Living in black and white

August 18, 2011 — Leave a comment

For the last two weeks, I’ve been doing something radical. I’ve been having yogurt and coffee in the morning.

notice the sunlight

In the afternoon, I have forbidden fruit. I eat a peach.

It’s radical because I’m surrounded by 30 million people who aren’t eating or drinking from 4 AM to 7:30 PM. Day and night get flipped. Stores don’t open until 10 or 11. They close by 6, and may be open from 9 to 11 PM. You can’t buy a cup of coffee or a pastry.

The park where I walk in the mornings is virtually deserted because no one wants to exercise when they have to wait 12 hours to have some water.

It’s challenging to fast for 15 1/2 hours, but when everyone is doing it, it’s easier. I’m the one who is going against the tide. And although it’s inconvenient for me, it’s not as hard as you might think. The black and white distinctions here don’t come with much nuance. If I’m not going along with the crowd, then it’s obvious I’m marching to a different drummer. So when the parking attendant asks me [somewhat hopefully, I think] if I’m fasting, I have no problem telling him the truth. And anyone who sees me go to the park at 7:30 AM, knows that I’m not joining in with the rest of the country.

I think what’s much harder is living in a place where there are a hundred shades of gray. That’s when it’s easy to become lukewarm. Perhaps that’s why God’s prophets to Israel always acted so extreme, all the way up to John the Baptist with his camel hair clothes and his diet of bugs. In a hundred shades of gray, if you are going to stand out from the crowd, you’re going to have to work at it.

It’s like that for me when I’m in the states. But living here in black and white, it takes no effort for me to be different. And that’s one reason I find this place enriching. I’m constantly challenged to think through what it means for me to follow Jesus. Being exposed to a different religious tradition makes me consider my own spiritual practices in a new light. What do I really think about fasting? What do I think about religion viewed as a cultural practice where a person can honestly say, “everyone is doing it”? Where is there a gap in my life between what I believe and what I practice?

Mostly though, I’m thankful I have the freedom to choose.

…one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

Romans 14:5-9 The Message

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