Monthly Archives: November 2013

Advent photo-a-day challenge

Thanksgiving is over. Black Friday has happened.

Cyber Monday looms around the corner.

But first, on December 1, the Christian season of Advent begins again.

“Advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” It is a time of preparation for Christmas. As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) notes, “the four weeks of Advent present an opportunity for communal discernment and personal examination, as the church prepares to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord and looks with hope for Christ’s return.”

Different individuals and communities prepare in different ways. Special events are held. Special songs sung. Gifts are planned, purchased, and shared. Some people add prayer, scripture reading, and meditation to their lives.

This year, I plan to join in the Advent photo-a-day challenge posed by Rethink Church. Here are the details:

As we did with Lent last February, we’re inviting you once again to enter this season of Advent with intention and awareness. As we prepare, watch and wait for that wonderful something God is sending our way not just at Christmas, but every single day.

Whatever your practices this season, will you join this photo-a-day practice and share with the community how you perceive each word or phrase for the day? No explanation needed, unless you want to. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Tag us on your instagram photos with @rethinkchurch or on twitter [@umrethinkchurch] with #rethinkchurch and #rethinkchristmas. We’d also love for you to share your photos on our Pinterest board!

You don’t have to be a great photographer. This project is hopefully more about the practice of paying attention and being intentional, than it is being the best photographer [though we encourage you to get creative!]. If you don’t have instagram or twitter, we’d still love for you to share your photos. Just share them on your facebook page and tag us.

So, will you join us by opening your eyes [and your cameras] to witness the hope that is already springing up around you? Will you open your hearts for Immanuel, God with us?

Connect with this project online:

Sign up for daily text or email reminders for the word phrase of the day [with a verse if you want something to reflect on throughout the day]. Text Advent to 75309 to receive daily reminders via text.

Add our Google calender

I will post here and will tweet the posts at @wmkoenig. I may link to the posts on Instagram and Facebook. In Lent, I primarily used photographs I had taken in the past. I will probably do so again. It will prove interesting to learn how this challenge plays out.

See you along the Trail.


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Vegetarian stuffing

That’s vegetarian stuffing.

I heard the words over the soft, smooshing plop the big scoop of stuffing made as it landed on my plate.

That’s vegetarian stuffing.

That certainly explained all the green stuff among the bread.

That’s vegetarian stuffing. The two over here are oyster.

Vegetarian stuffing? As in filled with vegetables. With no oysters. My mind spun quickly as I pondered my options.

“Vegetarian?” I said.

Vegetarian. And oyster over here.

“Really? Vegetarian?”

Really. You look like it does not excite you.

I recalled a moment at a buffet involving a friend of my grandmother, pickled pig’s feet placed unwanted on a plate, and a subtle return to the buffet table to replace them in the serving dish.

“It would not be my first choice. Especially with the oyster option,” I moved the plate toward the pan as I spoke.

Go ahead. You can put it back.

I quickly scrapped the vegetarian stuffing back into the pan. And even more quickly moved to the oyster stuffing and filled the now empty spot on my plate.

As I did, a new definition flitted across my mind:

Home is where you can put the food back with everyone watching and no one will criticize you.

Silently giving thanks for having options in a world where so many do not, I went in search of more food. As I did, I heard the repeated explanation:

That’s vegetarian stuffing.

See you along the Trail.


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Purple berries

Purple Berries

Purple they are;
flowers they are not.

29 November 2013
Goochland, Virginia

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SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge: a friend reflects

snap_logoAmong my friends who participated in the PC(USA) SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, Rebecca Barnes wrote some compelling reflections. Here are a few quotes to encourage you to read and ponder her material:

Reflections preparing for the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge next week

Another worry comes to me: What if I want to offer to take food to someone sick or grieving that week? And it hits me: it is a privilege to have food to be generous with. To tell church to keep me on the list of people to call, that is a privilege. I have enough money and resources to be a helper (even as I have been one of the helped). What would it feel like if I could only ever assume the role of “the helped?” Ouch.

First day of the Food Stamp Challenge

7) I have a church that is open, that I’ve been embraced in all my life, and frequently has hot coffee, after church meals, and Sunday School snacks for kids, no questions asked… Not sure what we would do without a community (other than be hungrier, and lonelier.)

