Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Making Stone Soup for the Hungry

There are many weddings at this beautiful time of the year. In fact, June and I got married 59 years ago tomorrow, on May 26, 1957. Last Sunday was the wedding of our granddaughter Katrina Laffoon, who married her college sweetheart, Ryan Hlousek.
Early next month we will drive out to D.C./Maryland for the wedding of granddaughter Marian Seat, our first grandchild. Marian’s husband-to-be is Christopher Lane Mulligan, and they were high school sweethearts in the early 2000s.
Chris’s maternal grandmother was Ann McGovern, who was born on this day (May 25) in 1930. She passed away last August, and articles about her life and death appeared in newspapers across the country, including the New York Times (see here).
Ms. McGovern’s claim to fame was as the author of 50-plus children’s books. The article about her in the Aug. 28, 2015, issue of The Week says that her first book was Roy Rogers and the Mountain Lion and that its publication launched “the career of one of the country’s most popular children’s book authors.”
Her most famous book, one mentioned in the headlines of some articles about her death, was Stone Soup (1968). When it was re-published by Scholastic Inc. in 1986, the dedication page said it was “for Christopher Lane,” her one-year-old grandson. 
“Stone Soup” is an old folk story in which hungry strangers manipulate people into sharing their food. Or sometimes it is just one clever man conning one person into providing ingredients for the soup. 

The first published version of the old folk story is said to be in 1720 by Madame de Noyer, a French journalist. The first English version was published in a British magazine in 1806—and just two years later it appeared in The American Magazine of Wit

Of the several different versions of the old folk story I read, my favorite was “The Story of Stone Soup,” found here on the Internet. In it, a wandering soldier of “post-war Eastern Europe” gets the people of the village he arrives at to add ingredients to the pot cooking his stone. It ends by clearly stating the point of the story.
 The moral is that by working together, with everyone contributing what they can, a greater good is achieved.”
This reminded me of some interpretations of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle of Jesus recorded by all four Gospels. According to some “liberal” interpretations, the miracle was not that Jesus somehow supernaturally multiplied the loaves and fishes. Rather, the miracle was changing people’s attitudes, getting them all to share the food they had brought with them.
Years ago when I first heard this interpretation of that miracle story, I was somewhat “offended,” thinking that the power of Jesus to perform miracles was being denied. And there are currently websites that similarly criticize what are considered attempts to deny Jesus’ ability to perform supernatural miracles.
Perhaps, however, the story has far more relevance if it encourages people to share now rather than merely to admire what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. But perhaps a both/and interpretation is best: maybe Jesus took all that the people shared and doubled it so that there would be enough for everyone.
And perhaps Stone Soup and the feeding of the 5,000 both can challenge us to share with the hungry. As Pope Francis said last year, “The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone.”
Can’t we all share more in making “stone soup” for the hungry?


  1. Leroy,

    Welcome home and what happy days for your family.

    Just this weekend I read an account of the Stone Soup story. It was referenced in Jacqueline Winspear's newest new Masie Dobbs mystery. I was not familiar with the story, but it was complete with everyone in the village adding vegetables to a pot of water...and then there was enough to feed the entire village.

    Wonderful to know of this story's connection to your family...and how it can remind us all of the little bit we can add to a soup that could feed the world.

    1. Thanks for your comments, David. It was interesting that you read an account of the Stone Soup story just this past weekend.

  2. Somehow i missed that liberal reworking of the story of feeding the five thousand. Assuming the story has any basis in fact, I'm sure the liberals are right. Finally a fantastic story, clearly suffering from mythological inflation, can make some sense.

    Congratulations, good and faithful grandparents!

    1. Thanks, Anton!

      I can't remember when I first heard about the feeding of the 5,000 interpreted as a "miracle" of sharing, but it was quite a long time ago. And that interpretation seems to be mentioned enough that, as I indicated, there are websites (and most of those I saw were Catholic) were dissing that idea--apparently because they thought it was downplaying the ability of Jesus to perform supernatural miracles.

