Video that was showed- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ
The video we saw was replication of a famous study done at Stanford University called the Marshmallow Experiment, which offered a child one marshmallow and told them they could eat it, but if they waited (which was approximately 15 minutes) and didn’t eat it, they would get two marshmallows. The researchers followed up with the participants over the years and found that those that could delay their gratification ended up with higher SAT Scores, more successful careers and had more active pre-frontal cortex and those that had low delayed gratification had more struggles with addiction. So there is some indication that some of this may be genetic.
Yet as with every question that surrounds the nature/nurture question there is always something else to consider. Just a few years ago the University of Rochester did a similar study to see what the impact would be based on whether the child had an expectation as to whether the reward would actually be forthcoming. They did this by initially breaking promises to the children about the forthcoming reward for waiting, and yes you can guess the answer, the children who had the experience of not receiving the reward, would later go on to eat the first marshmallow and not wait.
This certainly showed that their environment certainly impacted their decision making. Now we don’t know if that in and of itself affects the brain, but it certainly affects their behavior. So I ask all of us to think about the pledges we make to the children and youth of this congregation, our families. And I ask you to think about what you can do to add for the lives and the religious education of the children in our Congregation. Then I would also ask you to think about the children in our community. Those who don’t always have the expectation that there is a meal waiting for them when they come home from school.
Imagine what impact that has on their future, and thus the future of our community. It is for this reason that we are supporting the Backpack program at our local Elementary School Garfield Elementary, which supplies at risk children with food to bring home for themselves and their siblings over the weekend. As we take our collection, I ask you think about those children and be as generous as you can be as 50% of the non pledge collections will go to the Backpack program.
In the Christian Tradition it is the season of Lent. Traditionally Lent lasts 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter although to be fair, different Christian traditions celebrate between 40 and 46 days. For most, the holiday recognizes the time prior to Jesus Ministry when Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and fasted and was tempted by materialistic and sensual pleasures. First I have to admit I am always fascinated by numerology. The number 40 appears 178 times in The Bible. From the number of days of rain in the flood story, to the time it took to embalm a dead body, to the time that Moses spent up in the Mountain with God, to the number of the years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, , to the number of days that Jonah gave Ninaveh before God’s wrath would descend upon them, to the number of years Solomon ruled.
Really why forty? Some Mathematicians have tried to be very creative with utilizing Fibonacci sequences to explain it. Some Astrologers believe it has to do with what ancients believed to be the cycle of years (40) it takes Venus and the Earth to cycle the Sun before they return to their same original positions. From the writers of the Christian Scriptures though, I believe the number 40 is used to mimic Moses so as to show it as a foreshadowing of Jesus wilderness temptation. In todays world we are not just tempted, but we are bombarded with materialistic and sensual messages streaming out of our television all day every day. And so Lent can be a time for us to take time away from that and look inward.
In our modern culture I mostly I hear “what are you giving up for Lent.” It is supposed to be something that you desire, so that we will reflect on what really has meaning to us. Twitter has actually summarized the top 100 items that people have posted they are giving up for Lent. The top ten are.
10 Coffee (this only applies to non fair trade coffee)
9 9 Fast foods
8 8 Sweets
7 7 Soda
6 6 Swearing
5 5 Social networking (that would be impossible for me)
4 4 Alcohol
3 3 Twitter (people on twitter saying they are going to give us twitter, as opposed to just giving it up)
2 Chocolate (again you only have to give up non fair
1 (probably a sign they are spending too much time on twitter) School. That was pretty shocking to me.
The time of lent asks us to focus particularly on fasting. So I find it interesting that almost all the worlds major religions have some form of fasting and dietary restrictions as part of their religion. In Islam during the holiday Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown every day. During the Jewish High Holy Days a day of fasting is required. If you were at our Adult RE class you would have heard about how Hindus do not eat Beef. Jainism and Buddhism promote Vegetarian diets to preserve animal life. Both Islam and Judaism forbid eating pork.
