What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul


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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 🙂 )

Pray
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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He Became Yeast

Early on in my study of the theme of food in Scripture, I spent a lot of time wrestling with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and the mechanics of it, at least as it’s practiced in a lot of Reformed evangelical churches like mine. Why did Jesus and Paul center the ordinance on Jesus’ death, instead of His victorious resurrection? What’s to celebrate in that? And if it is a celebration, what kind of party food is a bland square of tasteless chalk and sickly sweet grape juice?! Why not a fragrant loaf of Challah and a rich bottle of earthy Cabernet? Aren’t those the kinds of food and drink more in line with our most sacred and only repeatable ordinance?

If I had lived during Jesus’ day and my fervor had driven me to pull a Mary Magdelene and crash the Upper Room with my well meaning offerings for the meal, the wine might have been welcome (as long as it was kosher) because the disciples were likely not flush with cash. But the mere presence of the bread would have brought the entire night to a screeching halt. Not only would I not have been welcomed, I would have been given the right hand of disfellowship by Jesus, the disciples, and all of Israel. Because my bread would have contained a substance every Jew, Jesus included, knew was supposed to be decidedly, conspicuously absent.

Challah, like most bread, contains yeast, a single-celled microorganism that feeds on the starches in flour and ferments carbon dioxide. The fermentation process is what makes dough rise, and what it its characteristic aroma, and baked bread its volume and texture. Without yeast, bread is flat, dry, and empty of any rich flavor. Just one tiny yeast cell can transform large quantities of simple flour and water into something large, and airy, and altogether other than what it was before. Which is why yeast (or leaven, as its commonly called in Scripture) was, and still is, a dominant metaphor for sin in Jesus’ day, especially the sin of pride and its many spiritually malodorous byproducts. Jesus used the metaphor Himself when talking about the Pharisees, those living, breathing metaphors of puffed-up pontification of corporate piety who reeked internally of spiritual corruption. In contrast, Jesus was gentle and lowly of heart, the one who emptied himself when he took on human flesh. He was unleavened.

As Passover marked the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a major part of the preparations  involved ridding the place where the meal would take place of every crumb of bread or grain of wheatanything that might have the slightest taint of yeast. But thanks to modern science, we know today that this was actually impossible. Yeast lives on work surfaces, on the ground, and even in the air. Given enough time, a container of flour and warm water left in any ordinary environment will eventually “bloom”, thanks to invisible rogue yeast cells that can’t be eradicated by mere human effort.

So just as no Passover meal was ever truly free of yeast, no one who ate of it was ever free of the sin yeast represented. Right in that room were men whose pride and drive for sinful self-preservation and self-enrichment would move them to words and deeds of incredible wickedness mere hours later. It would be hard to comprehend, if we didn’t see the same thing going on around us every day.

You know, for all of my Calvinism, there are many times when the depravity of mankind and the wretchedness of the world can seem somewhat theoretical, let alone the depravity of, well, me. And then there are months like this one has been. The entire world feels like it’s been turned inside out, its heart of darkness exposed and pulsing relentlessly. Men, women and children are suffering unspeakable horrors at the hands of wicked men and microscopic pathogens. The state where I live is choking on the dust of dried up reservoirs, desperate for rain to water the crops that feed the entire country, but the rain refuses to come. The county where I live houses the workspaces of the wealthiest, greediest people on earth, and the living spaces of the poorest and most desperate, within an afternoon’s walk of each other. A man blessed with an astounding ability to see the world and show it back to us in a way that makes us weep with laughter, can’t see through his own pain, and makes one last, tragic, choice, so that now he makes us weep with sorrow.

So much brokenness. So much sin. So much yeast.

And the church? Jesus’ bride? The one whose job it is to proclaim to the world that there is still good news? What a mouth she’s had. Shrieking and shrewish when she should speak gently (or not at all), then purse-lipped with false piety when she should be ugly-crying over her hypocrisy at talking so much about rediscovering the gospel while she speaks and acts likes she’s never really gotten it at all.

And then there’s me.

As I’ve made my way through Ephesians this summer, I’ve returned again and again to the promises in chapter 1, all set in motion before a word of the universe was ever spoken. I want to ask God what in His own holy name He was thinking to make me a part of His plan. I can click away from the news of the evilness of the world, but never from the evil that lives and multiplies in my own heart.

The yeast of sin is still everywhere, and in everyone, as it has been since long before that Passover meal in the Upper Room.

