What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


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Inglorious Fruit

Leave it to the nation of John Calvin, cheese-eating, and perpetual surrender to teach Christians an important lesson about sanctification.

(I kid, really. I love the French. I love their food, their wine, their culture. It’s my husband who can’t let the Second World War go. Pray for him.)

A French supermarket chain has been a getting a lot of totally deserved buzz after it launched a campaign to shed light on the problem of food waste and encourage people to get their five fruits and veg a day via produce that is less than visually ideal. This video describes the whole campaign and is worth the time to watch, but here are a couple of my favorite posters:

 

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The posters get their point across pretty well, don’t you think? Intermarche’s customers definitely did. They wiped the baskets and shelves clean, happy to pay less for less than external perfection.

I’d love to see an American grocery store chain pick this idea up. But there are big cultural differences between American and French consumers. While the French are known for their love of beauty, they also know when to sacrifice it in the name of good taste. Ugly fruits and vegetables still taste great when they’re actually cooked and eaten. No one cares that your carrots look deformed when they’re going into soup. But we Americans like our produce to be pretty. Recently I helped lead a cooking class with some kids in a homeless shelter where we were going to make a home made ranch dressing to dip into vegetables they’d grown on a rooftop garden. When it came time to harvest, the carrots emerged from the soil skinny, bent and gnarled, with even some “two for ones” like the one in the picture. They weren’t the straight, narrow pyramids of carrot perfection the kids were used to seeing in a grocery store. You’d think that kids who had grown up in abject poverty would not have turned up their noses at free food, let alone food they’d helped to grow and harvest. But even they had preconceived notions about what their food should look like. And they weren’t buying it.

There’s a lesson for us in sanctification as well. There have been times in my life when I haven’t recognized the fruit God is producing, in my life, and especially in others, because it doesn’t look quite as shiny and perfect as I would like it to be. This summer I’ve been slowly working my way through the book of Ephesians, and I’ve been circling in what has felt like an endless loop of failure over the first part of chapter 4. I have three daughters, two of which have decided to double down on round the clock pubescent drama and angst. Lately I have been given what has felt like hourly opportunities to exercise gentleness, patience and loving forbearance in the face of relentless whining and eye rolling and OH YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDDING WILL YOU JUSTKNOCKOFFTHEDRAMAAND GET. IN. THE. CAR. I seriously thought yesterday morning I should just switch to reading something less stretching. Give me Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels over what feels like my hamster wheel of sanctification FAIL. The fruit on my loving forbearance tree seems to be utterly missing. But sometimes, it’s because I don’t really see it.

Case in point. My dear husband has been doing a terrific job of getting our family outdoors and exercising together, in the form of weekly two mile walks to a local frozen yogurt shop. Last week, for one of my girls, the physical effort required to procure and put on activity-appropriate footwear was far too great in the face of the monumental feat of physical endurance she was about to undertake, so she left the house wearing flip flops that barely matched the length of her feet. Warnings about sore toes and back went unheeded. I was pretty sure she would soon be experiencing within her body the consequence for her foolishness, and within about a half a mile, my motherly instincts were confirmed. Then other instincts of a less godly nature kicked in as the whining and shuffling increased.

The following is the transcript of the conversation that transpired, not between my daughter and me. but between my outside voice and the inside voice that initiated a mini-counselling session inside my own head.

Outside voice (sharply and triumphally): Well, WHAT DID YOU EXP—

Inside voice: Um – NOT. Gentleness. Patience. MorningBibletime. Something about bearing love.

Outside voice (Quieter, but still 5/10 on the sarcasm scale): —ect would happen, I’m SO sorr—

Inside voice: Back to Ephesians 4. God. That thing in Titus – where is it? We were foolish and disobedient and God – something goodness and lovingkindness. Be like God. God.

Outside voice (actually meaning it) : –y they’re hurting. We don’t have far to go and then you can sit down.

Inside voice (praying): God, help her to only hear lovingkindness, and let that be what teaches her to repent and heed her mom’s voice next time.

Child silently sulks, stews and stomps (gingerly) to the frozen yogurt place.

Inside voice: “Well that didn’t go so great. Why can’t I remember Ephesians 4 first? Etc. Etc.”

It’s true that not every syllable of that interaction was bursting with the sweet flavor of gentleness and forebearance. But at least some of those syllables had more of it than had been there in the past, because they were spoken with at least some of the flavor of Ephesians 4. The fruit was inglorious, to be sure, but it was there.

If I’m being totally honest, as hard as I am on myself when it comes to fruit bearing, I’m even harder on those I love. Those closest to me. Like, say, my husband and children. One daughter is working hard to keep the cauldron of frustration at her sister from constantly boiling over, and when I hear her verbally dialing it down just as I had with her a couple of days before, I don’t think she did it fast enough or sincerely enough. When my husband, a man whose actions of love are constant but whose words are fewer than my words-as-predominate-love-language would long for, has started sending me thank you emails for things I’ve done for him or the girls, I wish it they were longer, or written in iambic pentameter. In those moments, it’s not the fruit my family is bearing that’s less than ideal, so much as my unloving response to it.

