What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


Real Food and True Womanhood 201

When my children were babies, I determined that nary a French fry nor a nugget would ever taint their tender stomachs. But as they grew into high-maintenance toddlers and preschoolers, some days would wear me down and I’d pull into a drive through to buy ten dollars worth of kiddy joy and mom relief like any other sentient woman. The shiny packaging and suboptimal contents would be greeted with songs of exultation, even as I died inside with guilt over my nutritional hypocrisy.

As the years passed, my commitment to pushing back against the constant pressure of BigBurger didn’t change, but my strategy did. Partnering with my meat and potatoes loving husband, we christened two Fridays a month “Make Your Own Burger” night. We invested in some essential tools – a sturdy Weber grill, a high end deep fat fryer, and a French fry cutter. We stocked up on high quality ingredients and fixings – grass fed beef, brioche buns, even truffle salt for the French fries. After nearly a decade bi-monthly messes and grease of elbows and other sources, my kids are almost totally deaf and blind to the siren symbols of the Golden Arches, red arrows, and all the rest. They know the difference between the taste and the composition of homemade food vs. mass produced, and know why they like homemade better

I got a taste of how that same kind of difference applies to women’s Bible studies when I spent two and a half days at a Simeon Trust workshop on Biblical exposition last year. The Simeon Trust has been teaching the principles of expositional preaching and teaching to both pastors and laypeople in ministry for well over ten years. In their workshops for women, they walk women tasked with leading Bible study and other ministry to women in their churches through basic principles of biblical exposition, help them hone their own skills so that they can grow beyond being fed what others have prepared, to studying and preparing texts to serve to others on their own.

Over the course of two and a half days, we worked our way through the entire book of Titus, learning fundamental expositional disciplines such as:

  • Staying on the line of the text, neither straying above or below it
  • Letting the Bible shape our framework, instead of the other way around
  • Apprehending a text’s structure to uncover its emphasis
  • Looking for the melodic line of the book to inform each passage in it
  • Travelling through the Cross (looking for natural connections between the text and the gospel)

We put these disciplines to work as we presented expositions of small portions of the book of Titus to one another during our small group time. We also sat together as a large group as the different Simeon Trust leaders lead us through longer expositions of selected passages.

Because God is sovereign and, obviously, has a sense of humor, one of the passages I was assigned to deliver was Titus 2:1-11. In the past, overexposure to cheesy, eisegeted-to-death approaches to this section have lead me to give it a rather wide berth in my personal study. Forced now to grapple with it in earnest, my discomfiture gave way to actual delight as I worked this passage through the grid of the expositional principles we’d been taught. Read in its historical and literary context, with the melodic line of “Not like this, but like this, because God our Savior has done this” running through it, Paul’s exhortations read as representative examples of gospel-grounded-transformation as an active defense against cultural capitulation. Washed, renewed, justified and made heirs of grace, not by our own works, but by God’s mercy, all of us are both called and equipped to live within our particular contexts in a way that displays to the world what’s been done for us. Our temporal circumstances may be similar to, or different from, those of ancient Crete. But the same God who was Savior of the Christians of Titus’ day has saved us as well, and it is that salvation which should shape our actions and attitudes, not the particular culture in which we each live.

On the drive home from the workshop, I pondered the insights I’d gained, not just regarding principles of expositional teaching, but also how those principles unlocked the significance of the book of Titus to my own life in a way that had previously eluded me. Why had so many previous studies left me more frustrated than filled with faith? A package waiting for me at my desk when I got home offered at least one possible answer.

Prior to attending the workshop, I had been kindly invited to participate in a study of Titus 2 using the latest study from True Woman ministries. Titled “True Woman 201: Interior Design: Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood”, the study takes the same Titus 2 passage I was assigned at the Simeon Trust, and expands it into a ten week study. Replete with colorful decorations, illustrations and stories, it’s an attractive book to leaf through. But a deeper read revealed how consistently it differed from, and even contradicted, the Simeon Trust Bible study approach.

