main menu

April 28, 2015

a different spirit altogether

After a few sunny spring days, Europe is back to its grey rain today. I'm eating a soft, salty brezel and warming my fingers around a mug of tea. Our flat is chilly and I'm trying to set my mind to my work. I'm distracted, however, when I look out at the neighbours' rooftop porch, where they spend most every sunny evening. For the first time, I notice a small statue tucked amongst their deck decor: a sleek, serene Buddha. The cool drizzle falls on Buddha, and I think, Europe is grey in more ways than one.

My thoughts turn to an incident a few weeks ago, when I was buying discounted tea lights at a gift store. A shopper (not my neighbour) approached the cashier with a huge, heavy Buddha in her arms. She heaved him onto the countertop, where the cashier proceed to wrap this master of enlightenment in enough padding that he not suffer damage on the way to his new home. As I watched the lady clinging to this expensive black stone god, I couldn't help but notice the irony of her situation. Here she stood, in a land freed by Luther's Reformation, using her hard-won freedom to choose...the bondage of Buddha. Here she stood, with her back to one of the biggest chruches in our city, embracing an Eastern elixir for her Western want.

And I thoughtbut isn't that the West today? Freed by the Scriptures, only to go back to the ideas that enslaved us prior? (The very terms we use to talk about Western history allude to this misunderstanding of history—the "Dark Ages" had more Light than secular historians would have us think, and "The Enlightenment" was not as bright as it sounds.) Back turned to the Truth the Word had to offer, the West is flaunting its freedom to choose falsehood.

After my first visit to the East, I saw buzzwords used in the West, like guru and yoga, differently. After living in the East, now I see a pooja invitation for what it really is. I see the heart of the West enamored with ideas pouring from the East. Like Eve, seeking something appealing to her body, her eyes, her mind, trusting her feelings more than His Word. Like Eve, swallowing the snake god's teachings undiscerningly. Like Eve, wed to husbands who stand idly by with no wisdom or insight to correct their gullible wives when they embrace Buddha and bring him onto their porches and into their homes. 
South Asian posters of various gods
Of course, the irony is, that in the East there is also an infatuation with the West. It can be as mild as an interest in burgers or big brands, or as dangerous as a fascination with the Western gods of order, peace, health and prosperity. The West we know today was built on principles like honest pay for honest work, the equality of all men and women in God's eyes, and other Truths  which have led to the achievements of the "developed world". The West draws many Easterners as well, though perhaps for different reasons.

The West is full of the East, now,  and the East full of the West. Times are changing and our paradigms are merging. Our worldviews are inevitably meshing, as our children are raised with cultural pluralism, in its best and worst forms. At its best, this multiculturalism teaches our children firsthand that all were truly created from one blood and really have only one need. But at its worst, our children are taught lies and a dangerous tolerance, that is, the tolerance of false ideas in the name of unity.

I recently discovered Caryl Matrisciana, who was raised as a Catholic Britisher in India, and as a young adult became almost accidentally entwined in Eastern mysticism through hippie music and culture in England in the sixties. After coming into a living relationship with Chr!st in her twenties, she made it her life's work to warn the chruch about New Age ideas, about how dangerous Eastern philosophies were creeping into the West under new names, something she sees so clearly because of her exposure both to East and West.

Caryl speaks of "New Age" teaching, but have you noticed that the very term "New Age" is rarely heard anymore? The pluralism and mysticism of Eastern thinking has become so much a part of Western thinking that most don't even recognize it for what it is. No longer are those lies only embraced by people "with their back to the chruch", but also by those inside the chruch. For example, recently I came across a book that at first appearance seemed Chr!stian, with Scripture quotes throughout. But upon closer inspection, I noted that the author was teaching women to find strength in their inner goddesses and be their own light...concepts completely foreign to the Word. This author's syncretism was obvious, but in many cases, it is harder to spot. Today, Caryl's work is to warn false thinking is now in the chruch: in their books, taught at their workshops, and infiltrating their pulpits. Over and over, she emphasizes that followers of the Way, the Truth, the Life must know their Book (so unique from any writings of other so-called sages) and their God lest they be deceived by that old serpent, who is impartial, deceiving East and West both. 

A depiction of a H!ndu deity
I have often heard that post-moderns think of God as an impersonal force, but I had an "aha moment" while listening to an interview with Caryl, when she said that the B!blical God is relational, while the typical Eastern view of god is more mystical. God is relational and has created a world with human relationships, such as father-child, friend-friend, or employer-employee, that help us to understand how to relate to Him. When a person learns that the true God is to him like a father, a friend or a master, he instantly has a general understanding of the relationship he is to have with God. 

When people begin to use mystical, non-relational practices in their worship, this should warn us about the extra-B!blical source of their ideas. (Caryl defines mysticism as "not communicating... getting into a euphoric feeling" and disconnecting from the world around you). For example, often empty, repetitive chanting is used in religious worship, but to which father, friend or boss would you ever speak in repetitive chants? Did Adam and Eve simply repeat His name and burn candles around Him when He came to visit in the garden, or did they have real conversations, a real exchange of important information, a real personal relationship with Him? Running our theology (which should be firmly grounded particularly in the doctrinal passages of God's Word) through the historical passages offers us a system of checks and balances, to see if our theological constructs are still fitting the big story of the Scripture. The doctrinal passages teach us that God wants a relationship with mankind, and the narratives show us what it looks like when God relates to humans.

