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March 14, 2012

Day 22: Spiritual and Physical Health

by Rev. A. J. Iovine
A diet rich in soy and whey protein, found in ...

Yesterday evening in a conversation with someone, I brought up that I refrained from eating any animal products and, in fact, by semi-loose definition of the word, I could be considered a vegan. When that word “vegan”escaped my lips, I thought I saw the person’s eye twitch just a bit.

For a while now, my eating habits have shunned the eating of anything that comes from an animal. This would include all dairy, including cheese. At first, my direction was purely health. After my little cancer scare, I wanted to renew myself through a health study I joined — essentially, I ceased eating all animal products and shun consuming added oils. My lifelong eating habits were not so good. And as with other dieters, no matter the sham diet I was following, when I ended up stopping eating that for that particular diet, I gained back weight and felt terrible.

Joining a health study in late 2011 that encouraged a complete lifestyle change – not just for a short time – has helped me research the importance of the relationship between diet and overall health. Or as I like to say, “If you put garbage in your mouth, bad things happen inside.” Now, the definition of “garbage” I use is all that stuff that we know to be bad for us, but we ignore the warnings and eat it anyway. For instance, we know white breads are not good; yet, white-flour based breads are top sellers, whether in Wonder Bread or that roll you get in the deli with your sandwich. We all know that eating fast food is not healthy; and still, we would rather reach for something on a dollar menu rather than picking up a salad.

All of us know that eating too much sugar and saturated fat is not good for our blood. Yet, we would rather eat a handful of cookies made with butter and eggs and sugar rather than a handful of grapes.

I know this since I was that way for a long time.

Making ‘turn on a dime’ changes to one’s eating and lifestyle habits is hard. For me, it was the only way to do it. I just had to stop eating meat and dairy immediately. But for many people that have family considerations, making hard dietary changes is very difficult. There has to be a gradual move towards healthier eating habits because the last thing a mom or dad needs is a child throwing a bowl of spinach across the room.

Here at Saint Matthew’s, one of the motivations as we reform our evangelism team is to work not just on the importance of spiritual health, but also the overall lifestyle health of God’s children. Over the coming weeks, I am going to write and speak about the new outreach team ministry we are working on called “caring hands.” In fact, we have already started to generate interest in this new ministry directive through our Food Pantry. But “caring hands” is going to encompass more innovative ways to outreach to God’s hurting children.

Essentially, it starts with you.

We are letting you, the members of Saint Matthew’s, take the ball and run with it. The ideas and thoughts are not going to come from the “top on down” as many of our evangelism and missions programs have done previously. Instead, they are coming from you, from our friends in our community, and from those looking for God’s love and grace.

The Food Pantry ministry started with a thought from our Elders. They made the suggestion that it would be good for our congregation to start a ministry to show mercy and caring to the needy in our community. And that is what has happened. The people who help stock the pantry — they come to church every weekend, donating what they can to provide the necessities for the pantry. And those people are you. You have donated shelving, reusable bags, tables. plastic bins, clip boards, paper, and other physical items for the pantry. Our pantry leaders come from our ranks. And you have also reached out to get help for the pantry from others — whether it be from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, local businesses who have donated to make this pantry a reality, or from friends or neighbors who have given you a few food items for our pantry shelves. And we’ve reached out to friends through Facebook and they have donated hundreds of dollars in financial donations or special food donations.

But also through Lent, you are leading the $12.25 Live for Christ effort, asking friends, neighbors, and family members to set aside a quarter a day through the season and on Easter Sunday to donate the collection to our pantry. We have scores of people from throughout our tri-state area who have stepped up to help our little pantry in New Milford.

The reason this is happening is because of you. Look in the mirror. Sometimes you may not feel that you are doing a lot, but every time you mention Saint Matthew’s or our pantry to others, every time you raise up a prayer for God to bless our work, it is you who are making a difference in the lives of people.

It is very Matthew 25.

And our “caring hands” efforts are not ending there. To show mercy and love while witnessing about Jesus Christ through our Food Pantry is one blessed ministry that started from a single idea of a member of Saint Matthew’s. Recently, an idea was raised about establishing a health group at church, a group whose motivation would be to talk about eating and living healthier or to make these Godly-given ‘temples’ of ours — our bodies — the best they can be. At the heart of this group, we would cook together and make these healthier meals and bring them home to our families.

On Thursday, April 12, at noon, following our Food Pantry meeting that begins at 10am, we are holding our first meeting of the ‘health group’ (right now, we do not have a name for this new ministry effort, but it will be part of our “caring hands” ministry).  Basically, this will be a “sticky meeting” where we will figure out what we want this group to focus on. But we will have lunch — and I will put it together.

And yes, it will be a vegan lunch.

I will be writing more about this ministry in the coming weeks. But please put this on your calendar — Thursday, April 12 at noon. And join us.

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