WWJE?

My sister-in-law will not buy produce at Aldi any more. Why, you ask? I’m glad you asked, since this would have been a very short post had you not. She stopped buying veggies at Aldi because they stopped selling ones with pesticides used on them. “I want my pesticides!” she said. (Yes, this actually came out of her mouth.)

People can get weird about their food, although I’ve never heard anybody yearn for pesticides before. Usually the weirdness comes from those who want to look disapprovingly at whatever it is that I enjoy eating.

  • “You still eat doughnuts?”
  • “I never go within 200 yards of a McDonalds.”
  • “Is that pineapple locally sourced, humanely raised, and organic?”

Do you know the type? But then as I travel around my not-quite-bourgeois city, I see the miserably obese people, the future diabetics of America, who clearly don’t think about what they eat except to think about getting more of it in their mouths. I think that the food police are misguided, but I also see the food ignorant as problematic. WWJE?

What would Jesus eat?

Would Jesus cram his mouth at Pizza Street until he could barely walk out of the place, groaning and saying, “My belly hurts; I ate too much!”

Or would he sit and point at different foods that no right-thinking person should ever consider: “Lips that touch high-fructose corn syrup shall not touch mine!

I struggle with both of these attitudes, and I think that the reason that I struggle with them both is that they both run counter to the spirit of the gospel.

On the one hand, we have a food hedonism: “If it tastes good, eat it. If it tastes bad, eat it anyway.”

On the other hand, we have a food legalism: “You must eat precisely this and not eat precisely that to be righteous in the eyes of the food spirit (today).”

Okay, so what would Jesus eat?

Actually, Jesus did not say a huge amount about food. He did, in Mark 7:19, declare all foods clean. I don’t think that means that tainted meat is suddenly healthy, and I don’t think it means that Jesus put his stamp of approval on HFCS. Instead, it means that consuming pork or a candy bar or even–I risk being expelled as a Baptist deacon–alcohol will not render us unclean before God.

To the best I can see, Jesus never directly talks about gluttony. This makes sense as he lived in a time when gluttony was much less common. Starvation was more of a problem, as the “don’t worry” teaching in Matthew 6 suggests.

The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that rules about what we can and can’t eat are misguided, but there weren’t giant factory farms, genetically-modified foods, and pesticides available in those days. Maybe, if Jesus had lived today, he would have spoken out about both the quantity and the quality of our foods. And maybe not.

In short, I still don’t know what Jesus would eat? And maybe that’s okay. Maybe what I should eat is just between me and the Holy Spirit. Maybe if my sister-in-law wants her pesticides, then it’s okay. Maybe, but I’d like to explore some principles that might move us toward an answer to the question of WWJE?

Cheated of Cheesecake?

Today was one of those good days when my employer fed me lunch on their dime. A guest speaker, Joshua Neufeld, the artist behind such graphic creations as The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media or A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon Graphic Library), a graphic account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, had given a lecture. We gave him a luncheon (and presumably a wad of money).

As I sat down to the table, I found the usual fare, including glasses of water and tea. We’re swanky at JCCC! But then I saw the precise slice of dessert pictured here lurking just past my super-healthy grilled chicken salad. Not only were they tempting me with cheesecake, but they’d drizzled caramel or somesuch all over it. I knew that, given my October Resolve to control my eating, I could not indulge in this delicacy. It would be colossally hard!

That’s what I told Penny when I got home. “It was hard.” Then I thought about it for a moment and realized that not eating that marvelous confection really had not been that hard. I looked at it. I saw Beth to my left eat about half of hers. Maureen to my right ate most if not all of hers. Mine never moved.

That’s when I found myself reminded that resisting temptation is not the incredibly difficult thing that we make it out to be. Temptation came my way not by the hand of Satan but my the hand of JCCC Food Service. The desire for it might have been nudged forward by Satan, but for me to truly be tempted, to find it hard, I would have to turn that desire over in my mind.

James 1:13-15 describes the process by which temptation develops. It starts with an idea, but it only moves from desire to sin to death when I allow myself to be “drawn away and enticed by [my] own evil desire.” It’s not the cheesecake’s desire. It’s not Satan’s desire. It wasn’t the desire of Beth or Maureen. It was mine. All I had to do to win the moment was not to feed–either literally or figuratively–that desire.

