All Souls Kansas City

“What Feeds Us” April 8, 2018 with Jack Gaede

We live in a capitalistic and advertising-soaked economy that is subtly and constantly encouraging us to consume perpetually more, even though we might already be full—whether that is food, clothes, books, movies or news. We are what we consume. What would happen if we were able to be more mindful about what we were consuming and why?

Click here to start at the sermon.

“I believe that we live the story we tell ourselves – and others – about the life we’re leading.” I heard this quote the other day, and it got me thinking. What is the story that we tell ourselves and others about the things that really feed us? The things that nurture us? What do we tell ourselves and others about what is really important to us? And how does that compare to what we actually spend the most time doing in reality? In other words, does our perception of ourselves line up with our reality?

Have you ever heard the age-old saying “You are what you eat”? In numerous ways, this saying is inaccurate and simplistic. And yet…there is a kernel of wisdom there. For instance, if a marathon runner is trying to train her body in the most optimal way, she will be conscious of what she feeds her body, knowing that her intake of food translates directly to the fuel she will need to finish a long day of running. It probably wouldn’t take more than one instance of mishandling her food intake the day before an important race to understand that if she fails to fuel her body properly, she might not have enough gas to make it to the finish line. She is what she eats.

Staying with our food metaphor a little longer, let’s talk about the song from Oliver: “Food, Glorious Food.” It is a song sung by orphans who are on the edge of starvation. All they get to eat day after day is gruel, which is essentially watery oatmeal. In the midst of this scarcity, the orphans close their eyes and imagine every possible glorious food item. They imagine a different world where they are provided with three lush banquets every day. And after stuffing themselves on every imaginable culinary delight, the thing they want most of all…the thing that they really dream about is the very same thing that rich gentlemen have…namely, in-di-gestion. This song aptly captures the impulse in the midst of scarcity to indulge in whatever excess is available…even to the point of misery and pain. We are what we eat.

In our current world of media—whether that means newspapers, movies, books, TV shows, theater, or social media—we primarily use terms with food and consumption connotation. Our social media platforms have a feature called a news feed. We talk about binge-watching TV shows, and our DVR has a menu of ** channels from which to choose. We discuss how much news we consume and whether or not the news is digestible. This is no accident. We live in a capitalistic and advertising-soaked economy that is subtly and constantly encouraging us to consume perpetually more even though we might already be full—whether that is food, clothes, books, movies or news. We are what we consume.

What would happen if we were able to be more mindful about what we were consuming and why? Nutritionists encourage the practice of mindful eating—a practice that asks us to be more aware of our hunger and our fullness. To understand that sometimes we crave food when we are emotional and sometimes we get emotional when we are hungry. When we bring that same awareness to our media consumption, we might begin to recognize trends. Maybe we turn on the TV to counteract boredom instead of wondering what kind of creativity that boredom could produce. Maybe we reach for our phones when we are lonely and wanting to make a connection but then get carried away with Candy Crush or Instagram instead of reaching out to a friend to grab coffee or go for a hike. How would we benefit from being more mindful about our media consumption?

We are increasingly unaware of (or uninvolved with) the process of acquiring and preparing our food, and it is similar in many ways with our media. We see and hear and consume media throughout the day every day—consciously or not, and we often fail to control or monitor what we consume. There are motives and profits behind the algorithms that dictate what advertisements we see. If we don’t stop and notice these motives, we become like the fish who are unaware that we are in water.

One example is the 24-hour news cycle. Among other things, the 24-hour news cycle creates a glut of information, which leads to our sense of FOMO—millennial slang for the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). This fear of missing out manifests itself in our tenacious desire to be up-to-date—on the news, on the latest TV shows, on the Oscar nominees, on the President’s latest tweets, or on what’s trending on Facebook. This fear of missing out is just another way to say that we are experiencing a scarcity. We want more information, just like Oliver ** and his friends want more jellies and custards. If we want to avoid this media indigestion, we must heed the advice of Lynne Twist. Let me read it again: “We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mindset of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.”

What might it look like to understand and embrace the idea of sufficiency when it comes to our media consumption? When have I had enough news? How can I let go of my need to “catch up” on my reading list or on my Netflix queue or on my stored-up pile of crossword puzzles? How do we learn to shut off our intake valve for a time and sit in the stillness of our own presence? How many of you have been watching the news or listening to some kind of program lately and become afraid or worried about your lives or your children’s lives? If you have read Wendell Berry’s poem, you know that his solution isn’t to go deeper into the news and the worry or to rest in the Peace of Your News Feed. It is to go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water. It is to “come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”

In the interest of being true to today’s message, we are going to pause for a moment to rest in the stillness of our own presence—to digest a bit before we consume more thoughts so that we may avoid indigestion.

It is in your power to board a bus or train or plane and put away your devices and books for a while. To look around, to observe more of what’s happening around you, to say a blessing of lovingkindness, and to find some kind of beauty or stillness in the chaos. Or using David Foster Wallace’s language, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars—compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things.” Or as I like to call it “the interdependent web of existence.” A person who meditates on kindness, gratitude, and interconnectedness will find more opportunities to experience kindness, gratitude, and interconnectedness. It can work as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are what we eat. Or put another way…we notice that which we meditate on. Our default settings will definitely push us toward consuming unconsciously, and it will take much of our attention and energy to swim against the currents of scarcity, FOMO, and gluttony. It will take some effort and discipline to sit in the simple ** awareness of what is real and yet hidden in plain sight. Just like the fish, we must keep reminding ourselves, “This is water. This is water.”