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Bless the Food?

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let Thy gifts to us be blessed. Amen.

I grew up with this daily mealtime prayer, and there’s one thing I particularly like about it.

In addition to the relational invitation to God, it focuses on the blessing of those gathered around.

This contrasts a bit with my later experience. As I mixed with people from a variety of denominational backgrounds, I began to hear more of an emphasis on praying to bless the food. I would hear phrases like, “Bless this food to our bodies,” accompanied by jokes of chastisement toward those who had taken a bite before the food had been blessed. Who knew what nasty things they ingested in their pre-blessed mouthfuls!

I also personally received some cheerful jeering from my peers as my mealtime custom was often to pray for everything but the food. Those that expected a consecration of the consumables poked at me that I forgot the main reason why we were praying: to bless the food.

Do I want to be healthy and avoid sickness as a result of eating? Sure, I do–especially with the kinds of places that I’ve traveled to! But that’s not my main concern. While nutrition is on the menu, I see a much more significant opportunity to express gratitude to God–as we realize our dependency upon Him for even the basic necessities of life–and also to ask for blessing on those who are gathered together to eat. God may bless them through food and sustenance, but I hope that He does even more in other ways as well!

Food is a secondary element, a physical gateway to a spiritual reality of thanksgiving toward God and the welfare of others. In this way, every meal can have a sacramental quality to it. Why put the food at the forefront? Why seek the blessing of the food when we can seek the blessing of the people who are eating the food?

Perhaps some hope that by blessing the food they might lower the caloric content, transmute the bad fats into good ones, or ensure that weight-gain will be warded off, but whatever words are spoken, let’s keep the people–and the Provider–at the focal point of our feasts. Bless the food if you like, but bless those who prepared it, those who partake of it, and give thanks to the One who produced it.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2013 in Life, Prayer

 

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Developing a Virtual Palate?

Last Monday was our 7th wedding anniversary.

To celebrate, my wife and I went to dinner in a neighboring town. Big surprise, right? You’re already wondering why you should continue reading this blog post; seems like pretty standard fare so far. (Yes, there’s a shameless pun there.)

Actually, I was surprised, as this dining out occasion led me to experience the best plate of food that I’ve had in this country.

Even more surprising? I owe it all to BBC.

No, we didn’t win some contest that paid for the dinner. I owe it to the British Broadcasting Company because they single-handedly refined my taste buds so that I could enjoy this meal at a whole new level.

Yes, watching TV has apparently improved my palate.

Sounds ridiculous. How could subjecting myself to a significant number of episodes of MasterChef and The Chef’s Protege possibly develop my physical ability to appreciate food?

There are plenty of science fiction ideas (and even realities) about 3-D television, “smell-o-vision”, and even “4-D” amusement park experiences. But a regular television program, watched on a small laptop screen…how could such an encounter impact me so tangibly?

Despite the distance–and the lack of actually tasting any of the food–these BBC programs helped develop my awareness of the issues surrounding the creation, taste, and enjoyment of food. After listening to hours of critique, my wife and I have developed a vocabulary and a bit of a discerning perspective when it comes to dining. The impact extends even further, as my wife is sometimes inspired to professionally “plate” our own humble home-cooked meals.  🙂

We’ve been educated, we’ve been shaped, by these experiences. Our virtual palates have been translated into the refinement of real taste.

This is not to say that there’s no place for actually learning by physically experiencing both good and bad food. But it does convince me that our virtual, distance experiences are real.

We make much, in this modern era, of distance communication, virtual community, and remote relationships. We talk about the ability to be anonymous or to shape ourselves into any sort of avatar that we may desire. We pretend that we can live a separated existence online, hidden by the virtuality of it all.

But I don’t think we can. Virtual experience is still experience. The encounters we have courtesy of the Internet shape us; they cannot be limited to only impacting our online persona. We cannot filter ourselves this way.

I carried my BBC experience with me into the restaurant; I couldn’t leave it behind, relegated to the couch or armchair. And for me, it enhanced my appreciation and interaction during the meal.

But just as possibly, negative virtual experiences can shape us as well.

I cannot count the number of times that I’ve heard people refer to attending “the school of YouTube.” From making balloon animals, to knitting, to fixing engines, we flock to the virtual in order to succeed in the tangible. What a marvelous opportunity! So long as we also realize that our casual, entertainment-oriented online experiences also shape our interactions in “real life.”