When any time, in any way, with the faith of a mustard seed, we put off our old words, and put on the words of Christ, we are bearing fruit. Not all of it will be perfect. We should pray for more of it, and for more of it to be truly beautiful. But instead of being critical, let’s be thankful that’s it’s there at all.

Thankfulness is fruit too.


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Spiritual Digestion

Except for Thanksgiving, there doesn’t seem to be any holiday more dedicated to expressions of celebratory thankfulness through overconsumption of all manner of of American foods and beverages than the Fourth of July. From hot dog or pie eating “contests” (which I loathe and despise, but that’s a post for another day) to the ubiquitous ceremonial burnt offerings of animals on the Weber altar, nothing says “Merica quite like anticipating fireworks commemorating bombs bursting in air with belt notches bursting with flair. But as even the most intrepid eater can testify, every meal, no matter how big or how grand, must come to an end. In God’s wisdom, He has made sure that our bodies do its best to overrule our wills in this, if ever we attempt to overrule our body with our foolish will. Unless there’s a stopping point for intake, the work of transforming of what’s been taken in won’t be able to keep up. And that, after all, is the point of eating, at least when it comes to living.

It’s one of life’s ironies, albeit perhaps an understandable one, that advances in science, technology and hygiene have simultaneously enriched our understanding of how digestion works, even as it has driven most of the conversation about it to the edges of polite conversation. It makes sense that previous generations felt far more comfortable talking about all manner of means to promote good digestion and avert the consequences of poor digestion, when the consequences of things going awry would be likely be experienced more broadly and, ahem, regularly by the general populace. But maybe that’s part of the ministry that those of us in food sciences can offer the rest of the church, (hello), body. Because digestion is a mechanical and chemical marvel.

Much like our nervous system works to process external stimuli and generate automatic responses, our digestive system automatically assesses every morsel we eat and drink, categorizes it based on its relative immediate value and importance to both our health and safety, and then responds accordingly. Nutrients are derived and distributed, water is extracted, useless substances are moved along and away, and dangerous substances are forcibly removed as soon as they’re detected. Every single morsel of food and drink we take in eventually becomes part of our self, or of our environs. And the entire process happens largely apart from conscious thought or effort on our part. But without it, we’d die-quickly and painfully. 

When it comes to spiritual digestion – taking the truth of God’s Word heard or read, and appropriating into our minds and actions – it’s easy to think that that process happens somewhat subconsciously too. We come to church and make our way to our customary seat. We hear the Word read and expounded, whether poorly or well. We sing a closing hymn. We may, with Jesus, say “Amen” through Holy Communion. But it’s what happens next that matters just as much, maybe even more. Taking time to pray over what we’ve heard, talking about it with our church family at lunch, or with our own family that night at dinner – that is the work of spiritual digestion. And it’s essential for our spiritual vitality. 

I experienced this in a significant way at TGCW14. I would sit with friends and hear God’s Word taught – the book of Nehemiah laid out before us as a glorious feast. And we would take it all in. The closing prayer and song was the end of the eating, but it signaled the beginning of the digesting. My friends and I would talk, and talk, and talk. Later, texts and tweets from out of state friends and Internet friends would initiate still more conversations, into the night and into the early hours of the morning. All of us parts of Jesus’ body, taking apart what we’d heard, turning it over and over, asking questions, considering answers, assimilating all that we were learning for ourselves, and helping one another do the same.

Of course, it helped that we were in that suspended state of reality known as “time away” from our family responsibilities. There were no meals to cook, no supervision of daughters’ Sunday morning fashion selection and hygiene rituals, no defensive early bedtimes due to fear of middle of the night toddler visitations. When we returned home, all of those things and more, on Sunday and every other day of the week, were waiting to distract and redirect us from investing time to appropriate the Word of God into our hearts and minds, our thoughts and actions.

More than ever, the time away with other Christians reminded me of the critical importance of the “meeting together” aspect of spiritual nourishment. Physical digestion relies on the cooperative effort of many hidden parts of the body working collaboratively, each doing its part to turn food into active energy. Spiritual digestion happens the same way. The sisters and brothers with which we sit are in need of our help to move God’s Word from their minds to their hearts and bodies in action, just as surely you are in need of their help to do the same.

This Sunday, as I go to worship, I will be praying, not just that I will be fed the Word of God, but that I will be an active participant in transforming it into true spiritual energy for the Kingdom, for me and for those with whom I gather.