Although I will tell you it is important to recognize and even for myself, these are the orthodox rules of the religion, and many people do not practice the food restrictions within those religions. Having grown up Jewish, I was always fascinated by the food rules. My grandparents kept a Kosher Jewish Household, and thus had separate plates for meat and dairy. But even they bent the rules. If they went out to eat they would eat non kosher foods. So as a youngster it was all very confusing to me. Of course in my household, we didn’t keep kosher, and we considered ourselves Jewish.
So it is important to note that although there may be different rules in every religion, how they are implemented may be different. When I started seminary I really studied the Jewish Dietary Laws and there are really two strands of academic thought about it. One is that it was a situational necessity in that people were getting sick from eating certain foods. Or secondly that it was a way to differentiate themselves from others as a way to create a cohesive community. Growing up though, I really didn’t understand what purpose it could serve in today’s world. All Religions are able to maintain a cohesive community without food laws.
I received my first inkling of how and why it can be important after going to a meditation retreat that included mindful eating. This became a revelatory experience for me. We sat in silence and chewed each bite of our food until it was mush. Normally we tend to shovel our food down our throats and barely get a chance to taste it. What this taught me was to be intentional about what I was eating and to appreciate the food I was eating. It was a reminder to me that my body is sacred. And I should be careful as to what I put into it.
This practice of mindful eating started me thinking that this was the point of food restrictions. To give us a discipline so that we will focus on what we put into our bodies. Dr. Adele Diamond professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of British Columbia writes about
“the need for inhibitory control to stay on task when you're bored or when you meet initial failure. You need inhibitory control to focus in on something in the environment so that you're not overwhelmed by all the other things around…and being able to exercise discipline, and keep at it, and practice, is much more important than IQ in determining our cognitive development throughout our lives.”
And I think historically religious Communities have found that just the act of being disciplined in certain areas of our lives help our development in other areas of our lives. Discipline about food is just one example of how we can do that.
So I am left pondering what might an orthodox Unitarian Universalist Food restrictions look like. Just that phrase Orthodox Unitarian Universalist sounds strange on the tongue. I think what I mean is, if we lived out our values to the nth extent, what would it look like. As an Association, we put forth an Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience a few years ago that I believe speaks to this issue. The statement starts
“Aware of our interdependence, we acknowledge that eating ethically requires us to be mindful of the miracle of life we share with all beings. With gratitude for the food we have received, we strive to choose foods that minimize harm and are protective of the environment, consumers, farmers, and all those involved in food production and distribution.”
It asks us specifically to consume a more plant based diet, one that is organic and locally grown, to purchase fair trade certified products when possible, call for labelling of Genetically modified foods, to advocate for fair wages for workers and humane treatment of animals. It goes on to list about 20 other things we can do individually and as a Congregation, many of which our Green Sanctuary Social Justice project is working on. Of course each person has unique health needs and should consider that. I encourage you to read the statement at uua.org. It ends with the statement “With gratitude and reverence for all life, we savor food, mindful of all that has contributed to it. We commit ourselves to a more equitable sharing of the earth's bounty.” So I ask you to think about what are you willing to commit yourself to in regard to food justice. Perhaps giving up a favorite ford for forty days will help us focus on food justice
I think some of our challenge with Lent is that we like to be more positive about what we do versus giving something up. Although it is merely a semantical issue, I think our society does not like the concept of giving up things. I remember reading a diet book and it insisted that we shouldn’t go on a diet because we don’t want to “lose” weight. So for me, instead of giving up certain foods, I will accept new eating habits to live a healthier life style. I have even shared with the Board my current weight and I will be tracking it monthly with them so that I can be held accountable to what I say I will do.
I think much the same thing can impact our attitude toward Lent. People do not want to give up something. And it of course doesn’t have to be about food, that is just the most common one that people focus on. We need to focus on what will allow us to live fully in the world. As Thoueau said in Walden “ I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” And so I to I invite you to take time this season of the year specifically to contemplate how you would like to live your life differently so as to live it to your highest standards. How would that change your life. What would have to be added and what would you have to shed to make that happen. And by doing so for forty days, perhaps it is a way to change a behavior to one that is more in line with your values. May it be so.