Some of the truth? Or all of it?

So little time and sooo much that I’d like to talk about. I know that I still owe you, my faithful reader, a post or two on Food and the Bible. I plan to get around to it, because it is pretty much going to be the linchpin post for establishing the spirituality of food. So you have that to look forward to.

Then there is the whole Rob Bell controversy. My plan was to let it pass without comment. But it looks like people on either side are getting all hot and bothered over it/him, and that maybe it isn’t going to pass as quickly as I’d expected hoped. At this point, I’m pretty committed to reading the book. More out of a sense of pastoral responsibility than any real interest in what he has to say. Rob is a great communicator, but he isn’t really a first-rate theologian (p.s. I am neither a great communicator nor a first-rate theologian). Anyway, while I plan to read the book, I’m equally committed to not purchasing it. So as you can see, I have something of a problem.

My commitment to not buying the book doesn’t stem from a belief that it is heresy. I’d have to read the book to even begin to form an opinion. Rather, as I’ve shared in the past, I have an abnormal distaste for all things hyped. And brother Rob’s book certainly falls in that category. Who knows? Maybe I’ll stick with my ignore-it-until-it-goes-away plan.

Instead, I’d like to pursue the question posed in the title. Does one teach truth in small bites? Carefully measured out? Or do you turn on the fire hydrant and flood folks with it?

I was on deck yesterday to teach out of Luke 4:1-13 (The Temptation of Jesus), and I was faced with this very dilemma. Last night wasn’t an isolated event. I regularly wrestle with this question. Do I teach all the truth contained in the passage (or I should say “all the truth that I have access to,” because only a very arrogant person would say that they have a handle on all the truth) or do I just stick to one or two familiar points from which I can get some sturdy “applications” for my listener.

Usually, I err on the side of caution. I work with the “less is more” theory. Namely, that a person is more likely to get something good from what I share if I’ll focus on a main idea or two. That way, they can get get a pretty good handle on a few things rather than the deluge of information that I’d like to rain down on them. Well last night, for better or worse, I went with option B.

Luke 4:1-13 is a fascinating passage that can be read on at least two levels. There is the common reading in which we are to take Jesus’ example of resisting the devil’s schemes and apply that to our lives in like manner. Use God’s word to combat temptation. Don’t compromise your single-hearted worship of God… and so on. I hope I’m not sounding too dismissive. I really do think this is a valid reading. But approaching the passage in this way doesn’t get at all the truth that is there. And more importantly, I don’t think it gets at the main truth that I believe is fairly front and center.

Like a good movie, there is the storyline and there is the underlying message. Focusing on the storyline in this case misses the message. Most of us have repeatedly been taught to engage this passage in the manner I’ve just outlined above. But in doing so we run the risk of missing out on what was most certainly the message Luke/Jesus was trying to get across.

The underlying message surrounds issues of “son-ship.” Both the passage itself and the preceding verses are filled with “son” language. And so there are a series of questions lying just below the surface of the text. Who is Jesus? Who is God’s son? Who is Jesus the son of? What does it mean to be God’s son?

But those aren’t the only questions on the table either. What any Jewish reader would have recognized as blatantly obvious are the connections between Jesus’ story and their nation’s his-story. Obvious to them. Not so much to us. Largely because we are unfamiliar with their story. But a group of high school students were able to see it, so I have faith in you as well.

[Jesus] was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted.
Luke 4:1-3

Do the words “wilderness” and “forty” stand out in any way? Anyone remember a group of people who wandered around a wilderness for a forty length of time?

How about the temptations themselves? The first one was to change a stone to bread. Anyone remember a bread in the wilderness episode. I believe they called it manna back then.

Or temptation number 2… Worshiping someone other than God himself. That’s idolatry. And that’s also what was taking place when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found Aaron and the lot acting a fool with a golden calf.

Then there is temptation number 3… not quite as clear cut, but as I read it, the devil is casting doubt on God’s goodness. He is tempting Jesus to believe that God wouldn’t come through for him if he were throw himself off the highpoint of the temple. The whole reason the Israelites found themselves wandering the wilderness for forty years was due to failure to believe the same thing about God at a crucial moment. Kadesh Barnea. Look it up.