  3. Thinking Friend George Takashima, a pastor in Canada, sent by email the following pertinent comments:

    "One cold winter many moons ago, when I was pastor of a small city congregation, I invited people to bring to church one Sunday one vegetable...onion, carrot, potato et al. Before the service, I had a huge pot with water in it on the stove (low heat) and one of my parishioners collected the vegetable, washed them, cut them up into small pieces and put them into the boiling water and let them simmer while the service was on.

    "Following the service, the people were invited to go downstairs to the church hall for lunch which consisted on the "stone soup" and home-made bread and cheese. People were pleasantly surprised when I told them about the story of the 'stone soup.'

    "My version of the story was that a stranger was passing through a small village. People did not have anything to offer the stranger who was obviously hungry. He asked each household if they had one vegetable they could share and then he managed to get someone to offer the use of a large vat....the rest is 'history.'

    "A truly wonderful story and I might add that many households are making 'stone soup' for people in need.

    "Thank you, Leroy, for sharing this topic today."

  4. Local Thinking Friend Dub Steincross shares this comment:

    "Interesting and 'amen' to that. A miracle of sharing might just be the biggest and best miracle--and it would, as you suggested, have contemporary applications to those of us who are not miracle from scratch capable."

  5. And this from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "I am reminded of words attributed to Gandhi, 'There is enough for everyone's need, but not everyone's greed.' I am ashamed by reports that many American children (and many adults too) do not have enough to eat. As the world's wealthiest nation (and on a per capita basis, one of the wealthiest), can we do not better than that? There is no excuse.

    "And on a worldwide level, there is still no excuse. No one should be hungry."

  6. I am very pleased when good men and women enter in the covenant of marriage. "As it was in the beginning..." I have had the honor of giving blessings to couples of Christian and Muslim backgrounds, because this pre-dates both religions, although ceremonies around the world vary dramatically. (I wonder how I would handle a request by a Safwa to bless his marriage to his 5th wife?) May your granddaughters find the Lord's blessings in their marriages.

    I have seen starvation, and people who died of it. Tragic. Especially because the open markets within 25 miles had plenty of fresh food at good prices. Somehow, the Church must also learn this basic principal of sharing, especially with those of the household of faith. This is the most basic concept of Christ's command to "love one another". It does not require a Church or government bureaucracy to accomplish this. Cultural mores must also change, which put children last when eating.

    1. Just thinking back on the worst case of starvation I was aware of growing up. The President had decided to implement a communal village system which took villages (families) from their farms during the growing season, and moved them at gunpoint to new villages next to the major roads. They were given tractors and implements to farm the land. But it was no longer the season for plowing and planting. The outcome is history. I don't remember how many thousands died. Mao made it sound so good... Ujamaa was abandoned, and those who survived were permitted to return home.

  7. Tom Nowlin, a former missionary colleague in Japan and now a Thinking Friend in Arkansas, shares these significant comments:

    "I have often thought about how poverty, disenfranchisement, and hunger significantly contribute to the oft violent world in which we live. Desperate people are about survival and do desperate things.

    "The problem is and has never been that there isn’t enough food. In other words, the problem is not in the supply (of food) but in the distribution. It seems in my estimation we are all to some degree 'hoarders,' something that speaks to our basic 'insecurity' in the face of the 'immensities of life.' The fact is that even in the 'worst of times' here in America we know an abundance that far exceeds that of other nations. We are, unfortunately, a selfish people more times than not. That is not to say that we do not have needy people here in the states. For we definitely do.

    "I believe that any act of kindness we demonstrate to others, especially those in need, impacts the entire universe for good. We live in a 'closed system'and even the smallest good deed is felt throughout the cosmos. So, every effort for good, however small, can never be discounted. Our collective efforts do indeed have impact. Peering through the redaction of Scripture I see this as the basic message of the feeding 'miracle.' 'Miracles' take place every day when we move beyond our primal insecurities, and hoarding of resources, to do good collectively to benefit those less fortunate than ourselves, however small our 'gift,' something we have actually been gifted ourselves."