time of the Dormition, let us look to the Virgin Mary as a living icon of our salvation, of what it means for a human being to love, obey, and participate in the life of God.  Let us follow her example of holiness in how we live and die, and especially in how we forgive.
It’s comforting to know that we do not make up the Christian life as we go along.  Instead, we are surrounded by a great cloud of heavenly witnesses who have paved the way and who cheer us on in our journey to the Kingdom.  First among them is the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.  By her prayers and the mercy of her Son, let us follow her into the joy of life eternal.         

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Prayer, Fasting, and the Good Life: Homily for the 10th Sunday After Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

1 Corinthians 4:9-16
Matthew 17:14-23
It’s easy to become annoyed by some of the distortions of Christianity that are so common in our culture.  Some preach on television and elsewhere that truly faithful Christians will become rich and have no problems.  Many seem to assume that following Jesus Christ is just a little religious icing on the cake of worldly comfort, part of an easy way to a happy marriage, a model family, perfect health, and whatever else we may want out of life.  It’s as though the Son of God came to make us really successful by conventional standards.   
            The irony is that even a quick look at the life of Jesus Christ, his Mother Mary the Theotokos, or apostles such as St. Paul shows how foolish such teachings are.  None of them lived what any mainstream culture thinks of as a happy or successful life.  Now don’t get me wrong:  they obviously lived the best and holiest of lives; they are models for us in how to live and to die.  But they put the Kingdom of God first and refused to put even their own happiness before God’s will and the humble service of others.  They all suffered greatly, but thereby participated in joy and peace that are not of this world.  
            The Son of God lowered Himself in the Incarnation, becoming one of us and even enduring death and descent to Hades in order to conquer them and bring us into His eternal life.  He was rejected by the leaders of His own people and brutally executed by the Roman authorities.  Mary the Theotokos accepted a scandalous pregnancy as the Lord’s virgin mother and saw her Son murdered by those He came to save.  St. Paul endured hardships of all kinds, beatings, imprisonment, and ultimately martyrdom for Christ.  These were not wealthy people; their lives didn’t follow conventional patterns; they weren’t in favor with the religious and political authorities of their land.   In some ways, there were outsiders and outcasts. But it was precisely through their difficult struggles and their faithful ministries that salvation has come to the world and we have inherited the blessings of life eternal.
            That’s an important truth to keep in mind when we hear the heart-broken father of the epileptic boy cry out to the Lord for healing for his son.  The poor man had probably done everything he knew for his son without success, even asking the disciples to cure him. They had failed to do so, however, because of their unbelief, which was shown by their lack of attention to prayer and fasting.  In other words, they lacked the spiritual strength to overcome evil, probably because they assumed that following Christ was an easy path to a privileged life.  After all, most Jews expected the Messiah to be a great king and military ruler who would presumably reward those who served Him.    In their hopes for that kind of savior, the disciples were part of a “faithless and perverse” generation that trusted in and served itself, rather than in the one true God.
            The epileptic boy was not healed because his father was wealthy, powerful, or popular—or because Jesus Christ was on His way to becoming an earthly king.  Instead, the boy’s father had true faith, trust and humility before the Lord, kneeling down before him and asking for mercy from the bottom of his heart.  He lowered himself before Christ, putting himself in the humble place of one who could receive the blessing of the most humble One of all.