And if some thick-headed young Jew was still missing the point, the two-by-four to the head would that all of Jesus scriptural responses to the devil were from Deuteronomy. And not just random proof-texts, but verses from a fairly isolated section (Deuteronomy 6-8). All verses that have the wilderness wandering as their backdrop.

“So what?” you ask. All fine and well, but what’s the point?

The point is that Jesus recapitulates the story of Israel. Or maybe more accurately, he is re-framing the story of Israel around himself. By re-enacting key elements of Israel’s history, claims are being made about who he is and what his mission is. Namely, while Israel failed at being “the son of God” (cf. Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1), Jesus breaks onto the scene and he is and will be the faithful son.

Jesus… the faithful son. The faithful one. Sounds like a contemporary Christian song.

Now, if we could just find something that rhymes with “recapitulate” or “Deuteronomy.”

Four for (Spring Break) Friday

Around here, we’re in full-get-ready-for-Spring-Break mode. Here’s some music to launch you into what I’m hoping will be a great week for all.

Nate Dogg – Oh No (feat. Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch) // First order of business… honoring one of rap’s finest. I’m certain you’ve heard that Nathaniel Dwayne Hale (aka Nate Dogg) passed this week. He will be missed.

Architecture in Helsinki – Contact High // I tried to think of any other context in which “Contact High” might mean something other than what I’ve known it to mean. I couldn’t think of any.

The Head and The Heart – Down in the Valley // I’m guessing you might tap out early on this song. That would be a mistake. “I wish I was a slave to an age old trade.”

Ravens and Chimes – Division Street // Good and depressing.

Regulators… Mount up!

Food and Faces

This is just a quick follow up to what I was saying about food and community yesterday.

The regular mealtime practice for our family is to eat our meals together. Occasionally, someone will have something going in the evening that keeps us from all gathering.  But missing dinner, at least in this phase of life, is more the exception than the norm.

Sometimes we play a little sharing game around the dinner table. We call it “high/low.” I think we ripped it off some movie or something. Anyway, it is a pretty simple concept (as most have to be for us Chinos), we go around the table and everyone shares their high-light and low-light from the day.

One of the “high” responses that is relatively common is “right now.” And by that they mean this meal that we are sitting down and enjoying together. No doubt that is largely due to Alison’s mad cooking skills, but I have to believe that there is something about actually sitting at the table with one another over a meal and sharing a small slice of our lives with each other that they can recognize as good, even if they wouldn’t use those words to describe it.

I love it because it is maybe the only time during the day when we are gathered around the table looking into each others’ faces. Even when we pray together in the mornings, we tend to be spread out in our living area and looking down or have our eyes closed. The table forces us to sit near one another and for however long we sit, we engage one another.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Some of the interaction at the table is less than stellar. And sometimes it is downright mean. But even that is a blessing of sorts. Our unvarnished selves… the highs and lows of our character… out there to be dealt with.

And to the degree that all this is true, mealtime becomes a transformational event. Like I said… eating is a spiritual matter.

Soul Food

Did I mention that I have a problem finishing stuff I start? Even something as short-lived as a few blog posts about a topic near and dear to all our hearts. A recent gentle reminder from a friend has motivated me put the blog-apron back on and get to serving up the main course.

If you survey some of the biggest points of contention and controversy in the New Testament, what do you think you’ll find? Heaven and Hell? Sorry Bell, Piper, Taylor and all the rest. Not by a long shot. Sexual immorality? Sure, it’s in there. But that doesn’t seem to be the issue that gets people killed.

Still wondering? Probably not, but if you guessed with whom we get our grub on, then we are a little closer to the mark.

Consider this…

…the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2

I don’t want to go into all that’s there, but let’s make sure we’re clear about what was said. Or what wasn’t said…

This man welcomes sinners. Full stop? No, he goes on to say more.

This man welcomes sinners and hangs out with them. Maybe true, but not what it said.

Not, this man welcomes sinners and really, really likes them. Ditto above.