In everyone, except for the One.

Jesus is the one man who was, and is, the sinless, yeast-less One, the unleavened Bread of Life. He was the one who in unleavened humility emptied Himself to live with us in all of our sinfulness. He, the unleavened Bread of Life became our yeast, was disfellowshipped from His own Father on the cross, and died. That death is what bought us our life. That is a death worth celebrating.

Each time we take the wine and the bread, Jesus proclaims that death to us. Through His perfect, yeastless death, the yeast of war has died, the yeast of child hunger and thirst has died. The yeast of Ebola and cancer has died. If we belong to Him through faith, our yeast of laziness and pride, greed and lust, lovelessness and anger – it has died too. And that is a death worth celebrating, as often as we meet together, and as often as we wake up in the morning, until the day Jesus comes back and death itself dies, forever.


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

“NONONONO do NOT PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH!!!!!!”

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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What Do Carbohydrates Have to Do With the Kingdom?

I’m a decent cook, but a lousy gardener. The feeling of dirt under my nails drives me crazy, and I can make a plant die by just looking at it. Thankfully, God has blessed me with a husband who is a terrific gardener. Each year he and our girls work to plot our herb and vegetable garden, and by early summer, I have my own little organic produce section from which we can glean. I particularly love the herbs we grow. Beyond the fact that fresh herbs add depth of flavor to food, herbs can give you one of the biggest monetary returns on your gardening investment. Each time I’m in the produce section at the grocery store I make it a point to glance at the little plastic packages of herbs and note the ridiculous price being charged for a few twigs and leaves. Then when I get home, I’ll make a dish that features a lot of those same herbs (pesto, perhaps, or my special Bolognese sauce with oregano and thyme), and savor the dish AND the savings.

A Jewish mother in Jesus’ day could certainly relate. In Deuteronomy 14:22, God actually calls out crops as a quantifiable asset of sorts, from which He required a tithe. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, being the Pharisees, worked to ensure that they and everyone else kept that requirement, literally down to the leaf. In Matthew 23, as part of Jesus’ truly epic, blistering rebuke, Jesus uses their nitpicky counting of sprigs of mint and dill and cumin as a picturesque example of their myopic focus on a small part of the law, to the neglect of what Jesus calls its’ weightier matters – justice, mercy and faithfulness. In their fixation on a single verse of Scriputure, they had completely missed the bigger picture.

Several millennia later, I wonder if in some parts of the Christian life we’re not still doing the same thing.

Several weeks ago, The Gospel Coalition published a series of articles on how the implications of the gospel might inform the way we look at food in general, and baking in particular. Part personal meditation, part social commentary, the articles were lengthy and broad in scope, albeit not in theological depth. I was personally delighted that a group with the reach of TGC was permitting someone to think out loud on a topic I hold so dear, even as in a few places she did it in a way I was concerned might derail or even halt the conversation, instead of move it forward.

Many comments on the articles themselves were positive, with most people expressing happy surprise that TGC would tackle such a topic. But it was a few comments outside the TGC ecosystem, on Twitter and elsewhere, which really brought me up short. While they could be filed under the general category of “Oh look, another excuse to hate on TGC”, their particulars had to do with the triviality of trying to tack something so mundane, so bourgeois as pastry onto the gospel. “We can eat whatever we want, however we want it!”, they cried. “Acts 10:15! Acts 10:15!!”

Forget about the fact that she was thinking out loud about justice, and mercy, and faithfulness. Suddenly, foodie fundamentalism (as I’ve heard it so named before this) was out, and anti-foodie-nomianism was in.

I’ve tried to show myself from just the first 2 chapters of Genesis, Jesus has always worked through His creation to reveal the mind and heart of its’ Creator, and He has done it in a particularly eloquent and rich way in food. The fact is that the central ordinance of both the Old and New Covenants, which will, in God’s providential timing, both be celebrated around this world this week, involve, not the mandatory recitation of a creed (to the possible disappointment of the Presbyterians), or the performance of some kind of interpretive dance (to the certain relief of the Southern Baptists), but the communal eating of a meal.

If that’s the case, shouldn’t the question be not why we’re suddenly talking so much about the role of food in Christian life, but why in God’s name we’ve said so little? In centering our thought on all the spiritual implications of what God says through food, have we perhaps lost sight of the practical implications, because we are fixating on one verse, and not looking at the bigger picture?

