Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Scandalous food

Ask any of my housemates, my favorite greek word is σκανδαλιζομαι! With lots of exclamation points at the end. “Scandalizomai” – I am scandalized (by whatever gross or otherwise inappropriate thing has just been said)!!!
The Greek word has the sense of “scandal” in the sense of something offensive. But it also has the very concrete meaning of something which causes others to trip and fall. A “stumbling block,” if you will. My housemates don’t necessarily feel hurt if I say I’m scandalized by them – Jesus was scandalous too (1 Cor 1:23) – and still is a stumbling block to many.

Food is a scandalous subject, laden with cultural assumptions. Any new vegan who has gone home at Christmas knows this. What, Grandma’s roast isn’t good enough for you? Whattayawant, anyway? It goes the other way, too – try asking for a burger in a vegan household. We are scandalized by one another’s choice in food.

In a great passage of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul talks about food choices. The choice, in those days, was whether to eat meat (slaughtered in pagan temples) or to be vegetarian (hence not touching idol-tainted meat). My anti-vegetarian friends love to quote this one because it says “those whose conscience is weak eat only vegetables.” Paul was NOT putting us vegetarians down, though. His point is that those who are fully convinced that there is no such thing as a god other than God will not be upset by eating pagan meat. Paul is in that category. He has no moral qualms about meat. However, he is VERY careful not to scandalize his friends.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”… It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

To me, another question comes up. What about the members of our family who are workers in meatpacking plants? Meatpacking is one of the most dangerous jobs around, due to the speed of the line and the risk of disease. Or what about the members of our family who pick pesticide-laden crops, day after day? Would they be scandalized if they saw us carelessly eating the cheap burgers and strawberries for which they labor? If they saw us preaching “we are all one in the family of God” on Sunday, and saying “$2/pint is way too much for strawberries” on Monday? If we sin against these brothers and sisters, we sin against Christ.

Next time you complain about the price of food, think about the brother or sister (for whom Christ also died) who grew, harvested, processed, or served you the food. If they food should be cheap - are they worthless too? What does your theology say? What does your budget say?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Be ye idealistic

Idealism gets a bad rap. A bunch of us well-meaning community gardeners and other such rabble were on a Presbyterian Hunger Program webinar recently, talking about the Manna Economy, and the desert experience which taught Israel how to eat. In this economy, and in stark contrast to Egypt, food is gathered locally rather than stored in huge silos, each family has what they need, no more, no less, and there is no way to exploit another by stealing their food. You can only eat what comes down from the sky each day. You get your food from the hand of God.
Beautiful stuff. But it's idealistic, so we shove it aside. No one wants to be called idealistic. A fate worse than rotten tomatoes. Pie in the sky dreamers? No thanks. We want to be realists, grounded in cruel, cold, reality, because it will make us strong and Correct.

Take a look at this zinger of a passage: Deuteronomy 15
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.

I will contend that God, too, MUST be idealistic - if she's rash enough to say something like "no one should have to be poor."
Hear that? Bible says. No one should have to be poor. If you follow God's ways, even that ridiculous idea of "canceling all debt" every seven years, each of you will be protected from falling into desperation. If you eat what falls out of the sky into your outstretched hands each day, and remember the rhythms of Sabbath, you will not go hungry. If you use the land gently, remembering who your divine Landlord is, you will not face deprivation.

Be ye idealistic. Believe that God has a positive vision for this world, where no one is poor. Take part in building that world. Allow God's gentle grace in, to take the place of that cruel and cold "realism." What is really real is in God, and God is an idealist - hallelujah for that!