Where the Simeon Trust taught me to begin with, and never veer long from, reading and rereading and rereading a passage (and the ones that surround it), True Womanhood 201 literally pushed the passage to the margins of the study, so that the numerous invitations to “read the verses in the margins” really grated. The bulk of the study was comprised of stories (some extra-biblical riffs on Bible characters), personal anecdotes, and commentary from the authors. Some written exercises invited helpful personal meditation. But many others were remarkably simplistic, involving checklists, true/false questions and even crossword puzzles. When I offered the book to my 12 and 14-year-old daughters to look at, they both asked “why a book about womanhood had so much stuff for girls in it.” I couldn’t easily answer them.

Questions frequently veered off the line of the text, for example, leapfrogging Paul’s admonition to wives to love their husbands into an awkward exercise about how single women could be husband-lovers by not leading their friend’s husbands into temptation. With supporting verses plucked from all over the Bible, the melodic line of Titus was muted, the context was muddled, and the Cross was far from the study’s center (although by no means absent). The center was, instead, the framework of biblical womanhood, so that the text was set up as a model for all women in all places and times, rather than as a model for how the Christian women of Crete should live out the gospel in the midst of the culture they were in. This framework was what shaped the reading of each passage, the structure, and the content of the entire study.

Even more concerning in light of the recent Trinity debates, week 8 of the study, problematically titled “Disposition”, repeats the same concerning arguments about submission found in True Woman 101 (reviewed here by Rachel Miller). Instead of treating submission as a functional and situational component of a specific relational context (i.e. marriage), the authors argue that submission is ontologically inherent to womanhood in general. Grounding their argument in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, the authors state, “….women are uniquely created to shine the spotlight on the ‘submissive to God’ part of the Jesus story.” Consequently, as with the preceding study, True Woman 201 is beautifully wrapped, but contains less than optimal ingredients.

A natural response to such a book would possibly be to simply put it down and keep looking for other ones. Indeed, at a closing Q and A session at the Simeon Trust, one participant asked about wisdom strategies for choosing Bible study materials, whether for individuals or for groups. One of the leader’s answers was obvious and yet unexpected.

“Why not make your own?”

And that’s what I’ve started to do, for my girls’ sake as well as my own.

With my daughters now well past preschool age (praise be to God), I ‘ve struggled to find Bible study resources for them that are age appropriate (but not cheesy) and theologically rich (but not dull as dirt). When I say struggled, I really mean “totally failed”. So this week, as my dear girls made their way back to school with varying degrees of joy, I pulled out the notes and study questions from my time at the Simeon Trust, and started the beginnings of a 3 week study on Titus for high school aged girls. I’m sure it will be difficult, and messy, but I’m confident the effort will be as beneficial spiritually as much as my previous efforts were nutritionally.

In the meantime, all this food talk has made me hungry. I think I’ll go read the book of Titus.


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Getting Ready For a Five Star Feast

Being a dedicated foodie, I keep a running list of aspirational restaurants I’d love to experience, should a business trip or a sudden shower of financial blessing permit. Having been blessed to actually realize those aspirations a few times, I’ve managed to compile a kind of “best practices” list that help me appreciate and remember the experience. Some of those are:

  • Dialing up my workouts and dialing down my eating to account for the major caloric investment I’m going to make
  • Browsing the restaurant’s website to review the menu and get a sense of the ambience (and what I should wear so I don’t stick out too much amongst the hordes of the cool and the beautiful)
  • When the day finally arrives and I’m seated at our table, taking a minute to soak in the atmosphere and compare it to what I imagined and read
  • As each course is served, pausing to appreciate it with my eyes, before I begin to eat
  • After I’ve come home, writing an online review to tell others what I enjoyed, or (as does occasionally happen) what surprisingly fell short

These habits help me make the most of these special experiences and inform everything from how I might try and replicate a dish I enjoyed, to whether it really was a once in a lifetime experience, or if it would be worth selling a body part or two to return.

With TGCW16 now only hours away, it’s been a lot of fun to scroll through my social media feed and see how many women are coming for the first time. I have vivid memories of registering for the inaugural one, and arriving in Orlando all by myself, not really sure what to expect. I know the phrase “life-changing” can be a bit overused, but I won’t use it some other time, because in this case that’s the only phrase that fits. The teaching, the fellowship with like-minded women, the bookstore – all of it was a feast for my soul, and as soon as it was over I was already anticipating when I might be able to come back.