Controlling the Belt Buckle

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God. –1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

Recently, as I looked around a group of godly men, most of them my age or a few years older, I noticed something that nearly all had in common: bellies bulging out over their belts. I say that fully conscious that my own profile on that evening looked pretty similar to theirs.

What makes men of a certain age put on weight? You don’t expect a sixty-year-old to have ripped abs, but is there really some reason why we should all look as if we’re a pregnant woman who hasn’t just started to show?

In my case, the explanation is quite simple. Over the last couple of years, I haven’t controlled my body very well. Lest you hear that and recall the verse quoted above, let me hasten to say that my lack of control isn’t in the sexual arena. No, my lack of control involves the amount of food that goes into my mouth and the amount of physical exertion that consumes that food.

It didn’t take me a long span of life to learn that food tastes good. Lots of food tastes good, and it doesn’t stop tasting good when you’ve eaten a bit of it. The fifth piece of pizza is almost exactly as rewarding as the first.

Gluttony–just like sexual immorality–is a sin. My body requires stewardship just as surely as my bank account, regardless of whether that stewardship deals with my sexuality or my fitness. Bad behavior in either area can ruin me for effective Christian ministry.

“Control your own body,” Paul insists, as if it were an easy thing. But of course he knew that it wasn’t an easy thing. It’s not an easy thing to hit the gym in the morning. It’s not an easy thing to stop at one or two pieces of pizza. And it’s not easy to keep your mind from thinking sexually impure things. But actually that’s where the key lies.

Unless I am completely wrong, I will probably never stop looking at at least some workouts as something to be dreaded. I will probably never cease to long for more and richer food. And I will probably never stop being tempted in that other carnal area. Still connected to that “body of death” of mine, I’m subject to temptations.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul does not say that his readers had to escape all temptation. Instead, he urges them to control their bodies and not act upon the temptation. With God’s help and my own efforts, I have mastered my sexual desire. I’ve seen the same combination of forces master my physical shape. Now, wearing a larger size of pants, has God stopped helping? Of course not.

“Learn to control your own body,” Paul insists. Did he suggest it was easy or automatic? Apparently not since it had to be learned. I may not be able to control the physiques of my brothers, but I can, with some effort, make a change to my own.

Defeating the Onions of Doom: The Nerd Fitness Pantry

How many times has this happened to you? Your neighbor, that attractive person you’ve been desperately wanting to meet for months, comes to the door and asks to borrow a couple of oranges. You think, “Shazam! It’s my lucky day.” Immediately agreeing to help, you dash to the refrigerator to retrieve said oranges only to find your refrigerator stocked entirely with onions.

Martin Short and Tina TurnerMany years ago, back when Saturday Night Live was funny, Martin Short did one of his Ed Grimley sketches in which Tina Turner showed up at Ed’s door asking for oranges. If you didn’t sleep through that first paragraph, you can guess what Ed found in his fridge.

Sometimes that’s how I feel when I go to the kitchen in search of food. In my case, my frustration usually arises when my food-snarfing son has gone all conehead on me and consumed mass quantities of whatever I had counted on finding, but the lack of healthy, edible food is a significant obstacle to successful eating.

That’s why I was so pleased that the guys at Nerd Fitness determined to take the common sense approach of describing the Nerd Fitness Pantry. The idea here is to have a flexible selection of ingredients that will keep you from finding your refrigerator full of onions when hunger strikes. In normal Nerd Fitness style, the piece is presented using a video game comparison.

Each item you’ll be gathering on your grocery store mission is like a tool used during questing for one or more purposes. Think of coconut oil like the hook shot in Ocarina of Time: it’s going to take some effort (and real-life rupees) to obtain, but after you have it, you’ll be using it all the time.

Others items are like potions, great to keep around in case of emergency (like if you didn’t have time to cook before work).

This longish entry on the NF blog goes into a lot of detail on both what you ought to buy but why you ought to buy it. It prioritizes things and takes the incredibly commonsense approach of pointing out that you can vary the list to suit your own needs and wants. They even provide a handy chart.