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TGCW14 – Reflections From an Overgrown Garden

I came home from TGCW14 with a heart full to bursting with all that God said and did over the four days, through the speakers, the workshops, and through the 4000 women from all fifty states and (?) different countries who attended. I also returned to an empty fridge and a burgeoning vegetable garden. Not being ready to fully return to the trials and tribulation of daily life courtesy of the teeming hordes of humanity at Costco, I decided to tackle my overgrown tomato and cucumber vines first. As I picked and pruned and tied and tidied, I thought on the words my husband had shared as he left for work that morning, courtesy of his company’s CEO. “After a major learning experience, you have about three days to create and begin executing on a plan of action that applies all of you’ve learned. After that, insights evaporate quickly, and all the time and money invested is lost.” I walked back into the kitchen with a large bowl of tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be transformed into sauces and salads, thinking about how my morning’s efforts were a powerful metaphor for the spiritual work I needed to do to make sure the spiritual investments of so many in Orlando weren’t squandered.

Harvesting

Planting a vegetable garden can be an enjoyable way to spend a day, but the ultimate goal for most people is the food the garden produces. Had I left my plants to themselves, my tomatoes would have fallen to the earth to quickly ferment into food for worms instead of food for my family, and my husband’s long hours invested in the planting and tending would be for naught. The memory of Paige Brown’s exhortation about Nehemiah’s fears being relieved by the saving grace of God, and Jen Wilkin’s workshop on fearlessly raising daughters, had returned to me with a jolt when I discovered on returning home that, in my absence, one of my daughters had checked out some books with content that was far beyond her maturity. For a moment, I panicked. Thinking on Paige’s reminder that it is the perfect love of Jesus for my daughter and me that casts out fear over her heart being drawn away to worldly things, and praying for wisdom, was a way of harvesting the fruit Paige’s session had produced.

The workshops and many conversations with friends into the wee hours of the morning about the trials and grace-fuelled triumphs of women’s’ ministry gave me a new desire to serve the diverse community of women in my own church. At my husband’s encouragement, I sent off a quick email to one of my pastors, asking if I could share with him some of the insights I’d received in the hopes they might bless our church. Because he is a leader who listens, he replied almost immediately, asking for my “top ten list” of things I’d learned and ideas I’d gleaned, just as a start. My prayer is that in the coming months and years, the women at my own church will also be recipients of the great harvest of fruit produced at the conference.

Pruning

Because God has promised to do abundantly more than we could ask or think, I’m believing in faith that my desires for my church’s women’s ministry to flourish may call for my willingness to serve in it more intentionally and regularly. With only so many hours in the day, the need to be faithful and available to serve as needed may mean doing some careful directing and pruning of my schedule. That means less time on purposeless social media activity and some adjustments to my sleep and work schedule so I can leverage some before and after hours time in the midst of my other important ministries as a wife, mom and student.

Weeding

Prior to attending the conference, I had been wrestling for several months over whether my writing and teaching gifts needed to be retired along with my former career technology. God in His kindness had been doing a season of necessary and painful weeding on my heart, exposing some occasions when my sharp tongue had wounded, not blessed. I had repented and sought forgiveness, and the garden of my soul was stripped clean, but I flew to Orlando wondering what fruit, if any, my words could ever bear, and I asked God for direction. He gave it, not once, but multiple times, as people I met spoke of words I had written that had blessed them. That unanticipated encouragement blessed me deeply. John Piper’s admonishment from Nehemiah that, because of Christ, we have never sinned so much in word or in deed to be beyond the mercy and blessing of God, restored my hope that my words might yet be used to build God’s Kingdom, and I returned home newly committed to be fruitful as God enabled.

As I tidied my garden, I noticed that the tomato plants that had been weeded so recently had already begun to be assaulted once again by one of the most hated of all weeds – bindweed. With its pale green tendrils and tiny delicate flowers, bindweed is notorious for mimicking a beautiful budding vine, even as it twines around a growing tomato plant and slowly, insidiously, chokes the life out of the plant until it dies. I muttered imprecatory psalms against the evil weed, reminding myself that Tim Keller’s convicting admonishment from Nehemiah that vengeful prayers against the ungodly are no longer right in light of the cross applied to my fellow image bearers, not vegetational adversaries. In her workshop on raising daughters, Jen Wilkin invited us to consider whether sins of the tongue might be of particular challenge to most women, just as the sin of lust is for many men. As I ripped the weeds away, I prayed that God would keep the weeds of unhelpful, unkind words away from any fruit He might help me bear.

I am beyond thankful for the investments made by so many to enable women from all over the country and world to gather together to hear from God through the book of Nehemiah, and through the teaching of so many gifted men and women. I want to harvest the fruit the conference bore in my own heart, and multiply it in the lives of my family and my church. By God’s grace, with faithful, intentional effort, I will.