            Unfortunately, some in the church of Corinth were nothing like that father; they were so full of pride that St. Paul had to set them straight on what it meant to serve Jesus Christ.  He wrote that true apostles lived “as men condemned to death,” as fools who are weak, dishonored, homeless, and treated as the filth of the world.   Well, you can’t get much lower than that or much further away from the lie that Christianity should be a means to wealth, success, and what the world calls happiness.   And the words used by St. Paul remind us of how the Lord spoke of the “least of these,” identifying Himself with the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner—those at the very bottom of any society. 
            The application to our lives is clear.  Instead of following today’s popular false prophets who worship money, power, and other forms of self-indulgence, we should follow the advice of the Lord Himself to the disciples on the centrality of faith, prayer, and fasting.  Instead of believing that success in any earthly kingdom or culture is the highest good, we must entrust our lives only to the One who has conquered death.  Instead of being constantly distracted by television, the internet, video games, work, sports, the demands of a busy schedule, or other earthly cares, we must carve out at least some time every day for quiet contemplation and spiritual communion with the Lord. Instead of satisfying every desire and wallowing in unrestrained indulgence and consumption, we must learn to say no to our addiction to pleasure through appropriate forms of fasting and self-denial on a regular basis.  Instead of making our faith a way to get what we want and gain the praise of others, we must learn the essential place of humility in the Christian life.  For it is only when we stop focusing on ourselves—our strengths, our virtues, our abilities, as well as our failures and weaknesses—that we will be able to kneel before Christ like that father who was at the end of his rope and  open ourselves  to the mercy and healing of the Lord.
            One of the many problems of popular, easy Christianity is that it makes us spiritually weak.  If the faith is basically about helping us get what we want, then we will always serve ourselves and become addicted to self-centered desires.  We will become so enslaved to our bellies, the love of money, popularity, and the endless pursuit of happiness that we will be just like the disciples:  powerless against the forces of evil and corruption in our own lives.  If we serve and please only ourselves, we will become so self-focused and self-centered that we will find it impossible to cultivate the humility required to serve God and our neighbor.  We will become so addicted to our desires that we will lack the ability to say no to ourselves for any reason, which is ultimately a recipe for nothing but misery.
            Well, that’s certainly no way to live the Christian life; better to look to Christ who came not to be served, but to serve, and who gained strength for the many challenges of His ministry by intensive prayer and fasting.  The Theotokos grew up in the Temple and was sustained throughout her life by these spiritual disciplines, as was St. Paul.  Our Savior and His Saints call us to follow them in humility, obedience, and self-denial.  Yes, there is hard work involved, but should that really be surprising?  Physical rehab after an injury requires discipline and the same is true of making progress in any line of work or in maintaining healthy relationships within a family or marriage. And if we are in the process of dying to self so that we may become holy and share in eternal life, should we be surprised that the struggle is even greater?         
               The good news is that Christ is with us in that struggle.  He endured the agony of the cross for us, and we will grow in faith by bearing our crosses patiently, by accepting the difficulty of prayer, fasting, selfless service, and all the other disciplines of the Christian life.  No, they will never make us rich and famous, but they are tools for helping us become like the father of the epileptic boy who, in his humble faith, received the mercy of Christ.  Then we will learn in our own lives that what looks like weakness by worldly standards is actually the greatest strength of all.    