In God’s grace, I was able to return for TGC14, and now I’m coming back yet again for this year’s conference. Just like with my restaurant experience, I have a list of “best practices” I’m mentally reviewing, to help me be the best possible Matthew 25 steward of the money and time I’m investing to be here (not to mention my dear family). I thought I’d share them with some of you first-timers in case they’re helpful, and also to hold myself accountable to them!

(My list is fairly high level, but Jenilyn Swett has some great tactical ones as well.)

Redeem Your Travel Time
Whether you’re on an epic cross-country road trip with your church besties, or enjoying the glamor of twenty-first century air travel courtesy of the TSA and 14-inch wide economy class seats, invest some of that kid-free travel time to read through 1 Peter. As you read, feel free to marvel at how Peter’s words to Christians scattered across Asia Minor read like they were written just this week to us in America. The theme for this conference was chosen nearly two years ago, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this was part of God’s sovereign timing.

As an aside, and because one of the leading themes of 1 Peter is submission in the midst of trial, you might have been following along with some of the online back and forthing over the topic of submission as it relates to the Trinity. It’s been some heavy stuff, but it has immediate relevance to us as women. So, for more travel time reading, here are a few links you can follow to learn more, to whet your appetite for the teaching time, or the bookstore:

Eternal Submission in the Trinity – A Quick Guide to the Debate (Andrew Wilson)

Eighteen Theses on the Father and the Son (Fred Sanders)

The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women) (Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup)

On Imago Dei and Ways Forward Down a Winding Road (Me 🙂 )

Whether you’re on the road, in the air, or already in your hotel room, pray for God to speak to us through His Word and by His Spirit through one another. Specifically pray for:

  • The speakers in the main sessions and breakouts – for strength, clarity, boldness and faithfulness to the text
  • Us as hearers – that we would receive what God has for each of us to hear, that we would be strengthened for the seasons that lay ahead; that God would grant those of us who are now in seasons of great trial with special grace and strength, and that if there any with us who do not yet know Christ, that this would be the week where He makes Himself known to them.
  • All of the conference workers and logistics – thanks for their faithful service, and grace for the monumental task of administration it takes to serve multiple thousands of women in one space at one time for four days
  • The city and workers of Indianapolis – that they would know we are Christians by our love for one another, and for them, in thought, word and deed

Budget your Bookstore Time
Oh, the bookstore. It’s an experience worth the price of admission just to stand and survey it in al its vast splendor. How to best avail yourself of a resource of such wondrous yet temporal beauty? Try and visit as soon as possible, but with a firm commitment to buy nothing on this first go through. Just go to get the lay of the land and make mental notes, (or take iPhone pictures) of books you may want to buy. Then go back as you’re able, and choose the books which have kept coming to mind as a result of the different sessions you attend.

Strategize the Sleep Deprivation
“You can sleep when you get home” is a common phrase at TGC Womens’ conference. With several days almost certainly free of kid drama and general family responsibilities, why would you want to squander so many hours of talk time on sleep?! Still, many of you with littles have probably been deep into the 1:1 rule just to get here (the rule that says that for every one day you’re away from your family you need to invest one day in meal prepping and schedule mapping and so forth). So, if you’re like me, you’re arriving in Indiana already a little short on shut eye. Bear that in mind and try and pace yourself with the late night/early morning fellowshipping. Even if your soul is absolutely on fire when you get back, if your body is exhausted, “reentry” into every day life will be a challenge.

Be the Body to the Body
One of the most glorious parts of a conference like this is being surrounded by sisters in Christ from every walk of life. (Yes, introverts, it’s so glorious you’ll love it too.) From the worship in the main hall, to the breakout areas, to the bookstore, you will be amongst women of every age and stage, ethnicity and nationality. You will be able to strike up a conversation with practically anyone and find yourself talking about Jesus and the gospel and eachother and it will be awesome.

But that’s only if you do it. So you should. If you’re with a group, try and make time for moments to talk to women you don’t know. And if you’re one of the bravest of women and you’re here by yourself, that goes double for you. The woman you decide to talk to on shuttle on the way to your hotel could become a lifelong friend. (Hi Cheryl. Can’t wait to catch up with you!)

