Thursday, August 29, 2013

Incarnation: Taste and See that the Lord is Good

A group I meet with periodically decided that we should reflect on embodiment as each of us had talked of embodiment that day. As I was thinking about what I would write, three experiences came immediately to mind. And so, here are my reflections on the incarnation and eating.

After I came home from the meeting this blog post was on my feed:
It's a reflection on the physical health of ministers and how we may care for our spiritual and emotional aspects, but not our physical aspects.

Dualism in the form of separation of mind/spirit and body has long troubled me. It comes from Greek influences on the early Christian church and not Hebrew. I was delighted to learn, as I studied the Hebrew scriptures and the Hebrew language in seminary, that there is no such separation in that early tradition. The Hebrew term "nephesh" or "nepesh" is sometimes translated "soul" but its meaning is more than that. It is the essence of the living creature. There is an earthiness, a sensuality in the Hebrew texts that we Christians have somehow lost. The ancient Hebrews saw the wholeness of humans, not separation.

But, I learned (and I doubt that my experience is very different from most protestant Christians) that whatever was sensual (meaning bringing pleasure to the senses) was wrong, corrupt, vile. As a constant dieter most of my life, food is not something to be sought to bring pleasure. It is something to deny myself. That moist, chocolately cake with the squishy center and the fragrant chocolate buttery icing is to be avoided, not enjoyed. It will suddenly appear on my hips (and at my age now on my abdomen which presages diabetes). A meal is to be gobbled down while working or surfing the web. It is fuel for the body and the mind.

I have been unlearning this lesson, gradually over the last few years. I first noticed that when I travel, almost where ever I travel, food tastes so much better than in the US. Sitting in a tiny restaurant near the train station in a small town in far western China, I watched as they brought in vegetables from the farmers who were selling them in front of the train station. In a few minutes, our meal appeared with those vegetables. One of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten. In the Mekong of Vietnam, we stopped to eat at the place the drivers stayed as their tourist clients boated along the river. The red snapper was fresh from the river, fried to perfection. We ate it with fish sauce and fresh greens. In central Asia, yellow melons burst with sweetness unknown in most grocery store melons here.

I began to avoid processed foods and to cook more for myself. In a short time, I found that I could no longer eat many bakery items that I had before loved. The taste of chemicals overpowered the sweetness that was there. I discovered that in season, if I searched diligently, I could find vegetables as flavorful as those Chinese vegetables. I found that I could from time to time find chicken that tasted like chicken. The deep and complex flavors of fresh food was there, hidden, but sometimes available.

And so now it is August. Nothing  tastes better to me than an heirloom tomato from the farmers' markets, with fresh basil and cottage cheese. Finding the right tomato still remains important. Those uniformly red, uniformly round (with slightly flattened sides for ease of packing in boxes), uniformly sized tomatoes must be avoided. I search for the misshapened ones. I turn them over, looking at the stem to make sure green appears. I pick it up, making sure it's just the right degree of softness. I smell it, catching the scent of tomatoness. Home again, I cut my treasure into bite sized pieces. I find the aromatic basil (can any perfume smell sweeter) and tear the leaves. I put in some cottage cheese. I savor each bite of the tomato: the fruity, slightly acid, sweet taste that for decades I had missed. The juice dribbles down my chin. The basil adds chewiness and an almost but not quite bitter complexity. The cottage cheese in its blandness spreads the tomato-basil taste throughout.

The Psalmist writes: taste and see that the Lord is good. What is more delightful than the perfect August tomato? Who can bite into one and doubt that creation is good?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is God Just?

The church I preach at from time to time has a series of "Bad News and Good News" on the back of its bulletin. The bad news is that we are sinners. The worse news is that God is just and therefore must punish us. The good news is that Jesus takes on our punishment and we are saved through grace. (It's actually a bit longer than that.) I was musing on it on Sunday. Right away, I recognized substitutionary atonement. Which always, always bothers me.

I'm in the midst of reading Jared Diamond's new book, "The World before Yesterday". I'm at the part now where he talks about dispute resolution in small societies. One primary purpose is to resolve the dispute so that the relationships between the parties or between their groups is preserved. Less focus is put on assessing blame, more on restoration of the relationship.

In our society, justice is seen primarily as meting out punishment for wrongdoers. There are other theories of justice: restorative justice, trying to put the injured party in a position as close to before the injury as possible and rehabilitation for the wrongdoer. But it is mostly about punishment.

But what of God? What sort of justice does God mete out?

For Luke, I would argue, God doesn't seem at all concerned with justice. Luke has Jesus tell the story of the Prodigal Son. The older brother longs for justice, but the father gives mercy, forgiveness. In the parable of the workers who are hired at different, the workers who were hired at six in the morning  complain that they worked so much longer than the ones hired at three in the afternoon and yet they both get the same amount of pay. The owner of the field says, I paid you the wage you agreed to; get over it. At least in Luke's Gospel, God is not a God who demands punishment as justice.

And so, why is it that we seem so intent on justice, on fairness? How have we missed this basic theme of the Gospel? This approach to justice puts us at odds with each other. It assumes a zero sum game; winners and losers; the good and the bad.

The kingdom, I believe, assumes abundance, more than enough. It assumes sharing. It assumes that my welfare includes your welfare, too. It assumes grace. It assumes God isn't the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, but the father who loves, forgives, accepts and best yet, throws a party.