Sunday, August 5, 2012

Walking on the Water: Orthodox Homily for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

I Corinthians 3:9-17
Matthew 14:22-34 

Our family visited the Grand Canyon a few years ago.  It is magnificent and awe-inspiring,  but  when hiking a trail or standing on an overlook, I recall that you have to pay careful attention because you are often just a few feet away from a very steep drop off.   Unfortunately, people have fallen to their deaths in the canyon simply because they didn’t pay attention to what they were doing. 
                St. Peter made a similar error.  As he walked on the water with Jesus Christ, Peter let himself be distracted by the wind and the waves of a stormy sea.  Instead of focusing his attention and trust in the Lord Who miraculously enabled him to walk on the water in the first place, Peter let doubt and fear fill his mind.  So he began to sink; but when he called out in terror for help, the Lord reached out to Peter and saved him from drowning.
                The story is even more profound when we remember that Peter had asked Christ to let him walk on the water.  Peter actually tested Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  As was often the case, Peter spoke before he thought, for he was the one who would be put to the test, the test to see if he really had faith; and he fell short.
                I imagine that we can all understand Peter’s situation.  We may think that we have a lot of faith and even put ourselves in situations where we know we will be tested, but then we let temptations, fears, and our passions take over.  We pay more attention to the dangers that threaten us than to the Lord Who gave us life in the first place and continues to enable us to walk by faith even through the most difficult challenges that the world presents.   And when we do so, we sink like a stone thrown into the sea or a careless tourist who falls into the Grand Canyon.
                For as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, our one true foundation in life is in the Son of God.  Our entire life is built on Him, the One by Whom all things were made, the One Who became the second Adam to heal our corrupt humanity,  the One who conquered death in His third-day resurrection, the One Who has brought us into the eternal life of the Holy Trinity.
                When we turn away from Him, we turn away from our true selves.  We cut ourselves off from the truth, reality, and power that are necessary to sustain a life fitting for those created in the image and likeness of God.  That’s why Peter started to descend to the deep when he gave more attention to his fears than to trust in the Lord.  And it’s why we all experience the weakness of slavery to our habitual sins, our passions that seem almost second nature to us.  We may believe with our hearts that Christ is the Savior, but our faith shows its weakness when we are confronted with a difficult challenge, when the waves seem so big and the winds seem so strong:  and we feel like someone who all of a sudden realizes that he’s trying to walk on the water in the middle of a storm.
                Yes, fear, panic, and anxiety will likely then seem more real to us in that moment than will faith, hope, and love.  The key question, however, is what do we do then?  For we have freedom, we are God’s fellow workers and He never forces us to love and serve Him.  We may give in to our temptations and allow our lives to be controlled by our self-centered desires and fears.  We may live as though there is no God, as if it’s simply up to us to figure out how to cope as best we can with whatever happens to us.  That may sound noble, but it’s still the path to continued slavery to sin and to the grave.  For even our best efforts can’t enable us to walk on the water, much less conquer death.
                St. Peter shows us a better way of responding to the sudden awareness that we are sinking.  He simply calls out, probably at the top of his lungs, “Lord, save me!”  This is surely a genuine acknowledgement that he knows his life is collapsing under its own weight, that on his own he’s headed to the bottom of the sea.   In crying out for Christ’s help, Peter shows that he does have some level of  faith, but it’s not the strength of his faith that saves him.  Instead, it’s the mercy of the Lord.
                And even though none of us walks on water, we all stand in constant need of the mercy of Jesus Christ.  That’s why we sing “Lord, have mercy” so many times in our services.  It’s why the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” is at the heart of spiritual vision.  We focus on the Lord’s mercy so much because, like Peter, we are constantly tempted to turn our attention elsewhere, to think that what is really important, necessary, and urgent in life is something else of our own creation.   
                Of course, we must give attention to our work, our education, our family, our friends, and many other significant things in the course of a day.  But these objects of our attention don’t have to distract us from the Lord.  In our daily prayers, we should ask for God’s mercy upon our loved ones and in our daily responsibilities and undertakings.  Whenever we are tempted to sinful words, deeds, or thoughts, we may call upon the Lord’s aid silently.  And we can do many things in life quite well while offering short  prayers, such as the Jesus Prayer, whether  spoken aloud or not.
                Now let’s be honest, it takes effort to guard our thoughts and to pray from the heart when we are tempted.  It’s usually much easier for us simply to embrace anger, pride, lust, fear, despair, and hatred than it is for us to reject them.  That’s again why our epistle passage today refers to us as fellow workers with God.  Effort is required and it’s not easy.  But the more we struggle and perhaps fail, the greater awareness we will have that our situation is like that of St. Peter.  Apart from the mercy of Christ, we will sink and drown.  Apart from Him, we are like a building without a foundation which will collapse under its own weight. 
 And as St. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”   A temple must be holy and dedicated to God.  For us to be a temple requires vigilance and perseverance to ground our lives in the mercy of Christ, for we are so often tempted to worship the false gods of our own devising.  All the more is the reason is to maintain a daily rule of prayer and to pray the Jesus Prayer as much as we can.
You see, the more we turn our attention to Christ and His salvation, the better we will be able to respond to Him with faith, to walk with Him on the water through the storms of our own lives.  The more mindful we are, the closer watch we will keep on our thoughts, the better able we will be to reject the lies that we so often tell ourselves—and instead to open our hearts to the mercy of the One who is our foundation, our Savior, and the victor over sin and death.  Apart from Christ, we will sink like a stone.  But in Him, we become fellow workers with God for our salvation.  Let us keep our eyes and our hearts centered on Christ, for He is our only true foundation.   