N.B. There is one very tactical way you might go about this. (Delicate gentleman readers who are lurking – feel free to scroll down.) You are going to be amongst many thousands of women in one place at one time. Pause to ponder the concentration of estrogen that will be hovering over the atmosphere of the Convention Center. Think back to your college dorm days and what was common knowledge about this phenomenon, or just take it from me, a mother of three adolescent girls. It’s not a myth. So pack extra supplies so you can be a very specific minister of bodily grace to another sister in her time of need. She’ll bless your name forever.

Manage the Magnetism of Social Media
In Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle describes how social media feeds and even digital note taking actually interfere with learning, instead of enhancing it. I definitely appreciate following Twitter feeds when I’m not able to be at a conference in person. But for this conference, I leave my laptop in my room, and I stow my phone (okay, after I take a couple of pictures with the friend I see that I haven’t seen since last year). Try it.

Start Preparing for Reentry Now
Another common experience of attending a conference like this is travelling home full to overflowing with the joy of the Lord and renewed zeal and energy – only to return home and, whether in hours or days, be suddenly overwhelmed by a trial – a sick child, a terrible argument with a family member. Especially this year, because of theme, start praying now over the possibility that part of God’s plan for your presence here, is actually to prepare you for that, to actually put 1 Peter 1 into action.

On the positive side, if you haven’t already mentioned to other women at your church that you’re here, do it when you get back, and make some time to talk through what you’ve learned. I’m actually doing this with my daughters – I’m having them read through 1 Peter each day while I’m gone, and Monday morning after Dad has gone to work, we’re going to make brunch in our PJs so we can talk together about what we learned. You can do this with with your husband, or your roommates, or your Starbucks barista on Monday morning. But what happens in Indianapolis shouldn’t stay in Indianapolis. Because what’s happening this week in Indianapolis is about what is happening now, or might happen soon – in your family, in your city, and certainly in the world. And after this week, you’ll be ready.

I’m looking forward to being with everyone!

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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:


inter1                                    inter3

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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John Piper and Teaching My Children To Eat (Part 1)


One morning after a protracted battle with my toddler over her attempt to decline her breakfast oatmeal, I walked into the living room just in time to see her reaching her chubby hand into the back of her diaper and pulling it back towards her mouth to examine, in a more direct way, what she had just deposited in said diaper via the usual means. Of all the culinary adventures I had dreamt of having with my kids in my wide-eyed and optimistic pre-parental years, this day (or rather, morning – it was barely 10 a.m.) had not made the list.

During my own childhood, poverty and other circumstances meant that I was neither physically nor spiritually nourished particularly well. By the time I graduated from high school, I had a body that was overweight and unhealthy, and a theological perspective that was heavy on law and moralism, but feather-light on the gospel. God worked over the next decade after high school to transform my heart and mind in a way that manifested itself in a healthier body, and a healthier (and oh-so-much happier) understanding of what God’s Word was really about. When God gave me children of my own, I was determined to atone for the sins of my youth and give my girls a better foundation than I had had with eating, and with learning to love the gospel as revealed in Scripture. Even in those early years of mothering, I knew that instilling good habits and thinking about the lesser thing (food) could inform how they regarded the far greater thing (Scripture). Armed with an English and Bible degree from a brand name Christian college, and several years of nutrition and culinary training on top of that, I was confident that on at least these two fronts, I was going to dominate motherhood.

It felt like mere months into my new role as Director of Culinary Education for my first little Starke-let before I was already ready to tap out. I was surprised from the onset how much time I had to invest the seemingly simple lesson of what actually was food (anything God provided and Mommy prepared, regardless of individual aversions to particular textures, colors) and what most certainly was not (thumbtacks, chalk, discarded cigarette butts and the Substance Which Shall Not Be Named). Building on this core concept (which we had to continually review) were others, including:

Food Transportation Methods and Systems – why hands are appropriate delivery mechanisms for carrots sticks, Cheerios and peas, but not mashed potatoes or applesauce, or anything on Mommy’s plate

Food Ownership and Property Rights – why ownership of a food mandates its consumption (especially when granted by Mommy), but lack of ownership forbids it; when equitable redistribution of edible property is good and desirable (candy with Mommy, snacks at the park with friends) and when it is deceitful disobedience (surreptitiously feeding your cauliflower to the dog)

Food and Personal Creative Expression – why making a happy face on pancakes from half a banana, cranberries and a single, self-aware chocolate chip is a legitimate lunch activity, but mixing your sweet potatoes, chicken and milk into a paste with which to paint your sister is cause for immediate expulsion from the kitchen to Mommy’s bed for a timeout. (Optional followup lesson on the nature of bodily noises deemed a worthy and noble addition to collective eating experiences, versus those meriting dismissal as described above.)