Penny and I have been working on stocking our kitchen in just such a manner, although with different details. What we’ve found is that by having the raw materials on hand, we’re able to eat healthier and waste less while we resist the temptation to throw up our hands in frustration and order a pizza. This sort of planning just seems like good stewardship all around.

 

Eat Food; Not Feed

Red wattle pigUntil fairly recently, I owned a small farm where I raised chickens and the occasional pigs. As adorable as piglets might be when you first get them and can pick them up by a hind leg, they soon become good for one purpose only: feeding them out to a size suitable to be transformed into pork chops and assorted other foods.

My pigs doubled as garbage disposals. If we had leftover dinner that wasn’t going in the fridge, we’d give it to the pigs. If some produce went bad on us, the pigs got it. When I’d stumble across a clutch of eggs that the chickens had secreted in the bushes, the pigs received a raw-egg treat. They’d also eat grass and leaves and trimmings from the garden.

But to get my pigs to 250 pounds as efficiently as possible, most of their calories came from 50-pound bags of feed, little processed pellets of who-knows-what that I bought at the local feed store. The feed I typically bought was called Muscle Pig and trumpeted 16% protein. The pigs ate it with abandon and enthusiasm.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on Michael Pollan’s famous dictum: “Eat food, not too much.” Pollan goes on to add that most of our food should be from plants, a determination that we could question, but I’d like to focus on the “eat food” part.

We can eat food or we can eat feed. Food grows on trees or plants. It can be obtained from animals. Feed, on the other hand, comes from factories and is enhanced by the marvels of modern chemistry. The feed that I gave my pigs was extruded. That is, it was squeezed out of a press, like the old Play-Dough Pumper.

(Remember that all the best food is extruded!)

Feed, as it relates to pigs, is designed to put weight onto the animal. Even in the case of a non-meat animal–a horse, for example–feed exists to make the animal useful to someone else. Can that apply to humans? Human feed typically makes people useful to corporations by producing a profit for them.

Food, however, is more than feed. It does all the things that feed does, including making a profit for food providers, but it does more. It nourishes. It strengthens. It delights. It blesses. As much as you might enjoy Fruit by the Foot, you can’t honestly say that it is a blessing, can you?

Think about a food that says “home and happiness” to you. I’m guessing that it’s not extruded. I’m guessing that it doesn’t come from a factory. Yes, it might be processed, but it’s probably processed in a kitchen rather than in an industrial plant.

Eat food, not feed. Feed is for pigs, and pigs are food.

The Endless Hunger

woman-praying-silhoutte-168fe02ec159dbda85f31317c4972b91I’m writing this just before lunch at the office. A container of kung pao chicken is waiting in the fridge. I need to take a couple of steps behind me, loosen the lid, and then start the microwave. Or I could step to my right and open the file drawer that holds raisins (including yogurt-covered ones) and a few other morsels of non-perishable goodness. I am hungry.

Or am I? My guess is that when I say, “I am hungry,” I only mean that my body truly needs food about one time in twenty. Instead, I’m really saying, “I want to cram food in my mouth” for a variety of possible reasons. Right now, it’s probably to avoid actual work.

Esther Crain catalogs eleven reasons why you might be hungry. These include factors such as eating the wrong things (as opposed to not enough) as well as matters that have nothing to do with eating. One that caught my eye was eating because of stress.

Who hasn’t dealt with a high-pressure workday or relationship rough spot by giving into cravings for a pint of Rocky Road? But stress has a sneakier way of making you voracious. When you’re tense, your system ramps up production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, says Rumsey. Elevated levels of these hormones trick your system into thinking it’s under attack and needs energy, so your appetite starts raging. Stress also reduces levels of the brain chemical serotonin, and that can make you feel hungry when you aren’t, says Moon. Consider it a case for making it to yoga class more often, or cranking up a soothing playlist on your commute home.

I mention this because as pervasive as stress is in our culture, the Christian has tools at his or her disposal that can greatly diminish the weight that stress places on us. As therapeutic as yoga might be, prayer and meditation in God’s Word can certainly bring more power than twisting yourself into a pretzel and chanting “Om.” The problem is that too often we fail to make use of the spiritual disciplines.