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fast Food or Fasting?: Holy Eating and Drinking Instead of Self-Centered Indulgence

Have you ever noticed that food is often at the center of controversies?  Whether it’s eating meat sacrificed to idols in Corinth, figuring out how early Christians from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds could eat together, or even responding to the current hubbub about a chicken chain, what we put in our mouths and stomachs can easily involve us in disputes.  Leaving those celebrated cases aside, our diets and eating habits have profound spiritual and moral significance, as they shape who we become as people and how we relate to others and to the Lord.

Unfortunately, mindless overindulgence in the pleasures of the table is all too common among Christians.  In our land of cheap and plentiful highly processed foods, we usually give ourselves a pass on gluttony and don’t really take it seriously as a temptation.  Of course, eating too much doesn’t put us at risk only for spiritual problems. Too many people are fat, really fat, in the USA.   Junk food, fast food, too much food—they’re all around us.  Modern conveniences and transportation have cut our rates of physical activity drastically over the last generation.  Despite the existence of so many gyms, hardly anyone gets enough exercise. Obesity is an epidemic and only getting worse, which is bad for our bodies and our souls, as well as our families and other relationships.   
We’ve probably blotted it out of our memory, but the Bible tells us that sin came into the world together with an unholy attitude toward food.  Everything changed when Adam and Eve could not control their appetites.  They ate the fruit in violation of God’s command, and we’re still following their bad example.  Food is good stuff; there’s nothing evil about it at all.  The problem is that we use it for purposes other than those for which God created it.  We consume food and drink in ways that do not help us grow in the divine likeness and instead make us addicts to satisfying our disordered desires.  No wonder all-you-can-eat is so popular.   And portion sizes at restaurants are so huge that often an individual’s serving could sustain a small family.  That’s sadly ironic in a world where so many in developing nations starve to death or are malnourished. 
The scary truth is that how we eat and drink reveals a great deal about how we relate to God, our neighbors, and ourselves.  We commit idolatry when we choose satisfying our self-centered desires instead of living as partakers of the divine nature.  With the rise of cheap and plentiful fast food, we are more likely to eat alone, quickly, and without being mindful of what we’re doing.  And we do this so routinely that most of us don’t even notice it.  What should be a blessed sign of our shared life with others before God too often becomes a lonely exercise in self-gratification that harms our bodies, our souls, and our families.      

 In contrast, Jesus Christ often used the wedding feast—yes, a celebratory meal-- as a sign of the Kingdom of God.  He transformed the Passover dinner into the Eucharist, our participation in the heavenly banquet.  He restored the fruits of the earth to their original purpose of sustaining our life in God when He fulfilled them as His Body and Blood. Consequently, those nourished by Holy Communion should view all their eating and drinking in a new light.  Self-centered indulgence should give way to a Eucharistic life in which our meals are truly a blessing, a sign of our salvation, and an offering to the Lord of our bodies, our relationships, and the earth’s bounty.  We should eat and drink in a way that bring us more fully into the life of the Holy Trinity and into the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors.  Pigging out in isolation won’t do that and neither will a diet that provides so much fat and sugar that we probably won’t be with our loved ones much longer.    

Maybe I hang out with the wrong crowd, but I don’t know anyone who just loves to fast.  Nonetheless, we do well to abstain periodically from the richest and most satisfying foods as a way of humbling ourselves before God and of learning to resist self-centered desires.   We need some discipline, some restraint, in order to heal our unhealthy relationship with food and drink, as well as with other sources of pleasure. As the saying goes, gluttony is the mother of adultery. When we get in the habit of satisfying our self-centered desires, we find it hard to control any of our appetites.  Is it surprising that in a culture of fast food, obesity, and few family dinners that we have so much sexual immorality, love of money and power, and broken homes?  Should we be shocked that immediate gratification, impatience, and lack of consideration for others are epidemic?  The sad truth is that we have become all too comfortable with deeply rooted habits that distort and disfigure us as those created in the image and likeness of God.   

            So let’s do something countercultural by cooking, eating, and socializing with others in ways that are good for all concerned.  Our kitchens and dining rooms should become icons of the heavenly banquet; our table fellowship should become an extension of the Eucharist.  We should eat and drink our own salvation—and that of our families and friends—every day.   Let’s make food a blessing in our lives, not a curse.