Keeping close to His Word keeps us from turning Him into a mystical God, an impersonal force that encourages us to live by our own power and according to our fluctuating emotions. In Proverbs 1:23 God says,
"I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you."
Charles Clough explains that the poetic Hebrew parallelism in this verse indicates that the pouring out of God's spirit is not a mystical experience, because it involves the transfer of words; it is communication. The true God is mysterious, in that we cannot fully comprehend Him, but He is not mystical in an Eastern sense. The chruch is full of people speaking of experiences and emotion today, but the true outpouring out of His Spirit will never take place in a way that does not align with the Word He has already given us. His Word is the only reliable measuring stick by which to gauge our experiences and impulses. We must know the Word, personally, lest in our desire for experiences, we welcome a different spirit altogether. 

South Asian snake charmer
Today, the West looks to the East, seeking enlightenment through mystical experiences which are as old as the Snake himself. The East looks to the West, seeking a better life but finds, too often, the same soul bondage repackaged.  

As East and West cast their eyes toward each other, may they see the One who stands on Israeli soil,
at the crossroads of civilization,
at the place where East and West meet.

The One who suffered the snake bite, but rose victorious over it.
The One who ascended and promised to return one day and reign physically, visibly, personally from Jer'usalem, forever crushing the serpent's head. He is the Truth-telling Spirit. He is the Living Word. May there be many who catch a glimpse of Him, and "come from the east and the west...and sit down in the kingdom of God."

"But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Chr!st. For if one comes and preaches another J'esus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different g0spel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully...."
 —Paul to the Corinthians
"When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.'"
 —Luke, recording Paul's experience in Athens 

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
 —J'esus, as recorded by Matthew

...“Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.... O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”
 —J'esus, as recorded by Luke

April 18, 2015

a supper invitation

I started a new job recently, as food services manager. I take care of menu planning, food purchasing and meal preparation. That is, for me and my husband, and sometimes for guests. As a single, I cooked, but more sporadically, or in bulk (I was the college kid eating homemade chicken and rice casserole four days in a row). Before I was married, if I preferred to spend the evening writing rather than cooking, I could do that. But my work is now to please my husband, and regular meals please him more than regular blog posts. (Imagine that!) So, I cook regularly.

I've enjoyed the past few months of finding recipe blogs, testing menus on my husband or friends, and when we find something we like, trying to repeat the performance again a few weeks later. I still wouldn't list cooking as my favourite activity (may God bless all of you who do...actually, I love supper invitations...) but I do enjoy in preparing colourful, healthy meals, and I think it is important to find joy in things we must do every day.

As the focus of my life has shifted, I'm understanding a bit better why my wife and mom friends talk about food and recipes so often. It's the stuff of their lives, especially if they're feeding big families. I still don't aim to be a woman who talks about kitchen-related topics every time she sees her friends, but they're entering my vocabulary more. As are food trend words. I'm finding more recipes that call for "free-range eggs" instead of any old eggs, or "organic rice flour" instead of run-of-the-mill flour. Salt is sea and pepper is fresh-cracked. I'm running into the various eating trends more often, and since we live in a place where organic produce is readily available, I'm finding myself lingering undecidedly between the regular mushrooms and the (two or three times as expensive) organic mushrooms at the store. Being a menu planner means making lots of little decisions which cumulatively have a big impact.

As we lay the foundations of food in our home,  I'm thinking about what healthy and balanced eating looks like, and running ideas past my husband. But more than subscribing to a certain plan or diet, my main concern as food manager in our home, is that my theology of food and eating be properly oriented. Food is a common distraction, and a common idol of the human heart. We eat too much or too little, care about our health too much or too little. Our relationship to our food is often an indicator of our relationship to God and His Word.  

When I graduated from high school twelve years ago, virtually the only "food preferences" I knew of were related to health problems (such as allergies, diabetes) and vegetarianism. I recall working as a camp counsellor and bringing the EpiPen to the supper table in case my camper came into contact with sesame seeds, or perhaps having to encourage a picky child to eat what was put in front of her. But that world of eating seemed kind of simple, now that I look back on it. I can only imagine children coming to camp now with a list of food preferences longer than their arm, and having a cabin full of kids with wildly different diets and trying to please them all. Or, perhaps kids don't go to camp anymore, for fear that they may eat (and perhaps enjoy?) hot dogs, marshmallows, pop or white bread.

It seems North Americans are losing their balance in the area of food. I can see how easily this happens, due to genuine health concerns (I rarely touch hot dogs, marshmallows, or pop, either), but in all things we need balance. I haven't heard much about food trends or extreme diets in Europe yet, which makes me think it that the trends that come to mind are more of a North American phenomenon. (That, and having more credit cards than you have children and pets. North America isn't famous for its moderation.)