Whether it is to grow closer to God or to eliminate stress from your life–and I’d argue that doing the first will inevitably lead to the second–you should not ignore the power that getting close to the Creator can provide.

Where’s for Dinner?

The American Family Table

According to statistics from the Department of Commerce, Americans now spend more at restaurants and bars than they do at grocery stores. I have to say that, while I like having someone else cook for me as much as the next person, I struggle with the stewardship of this whole thing. First of all, there’s the cost of the typical restaurant fare.

The cost of restaurant meals (averaging $6.96 last year) are rising faster than the cost of in-home meals ($2.24), the NPD Group says. NPD also notes that even though we are spending more of our food budget on restaurants, four out of five meals come from food bought for the home.

My second problem with restaurant meals is the difficulty of finding food that doesn’t blast your diet goals out of the water. Even if you can keep the calories in check, the sugar, fat, and sodium will get you.

That’s why I’m opting to eat more meals at home. This evening, though, just this once, I’m thinking that Papa John’s pizza sounds good.

Locating the Body of Christ

Sadao Watanabe woodprint. "The Lord's Supper"
Sadao Watanabe woodprint. “The Lord’s Supper”

In  a few weeks, on April 2 this year, my Catholic friends will observe Maundy Thursday, a holiday that commemorates, among other things, the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Perhaps because of the crowded calendar around Easter, that church established another feast day, Corpus Christ, dedicated strictly to the idea of the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the communion elements, which will be observed on June 4.

I bring this up not to contend with Catholic theology, but to suggest an alternate reading of the gospel texts on which the ideas of Real Presence and Transubstantiation are based. In Luke 22:19, we read,

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

The English teacher in me always casts a suspicious eye on pronouns. Several of these slippery words are lurking in that brief verse. Context demands that “he” and “me” both refer to Jesus. The two appearances of “it” can, I believe, only reasonably refer to the bread (although I suppose you could make an argument for “it” being the thanks Jesus gave. If that’s your reading, I’d like invite you over to break some thanks.)

So far, so good, but what about “this,” a pronoun that appears twice in this verse. What does “this” mean in verse 19? Traditionally, “this” refers to the bread that Jesus has just taken and broken. That seems reasonable, but is it the only reading possible? Before you answer, let’s agree that both occasions of “this” in the same sentence surely refer to the same thing. Therefore, we could read Jesus’ words to say, “This [bread] is my body; do this [bread] in remembrance of me.” I’m not exactly sure how you “do” bread, but this reading makes sense.

On the other hand, the nearest noun (actually a pronoun) to that troublesome “this” is “them,” a pronoun that refers to Jesus’ dinner companions. What if the word “this” refers to the gathered believers. Then we could read Jesus’ words as “This [gathering of believers] is my body; do this [gathering of believers] in remembrance of me.” That seems to make sense. And when we consider that Paul repeatedly speaks of the church as the Body of Christ, then it makes even more sense.

If you’re still with me, then you might be just as much a grammar nerd as I am, but really the minutiae of language is not my point. Instead, I would like to argue that the Real Presence that exists at the Lords Supper table is not to be found in bread and wine. Instead, the Body of Christ is to be found in the gathered and worshiping believers.

“Do this,” Jesus told them. Do what? I would suggest–and of course I’m saying this with the bias of this blog–that he instructed them and us to gather, to worship, to eat, to drink, and ultimately to live, as Jesus did, in the Spirit even while remaining in the flesh.

Betty Draper Indulges Her Cravings

Betty DraperI will confess that I am writing this out of a measure of ignorance, having not watched all of the Mad Men episodes released to date. However, with the first five and one- third seasons under my belt, I feel confident in claiming that Betty Draper Francis is a woman living in the flesh.

Certainly I could have just as easily laid that charge against her ex-husband, the complicated Don Draper, but since Betty seems to drag a great deal less baggage in her wake her flesh-focused life seems less justified and more lamentable.

