Left Justfied: Fasting is un-American

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Americans fast to lose weight. Some fast as a way to spiritual enlightenment, and a few refuse to eat to make a political statement. But in this consumer society, fasting is frowned upon, could be against the law, and is a slap in the face to big business. Fasting is un-American.

So the National Council of Churches’ (mainly all the left-leaning Protestant “mainline” denominations) “call” for Americans to join in fasting from dawn to dusk Monday, Oct. 8, is a bit bold, if not unpatriotic. They want, as an outcome, to end the Iraq War.

Yes, I know. George W. Bush, nor Don Manzullo, will nary bat an eye over such a gesture. The NCC says that “people of faith will transform the day (Oct. 8) from conquest to community, and from violence to reverence.” I wish.

These religious “zealots” claim that “Isaiah called the People Israel to hear the Yom Kippur fast as God’s call to feed the hungry, Jesus fasted in the wilderness, Christians through Lenten fasting and Muslims through Ramadan fasting have focused on spiritual transformation, and Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and others fasted to change the course of history, so we call on all our communities of faith to draw on fasting as a path toward spiritual and social transformation.” I would say “don’t hold your breath” but I think they would respond with “do hold the pickle and lettuce, and don’t upset us.”

The goal is ending the Iraq war, and I’m desperate to try anything: marching on Washington D.C., waving signs at cars on Alpine and State, harassing our congressman (we forced him to meet with a Gold Star Mother who was angry she lost her son), so maybe fasting can start some generosity and community. It can’t hurt.

Fasting was used as a method of protest in Ireland, where it was known as Troscad or Cealachan. They fasted on the doorstep of a perceived offender, because allowing someone to die in front of one's home, for a wrong which one was accused, was considered a great dishonor. Maybe we should fast longer, and in front of Congressman Manzullo’s office.

I’m going to fast Monday, Oct. 8, and I invite you not to eat anything from dawn until dusk. Then, you are welcome to break the fast at our Monday night coffee talk, 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church (the church kindly lets us use their building). I’ve invited members of various faith groups to talk about the religious, social and physical aspects of fasting and whether any of the tactics won justice.

It’s no coincidence that fasting is in the month of Ramadan. It’s a Pillar of Islam, and one of the most important acts of Islamic worship. By fasting, a Muslim draws closer to God by abandoning the things they enjoy, such as food and drink.

Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It also includes abstaining from falsehood in speech and action, from indecency, and from arguing and fighting (try that, George W. Bush).

Fasting brings a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as we experience what our needy neighbors feel.

You are welcome to share a small prayer for peace, whether or not you fast for one day.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

from the Oct. 3, 2007, issue

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