A good friend read my mind in February and posted some of her concerns about believers choosing their diets in more and more extreme ways. She referenced 1 Timothy 4:1-6 and then listed the three points below.
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Chr!st J'esus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed." (1 Timothy 4:1-6)
My friend wrote,
  1. "If food is pulling me away from fellowship with other believers because what's served at the potluck won't be _______ ...
  2. "If I'm teaching our children to be disrespectful or ungrateful because our family doesn't eat _______....
  3. "If I am consumed by fear over what will happen if we ingest ________....
"...then maybe I need to reconsider my heart's worship. Be thankful. And even be willing to 'point these things out to the brothers and sisters, [so that I] will be a good minister of Chr!st Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed'. [I Timothy 4:6]"
Believers often follow eating trends believing that they stem from a godly desire to steward their bodies well. But when food is more important than fellowship or gratefulness, or when it fills one with earthly fears, is not godly. Even if the food does great things for one's gut, weight, skin or overall health.

I saw how easily food fear could be more important to me than the fear of God when I lived in Asia. The local newspaper proclaimed that the chicken sold in our city was so full of antibiotics, that people who commonly eat chicken could become immune to antibiotics a doctor might later prescribe to them. I heard that the chiles and mangoes were rejected for export to developed nations due to the chemicals being used on them, and the watermelons were being injected with sweeteners by the producers. The very choices I thought were good for me (avoiding the yummy fried snacks aisle, heading for the vegetable department) were not much good for me, either. Sometimes my heart grumbled at this, but I had to decide: would matters of food keep me from fellowship, gratefulness, and trust in God? 

When we adhere to very particular diets (for non-medical reasons), it limits our ability to cross cultural divides and take spiritual food to the spiritually hungriest places. The very places in the world that are darkest and neediest are often the places where there will be no organic produce and no health food stores selling our favourite supplements. Even in Western contexts, food preferences or concerns may stop us from showing hospitality to and receiving hospitality from neighbours of differing cultures and faith. Will our menu stop us from m!ssions?

Acts 10 tells the account of how Peter was headed out to obey his Master's "go make disciples" command, and still following his Old Testament eating practices. He had a vision, where God showed him "all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air" and told him to rise, kill and eat. Peter refused, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean!" and God told him, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." In the Old Testament, God was calling His Israelite people out of pagan nations, and had them live according to particular food laws. But it is significant that just as the good news was breaking the Jewish barriers and heading out in to the Gentile world like never before, God dropped the food restrictions. The chruch had a new freedom to eat all things, and this would greatly enhance their ability to go make disciples.

To allow our food preferences to slow us from going out with spiritual food is not Sciptural. Furthermore, the forbidding of certain foods a sign of false religion (see I Timothy 4 again). While most of the world is captive to food laws, to their false (or in the case of the Jews, incomplete) religions, we are free.
  • Jews follow the distinct "kosher" diet laid out in the Torah.
  • Muslims' meat must be slaughtered in a particular way, and pork is not allowed.
  • Many Hindus are lactovegetarians (no meat or eggs), and a few avoid all varieties of garlic and onions.
  • Jains are not only lactovegetarians, but they often don't eat root vegetables (including carrots, potatoes), garlic or onions either. During fasting periods other foods are also restricted. 
  • Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons represent a few of the sects within the broad title of Christianity that have self-imposed dietary restrictions.
...and I'm sure the list goes on. That's them, but we are free to be "all things to all men"! We are free to eat pork with our German friends, or abstain from it with our Iranian friends. We are free to serve garlic toast to our American friends and then abstain from garlic to accommodate our Jain friends. We don't need special infrastructure (such as a halal butcher) to be able to settle in a new location. He lifted dietary restrictions in part so that we could go into all the world with greater ease.

Other than not eating food offered to idols, or general principles of stewarding our bodies well, we have only one dietary restriction given to the chruch in the epistles. It is not about the food or the body (which perish), but about people and their souls (whom He wills not to perish). Romans 14-15 teaches that we are to eat in a way that promotes love and unity, not in a way that causes others to stumble. "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.

Godliness will produce a God- and others-centred balance in a world that is full of extremes. It helps to have godly, balanced people with eternal mindsets as our role models. Paul wrote to the Philippians:
"...keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Chr!st. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there...[who] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."
Our God-given food freedom, so unique among the religions of the world, opens doors to nourish others on the truth of faith. If Peter could eat ham with Gentile friends, we too can eat things with others that we would not choose to eat on our own. What God has cleansed, we must not call common. The way we make our everyday food decisions can have a big impact—for the Kingdom!

We are not menu advisers for the marriage supper of the Lamb(I have a feeling we'll be eating whatever is served)—our task is as messengers. We are to invite more guests, and we will eat, together, forever. "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."

"My food is to do the will of him
who sent me and to finish his work."

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Chr!st in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
—Paul to the Romans

"'Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.' (In saying this, J'esus declared all foods clean.) He went on: What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come...and defile a person.'"

"For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
Paul, to Timothy  

"The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense."

"Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
Paul to the Colossians