Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Paula and Paul -- Conversations About Food

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Read: 1Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
Grace and peace to you from the Creator, Redeemer, the one who sustains us.

Paula Deen is really taking a beating in the media right now. The queen of butter as some have referred to her just announced, after living three years with the disease, that she has type 2 diabetes. Many who have watched her use tons of butter and fattening ingredients in her foods for years say, "What else is new?”
Paula Deen is known for her strong Southern twang and her success as a chef that cooks southern dishes and extreme comfort food. But her life wasn’t always successful. As a divorced mother of two teenaged sons, with only two hundred dollars in her pocket, she started a business making bagged lunches. Paula’s sons delivered the meals because she had a fear of going out in public places. She believed she suffered from agoraphobia because she was robbed at gunpoint when she worked as a bank teller.

Deen’s catering business called “The Bag Lady" became successful and she was hired to be the cook at a Best Western in Savanhha. Soon she would open a resturant of her own called, “The Lady and Sons.” The rest as they say is history.
Paula has made a name for herself on the Food Network with her incredible rich recipes like a fried macroni and cheese. The recipe calls for macroni and chesse to be prepared, chilled overnight, wrapped in bacon and fried. As a matter of fact if you want something absolutely ridiculously fattening and decadent you can find her recipe for "The Lady’s Brunch Burger" which is literally a burger encased in two glaze donuts. A small snippet of her cooking show from the Food Network featuring this recipe on youtube is aptly entitled "Paula Deen’s heart attack."

Along with the current media storm Deen has caught grief continually from fellow chef Anthony Bourdain for what he calls her irresponsible way of cooking. Last August he called her
“the most destructive person on the Food Network.” He is particularly put out because not only does she cook irresponsibly but now she is going to make money on promoting a drug that helps control diabetes....But she’s not the only one who used copious amounts of butter; Julia Childs and the Barefoot Contessa weren’t exactly known for their restraint in using rich, calorie laden ingredients.
Isn’t it an individual’s responsibility to manage what and how they eat?
That seems to be the question Paul is answering in the eighth chapter of 1 Corinthians with his conversation about food offered to idols. The problem as Paul seems to see it, is that some in the church have very strong opinions, convictions, ideas about how things should be done.

In the church at Corinth, as in many churches, those members with the loudest voices are the ones who are used to being heard, used to getting their way, used to dictating the behavior of others. As one commentator writes: “They seem ready to prescribe moral comportment for others.” (NIB, 893) The rest just go along.

While Paul is responding to a rather specific and detailed question about a popular practice
he tries to teach them not only how to handle the matter in this instance, but how to look at other issues that threaten to cause fiction or division in their community. Paul’s challenge is to give an answer that takes a balanced view.
I can imagine him sitting pondering just how to nuance his letter. Well, if I say this then... they may be offended; if I say that then.... some might leave the church; if I offer that suggestion then .....that group will be unhappy. Paul has the challenge of trying to deal with the entire membership of the church in Corinth: no matter new or old, no matter young in the faith or seasoned believer, no matter where they stand on this particular issue.
Now here’s the problem…..let’s put it in a Paula Deen kind of scenario:

Suppose you are invited to dinner at someone’s house who you know cooks with extreme amounts of sugar, butter and ridiculously fattening ingredients and you are trying to avoid those things.They have been asking you to dinner for weeks, and months. They are your friends, your very best friends. What do you do? You know that one meal won’t kill you but others in your family might fall off the diet and good health wagon if you accept the invitation to go.
No matter how they tried to avoid it many of those in the Corinth church could not help but be confronted with meat that was offered to idols. Not only was this meat served at festive social gatherings but the temple priest often sold the left over meat in the local meat markets? One section of the community knows that meat sacrificed to idols could not harm anyone, would not threaten their salvation. They would still be justified by God's grace through faith. Others thought if they ate such meat, well --- they were jeopardizing their relationship with God.
So what do they do?The question in essence is being a Christian coming in contact with things of the world, how does one live? Paul knows for certain if they keep arguing over this issue
“If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings. He wants them to know. Real knowledge isn’t that insensitive.” *
I don’t think this message is simply about food, but about how we are in community. Paul wants the people of Corinth to consider how they treat each other and he reminds them: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
In the case of Paul’s pronouncement we know that he is not talking about love as a simply sentimental notion. Paul is talking about love that is active, love that works in and for community, love that cares not simply about self but others ……...love that is exemplified in the one who gives his life on a cross.
It is as though Paul is saying that insisting on one’s freedom to eat the food sacrificed to idols
not only harms others, but is an affront to the one in whose name we pray.
Yet, I don’t believe this text is telling us to put aside our convictions. No, Paul is stressing that any freedom and authority be used to consider the views and feelings of all, creating space for the discernment of the community and the working toward a consensus. Yes, decisions get made. But they are made best when steps are taken to listen and hear and when care is shown.
Martin Luther learned from Paul and wrote in the Freedom of a Christian, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all subject to all.”
We understand Paula Deen’s drive to be as successful as she can, especially since she has known hard-times. Of course Paula Deen is free to do whatever she wants, cook however she pleases and promote whatever diabetis drug that she chooses. But some, think she should consider the example she is setting.
Amazingly, Paul won’t tell the leaders of the church in Corinth what they should, ought or must do. What he does, particularly in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible
that we heard read earlier, is offer himself as an example and says what he will not do:
"Therefore if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I will not cause one of them to fall."
But Eugene Peterson offers an alternative translation that would seem to say that those who know there is no such thing as an idol and know that it is ridiculous to think that eating anything sacrificed to an imaginery god would hurt, translate Paul’s ending remark as:
“So never go to these idol-tainted meals if there’s a chance it will trip up one of your brothers or sisters.”  
Either translation makes the point. Paul wants us not to simply consider what we know;
not simply to consider how things have always been; not simply to consider what we like, 
but to take into consideration the entire community. He wants us to consider who we are as the people who follow the one who has the power and authority to cast out demons.
We can only hope, that those facing divisive issues might hear the command of Jesus to be silent spoken in Mark; a moment of silence helps us see what is outside of ourselves, not simply what is at stake for us but what is at stake for the other.
Yet we must be careful. Paul’s example of not eating meat seems to put the onus on those who appear to have the knowledge of what is correct. Paul’s wish for consideration and consensus is not just so those in the church at Corinth can be nice, but because he knows that there is something about a divided community that hinders the ability to focus on God, the ability to hear God’s word. 
Fighting over issues keeps the church from seeing the goodness and grace of God and from being able to share the love of Christ that builds up, in the community and in the world.
Through all this talk of food, Paul wants us to consider as we eat, as we walk and talk, as we live,the example we show. After all, we have the finest example of love -- the finest example of undeserved, unconditional, never-ending love in Jesus the Christ. Will you follow that example?

Rambling again!

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