Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Food: A Tasteful Theology

“Come Lord, stir us up and call us back, kindle and sieze us, be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love, let us run.” –Augustine

Who would have thought something so simple could be so spiritual? You think it's digestion but it's really discipleship. Throughout the Scriptures God reminds us that eating and drinking is serious business. A matter of life and death. Mostly life. It's not enough to just know God. It's not even enough to know and obey God. We are to taste God.
The Scriptures compare the gospel to a feast. Do you think about your faith as a feast? That God has invited us sit down, eat up, and party on? This theme is running throughout the Scriptures from beginning to end. God puts Adam and Eve in what kind of place? A garden. And they were sent out of the garden because of a dietary restriction. Eventually the Hebrew people become slaves in Egypt, but the night before their rescue what does God tell them to do? Have a Barbecue. I’m not making this up, look for yourself. God is very clear. "Don’t boil the meat, have a Barbecue!" Then God leads them to the Land "flowing with milk and honey." The whole of Hebrew life was organized around eating and drinking during the weekly and seasonal feasts and festivals. In Deuteronomy 14, God commands his people to bring a year’s tithe and spend it on a big party where they were to buy whatever meat and drink they wanted.

The first and last commands that bookend the scriptures are Eat Freely! and Drink Freely! Check it out for yourself - "And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…(Genesis 2:16)" "He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (21)"  Eat freely! Drink freely! What implications does this have for our discipleship? God’s first and last commands are taste, enjoy, be free.  Everything between Genesis and Revelation is one giant table. What does Jesus compare the kingdom of God to? A banquet. The spanish word for "taste" captures this beautifully - "Gusto."

I have a ritual that I practice to try to help me slow down, be aware, to appreciate God's simple gifts of food and drink, and to live with greater gusto. I start my meal off with a smell prayer. This builds my anticipation. Then I practice a taste prayer that slows me down to fully appreciate what I am eating. So instead of just saying a blessing, I savor the blessing. Instead of eating fast food or grabbing a quick bite (1/5th of all food is consumed in a car) I try to practice slow food. Instead of thinking about eating as a secular activity I think of it as a spirtual practice. Which is really the greater miracle - that Jesus turned water in to wine, or that he turns seeds and water and air and earth into grapes?

Heather and I ate at a Moroccan restaurant in Portland a few year back. We had this funny waiter who was kind of rude and just expected that I should know all the rule and rituals. At one point he briskly walked up to me and muttered, "Palms up." "Uh...Pardon me," I replied sheepishly. You could tell it completely exhausted him to say it a second time. "Palms up." "Uh...oh, okay." I put my palms up, and he poured warm, sweet smelling soapy water over them, and then dried them with a towel. When our food came, some of which was this delicious lentil and meat pie with powdered sugar, we couldn’t eat because we didn’t have any forks. As I tried to get our servers attention, I looked around and noticed nobody had forks or spoons. Were were supposed to eat everything with our hands. That explained the washing ritual. It felt so strange and messy and kind of wonderfully freeing. I realized, this is how Jesus probably ate. You might remember that Jesus literally did not wash his hands in order to make a point - that it wasn't the outside that made one unclean. People were shocked, especially the religious.

Before Jesus, the Israelites thought about holiness as not getting contaminated by what was unclean. How good was Jesus at practicing this kind of holiness? How about his disciples? His illustrations? Parables? Teaching? He said, taught, demonstrated, and illustrated that holiness is actually getting your hands dirty! Holiness is contaminating the unclean with God’s love and goodness that rubs off. Holiness is active and contagious. Jesus didn't just heal the leper, love the prostitute, and raise the dead - he ate with them. Holiness is eating with, rubbing shoulder with, and touching the unclean with the clean.

This is utterly shocking and disturbing to the established religious leaders but was magnetic to the outsiders. Eventually he was crucified for it. This is still shocking and people are still getting greif about it within religious institutions. Christ-followers who take Jesus' words and life seriously and serve among the homeless the alien the and the imprisoned are so changed that they are no longer satisfied with isolating themselves from what is different or makes them uncomfortable. There are some who take Jesus so seriously that they even eat with these kinds of people and call them friends.This kind of gusto challenges the rest of us to ask, what am I afraid of. Why am I so uptight?

Our faith in God is like finger food. Taste and see that the Lord is good. This is food you need to taste for yourself. God doesn’t even make you wash your hands before you come to the table. The guest list is full of people whose hands are dirty and their clothes smell of body odor…And God is the great host saying come and eat freely, come and drink freely. Are you thirsty, come and drink. Are you dirty, that's okay come and eat anyway. Come to the great BBQ of life.

Queries for reflection:
  • What eating and drinking rituals do you practive to commune with the divine?  
  • What eating and drinking rituals do you practice to nudge the stranger to an experience of the divine?
  •  What eating and drinking rituals do you practice to strengthen the bond of fellowship bewtween your brothers and sisters in the faith?
  • Do you live with gusto? 

(again...ideas and quotes and such ruthlessly refurnished and recyled from Len Sweet's book Nudge)

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