Not even, this man welcomes sinners and will include the likes of these among God’s new covenant community. Without a doubt, that’s where this train is going, but those weren’t the exact words.

No, the issue is that he eats with them.

Pause there a moment.

Fast forward to the somewhat famous controversy between Paul and Peter. I’m going to paraphrase what you can find for yourself in Galatians 2…  Peter was living in Antioch, and enjoying the fruits of an ethnically/racially diverse church. It didn’t matter whether a person was Jew or Gentile, Peter would presumably spend time with them in common fellowship and worship… and most definitely, he ate with Gentiles. Then some people showed up who didn’t think it was ok to eat with Gentiles, and Peter buckled under the pressure and quit breaking bread with them. This sends Paul into fits, and apparently, he let’s Peter have it. Why?

Because who we eat with is a gospel issue. Set aside all the racial diversity – insider/outsider – issues for a moment. There is something about the very act of eating that is spiritual. And it is spiritual because eating presupposes fellowship, intimacy, community. And who is a part of the Renewed Community is a spiritual issue.

It was true for Jesus. It was true for Peter and Paul. Eating was a spiritual issue.

Unconvinced? How about one of the grand-daddy verses of all time for understanding the marching orders for the church. Acts 2:42-47…

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I hope you didn’t miss it. “Eating” is sandwiched in between a series of decidedly spiritual endeavors. Studying the Apostolic word. Prayer. Signs and wonders. Worship. Fellowship. Evangelism.  It doesn’t mention eating once, but twice. Just in case we missed it the first time. I think it is safe to say that the early church thought that eating together was as spiritual an activity as sharing their faith with outsiders. One might even say, eating together was one of the means by which they shared their faith with an on-looking world.

Only as Westerners who drive a sharp wedge between matter and spirit would we miss this. Eating isn’t for sustaining the body only. Eating is meant to both be a reflection of community and a way to build community. And building community is a matter of the Spirit.

Four (sxsw) for Friday

Alright folks, one day it will happen. I’ll be able to attend the music event that someone custom made for me… sxsw. Until then, I’m sharing four of the (hundreds) of shows that I would have gone to had I been down there. Since we’ve recently been over my affinity for Andrew Belle, James Vincent McMorrow, The Civil Wars, The Romany Rye, and so on, I’ll share four more that would have been great to see/hear.

Noah and the Whale – L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N // I think I’ve mentioned my distaste for clever song names that make me type more than I want to.

Vandaveer – The Waking Hour (A Minor Spell) // You may not love this song, but I’ve got a good feeling that they are probably pretty great to see live.

Maps & Atlases – Living Decorations // This band is a little quirky, but they end up getting more play around the office than is probably warranted. Again, I’m guessing a pretty interesting live show.

Lupe Fiasco – The Show Goes On // Once again, my rap-guru from the NW hasn’t steered us wrong.

Let’s go ahead and decide now. We’re all going next year.

a favor

I have a friend (actually, a relative – who is also a friend – I digress) who asked me for some help today. She works for a publishing company and she asked me to give and get some feedback on the cover of a book they are “repackaging.” She knows that I sometimes masquerade as a youth pastor and so she wanted my opinion, the opinions of students, parents, and other ministry workers. The book is I think primarily geared towards high school and maybe college students, but she knows that it is often parents and pastors who buy books for students.

Anyway, here’s the task. If you saw this book in a bookstore, would it appeal to you in any way. Or not. And I think more importantly, what would draw you to it and what would put you off about it.

Love to be able to give her a wide range of feedback. You may or may not be interested in the book, but if you leave a comment there are some free copies to be given away. I’ll put your names in a hat and draw winners. You know how it works. Have at it…

By the way, there is a certain amount of irony at work here. In the last fifteen years, I don’t remember one time buying a book because I liked or disliked the cover.

Side Items

Apologies to my faithful blog readers. I got started on a series of posts related to food then left you hanging. The blogging hiatus was due to my being on a retreat where I was disconnected from the internets for a spell. Retreat food probably deserves a special blog post all its own, but I’ll resist the diversion and stay the course instead.