Is Your Hunger Satiated?

What could create not only compassion and empathy, but justice, for those living in poverty? What would really change those with power to change this system? Would personal experience, would stories from others, would public policy advocacy, would civil disobedience? What would it take for our nation to be outraged—and to refuse to let it happen—when Congress cuts $40 billion from SNAP benefits? When will we make sure that our insatiable hunger for justice is only satisfied with: justice for all?

Serving up Privilege

1)   The Food Stamp Challenge isn’t a game. It’s not winnable. It shouldn’t be used, by those of us with full cupboards and freezers and the possibility to go “back to normal” tomorrow, to congratulate ourselves even if we can possibly eek through the week. Being on a SNAP benefit food budget is challenging, absolutely. But the goal is not to see if I can get enough to eat this week. The Challenge is actually to advocate for the benefits available to people in our nation. The Challenge is to transform my own heart and mind enough and hope that I can then use my own power and privilege and experience to change myself. To re-invigorate my advocacy. And maybe, somehow, affect the systems of economic injustice because I will keep trying with my words, my vote, and my privilege, to get the message across: there is something really wrong with the income disparity, wage inequality, lack of access to food, and massive economic injustice in our nation and it must change.

The Advent of Hunger?

May the God we prepare to welcome on Christmas morning, a God who was born poor, be a God who convicts us of the need to act and advocate and subvert systems that prevent people from experiencing God’s love lived out in human form. May God guide us as we seek to strengthen local food economies, to create resilient communities, to empower those in need, and to demand justice in our food policies.

Food Stamps and the Environment? Note: Rebecca is the Associate for Environmental Ministries at the PC(USA)

The thing is, a ruined earth is both an “equal opportunity” destroyer for humanity and it strikes the poor, hungry, and marginalized most heavily. Think of any natural or environmental disaster.

Thanks Rebecca for your words and your witness!

See you along the Trail.

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SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge: an other view

snap_logoI believe that part of the point of the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge is to challenge our thinking and to start conversations. This happened to me as I participated in the challenge during the week of November 17. I talked to a number of people about the challenge, the SNAP program, and working to end poverty. I had Twitter exchanges including one with Meagan Dosher Hansen who reminded me of the importance of access to fresh and local food and an exchange with Leanne Masters who raised the obvious and important question of “Why aren’t the lived experiences of others enough to foster conversation?” I continue to ponder that question. I also read a number of blogs and some articles. These included material from people who participated in the challenge and people who did not; people who supported participating in the challenge and people who did not.

Sharon Astyk wrote a post that stays with me as well: Why I Won’t Do the Food Stamp Challenge. The experience of two of her former foster sons who lived on food stamps for their family’s primary source of income informs her writing. She observes:

I know for a fact that the reality of living on food stamps is rather different than making a week or a month long shift.

She notes the compound challenges that people who depend on food stamps face: such as the stamps not lasting until the end of the month and the deficit that creates as the next month begins and what food stamps do not purchase and what one has to do to obtain some of those items: “tampons, soap, shoes, toilet paper, cleaning fluid, roach killer, school supplies”.

She also highlights the privileges, advantages, and resources that those who choose to take the challenge have. I had all these and more:

  • A kitchen
  • Spices and seasonings to make food palatable (although some who take the challenge do so without using what is on hand, the reality is that we have many things on hand already)
  • A bathroom full of supplies
  • Ways to cover other expenses and emergencies
  • A very different starting point – as Ms. Astyk points I, I did not start with “a week or two of hunger, depression and misery behind [me] in which there was not food”
  • Access to free coffee at work and in meetings
  • Friends who had the resources to buy me snacks or drinks (I did decline all but one cup of coffee at a cold football game but my reality is that I have friends who can easily help me without stretching their resources and I have the means to attend a football game)

Ms Astyk rightly identifies other limits of the challenge:

Doing the food stamp diet for a week or a month won’t give you a sense of how depressing, humiliating, exhausting and frustrating it is to be poor in our society.  It won’t let you experience the ways poor diet and the grinding suffering of poverty degrade your health and your energy to keep going.    It won’t give you a sense of what it is like to live on food stamps month after month, what it is like to be ashamed of yourself and your inability to give your children and family what they need.  It won’t let you experience what it is like to feel that you can never catch up, so what’s the point of even trying?

