knowing names and faces

knowing names and faces

Making sourdough has changed my relationship with food.

Once a week, I take my little mason jar of sourdough starter from the fridge, the lactic acid now a clear layer above the thick charcoal-coloured goop.

I empty the contents into my plastic bowl, feed my starter with its diet of flour and water (it is a creature of simple tastes), and leave it until it is full of bubbly happiness.

I add the rest of my ingredients – the flour, oil, salt, herbs, folding until the starter has absorbed the white spots into its charcoal. Then, I knead.

It’s the kneading that transforms this process into something of a spiritual experience – much more than say, poking chopped vegetables around with a spatula until wilted.

In other modes of cooking, there is a degree of separation between you and your food – a wooden spoon, a slow cooker. You can neglect your boiling eggs, come back to them ten minutes later and find them hard-boiled.

When you knead, however, you are all there.

You give of your strength; the dough resists you.

You see it transform from needing to cling desperately to your fingers into a ball smooth and supple, ready for independence.

And so, this process of making sourdough – nurturing it over the course of 1-3 days – has helped me to see food not as mere calories, but as an actor in a story.

It has inspired me to ask questions of where my food comes from, how I can be more faithful to the original way it was created, how to be more connected to the earth God has given me. (For more thoughts on stewardship of the earth, read Wendell Berry’s “Art of the Commonplace”)

On a larger level, it has started me thinking about the ways I pursue consumerism, instead of relationship.


I listened to this podcast on “The Simple Show”, where the host, Tsh Oxenreider, discussed how we approach life with a consumer attitude:

We swipe left or right on Tinder, shopping for people based on our “tastes”.

We talk to the big-shot businessman at the networking event with hopes of getting promoted, not the waiter collecting our wine glasses.

People become useful commodities, instead of human beings to be loved and valued.

Extend this attitude even further, and you get babies abandoned on the streets of China because they have Down’s syndrome. Women trafficked to satisfy the sexual fantasies of men.

Humans treated as a means to an end.

So, we rally against these causes, write long, angry posts on the evils of human trafficking and tell friends how horrible it is that there are people in the world who can even conceive of such atrocities.

But forget the subtlety of ways this very mentality has crept into our own thinking.

When I first started walking the streets of Montreal, the evident homelessness problem began to create tension in me in uncomfortable ways. I felt guilty for walking by people, or having to turn them down.

But, it also felt disingenuous to fish a quarter out of my wallet, and drop it in just to assuage my guilt.

This couldn’t be what the building of His kingdom looks like. Dropping quarters in crinkled Tim Horton cups thrust at me when I exit the metro station. It was too easy.

Yet, my heart ached for this unbridgeable chasm I felt between me and this human on the other side of the Tim Hortons cup.

A chasm I couldn’t bridge by simply giving them money.

I had heard of voluntourism: Cambodian orphanages “recruiting” children from their families to populate these artificial constructions to which foreigners could channel their donations, when in fact the money was only incentivizing the trafficking of the children.

Helping the poor had become this transaction. This dropping of quarters into Tim Hortons cups, this Interac transfer to foreign orphanages.

Then, I read this from Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution”:

When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ.

The church becomes a distribution centre, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. 

And Jesus did not set up a program but modelled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God… that reign did not spread through organizational establishments or structural systems.

It spread like disease – through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people infected by love. 

The kingdom can’t be measured in these disconnected transactions, Claiborne says. The church is not a place of brokerage.

It is a place of radical community. I love that.

The fast-food form of missions is when we do these quick acts of kindness – that one-time donation of clothes to the Salvation Army, the two-week mission trip to Haiti.

To be clear, I’m not against them in any way. There is a definite need for one-time donations. And my life was changed by a two-week mission trip to a little village in Fuzhou.

I just believe it’s not where we supposed to stop and pat ourselves on the back.

I believe the blueprint Jesus left for us is one of deep, radical community, one in which we do life with “the other”.

It’s shifting from “you-need-my-help” to  “I’m-a-human-and-so-are-you”.

It’s a slow-going process of breaking down the barriers that keep us from seeing people as human.

It’s sharing stories, dinner tables and the sacred spaces of our hearts.

It’s giving hugs, asking what their favourite food is, looking them in the eye, knowing their name.

It’s easy to read Shane Claiborne and be overwhelmed.

But I like to break big ideas down into small, actionable steps.

So, my small step away from consumerism and towards relationship is this: start with knowing names and then, stories.

The lady at the grocery counter. The barista making my latte.

Everyone has a name and a story, so that is how I want to start.

Because then the issues are no longer just issues.

They have a name and a face, and they actually then start to mean something to us.

Over to you:

I want to start ending my posts with some takeaway or discussion questions. Feel free to post your comments below, or mull over it on your own time 🙂

  1. What are the minute ways (actions or even in your thinking) that you tend to see people more for how they are useful, than for how they are valuable?
  2. What is your one small step away from a consumeristic way of thinking to one that is based on relationship?
  3. Did you reach out to ask for someone’s name and story this week? If so, what did you learn?

Leave a thought :)

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