Books on Culture: Gray Matters, week two
“Oh, that meal,” she says arching brows above her familiar blue marble eyes, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.” After scouring the menu, my best friend and I order entrees, fold up menus and hand them back to our waitress. But she is salivating over the past.
LuAnn and I live hundreds of miles apart now but when we enjoy the sacrament of presence, she often recollects a dinner party I hosted about fourteen years ago like it just happened last week. I’m paying more attention to why that memory remains in the forefront of her thinking since reading Brett McCracken’s Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism and Liberty.
Inspired by the culinary creativity of his friends McCracken writes, “They remind me that food—the most quotidian and seemingly meaningless of all cultural items we daily consume—can be a significant experience in our lives, beyond just giving us the calories we need to keep moving.”
Obviously for my friend, that meal I hosted was about more than consumption; it encapsulates a sacred marker in her life. Yet for her, it took place during one of the most inopportune times.
For nine months, bile had been secreting into her bloodstream, an anomaly that occurred during each of her pregnancies, causing sleep deprivation and skin to itch incessantly from the inside out. Nothing relieves the symptoms except giving birth. And even after that, the toxicity pulses slowly out of the body for weeks.
A few days postpartum, she and her husband joined my family to welcome a new ministry couple into our church. In my normal mode of hospitality, I set the table with candlelight, flowers and some thoughtful questions to take the edge off the awkwardness that often accompanies conversation in new relationships.
But truthfully, I wouldn’t have remembered that meal I recreated from a restaurant dish—the garlic mashed potatoes and salmon fillets covered with a special sauce—if it weren’t for the way my friend recounts it.
“I remember how the food tasted but it was more than that,” says LuAnn, “I felt better physically as I sat in the beauty you created. And you weren’t frantic about it, everything felt peaceful, even the way we were connecting with each other through conversation was worship. God brought rest and healing to my body and soul that night. It was the embodiment of the earth and celestial colliding as we broke bread together.”
I don’t remember how to make that sauce, I only made it once. But that isn’t the point is it?
“Shouldn’t we take at least some time to consider how this activity does or does not edify our lives, or whether or not it brings us closer to God and to other people?” asks McCracken when he talks about eating.
Like the author, my evangelical upbringing collides with eating mayo-based casseroles at church potlucks and leaves me lacking. I’ve never felt like a “cultured Christian” when bringing the expected covered dish to a community gathering. I’ve learned through repeated hospitable outcomes, that the creative details matter to people, because what we bring to the table conveys a message.
And I long for the message of a meal to be worship; the art of heaven inspiring the wonder of God.
While McCracken gives some healthy cautions and constructive thinking about the way eating can become distorted—an attempt to fill an empty longing that only God can satiate—he intrigues me with a journaling exercise: the discipline of remembering and giving thanks to God with one food memory from every year of his life.
While some of my years are blurry, I’m thankful that my best friend continually reminds me of what I forget when we celebrate friendship and the table. In the words of McCracken we “… learn from the life of Jesus that food is not merely a necessary fact of existence; it’s a gift to be grateful for, something to be celebrated.”
May we celebrate the “majesty and closeness of the incarnation” through eating. Over and over again.
What is your favorite food memory? Tell us about it in the comments.
On Monday mornings in December, we are dipping into the gray. We’ll be working our way through Brett McCracken’s book, discussing the four gray areas he covers in Gray Matters: eating, pop music, movies, and alcohol. I hope you’ll join us for some good discussion. Next week, writer Shawn Smucker shares on Listening.