She concludes:

Not everyone who receives food stamps starts as far back as my kids do – but the truth is for the one in four children in America who depends on food stamps for their family’s basic food security, the conversations we are having about cutting the food stamp budget, about the farm bill and about poverty don’t even begin to cover critical ground.

Doing the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge opened me to voices and questions and conversations in new ways. I am grateful for that. But I recognize that there are many voices I need to hear, the questions still remain, and the conversations I had only opened the topics of providing food security and ending poverty. I will have to go deeper. We all will have to go deeper. May we do so. May I do so.

See you along the Trail.

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SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge: contact Congress II

snap_logoLeaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have written to Congress asking them not to cut SNAP benefits.

You can do the same. The PC(USA) Office of Public witness makes it easy to share your thinking on how we care for our sisters and brothers.

I have done so. I hope you join me.

See you along the Trail.








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SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge: PC(USA) leaders ask Congress not to cut SNAP benefits

Reposted from the Presbyterian News Service:

Dear Members of Congress:

We write as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) concludes a week-long SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge in which we, the church’s national leaders, as well as hundreds of Presbyterians, chose to live on an average SNAP benefit, which nationally is about $30 per person per week. This practice is intended to raise awareness within our community about the dire food insecurity of many of our neighbors.  We realize, of course, that our engaging in this Challenge is a symbolic gesture, but we also believe that it has meaning and capacity for building awareness of the very real need in our communities.  We further recognize that our own reactions to living on SNAP benefit levels for a week – both psychological and physiological – cannot begin to approach the experience of a family that is relying for sustenance on these inadequate, and yet essential benefits.

Even as we learned this lesson, we acknowledge what privilege we have in bringing it to an end, in seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, in returning to our usual diets.  So as we enter this festival of Thanksgiving, we give thanks for food and for all the ways that healthy food is available to each of us.  And we give thanks for SNAP, which prevents so many Americans from falling into severe food insecurity. It is our prayer that we will change our food system so that no one in this wealthy nation will suffer hunger and that each and every person will have enough, not too little and not too much.

Through this SNAP Challenge, we learned in practice what we only previously knew intellectually – that far from needing to be cut, Food Stamp benefits are too low and need to be increased, especially in light of the recent Nov. 1st benefit cliff. So, we urge you to refrain from cutting SNAP, and instead to invest in this program that provides only the most basic assistance to struggling people in some of their darkest hours.

We further understand from partners in ministry that we, the churches that engage in ministries of charity and mercy cannot alone meet the overwhelming need created by cuts to federal safety net programs. Private charity needs public partnership in order to answer our call to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. As earnestly as we try to fill gaps in services left by government spending cuts, we simply do not have the resources or capacity to respond to the growing and monumental need caused by a severe recession, anemic recovery, and systemic inequity.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) further has a long history of commitment to food justice and food system advocacy.  In a letter sent earlier this year, we called for a “comprehensive Farm Bill that ensures access to food for hungry people, provides an ample safety net targeted to those small and mid-sized farmers who most need it, builds up rural communities and their economies, and protects the integrity of God’s creation through robust conservation programs and sustainable agriculture.”

Our nation’s food and farm policies, as embodied in the Farm Bill, impact people and communities from rural America to big cities to developing countries. In the current budget climate, the Farm Bill’s limited resources must be effectively targeted where need is the greatest. And people are hungry. In particular, we urge you to protect SNAP from cuts that will only make it harder for people to make ends meet, that will increase food insecurity, that will leave children hungry.

And as we observe the national festival devoted to giving thanks, we are thankful for functioning government, for leaders who devote their lives to public service, and for your own service to our nation.

Should you have any questions or wish to hear more about our reflections and learnings during the SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, please contact our Office of Public Witness, Leslie Woods, Representative for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues.


Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Reverend Dr. Neal Presa
Moderator of the 220th General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Linda Valentine
Executive Director, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

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After the fall

Fire races
from his hip to his knee;
his shoulder
stiffens and throbs;
yet both pains,
all pains,
pale against
the strangling grief
that crushes
life and joy
from his heart.