I need to make a confession as it relates to blogging in series fashion. I’m easily bored. So about two posts in on nearly any sustained subject matter, I start to think… “I wonder how quickly I can wrap this up.” Naturally, this always fails to do justice to the topic under discussion. As a few of you have pointed out, I seem to be missing or avoiding certain ideas. I think maybe I’m coming to them, but I don’t know for sure. I can tell you this. I’m about all done ranting about the ills of food. Pretty soon, we’ll turn a corner and say some more constructive things about the role of food in our lives. I think I’ve got three or four more posts left in me.

Ok, in an attempt to jump back in, I’m going to quickly make a few quick and more or less unrelated observations as it relates to the theology of food.

1) The Bible actually talks quiet a bit about food. I realize that when I got started, I said that the Bible didn’t have much to say about the sinfulness of any particular food or attitude towards food. And I continue to stand by that. However, there are a number of issues that the Bible does address as it relates to food. I’ll list a few.

Exhortations against gluttony. (Proverbs 23:2, 28:7)

Various feasts are described (Numbers 10:10, John 7:37), including the heavenly banquet (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:29).

Not making food an idol (Philippians 3:19)

Sharing food with the poor (Proverbs 22:9, Isaiah 58:7).

2) Food sacrificed to idols. There are some well known places where the issue of whether or not to eat food that has been offered to pagan gods is discussed. The upshot being that it really doesn’t much matter whether one eats those meats or not. This should serve as some caution against the over-spiritualizing of food. However, that it was an issue at all in biblical times (and possibly today to a much lesser extent) points towards an understanding of a connection between food and spiritual life. Eventually, I’ll get around to outlining a sacramental understanding of food. But in the meantime, let’s just recognize that there appears to be some tension regarding the spirituality of food.

3) Why no exhortations to eat locally grown organic food? One argument would be that God doesn’t give a rip about that sort of nonsense. And as I’ve said repeatedly, there is a sense in which this belief is on the money. I don’t think God gets all tied up into knots when we pick up a burger made with meat that was taken from cattle living in inhumane conditions, injected with all sorts of hormones, then is shipped halfway across the country. Now God might be a tad bit concerned that 30 percent of the world’s land mass goes to support our addiction to meat. “Rampant waste of the world’s resources? Who cares?”

Of course, the other obvious reason that the Bible would be entirely silent on matter was that it was a total non-issue at the time. All food was by default locally grown organic food. Just a thought.

This officially ends the multi-post food rant. Looking forward to more constructive things to say.

Food… Twice Removed

Yesterday, we took a look at how our relationship with food has devolved over the centuries. Today, I want to suggest two other factors that have contributed to the demise of food in our culture. They are wealth and industrialization, which are of course bound up together.

Any middle school textbook should be able to document these societal changes over the past hundred years, so there’s no need to rehearse them here. What is pertinent to the topic at hand is that as we shifted (really in a short amount of time) from an agrarian society to an industrialized one, we took decisive steps away from the source of food. Away from farms. Away from ranches. Away from the land. And in doing so, a certain connection with how food arrives on our plates was broken.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to turn back the clock. I would suck at farming. Somehow, I seem to have mastered the art of being able to kill any green growing thing. My lawn being exhibit A. If my family were dependent on my being able to harvest the bounty of the earth, we would all die off within the year.

That being said, it doesn’t change the fact that I (and we) suffer from a sense of disconnectedness when it comes to actually having to be aware of where food came from.

Add to this more and more expendable income as well as increasingly inexpensive food, and you can begin to see an exceptionally strong trend towards taking food for granted. When we don’t feel like the obtaining of food came at any great costs to ourselves, then we fail to appreciate it.

And yet, food looks destined to remain relatively inexpensive. Are you aware of the massive amounts of government subsidies paid to food growers? I realize that this is a complicated issue and that there are probably valid reasons for this being the case, but just know that our tax dollars are spent to insure that food stays cheap.

Don’t believe me? Time to get a wikication.

Our addiction to cheap food is bad. It is bad for small farmers. It is bad for nutrition. It is bad for developing countries. And it is bad for the planet. We get a cheap loaf of bread, and everyone else gets the shaft.