And before the anti-foodie-nomians get out their pitchforks and point them at me, let me be plain. If the central theme of food in the Old Covenant was the Messiah as our true and better food, than He has to be the central theme of New Covenant food conversations as well. We shouldn’t be New Covenant Pharisees – spending more time obsessing over whether our nightly dinner’s balance of food groups and color and use of negative and positive space on the plate appropriately adorns the gospel (although I’m sure there’s a Pinterest page for that), than we do feasting, through Scripture, on the One the gospel is about. Sometimes it will be the choice of the better thing to put down the baking sheet and pick up the Bible.

But when we do, and as we see how often in that Bible Jesus uses food to point to Himself, perhaps it’s worthwhile to at least consider if we, as His disciples, who are called to walk as He walked, ought not to be about doing the same thing – using this central aspect of God’s creation as a means to see Him, and to display Him, and not see what He has given as a mere personal, nutritional, and pleasurable end in itself.


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Of Eden and the Upper Room

As a microbiology student, I spent a lot of time looking at teeny tiny things through the lenses of a big, clunky microscope. One of the phrases that got used a lot when I was learning how to do this well involved “narrowing the field of vision” – the area inside the brightly lit circle you viewed through your lenses in the hopes of seeing microbiological somethingorothers. Sometimes, I was looking for single-celled organisms of mathematical beauty called diatoms. But most of the time, I was was  looking at the kinds of creatures that wreak havoc with our persons when we, say, ingest something previously egested, or when we (polite cough) experience in our persons the unintended consequences of an illicit interaction with another person. In either case, my classmates and I spent a lot of time twiddling dials and turning knobs to focus on an ever-diminishing field of view. Then, on the way from the lab to my car, I would spend a long time squinting and blinking my eyelids to remind my not-as-young-as-they-were eyes what my normal field of vision was supposed to be.

Whatever the field of vision Adam and Eve had in those first days in Eden, we can surmise from the description God gives that what was inside it was beautiful. And delicious. With all that modern agriculture has done to bring back so-called “heritage” fruits and vegetables to modern day diets, can you imagine how fruits and vegetables grown directly by the hand of God must have tasted? And with the cost that modern farmers incur to bring these varieties to market (and then pass on to consumers, so that a pound of heirloom tomatoes can set you back over ten dollars), doesn’t the language of generosity that God employs to invite Adam and Eve to eat what He’s grown seem beyond rich?

This lavishness is what makes Satan’s enticement of Eve all the more insidious, and her active acquiescence more tragic. In one conversation of questions and answers, Satan reorients Eve’s field of vision away from all to which God has given His generous “Yes”, and fixed it on the one thing to which He has said “No”. In a rapidly spiraling series of half truths, distortions and lies, Eve infuses the one thing she is denied with a universe of meaning. Her vision is now fatally horizontal, with her creaturely need seeing fulfillment in finite creation, instead of its infinite, divine Source. With Adam silent at her side, Eve takes Satan at his toxic word, and for the first time, her eating brings death, instead of life.

Anyone like me who has ever fought an addiction or simple inordinate attachment to food (or any other creaturely pleasure) can see Eve’s battle in our own. We let Satan draw our eyes away from the incomparable riches of His grace, and onto what we don’t have, but suddenly crave with all of our being. Our marriage is crumbling, our kids are rebelling, our career is imploding, our ministry is dying, and suddenly a fridge, (or a bottle, or a website, or a risky investment,) is all we can see, offering all that we think we lack. We lose our sense of fulfillment in our identity as a child of God, and seek to find it through food – in gluttony or anorexia, in organic everything, in making every meal for our family or ourselves a microcosm of meaning. We look away from God and toward what He’s made, we eat, and we die.

When I think of how often we rehearse Adam and Eve’s deathly ritual of a disordered perspective on food in our daily life, I can’t help but marvel at the mercy, the kindness, the brilliance of Jesus’ gift of a restored perspective on food in Communion. In the giving of bread and wine, to His disciples in the upper room, and to His people whenever we meet together, Jesus does for His bride what Adam neglected to do for his. Jesus reminds us, with the bread and wine, and with His words, where true fulfillment, true life, is to be found. In Communion, Jesus undoes the fatal distortions of Eden and refocuses our spiritual field of vision for food as a picture of our true life in Him, instead of death in our sin.

In Eden, Adam and Eve made food about themselves.

In His Supper, Jesus reminds His people that food was always, and is always, about Himself.