Sunday, January 29, 2012


I like the word “serendipity.” I even like just saying it. Happily, I experienced a bit of it this week, so I can use the word without having to contrive a context for it. Here’s what happened. I meet each Sunday evening with a group whose focus is “contemplative theology” for lack of a better phrase. We discuss living our faith, which sometimes takes a scholarly and Biblical tack, and sometimes involves practical application. Lately, we’ve been discussing food. We read The China Study and watched the documentary “Forks over Knives” both of which stress the health and environmental benefits of a whole foods, plant based diet. To complete this topic, we have an assignment to find a Biblical passage that references food, and present our understanding of how the food we put in our bodies is related to our spiritual condition. Also this week, I read Seven, by Jen Hatmaker, a book recommended by my daughter and several friends. Wisely, since she wanted to sell this book, Jen didn’t put the word “fasting” in the title, but that’s what the book is about --- her experience in denying herself personal comforts (including food) for a spiritual purpose.  I’ve read other books about fasting, but while the others might’ve stimulated my brain, Seven kicked me right in the head with its keen observations of the absurd excesses of wealthy nations like America. Not only that, but I laughed to the point of sometimes having to put the book down to regain composure. I hate it when reviews describe books as “laugh out loud funny” but that’s what this one was – a scolding that was humorous and inspiring.  You’ll just have to read it for yourself.  So, all week, I’ve been thinking about physical existence and its maintenance as well as something that I love about the Orthodox Church, its liturgical calendar of fasting and feasting. Some weeks, all roads do lead to Rome (or Constantinople as the case may be).

For my assignment scripture passage, I selected Peter’s food vision recorded in Acts 10. Here’s how it sounds in the Message:

            Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came, “Go to it, Peter – kill and eat.” Peter said, “Oh no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.” The voice came a second time, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Now, this story is part of a bigger story involving a Gentile named Cornelius and the Jewish notion of the day that certain people could be unclean and unworthy of the faith in much the same way that food could be unclean and unworthy of consumption.  It’s a beautiful illustration of the magnitude of God’s grace, but for the moment, let’s put that aside and just look at the passage literally. (I’m trying to be less critical of people who refuse to look beyond the literal interpretation of the Bible, so bear with me while I search for insight within literal readings.)  First, I love the fact that Peter is trying to pray but gets distracted and starts wondering what’s for lunch. He’s thinking about literally eating, so maybe the vision also has a message regarding literal eating. (See how literally I’m thinking?) Peter doesn’t seem to interpret the vision as urging him toward gluttony, but rather that the menu limitations that he has been observing are not ultimate laws of living. Laws regarding food can be held too rigidly or too loosely, and either way comes with less than optimal consequences. As with any law, Biblical or otherwise, the spirit has more value than the letter.

It’s a lot easier to follow a law than it is to find balance within two extremes --- for a while anyway. Then any law that’s too restrictive sends us barreling toward the other end. Just ask anyone who has ever been on the grapefruit diet. The very existence of a law makes us want to break it. Most of us drive at least slightly over the speed limit, no matter what the limit is. We can seek food balance on our own, and some folks are quite disciplined here while others fall into anorexia or obesity. The early church offered a food structure for the congregation --- sort of like an early version of Weight Watchers. The liturgical calendar involved a rotation of periods of fasting interrupted with feasts. The fasts were not total abstinence from food, but merely restrictions on meat and other rich foods.  The purpose might’ve been spiritual, but it had practical benefits as well. People who were eating together were eating similar food, so a built-in support system was in place. The feasts involved emotionally healthy fellowship as well as bodily nourishment. With an abundance of inexpensive food, our present experience is to keep the feasts and eliminate the fasts.  We frequently eat calorie laden rich foods all by ourselves in the car. What a poor substitute for a feast.

Personally, I feel that diet is a stewardship issue. I am aware of my impending death and the return of my body to ashes. However, I believe that God entrusted me with my body and meant for me to take care of it, but not get crazy about it. Being full of delicious food is good, but sometimes restricting food intake is more conducive to both physical health and spiritual awareness. So, what to do? Disregarding the fad diet of the week and the most recent update in the FDA food group/pyramid/plate, common sense indicates that vegetables, fruit, and whole grains are healthy food. If we eat mostly plants most of the time with small amounts of other foods and occasionally sit down with the people we love and pull out all the stops, then, well, “God says it’s okay.”

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rating the Bible NC-17

Actually NC-17 is probably generous. Much of the Bible deserves a definite R rating. I love the grand Old Testament stories, but every time I re-read them, the tales of sexual misconduct startle me. There's Abraham and Sarah and the housekeeper, Hagar, who had a triangle even more scandalous than Arnold and Maria. In the OT, Sarah was involved in the scheme, but later got jealous and kicked Hagar and her baby out into the wilderness where they were saved only by the grace of God administered through an angel.  Abraham probably didn't feel like he had too much say in the matter since earlier in the marriage he had passed his wife off as his sister to save his own skin. He'd rather let his own beautiful wife sleep with the king than face danger to himself. Prince of a guy, huh? Then of course there's Sodom and Gomorrah and the men who want to rape the visiting angels. And later the incest incident between Lot and his daughters. Whew. I'm not even halfway through Genesis! Just like Disney cleaned up all the blood and gore from Grimm's Fairy Tales, we often sanitize the stories in the Bible to give them a little more respectability.  I wonder what would happen if people read the Bible for the subversive shocking treatise that it actually is.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Case Studies 3.0

This is the saga of my evolving blog. I started it as a journal for Lent, then afterwards I used it as a place to store lesson plans for my Bible study class. At the moment, I am in transition. I'm not teaching a class or singing in a choir and I'm in a quandary over what to do with myself on Sunday mornings. So at least for now, this forum will serve as a grasscatcher for my oddball thoughts. I read a hodgepodge of different topics -- a classic jill of all trades and master of none ---- so I suppose the title is still appropriate, but I'm making no plans for any kind of theme. If the Mayans are right, it won't matter anyway, but I'd hate to think the world ended and I wasn't at a good stopping place. If my family doesn't follow my wishes for cremation upon my demise, I hope they at least use my desired  epitaph... "This was the last thing on my list."  It's taken me three tries before I'm comfortable blogging like so many others are able to do --- just saying whatever. I like order and planning. It's the same trait that causes me to clean before I leave town. In case something bad happens before I get back, I don't want the ladies who bring casseroles to see my house a mess. So, this is an experiment in my resolution to be less organized this year. We'll see what happens.