Archives For Idols

Food that Bites

March 17, 2015 — 7 Comments

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_Rocket_movie_posterMany peculiar delights are eaten in Los Angeles County, but diners might want to reconsider the fare offered at The Metro Supermarket. While it’s apparently not illegal to sell raccoons for consumption, it could become dangerous when the Guardians of the Galaxy learn of the practice.

In one of the year’s most successful blockbusters, Guardians of the Galaxy, we were introduced to Rocket Raccoon. Rocket is a genetically altered Procyon lotor designed to be a deadly fighting machine. Not only is he a brilliant tactician, the genetic manipulations have left him with one bad attitude.

Which makes it all the more important for the customers who purchase the ten-dollar-a-pound frozen raccoon carcasses to be cautious.

On a more serious note, the question of what we eat is not merely academic.

I’m not referring to modern insights into healthy diets. I’m talking about international, and potentially intergalactic, relations!

World travelers are often introduced to foods that seem, to put it gracefully, exotic. On such occasions, some respond enthusiastically—eager to sample alien delights. Others are somewhat more wary—reluctant to place in their mouths things they cannot quite identify.

Back in the 1980s I resided for a year in the Republic of Korea. I declined to eat gaegogi, not because I assumed dog meat would be unpalatable, but because I could not imagine contributing in any way to the slaughter of dogs for their flesh.

Another time that year, a sergeant who worked at our chapel purchased a paper cone full of toasted rice during an outing. When he was done with the rice (burned, he thought, rather than “toasted”), his Korean girlfriend clarified that he had just devoured a cup of rice beetles.

Military members stationed abroad are encouraged to be respectful of the cultures they encounter. And those cultures included different foods.

We need not travel to other nations to experience this diversity. I grew up in a family which considered processed “fish sticks” to be seafood. Combined with canned tuna fish and an occasional canned salmon “patty” it constituted the whole of my exposure to the abundance of the sea.

While I have since that time expanded my tastes to include many types of fresh fish, I must admit that crustaceans are not among my favorite foods. And, well, let’s not even talk about those creatures that have tentacles . . .

Not that I’m a culinary snob. In Texas I sampled rattlesnake. In South Carolina I ate alligator. (I preferred the rattlesnake, but I don’t reserve a regular spot for reptiles on my menu.)

To Eat, Or Not to Eat

Showing respect to others by dining as they do, is not a new concept. The early Christians were advised to eat without reluctance food that may have been sacrificed in a pagan temple, without questioning their hosts as to its source. “If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:25, ESV).

C.S. Lewis enjoyed a good meal. And he wrote many times about eating. Here are two of his insights on the subject.

For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably. Of course not all books are suitable for mealtime reading. It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table. What one wants is a gossipy, formless book which can be opened anywhere. (Surprised by Joy).

Contrasting humility and pride, he wrote:

A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep in humility, thankfulness and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride. (Letters of C.S. Lewis).

Those interested in learning more about how Lewis approached the subject of meals in his fiction should download a copy of a doctoral thesis on the subject. Lower Sacraments: Theological Eating in the Fiction of C.S. Lewis is available for free here.

We’ll close with the following words from the newly minted “doctor’s” abstract to his dissertation, citing some of the subjects he explores.

For years, critics and fans of C. S. Lewis have noted his curious attentiveness to descriptions of food and scenes of eating. Some attempts have been made to interpret Lewis‘s use of food, but never in a manner comprehensively unifying Lewis‘s culinary expressions with his own thought and beliefs.

My study seeks to fill this void [proposing] ecclesiastical themes appear whenever Lewis’s protagonists eat together. The ritualized meal progression, evangelistic discourse, and biographical menus create a unity that points to parallels between Lewis’s body of protagonists and the church. . . .

Lewis’s meals which are eaten in the presence of the novel’s Christ figure or which include bread and wine in the menu reliably align with the Anglo-Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. . . . sinful eating affects the spiritual states of Lewis’s characters.