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Book Review – “Made For More”

People often talk about food memories – remembrances of a loved (or not loved) meal that left an impression long after the dishes have been cleared. More powerful for me, though, are book memories. Certain books, read at certain seasons of my life, dramatically changed my thinking, my vocabulary and my choices, sometimes by freeing me from wrong thinking about God, or orienting me towards the kind of right thinking that produces a deeper love for God and joy in my identity in Him, or both. To a list that includes John Piper’s “Finally Alive” and David Needham’s “ Birthright”, I can now add “Made For More.”

In Made For More, Hannah Anderson considers the question many women ask regularly – “Who am I?” and proposes that the usual answers –wife, mother, single, married, black white – overlook the most essential answer. Women are people, made in the image of God. With Romans 11:36 as the book’s backdrop (“For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things), Anderson lays out how returning to this fundamental understanding of our identity as image bearers provides a foundation for the flourishing of our secondary identities that is simultaneously more solid and more freeing.

The book is divided into three sections, each with a central idea:

From Him – To understand what it means to be made in God’s image, we need to know who this God is whose image we bear.

Through Him – Pursuing God through the person and work of Christ revealed in all of Scripture, not merely what Anderson calls “the pink passages” (pg. 105), enlarges and deepens our capacity for being true image bearers in a way that will flow into every area of our life, including the identities described in those passages.

To Him – Living as image bearers in a fallen world means that we will both stumble and fall, and that we will grow in both desire and ability to be more like the One whom we were made to image, until the day we see God and are made fully new.

All three sections are strong, but the middle section on the character of God was the section that was most moving to me, and the one that prompted the most thought. Aspects of God’s character such as His love, His grace and His all-encompassing wisdom are laid out as traits with which our characters are to to be infused holistically, not mediated or distilled through roles like wife or mother. For example, in the chapter on Lady Wisdom, Anderson challenges the line of thinking found in some evangelical circles that the goal of women’s education should to be to equip them for homemaking or educating their children at home. Rather, Anderson argues, the goal of learning should be to know fully the One who is the Logos, the embodiment of all knowledge. As a woman whose work at home lately has been partly focused on sweating (sometimes literally, albeit happily) over balancing chemical equations as homework for a master’s degree in nutritional science, this affirmation that the pursuit of learning simply to pursue more of the mind and character of God is not selfish, but in fact important, was both liberating and motivating.

The concepts Anderson describes are deep, and perhaps familiar to some, but what makes them compelling is the way in which they’re described. Readers familiar with the tenets of Christian theology will recognize the creation / fall / redemption structure of the book, and the descriptions of such fundamental doctrines as justification, sanctification and the imputed righteousness of Christ. But Anderson chooses to focus on the implications and out workings of these doctrines, without often calling them out by name. In doing so, this book will serve those for whom those terms have become so familiar that the beauty behind them is in need of rediscovery.   And it will also serve readers for whom doctrinal and theological terminology seems intimidating.

Anderson delivers on this front particularly well, because while the content of “Made For More is beautiful in and of itself, so too is her style of writing. She has a remarkable ability to condense a wealth of insight into a single sentence or phrase. Of our attempts to justify ourselves through the law she writes “ Legalism is trying to be an image bearer without relying on the Image.” Of the oft-quoted passage in 1 Timothy 5 regarding a woman’s need to do good works she reminds us that “…we forget that we can never understand what it means to be women of good works until we first learn about the goodness of a God who works on our behalf.” When ideas are presented as succinctly as this (in both the text and the footnotes), they have a way of lingering in ones mind long after the book has been closed. Indeed, I have found myself thinking about, and even referring to, many kinds of people, from my children to the customers in Costco who try my patience, as “image bearers” far more often than before. This has in turn altered my behavior before them in more God-honoring ways. And that is entirely Anderson’s aim.

When a book is written as well as this one is, about a topic Anderson makes plain is worthy of reexamination, it’s easy to identify many different types of people who would benefit from it. Women in all seasons of life, especially those who have found themselves in a situation where their hopes and expectations for a particular identity are being tested, will certainly find much in “Made For More” to both comfort and challenge them. But this is not a book only for women. Husbands looking to live out 1 Peter 3:7 in an intentional manner will be given real help in that effort. Pastors looking for ways to inform their preaching and ministry to women will find themselves challenged to think more holistically about how all of the Bible speaks to women for all of their life.

I even think this a book to be offered, strategically, to women who are not yet Christians, but who are coming to the end of the world’s arguments for self-realization, and are discovering them sorely wanting. While Anderson’s focus is more broadly on the implications of the gospel than the gospel directly, those implications are described so winningly that the entire book reads as an invitation a life of true flourishing and freedom, not of confinement to aspirations to roles and identities that can never ultimately satisfy. It is a life that, as she shows clearly, can only come from new life in the perfect image bearer – Jesus Christ Himself.

Because every person is an image bearer, any person can read this book and be challenged and blessed by it. It is highly recommended.