Meal after snack after mess after meal, I worked to give my girls a healthy perspective about food. The temporary defeats were many. One of my girls, a very early teether, was offended at the very idea of chewing, and convinced that her teeth were literal thorns in her flesh and thus not to be trusted. She would sit with a tiny morsel of tri tip in her mouth forever, waiting for it to dissolve, or for when I was looking away so she could push the offending object out of her mouth down a slip ‘n’slide of drool onto her high chair. Another really believed that food was better for looking at, and playing with, but not actually eating. (She was generously willing to make exceptions for anything made mostly of white flour.) Many were the dinners that became breakfast, and on rare horrible days, that then became lunch, as my youngest Starke-let learned that the guiding principle (although by no means the exclusive one) for what she was to eat was not what she personally preferred, but what God had provided.

I tried not to make every meal a grand monument to culinary and nutritional principles. Sometimes God gave us chicken nuggets and French fries for dinner. (These days seemed to coincide with Daddy’s business travel schedule in a statistically significant way.) On other days, God gave homemade chicken pot pie containing a medley of vegetables that on first receipt were viewed as irrefutable evidence that God hates us all. But because I knew that God always loves us, just not always in ways we understand, I made sure that the vegetables were eaten with as much willingness as the French fries, even with less spontaneous joy.

The battles were hard. Victory has never really been declared. Thirteen year olds are just as capable of eyeing a new food with suspicion as a three year old. But today, (with necessary caveats for circumstances like an impending bout of the flu that I will only know about after the impending has led to the actual and I am kicking myself at 3 a.m. for my strictness in making the poor girl eat those three bites of chili before she could go to bed), all the Starke-lets will eat pretty much anything they’re offered. They have learned the appropriate social conventions with which to bless their hosts if what they receive is not to their immediate liking. Better yet, they have also learned to willingly eat and enjoy a wide range of foods and styles of cooking.

During those early years of Eating 101, it was hard to imagine the day when my teething toddler would grow up to chew her kale so cheerfully. If anyone had told me it would take a literal decade before I could see the fruit of my labors clearly, I would not have received that attempt at encouragement with a lot of joy. But never did I honestly think about just giving up and submitting to the childish whims of my dear one’s immature taste buds and brains. The stakes were too high, I knew too much about where that road would ultimately lead. With God’s help, I fought the food battles, I failed a lot, I repented and got back at it a lot, and today, by God’s grace, the physical food part of mothering is going pretty well.

If only I could say the same about my work to help my kids enjoy spiritual food.

To be continued….

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Writer’s Envy and Chicken Dignity

To all you wonderful bloggers who can just sit down and make digital literary magic happen in a matter of minutes or hours – I salute you. I have been laboring over a longish piece on the connections between teaching my kids how to eat and teaching them how to read Scripture for close to a week and it’s still only two-thirds done.

At least one reason for my struggle is due to how often lately I’ve encountered writing that is better than my own by innumerable orders of magnitude. Many times, I’ve had a Shakespearean moment of sinful envy at how well some people can write, and how quickly. But then, occasionally, the writing is so good and topic is so close to my heart, that I all I can think is that I’m thankful they serve God and us with their gifts in talking about the important things of life so well.

The latest case in point in Joe Carter’s latest piece on the dignity of chickens.

I’ll wait while you snicker. Not too long ago, I might have as well. But one day last year I came home to find my husband reading an old animal husbandry book he found in a second hand bookstore, which shortly thereafter lead to he and my oldest daughter spending a weekend together building a chicken coop, and then shortly thereafter that the adoption of six baby chicks. Our first foray into urban chicken farming has been remarkably similar to our early years of parenting – lots of work on our part keeping the little darlings fed and healthy and the heck out of my heirloom tomato plants, and notsomuch with the work from them, except for constant eating and pooping. So. Much. Pooping.