Somewhere, in the years before Betty found herself swept away by Don, in the murky prehistory before Season 1, Betty would have seemed to have it all: Bryn Mawr education, a sturdy (if not wealthy) family, dazzling good looks, and, upon Don’s entrance on the scene, a dashing husband going places. What more could this  fifties woman want? Yet it wasn’t enough.

By the time we meet Betty, she, like her husband, is self-medicating with nicotene. Don might have been in the majority–something like 54% of American men smoked in the early 1960s–but Betty belonged to the roughly one-third of women who indulged in that habit. Betty also drinks, sometimes to excess. Yet tobacco and alcohol do not sooth the pains that this woman feels. During Season 1, she visits a psychiatrist, ostensibly because of psychosomatic numbness in her hands.

While Betty fantasizes at least a couple of times about being sexually unfaithful, her indulgence in this area seems decidedly amateurish compared with Don’s continual transgressions. Still, at the end of Season 2, she picks up a complete stranger in a bar and retires with him to a back room. This, unsurprisingly, does not satisfy her.

After divorcing Don and marrying the enigmatic (and somewhat dull) Henry Francis, she seems for a moment to be satisfied. But her misery continues, visited on her ex, her children, and husband number two. Eventually, the show inflicts the ultimate indignity on the lovely actress and presents us with “Fat Betty.” Food, though, fails to satisfy this woman. I dread to see what the remaining run of the show will drag her into. Betty the junky?

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I am Betty Draper–or at least I have been. At one time or another, we are all Betty Draper, vaguely unhappy in the flesh and convinced that the right combination of fleshly stimuli will scratch that itch. We might try food or liquor, smoke or sex. We might think that the right clothes upon this body, the right car in which to move it, or the right house for it to call home will do the trick.

More to the point of my interests, we might seek to sooth that bodily dissatisfaction with actions that seem like absolutely positive things. “If I can lose ten more pounds and get my six-pack abs… If I could only eat organic, free-range, humanely raised food… If I can get just my golf handicap down or my bench press up… If I can only run a longer race or a faster time, then everything will be great.” The fleshly idols of today are different from those Betty worshiped, but they can be idols nonetheless.

If I could counsel Betty, I would advise her that cigarettes or booze are poor choices. (We might differ on the latter, but that’s a matter for another day.) But her other wants are, in moderation and, especially, with the right outlook,  positives. It is the same for us. The inclination to eat right, to exercise, and to pursue other matters of the flesh can glorify God or they can simply be what they are for Betty: an attempt to fix a spiritual ache with a physical medication.

 

100% Perfect (Hebrews 5:9-10)

and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him  and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:9-10)

Looking in the mirror today, I couldn’t help but notice my lack of perfection. My hair is receding in uneven and undesirable directions. My belly is advancing over my belt. My eyes struggle to focus. I’m a bit of a wreck. My quest for perfection will have to wait until–oh, who am I kidding? It’s a lost cause.

As I read today’s verse, a continuation of the sentence in yesterday’s, I’m struck by something. Jesus, if I read this correctly, did not start out perfect. That’s not to say that he started out sinful and the worked his way to sinless. I don’t see that sort of thing ever happening. Instead, I think it means that he simply wasn’t perfect at the outset. Like a tiny green tomato on a vine, Jesus began as potentially perfect. He suffered in the wilderness, resisting temptation. He suffered undoubtedly before that. His temptation may have continued after the wilderness, although apparently Satan left him alone for a time.

When did Jesus become perfect? I’m not sure. If that verse, the one saying, “And with that piece of suffering Jesus officially became perfect,” apparently didn’t make any of the gospels. What we do know is that suffering led to obedience, which led to perfection, which made him the proper vessel for my salvation.

No amount of suffering or obedience can make me the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but, happily, that job has already been filled. In fact, no amount of suffering or obedience will ever perfect me, but that’s okay.

Even as my body betrays the passage of years and my poor eating habits, my spirit, through suffering and obedience can become, if not perfect, less imperfect. Once again, if such a thing was desirable for Jesus, then it’s good for me as well. Perhaps tomorrow, as I look into the mirror, I can see myself as not better looking but a bit closer to perfect than what I saw today.