And yet the ills of industrialization don’t end there. Since America’s motto when it comes to food seems to be “we want cheap food and we want it fast,” we’ve grown accustomed to food that has been highly processed for our convenience. Again, doubt it? Today, count how many time you get your food out of a cellophane bag, wrapper, styrofoam, bottle, can, drive-thru window, plastic cup. Not that processed food is morally evil (despite its being nutritionally evil). The more subtle impact of reaching into that bag of Doritos is that it psychologically (and dare I say, spiritually) removes us from the source.

Contrast this bleak picture with another (yet, no more appealing) scenario. A small farming family in a developing country sits down at the end of hard day’s work to their dinner table. Most of the their efforts have either gone directly to putting food on the table or working elsewhere in order to be able to eat that day. A disproportionate amount of their time, energy, and money has gone to the provision of a meal that is probably identical to the one they had the day before. They say a blessing. Not as a ritualistic precursor to digging in, but out of deep sense of gratitude that they are blessed enough to have food that day.

I don’t envy their circumstances.

I do wish I had a keener appreciation for the connection between the plate of food set before me and the gracious love of a God who provides.

The Problem with Food

The problem as best I understand it is that we think too much of food and not enough of it. I purposely wrote, “and” not “or.” Because we do both. Simultaneously.

Pick your 80’s poison…

The Police


First, we have a tendency to exalt food to idol-like proportions. We think it is all-important. We fantasize about food. We talk about food. We write about it. We eat food. We are predictable creatures and we want a steady supply of food coming our way, and get frustrated when we don’t get it.

And it isn’t just that we want it consistently, but we want it like we like it. We want it healthy or not. With sauce or without. Lots of meat or none. Fresh veggies or none at all. Thick crust or thin. With fries or without. Well-done or rare. All of us have our particular tastes and our tastes are always right. Without exception. We obsess over food.

Today, when I picked up my son from school, he asked me the question that he asks me most days, “What are we having for dinner?” This was one of those rare times that I actually was able to tell him. “Pasta,” I say. Which elicits from him (and the younger siblings) a “YESSS!”

Honestly, that is his response most days, regardless of what I tell him. I’m not sure he is celebrating what we are eating as much as he is excited that we will be eating. Just like the day before. And the day before that. It is like a surprise every time. “Yes, food… again!”

Of course, his obsession with food is forgivable. Bless his growing-by-leaps-and-bounds adolescent body. He simply can’t get enough food in him to keep up with the rate at which his inferno-like metabolism is burning through the calories.

And yet, his obsession is also our obsession. But we don’t have the convenient excuse of adolescence to explain away our preoccupation with food.

However, I also said we don’t think enough of it. Neither what we are eating. Nor of the value of eating itself. This is going to get a bit complicated, but my own belief is that this has come as a result of a rise in a dualistic way of understanding the world. It is a view that drives a sharp division between that which is physical and that which is spiritual. To quote the all-knowing Sting, “we are spirits in a material world.” And in a world-view that has largely done away with the spiritual, then really it is Madonna who speaks on behalf of society, “You know we are living in a material world, and I’m a material girl.”

I realize that citing Sting and Madonna (in the same breath, no less) calls into question the validity of the entire post. However, when you take the materialists approach towards food, then it distorts its significance in both directions. Food is all important, but its only value is that it is fuel for the body. So really, it doesn’t matter what you eat, how you eat, when you eat, who you eat with, why you eat. All that is important is that you eat. Like I said, we both blow the importance of food out of proportion and cheapen it all at the same time.

By the way, if you doubt at all that this is in fact the majority opinion as it relates to food, you can see the same phenomenon as it relates to sex. Reduce sex to a purely physical thing, then you and I become first-hand witnesses to how societies both obsess over it and cheapen it… again, simultaneously. But that’s another series for another time.

So, let’s review…


We think it is too important.

And not important enough.

P.S. I think both Sting and Madonna are full of it. We are neither simply spirits in a material world, nor is the material world all that there is. Again, we’ll have to postpone my amazingly insightful comments on dualism as it is expressed in the media. Don’t lose too much sleep over it.