Today, though, our five chickens (yes, the math is right, one needed to go the way of all chickens for reasons I’ll tell you another day) bless us regularly with beautiful, heavy brown eggs with dark yolks that practically glow. Beyond that, the lessons our families have learned about caring for the creatures who feed us have been life altering.  Feeding and watering them, watching their habits, learning to our delight that they have individual personalities, have given us a new window into the way God’s creation gives us food, and how He wants us to steward it, that I didn’t expect.

So go ahead and laugh to yourself about the idea of chicken dignity being a thing, let alone a thing worth writing about, let alone a thing worth writing in a way that I promise will put some gentle pressure on your tear ducts. Go ahead. Then read the piece. Then watch the video.

Then come back here and let me know if I wasn’t right, both about what Joe wrote, and how compellingly he wrote it.

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When Jesus Says Hard Things

What is it like to eat a human being? And what’s the big deal about it anyway?

If just the idea of those questions grosses you out, I’d encourage you not to read this piece at the Huffington Post, which uses the recent NBC drama “Hannibal” as an excuse to ask those questions and offer some perspective courtesy of modern history’s most infamous cannibal criminals. And if asking the question out loud is offensive well, even secular anthropologists will try not to judge you for your Western cultural bias. For most Westerners of any faith or no faith at all, the idea cannibalism is something from which we all instinctively recoil (ahem, unless we’re a Hollywood producer with an insatiable craving for yet another edgy late night TV hit). But we don’t often ask ourselves why.

The Old Testament gives us plenty of reasons. Genesis 1 tells us that we are creatures of a very particular kind. We are God’s image bearers, made to reflect him individually and collectively. To use one another as food, instead of receiving what God has already given, is to be literally inhuman. The kosher laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy elaborate on this idea. While the laws about which animals are permissible or impermissible for food are somewhat shrouded in mystery, the laws proscribing the ingestion of blood of any creature are explained clearly. The life of an animal is in its blood. To drink blood is a disordered quest for life outside the means God has already provided. (Dracula, anyone?) Many of the corresponding kosher laws center on honoring this central requirement – to cleanse any permissible meat of all residual blood before it’s eaten. Even today, with the sacrificial system on hiatus for contemporary Jews, dietary restrictions like these remain at the center of Jewish identity.

With all that in mind, spare a thought for Jesus’ followers, and especially for Peter, when, in John 6, Jesus actually seems to be commanding the people to throw out this restriction in an appalling way. The people have just had their physical hunger satisfied in the most spectacular manner since God fed their ancestors manna from heaven, and they are doing their level best to get Jesus to make this a permanent thing. After several rounds of verbal back and forthing, Jesus tells the people that he is prepared to feed them, but on His terms instead of theirs.

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:54)

Don’t you kind of wish the Internet had been a thing back then? Can you imagine the Twitter-rage? Those 34 words comprise one of the most offensive things any Jew could have said to another. “Hard saying” seems like an understatement. It makes the decision of many of the disciples to turn their backs on Jesus and walk away seem totally understandable, even, dare I say it, biblical.

But it also makes Peter’s response incredibly beautiful.

Peter had been with Jesus from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in general, and this latest miraculous adventure in particular. He had watched Jesus pass out the bread and the fish, and had helped haul the baskets of leftovers away himself. He had listened in as the crowd tried to filter this experience through their own presuppositions to meet their own demands. He heard Jesus’ outrageous words as clearly as everyone else. What must he have thought in those moments as he saw the crowds dissipate and watched so many of the other disciples leave in a cloud of dust and disgust? Peter was no deep-thinking intellectual. He was an act-on-instinct kind of guy. If anyone should have run away screaming and gagging, it should have been him.

Instead, Peter’s response revealed that he knew more, in a far deeper way, than any of the disciples who walked away that day. What Jesus had said to them all was indeed a hard saying, and Peter didn’t understand it any better than anyone else. But Peter’s lack of understanding was overruled, not so much by what he had already come to know, but by Whom he had come to know, by following him. The sum total of all that Jesus had spoken, and all that he was, was greater and more certain than the hard saying of this moment. Peter couldn’t not stay.

