What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


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Blind Tasting Truth and Spiritual Sommeliers

Late last year, Kevin DeYoung continued his cheerful one-pastor crusade against foodie-ism by linking to a video of a couple of Dutch pranksters crashing a European food industry event with a tray of samples from that bastion of epicurean excellence, McDonalds. The premise was straightforward – when presented in the right way, garnished with the right verbiage, even an experienced foodie can’t tell the difference between nutritious, well-crafted cuisine, and food from the original purveyor of cheap and fast over good. Sure enough, the films depicts people murmuring words of affirmation as the unwittingly chow down on McNugget and muffin morsels. Digitally sliced and diced with more precision than Thomas Keller’s mise en place, the video is a cute conceit, but the central argument still holds true. As I’ve noted before, our food preferences are shaped by all kinds of influences. And not all of those influences serve us well.

Professionals in the wine business understand this challenge particularly well. An aspiring sommelier’s (a fancy French word for wine steward) entire education is focused on learning how to make objective assessments of wine while under the pressure of subjective influence from the information on a label. For weeks, students learn to recognize all the sensory attributes – flavor profile, color, and aroma, even texture – that identify a wine’s essential characteristics through repetitive rounds of observation and tasting (and then spitting, for the benefits of my Baptist readers). Then, an aspiring sommelier’s abilities are tested through a process known as “blind tasting.” Wine from an unlabeled bottle is poured into a glass, and the candidate must correctly identify the wine’s varietal, year of bottling and even producer, using just their senses and memory.

Sommeliers who pass these tests put their skills to work selecting and serving wines at fine restaurants. They pair different wines with different dishes to bring out the characteristics of each. They keep a lookout for “cork taint” – wine that’s turned into moldy, damp tasting awfulness because of the presence of a compound called TCA. Sommeliers also serve as judges at wine festivals, putting their blind tasting skills to work in judging the quality of new offerings from both famous and not so famous wine producers. These events offer a level tasting field where small, unknown wineries can be recognized, and a big brand name winery to be taken down a peg or two if what’s on the inside of their bottle isn’t on par with the reputation and prestige of the label.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of blind tasting in relation to how Christians think about what and whom we read, or listening and what we think about what other people read, and how we talk about it all on the Internet. To put it bluntly, we are becoming increasingly bad at letting the exterior labels of name and platform influence how we receive or reject what’s being offered. Whether the issue is racial reconciliation or young earth creation, a book or a blog post, what seems to matter most to a lot of people is who is doing the speaking, and from what platform, instead of what’s actually being said and how connected it actually is to the gospel. Depending on one’s loyalties (or self-identified discernment in assessing all things Biblical) if it comes from the mouth or pen of TeamPyro/TeamTGC/the SBC/GCC/John Piper/John MacArthur/Russell Moore/Beth Moore /Doug Wilson/ Jared Wilson/Thabiti Anyabwile or Ann Voskamp, we shouldn’t go near it, or we shouldn’t go anywhere else. We’re becoming a culture of undiscerning spiritual wine snobs, refusing to recognize our favorite’s failures and flaws when they’re exposed, and equally uninterested in receiving genuine, beneficial truth when it comes from a source we don’t immediately recognize, or we’ve already decided deserves rejection out of hand.

This tendency to prejudge a message based on its source isn’t exactly new. Scripture is replete with stories of God speaking through timid and unskilled, marginalized or unexpected people, and people finding excuses not to listen. Sometimes, a listener overcame his biases and discovered nothing less than eternal life. But other times, they didn’t, to their eternal shame. The Apostle Paul took a particularly dim view of tendencies to identifying too closely with any human leader other than Jesus. He was so committed to exalting Jesus’ name over his own that even when unscrupulous men tried to take advantage of his imprisonment to get in on the ministry action, Paul cared only about Who they preached. He’d leave the “why” of it with Him.

Last week, I decided to take Paul’s exhortation to heart and do some blind tasting of my own, by listening to a sermon Voddie Baucham preached at The Gospel Coalition national conference last month. Brother Voddie has said some things publicly in the past that have, well, not exactly blessed my soul. Some of the labels he wears are ones I reject categorically. That’s precisely why I wanted to hear him preach on the significance of the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a profound portion of Scripture, one that I’d been meditating on as I fought off a severe strain of bronchitis, and as I had learned that a teenage girl in our church had recently been diagnosed with a fatal in human terms brain tumor. Voddie’s expounding of this text, with all of its implications for every day life and ministry, filled my soul with spiritual wine of such depth and clarity that I’m still meditating on it. When I set aside the labels I didn’t love, and took the time to listen, I was blessed.

Before the curmudgeons do that thing they do, let me say categorically that I’m not arguing that we separate man or woman from message all the time. There’s wine and there’s vinegar and sometimes reading the label is necessary to avoid dinner time disaster when your guests sit down and you pour them a glass. But what I am saying is that we’d do well to be better spiritual sommeliers – willing to speak out when a beloved and trusted purveyor of truth says something that’s tainted with error, and especially, able to recognize, receive and recommend spiritual nourishment wherever it can be found, no matter the label.

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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.