The author ends his introduction with a particularly intriguing thesis that makes sense with my own reading of Lewis. He argues “Lewis’s culinary language draws from Edenic sources, resonating with a very gastronomic Fall of Humanity, then examines how the progressively sinful eating of certain characters signifies a gradual alienation from the Divine. . . . Lewis’s portrayal of culinary desire and pleasure ultimately points to an eschatological theme”

I love that phrase, “gastronomic Fall of Humanity.” I’m not sure I can work it into a sermon someday, but only time will tell.

Until then, I have to be content to regard the eating of dogs—and probably raccoons as well—as consequences of humanity’s Fall. And I will look forward to the new creation when all such things will have passed away.

Clay Hearts

November 18, 2013 — 6 Comments

clay heartHonesty compels us to admit that we have clay feet. We are merely mortal, and our origin from the clay of the earth is a reminder that we are imperfect.

Stumbling due to our feet of mud is one thing. Far worse, we earthen vessels also have hearts of clay. Our affections are fickle, and too often we fail to fulfill our vows to those who have made themselves vulnerable by entrusting to us their own love.

I doubt any of us have been untouched by the pain of transient love. The ideal we long for . . . the vision we dream about . . . and the lasting intimacy we pray for often seem so very fleeting.

Saddest, to me, are those relationships that have lasted many years, where the once glowing light has dimmed and the comforting warmth has dissipated.

That is the story of a remarkable, Oscar-nominated animation I would like to commend to you. Head Over Heels is a unique 10-minute claymation film about a broken marriage and how it comes “unbroken.”

C.S. Lewis did not marry until late in life. The personal experience of marriage, of course, modified some of his bachelor perceptions about the holy estate.

Nevertheless, having been married for thirty-seven years myself, I continue to be amazed by just how perceptive Lewis was throughout his writing life. Consider the following from The Four Loves.

Lewis discusses the importance and glory of passion consecrated by marital vows, but he does not pretend that it does not wax and wane. Nor does he imagine that even between wife and husband, a focus on the passion in their relationship is without potential hazards.

Discussing erotic love (one of the four he describes), Lewis warns:

But Eros, honoured without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon. And this is just how he claims to be honoured and obeyed. . . . Of all loves he is, at his height, most god-like; therefore most prone to demand our worship. Of himself he always tends to turn “being in love” into a sort of religion.

Theologians have often feared, in this love, a danger of idolatry. I think they meant by this that the lovers might idolise one another. That does not seem to me to be the real danger; certainly not in marriage. The deliciously plain prose and businesslike intimacy of married life render it absurd. So does the Affection in which Eros is almost invariably clothed.

Even in courtship I question whether anyone who has felt the thirst for the Uncreated, or even dreamed of feeling it, ever supposed that the Beloved could satisfy it. As a fellow-pilgrim pierced with the very same desire, that is, as a Friend, the Beloved may be gloriously and helpfully relevant; but as an object for it—well (I would not be rude), ridiculous. The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolise each other but that they will idolise Eros himself.

I believe Lewis has identified something profound here. The utter familiarity, the nakedness of our souls, that is part of any genuine marriage precludes anyone sane person from idolizing their partner. We, after all, are more familiar than any other human being with their feet of clay.

However, if we succumb to the snares of Eros, cast wide across television, literature, cinema and internet, we doom ourselves. True love will not cohabit with this counterfeit.

An uncritical attention to the physical seldom results in happiness. As Lewis so accurately says, “For Eros may unite the most unsuitable yokefellows; many unhappy, and predictably unhappy, marriages were love-matches.”

The good news, celebrated by Head Over Heels, is that even when love fades away, there is still hope. Just as clay-footed human beings can experience resurrection, so too our clay-hearted relationships can be restored and blaze with renewed joy.

