Vol 4, Num 2 :: 2005.01.28 — 2005.02.10
In one important way, we know exactly what to expect when we're having a meal with our friends, the Lagerwey and Boerman-Cornell families. The dining table is laden with an array of heavenly-smelling edibles. Someone says the prayer (they all take turns, even three-year-olds) and then, passing a steaming dish, Bill says, "I can't believe we eat this well."
His staple comment is not directed at the fanciness or expense of the food on the table, but at the wholesomeness of preparation, contents and community, and my husband and I find ourselves repeating the statement in certain company at certain times: "I can't believe we eat this well."
My concept of "eating well" has certainly developed over the past ten years. Growing up in a thrifty household, I've always been cost-conscious and I took pride my sophomore year of college in coordinating a grocery list for eight housemates on a budget less than a quarter of what the cafeteria cost. However, it took much longer for me to develop an awareness of the social cost of food. The quantifiable price tag is not the only thing that differentiates one choice from another.
I think about the dietary laws given to the Israelites and realize that these were not arbitrary rules, but rules to teach God's people stewardship of the land and of the body. God was teaching the people how to live out Kingdom values even in the mundane, how to tell the true story of their identity in times of plenty and of want. If we start looking for patterns that correlate with today's food issues, we can reasonably determine that Kingdom values include food systems that are sustainable. That is, the resources we consume to produce our food should be proportionate. No land or people should be abused so we can have more than we really need.
While we know the law has not been abolished by Christ, we also know we are the benefactors of grace. Jesus came to explain to us in person the not-so-secret secret of life in God's Kingdom: it's all about love. Love God and love your neighbor: these two commands are the summary of the law. Life in Christ is not about following the rule for the rule's sake, but about having the desire to do so out of love for God and trusting the promise that God knows the deepest longings of our hearts.
A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I, along with our friend Michael Omondi, had the privilege of eating a meal with Dr. Vincent Harding, a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and an amazing historian and theologian. He was to speak at a Martin Luther King Day event at Goshen College and the school had offered to pick up the tab for dinner if we would serve as his transporters and companions for the evening.
At the recommendation of a professor, we ended up at The Brick House, an old converted Victorian in the middle of an industrial area. Through three hours of appetizers, main courses, drinks and desserts, the conversation and the food was fantastically slow. We asked each other questions about where we had been and Dr. Harding asked us about where we are going. While he certainly didn't come with a lesson plan or an intention to preach, the truths he has learned were presented like small, perfect and unearned gifts, one seemingly for each course of the meal.
One truth that stuck with me, that landed in reality while I prepared dinner the next day, was the idea that when love and theology conflict, love should be our priority. I thought about this as I thawed and prepared the six-pound pork loin my dad had bought for us at a really great sale. When I read in Isaiah about the wholly renewed creation in which even the "natural" violence of animals is healed, I can't help but believe we'll all be vegetarians in heaven. If I believe this is so, shouldn't I be pursuing that value now in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom? Perhaps I should be praying for the will to desire that goal. But in light of Dr. Harding's revelation, I know that even if I arrive there some day because being a vegetarian is consistent with my theology, I won't ever give up eating meat with my family. To share and prepare recipes, to stand around the grill in summer, to watch the delight when I try his newest creation—I know my love for my father finds its best home in these things, in spite of the different places we occupy when it comes to other areas of life. And love is the thing, the only thing.
Which brings me back to the notion of eating well. We eat best when we perceive the wholeness of the act, brokenness and all, struggling to cultivate a feast worthy of the Kingdom while humbly acknowledging that all perfect goodness begins and ends in God alone. And how can I not be humbled when I realize that the food I choose has the power to sustain my land, my neighbors and my relationships? To be the embodiment of my love? I can only hope the merciful Judge will one day say, "I can't believe you ate so well. Won't you join me at the table?"