In a Work of the People video “The Gospel is Good News,” Shane Claiborne chews on an idea he heard from a rancher. The rancher explained that there are two ways to contain your herd of animals. One way is to build fences, but that is not the best way. The more effective way is to have a really good food source. Shane goes on to talk about how human beings and the human church like to build fences, and maybe we should focus harder on studying, nurturing and tending to our amazing food source.
I don’t think Shane meant good food literally, but it played out beautifully that way in the Season 3 finale of Orange is the New Black, of all places. The show follows a slew of characters in a women’s prison. One of the characters, Cindy, pretends to be Jewish so she can get the kosher meals. The meals are so much fresher and tastier, that several inmates follow suit. The staff brings in a Rabbi to assess if the women truly are Jewish. Cindy recites some Annie Hall and Yentl, which fail to impress the rabbi. Undeterred, Cindy plans then to convert to Judaism so she can continue to receive the kosher meals.
Cindy’s commitment to kosher meals becomes more complex with a flashback to her childhood where her father uses the Bible to berate her at the family dinner table for eating before prayer. In her quest to trick the rabbi into letting her eat kosher, she liked what she learned. What started out as commitment to good food turned into something more. By the season finale, Cindy realizes she actually wants to convert for more than food purposes. Through tears she says:
Honestly, I think I found my people. I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell, and if I was good I’d go to heaven, and if I asked Jesus he would forgive me and that was that. And here you all say there ain’t no hell, you ain’t sure about heaven, and if you do something you have to figure it out on yourself. And as far as God’s concerned, it’s your job to ask questions and keep learning and keep arguing. It’s like a verb. It’s like you do God. And it’s a lot of work, but I think I’m in it.
It is an extremely vulnerable moment, where Cindy articulately conveys where she has found a place in the struggle, in the work, and in the grey area of theology. God is a verb. You do God. What started out as good food turned into conversion for her. Instead of building fences, the rabbi said, “Yes. Join us.”
Shane and Cindy’s character challenge us to continue the work of taking down fences and focusing on really good food. We don’t have to have the answers, but a fertile ground for people to come, enjoy, be fed, and feel at home.