Beware of Zoolatry

January 8, 2013 — 17 Comments

royal catWhen my wife and I dated, I praised her beautiful cat when I visited her home. The cat maintained that imperial posture and attitude that is common in virtually all felines. And that came as no surprise, since she was an Egyptian Mau, one of the most ancient of breeds. She passed on long decades ago, but her haughty, regal bearing is etched in my memory.

I thought of her today when I read the following in the December issue of First Things, in the executive editor’s column.

Wandering around the American Kennel Club’s big “Meet the Breeds” event with my two youngest children recently, I saw a big banner in the cat section proclaiming that a particular breed had been considered a god by an ancient civilization. Of course, our understanding of the genuine religious impulses of ancient religions has increased, but still, one of the gifts the Jewish people have brought the world is that no one who knows about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the least bit tempted to worship cats.

I mean, would you want to worship a murderous narcissistic psychopath? This is not an image of God to make anyone happy. If you’re going to worship an animal, why not the Border Collie, frantically eager to please, or the loving, soulful-eyed Lab? Or the alert and protective German Shepherd? Or the indomitable Saint Bernard? Or the classic loyal and even-tempered mutt?

I don’t intend to offend any cat lovers by repeating this observation—my son has an affectionate tabby he rescued as a kitten while a senior in high school, that’s welcome in our home anytime. Still, as an unrepentant dog person, and “papa” to a rescued border collie, the words above brought a smile to me.

C.S. Lewis painted a graphic image of one animal-headed deity. It was Tash, the god of the Calormenes. In The Last Battle, we see that in Narnia, the reality behind the lifeless image can be most terribly revealed.

In the shadow of the trees on the far side of the clearing something was moving. It was gliding very slowly Northward. At a first glance you might have mistaken it for smoke, for it was grey and you could see things through it. But the deathly smell was not the smell of smoke. Also, this thing kept its shape instead of billowing and curling as smoke would have done. It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak. It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip; and its fingers—all twenty of them—were curved like its beak and had long, pointed, bird-like claws instead of nails. It floated on the grass instead of walking, and the grass seemed to wither beneath it. . . .

The others watched it for perhaps a minute, until it streamed away into the thicker trees on their right and disappeared. Then the sun came out again, and the birds once more began to sing. Everyone started breathing properly again and moved. They had all been still as statues while it was in sight. “What was it?” said Eustace in a whisper. “I have seen it once before,” said Tirian. “But that time it was carved in stone and overlaid with gold and had solid diamonds for eyes. It was when I was no older than thou, and had gone as a guest to The Tisroc’s court in Tashbaan. He took me into the great temple of Tash. There I saw it, carved above the altar.”

“Then that—that thing—was Tash?” said Eustace.

In our world, idolatry has certainly evolved since it’s pantheistic and zoolatrous beginnings. Today we are tempted by material indulgences and corruptions aplenty. While few of us impute divinity to animals or objects of stone or wood, we don’t have to look far to find something we deem worthy of adoration.

Our favorite idol is neither beast nor mammon. It is ourselves. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain:

This act of self-will on the part of the creature, which constitutes an utter falseness to its true creaturely position, is the only sin that can be conceived as the Fall. For the difficulty about the first sin is that it must be very heinous, or its consequences would not be so terrible, and yet it must be something which a being free from the temptations of fallen man could conceivably have committed. The turning from God to self fulfils both conditions. It is a sin possible even to Paradisal man, because the mere existence of a self—the mere fact that we call it “me”—includes, from the first, the danger of self-idolatry. Since I am I, I must make an act of self-surrender, however small or however easy, in living to God rather than to myself. This is, if you like, the “weak spot” in the very nature of creation, the risk which God apparently thinks worth taking.

Now, this is a sin to which I frequently find myself succumbing. I far too often think first about my own desires and appetites . . . only later (if ever) becoming concerned with the needs of my neighbor.

No, it’s neither cat nor dog that needs to be evicted from the throne in my soul reserved for my Creator—it’s me.