Learning about Anti-Hunger Work in Waco…and all that Jazz
by Craig Nash
The author Donald Miller, (before I turned on him for becoming a shade too respectable,) opens his memoir Blue Like Jazz with this:
I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.
I have to confess that before I began my work with the Texas Hunger Initiative, when it came caring about issues of food insecurity I was a little like Miller before his Bagdad Theater experience. It wasn’t that I was openly antagonistic toward efforts to alleviate instances of hunger in our area, or even indifferent to the effects of poverty, of which hunger is one of the most prominent. Rather, when given information and data about hunger, or really any pressing social issue, my eyes would glaze over at the immensity of the challenge and I would move on, thankful that someone else is putting their brains and brawn to work on the challenge.
But I loved Waco enough to want all its citizens to thrive and reach their fullest potential, so I started with the expectation that slowly, by watching others who have been entrenched in this work for many years, my heart would eventually begin to light up with enthusiasm about alleviating food insecurity among our most vulnerable.
As I have watched and listened, a couple of things have captured my attention. For one, I was surprised at the sheer number of people and organizations who are working to address the issue of hunger. Having been in local ministry, I was aware some of the “big players,” the food pantries, large and small; churches and organizations like Packs of Hope who fill backpacks with nutritious food for children to eat over the weekends; Gospel Café; Salvation Army; World Hunger Relief; etc. But I didn’t know that there is a small religious publishing house in town, Seeds of Hope, printing newsletters and worship resources for churches interested in learning more about hunger around the world. I wasn’t aware of how tuned in organizations like the Waco Restaurant Association and even child nutrition departments at schools are to the barriers in the way of every child in our community receiving three healthy meals every day of the week.
In a very real way, there is an army of compassion in our city dedicated to alleviating hunger.
But I’ve learned something else: Like the jazz music that Donald Miller learned to love, there are a lot of dissonant notes being played by everyone working toward ending food insecurity in Waco. Not everyone approaches the issue in the same way. Some groups are on the ground, handing out food as quick as they can get it, while others are being selective and cautious. Some are working within systems to reform processes by which people receive adequate nutrition, while others are working outside the systems, believing them to be irreparably broken. Many people approach the issue from stances of faith, but there are those who do some out of an agnostic viewpoint about God and religion.
This dissonance might unnerve some, but it shouldn’t. The beauty of jazz, and what makes it a uniquely American art form (perhaps the preeminent one,) is that its refusal to resolve and land on a completely “whole” chord means that there is never a time when it feels “complete.” This allows space for infinite movement and requires collaboration among different voices and instruments. This sense of collaboration is one of the defining marks of the hunger fighting army of Waco.
As for those whose hearts flame up with compassion and care for those battling hunger, I’m still watching. And the embers are spreading.
Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.
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