I enjoy my virtually-shaped palate. Now I must ensure that it doesn’t become tainted by ingesting any other sort of online junk.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Life

 

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Cherry Coke

My favorite soft drink is Cherry Coke.

Having lived overseas for some time, I can tell you that Cherry Coke is not very popular outside of the U.S. Neither are Dr Pepper, ginger ale, root beer, or Mountain Dew.

Really, anything besides Coca-Cola (okay, Pepsi too), Cola Light (a.k.a. Diet Coke), Sprite, and Fanta (in a variety of flavors) can be hard to find in other countries.

While I enjoy all of these (except Diet Coke), Cherry Coke always comes back as the frontrunner.

When I came back to the U.S. (the Land of Cherry Coke), I indulged myself and drank two cases of the stuff (over the course of many weeks). This preferred potation was finally readily available, and I enjoyed at least one can a day.

But after drinking twenty-four cans of it, it was no longer so exciting, no longer so enjoyable. Cherry Coke went from being special and savored, to common and almost (I say almost) distasteful.

It is interesting to me that we are often rather desperate to make things available to ourselves, only to become surprisingly unsatisfied once we finally obtain them.

I can recall numerous times when I have spent hours researching a product on the internet, reading reviews, trying to locate the best price, only to finally make a purchase and then lose the state of enrapture that had hounded me for so long. I once way overpaid for a particular laptop computer because I got caught up in the hunger for it. Truth be told, I have sometimes bought something just so that I would stop investing so much time in the hunt; I knew myself well enough to be certain that once I purchased it, it would slip off my radar and leave me at peace.

I do believe that we humans have an innate sense–even a need–for wonder. One source of this wonder is rarity; not that common things are inherently less amazing, but we are quick to overlook the majesty of the mundane. For us, the amount of appreciation for a thing is often tied to its availability.

A unique piece of art is highly esteemed–there is no other like it in the world. A movie which simply copies the plot of an earlier film rarely impresses us in the same way.

The international vacation industry thrives on the desire of people to go to places to see and experience what cannot be beheld anywhere else on earth. Tickets to a “one night only” performance sell out rapidly because there is no second chance.

Rarity often correlates to value for us.

Yet we pair this sense of valuation with a ravenous discontentment when we are unable to possess the object of our infatuation. I have seen someone willing to spend $11 on a bag of Reese’s Pieces (another favorite of mine)–simply because there was a desire and it was hard to come by in a particular country.

And after acquiring the candy, a single-night’s binge–and accompanying bellyache–was the bulk of the memory that was made (enjoyed?).

Our discontentment centers around our yearning for availability, choice, and possession…now! We want what we want, and we may value what we want–until we get it.

How many star-crossed lovers of life and literature have pursued their beloved through torment and trial…only to make a complete mess of the ensuing marriage?

Possession satisfies desire, but only in the most factual sense; in truth, possession tends to eliminate both desire and value…unless we are intentional about recalling the pursuit, the cost, the former feeling, the plight of those who do not have what we have.

Some people undergo a desperate life search for something: the fountain of youth, the secure job, the faith to fill the God-shaped hole (original citation). And when they find it, if they find it, do they relax in the epitome of satisfaction? Hardly. They mistreat or ignore the object of their pursuit, and quickly find something else to captivate their consciousness and surface another unsatiated longing.

I was eager to acquire Cherry Coke–and I got it. While my desire didn’t instantly fade after the first gulp, as soon as I realized that it was no longer a rare item, it lost its value, its attractiveness. And I lost my enjoyment in the consumption of it.

How do we keep ourselves eager for the good things, without becoming entangled in the mere pursuit, but rather continuing to live in a state of esteem, enjoyment, and wonder at the amazing things in life?

Do we have to forbid ourselves from sampling them, or can we discipline ourselves to both possess and to appreciate? Can we long for a Cherry Coke while holding one in our hand? Can we sip it, slurp it, and guzzle it down, and still consider it a delightful treat? Can we look into the eyes of a long-loved-one and still claim–with honesty–his or her preciousness? Can we experience the majestic everyday, and yet not take it for granted? Can we restrain ourselves from sullying the supreme through our loss of perspective?

Can I treasure a Cherry Coke even through the grocery store shelves are stocked with the stuff?

After all, the Cherry Coke doesn’t change just because it comes within easy reach.

I do.

 

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Life

 

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