3:10 AM
23 November 2013
Shire on the Hudson
Manhattan, New York

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SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge: contact Congress

Today on the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, I contacted my Representative and Senators asking them to produce a faithful, fair Farm Bill that protects SNAP from harmful cuts, improves access to food and nutrition, promotes conservation and rural economic development, and implements commodity and crop insurance reforms. Congress is currently negotiating a final Farm Bill in a conference committee.

I used this alert from the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

This week, hundreds of Presbyterians, including our leaders Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, Moderator Neal Presa, and Executive Director Linda Valentine are taking the  Food Stamp/SNAP Challenge.  The Stated Clerk reflects on his trip to the grocery store in this article.

While living on a food stamp budget for just a week cannot come close to the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week and month after month, it does offer those who take the Challenge with a new perspective and greater understanding.  For more resources, visit our Food Stamp Challenge page and the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Authorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) is included in the Farm Bill, on which Congress is working to negotiate a final deal right now.

Write to Congress now and urge them to produce a comprehensive, fair, and faithful Farm Bill.

Earlier in the year, serious threats were made to the funding of SNAP and on Nov. 1st, SNAP benefits were cut as a 2009 funding increase ran out.  Far from there being room to cut SNAP, we are finding out this week that they are already inadequate to meet reasonable, nutritional needs.  If anything, we need to invest more in Food Stamp benefits.  SNAP is a designed as a counter-cyclical program that expands to meet needs when the economy is bad and people lose income and become eligible.  When the jobs outlook and economy improve, it contracts as participants cycle off the program.

Members of Congress need to hear loud and wholehearted support for a program that catches people in their moments of need.

With the PC(USA)’s long-held convictions about food justice and fair food and farm policy, our interests in the Farm Bill, while very concerned with the nutrition programs, are also much broader that. In a joint statement with interfaith partners, the PC(USA) called on Congress to pass a Farm Bill that:

  • Protects and strengthens programs that reduce hunger and improve nutrition in the United States.
  • Promotes investments and policies that strengthen rural communities and combat rural poverty.
  • Provides a fair and effective farmer safety net that allows farmers in the U.S. and around the world to earn economically sustainable livelihoods.
  • Strengthens policies and programs that promote conservation and protect creation from environmental degradation.
  • Protects the dignity, health, and safety, of those responsible for working the land.
  • Promotes research related to alternative, clean, and renewable forms of energy that do not negatively impact food prices or the environment.
  • Safeguards and improves international food aid in ways that encourage local food security and improve the nutritional quality of food aid.

In light of our experience this week with the Food Stamp / SNAP Challenge, it is essential that Members of Congress hear from Presbyterians who are concerned about hunger and food justice, at home in the U.S. and around the world.

Write to your Members of Congress here.

See you along the Trail.

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Why I like New York 35: the New York Pass

New York PassThis post is way overdue.

Last Thanksgiving, Tricia came to New York. Eric could not leave Austin where he served as a Young Adult Volunteer. With Sean and I both living in New York, it made sense for Tricia to come here.

We had a great time. We ate too much and we saw a number of sites. Tricia said she needed to come back when she could stay longer.

I pondered that and did some research and consulted Sean. Then I purchased two 7-Day New York Passes for Christmas.

The New York Pass is a ‘smart card’ – like a credit card with a computer chip inside – which allows you completely cash free entry to over 80 New York tourist attractions. It’s a bit like an ‘all you can eat’ buffet – once you’ve bought your New York Pass you don’t have to pay to get into any of the attractions covered by the pass and the more sites you see, the more money you save.

At some locations, often the busiest attractions, the New York Pass allows you to skip the lines.

Tricia returned to New York in June and we used the pass. It worked perfectly. We had a wonderful time. We went to the places one would expect – the Circle Cruise, the Empire State Building, and the Top of the Rock. We went to new places – the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. We went to places that I might never have gone – MoMA and the Metroplitan Museum of Art. We toured DUMBO and Central Park. We ran ourselves ragged and truly enjoyed this amazing city.

Whether you live in New York and need to see the sites or whether you come to New York to visit, I recommend you use the New York Pass. It is good stuff.

See you along the Trail.

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