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Fasting from our preconceptions

He was born in Diamond Grove, Missouri, somewhere around 1864. He didn’t know the date. That’s because he lost his parents as an infant, but a family took him in and raised him. His mom taught him to read and — wanting an education — he left home. He attended several schools, living with foster parents until he finished high school.

He wanted more and found it at Iowa State University, where he studied and earned a bachelors and masters degree in botany. After college, he taught botany at Iowa and later in Alabama where he created a ground-breaking method of crop rotation.

Cotton had depleted the land of nutrients, so he told the farmers to plant sweet potatoes or peanuts in alternating years. There was not a market for peanuts. He created one, developing over 300 ways to use the peanuts, and 100 ways to use sweet potatoes. He did not, as the story goes, invent peanut butter, but he did help make it popular. Finally, in 1943, his birthplace was declared a national monument, the first national monument dedicated to an African-American. Later Congress declared that Jan. 5 would be George Washington Carver Day.

“On the tenth day of the seventh month the Israelites and the foreigners living among them must fast and must not do any work.” (Leviticus 16)

Fast? We’ve just talked about growing food and now we’re talking about fasting. Maybe you’ve read about it in the Bible. It simply means you sacrifice something or give up something over a period of time to focus on something else — prayer for instance or Bible study or some project you’re working on. But why limit it to food? You can fast from anything — bitterness, hatred, smoking, drunkenness, profanity, gossip and the list goes on.

Maybe you should meet Moses and Susan Carver, who raised George as their son after he lost his parents. They owned the plantation where his parents were slaves, and Susan taught him to read and apparently gave him a love for learning. What if we fasted from our preconceived notions about plantation owners, or preconceived notions about a black baby born into slavery, or our preconceived notions about a dark-skinned baby born in a stable to a humble carpenter and his wife?

What if we fasted from our preconceived notions about people based on race or gender or social position or education or a dozen other things? What if?

Pastor’s viewpoint is written by Charles ‘Buddy’ Whatley, a retired United Methodist pastor, and, with Mary Ella, a missionary to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.