Many of us can see ourselves standing next to Peter in this scene. We have received our own “hard saying” from Jesus. We struggle to reconcile what Jesus is commanding with everything else that He’s promised. We watch the crowds walk away, and the temptation to follow is overwhelming.

In those moments, it’s what we have come to know about Jesus – about who He is and what all of His words to us truly give us – that help us speak like Peter in the midst of our struggle, and continue to walk with Him.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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Food For Thought About The Daniel Plan

In an interview in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Pastor Rick Warren described the health epiphany that lead him to write, along with world-famous doctors Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman, his latest bestseller, “The Daniel Plan”. Named for the biblical Daniel, who Warren says “refused to eat junk food and challenged a king to a health contest”, “The Daniel Plan” uses a myriad of Scripture passages from a variety of translations, under the categories of Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus and Friends, to help its readers experience the same success Warren and the Saddleback congregation did in losing over a quarter of a million excess pounds collectively, and reverse the effect of nutrition-related conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

“One-third of [Jesus’] ministry was health care,” Warren states in the interview. ”We believe the Daniel Plan is really taking the church back to what it has done for 2,000 years.”

Saddleback Church isn’t the first group to have a Scripturally inspired epiphany about the need for God’s help to solve food problems in a fallen world. The Jews of Jesus’ day had a battle with food far bigger than ours in America- not with weight, but with hunger. Living in an arid climate, with no Publix , no organic famers’ market, and no Chik Fil A,  meant that the fight to produce enough food simply to sustain life was relentless and exhausting. Many (though, sadly, not all) Americans have never felt the kind of constant nagging worry over water sources running dry and barley supplies falling short like the Jews of Jesus’ day. So we need to use our imagination to understand how the people in John 6 felt as they sat and watched a man they already knew to be a great healer, pray over a one boy’s lunch of barley loaves and fish, then send his disciples out amongst them to distribute it for all of them to eat.  Skepticism turned to shock as the entire crowd wasn’t simply fed, but made full, with a dozen baskets of leftovers standing as a testament to the miracle that had just taken place. Old Testament passages recounting manna falling from heaven and predicting a day when a prophet would come had been reenacted, right before their eyes.

It’s not a surprise that the crowd responded as they did in wanting to make Him a king. They had seen what He could do. They knew what that signified. He was the one sent to save them.

What did surprise them, and what should give us pause, is how Jesus responded.

When the people move toward Him to compel him to become their king, he moved away. When the people tracked him down, instead of receiving them, Jesus rebuked them for seeing him as a means to nutritional ends, even legitimate ones.

Unmoved from their goal, the crowd deployed an impressive combination of Scripture allusion and feigned selective amnesia in an attempt at holy reverse psychology, hoping Jesus would give them bread one more time, if not always.

But instead of another miracle, Jesus responded with an increasingly cryptic, shocking and ultimately offensive collection of statements, turning their understanding of bread, of manna, and most importantly, Himself, upside down.

I am the bread of life.”

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”

I am the living bread that came down from heaven.

“The bread that I will give for the life of the worlds is my flesh.”

Whoever feeds on my flesh, and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Saying the he had come from heaven, when they all knew he was Joseph’s son, was bad enough. But saying they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood?  Violate a tenet of Jewish law so pivotal that it was given in the days of Noah, even before all the other Kosher laws their ancestor Daniel had committed to keep were given?

Unbiblical. Unthinkable.

And so they left, unsatisfied and upset. And Jesus let them go. His compassion had filled their stomachs for a time. But he wanted more for them. He wanted them to want Him more than they wanted what He could give.

None of God’s gifts of food – not the trees in Eden, nor the manna in the wilderness, nor the barley loaves and fish on a Capernaum hillside – were ever meant to be gifts in themselves. They were, and still are, eloquent pointers to THE ultimate gift – Jesus, the true bread of eternal life, not just giver of earthly bread for the here and now.

When we come to see food this way, the way we feed ourselves, our families and a hungry world still matters very much.  We do well to consider whether what and how we eat is an accurate and beautiful picture of who Jesus is, or a distortion. But in all of our efforts to be a better steward of God’s good gift in food, we ought never to lose sight of the greater gift of God’s Son. It’s Jesus’ plan, not Daniel’s, that fulfills God’s greatest purposes for our bodies, and our souls.