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food and theology

September 20, 2011

Today, guest contributer Chef John Perkins writes about food and theology. John will be cooking at Celebrating Grace on October 2. Enjoy!

One would expect an essay on food and theology to begin with a discussion of at least one or the other. That would be reasonable. But such discussions are really third and fourth course fare. If I were serving you a meal we would begin with an amuse (a small bite intended to wet the appetite) or perhaps an anti-pasto platter (a savory selection of cured meat and aged cheese, crusty bread and perhaps a few small pickles). If I had to choose, I think this essay is more anti-pasto than amuse; substantive, but only the first step of many.

Like any multi-course meal, the discussion of food and faith can’t be rushed. We need the time to savor and to relish. But we’ll come to that, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First things first, we need a context, a framework, something by which we can mutually agree on before move forward. I have two things in mind, and let me list them and then we can go about the business of digesting them together. First, the world as it is, is unnecessary. Second, we have rather messed up this business with spirit and matter – making them enemies and all. What does any of this have to do with food, or theology you ask? Good question, let’s get to that.

To say that the world is unnecessary is quite a bold statement. Of course I don’t actually mean it, well, not completely anyway. What I really mean is this: (full disclosure – I am borrowing and expanding on some themes explored by Robert Farrar Capon in a number of his books including The Supper of the Lamb) that the created world exists as a testament to God’s boundless creativity, and it exists in all of it’s excessive glory because God declared it to be that way.

Carrots are not necessary, and neither are Brussels sprouts. Salty, cured sturgeon eggs from Russia, maple syrup aged in barrels, Chioggia beets, fennel, crispy pork skin, oysters, are any of these really necessary? And what to say of the millions of variations of cheese there are, or wine that exist? Is any of this necessary? The short answer is no, none of it is. God didn’t have to make the world this way, but here it is: on my plate, in my glass, at our table. The only reason that any of this exists is because God created it. And here’s the best part: He created it for us; that we might delight in it, and by delighting in his abundance (beyond all imagining) we would delight in Him.

That the world as it is is fundamentally unnecessary is the first rubric through which we need to see everything else. By understanding this, even if our understanding is slight, we begin to catch a glimpse of how stunning God’s favor is to us. Any further discussion of food and theology simply can’t take place if we aren’t in on this together. I hope you’re with me so far. Now, let’s get to that second bit.

We have made a bad habit of pitting the physical against the spiritual. And by we, I mean the western church in general, and you and I in particular. Let me give you an example, when was the last time you said to yourself: “I am not a very good Christian, I need to be more physical”? Maybe not a very good joke, but I hope you get the point. We have place a premium on whatever it is we think “spiritual” means, and tacitly downgraded whatever we think “physical” means. This is the crux (the crucifix) of the matter: If God had been interested in a purely “spiritual” world, let me assure you that he would have created one. The bit of pop-tart digesting in your stomach, and the aromas of this morning’s coffee still lingering on your breath would be pure imagination. But God was not interested in a merely spiritual world, he was interested in a physical one as well; a dusty, weighty, tangible world.

We have so thoroughly compartmentalized the “physical” and “spiritual” aspects of our lives we aren’t even aware that they don’t even live in the same apartment any more. And this is why that’s a problem: each Sunday we gather to worship a risen Christ, whose body rose from beneath the earth, with dirt beneath his nails. His divinity and his humanness held together; inseparable yet distinct.

Each advent we celebrate the arrival of the Christ. A child, who would grow, and fish, and make tables, and draw circles with sticks on the dirt floor.

And each Sunday we circle, with arms outreached we take bread and break it, and wine and drink it. And by doing this we remember His unending, inexorable, rooted grace.



One Comment leave one →
  1. Chad permalink
    September 22, 2011 8:28 pm

    I am delighting in anticipating this meal. Can’t wait.

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