Last month, Ben and I were able to attend a public lecture at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.. I was browsing through the college’s website when I stumbled across a lecture entitled, ‘Food, Culture, & Formation of Christian Identity.’ I thought, “Oh, I totally want to go to this!” So I immediately emailed our sitter to see if she was available and checked with Ben if he would want to go with me.
We’ve both been to a couple of these public lectures and they’re really fantastic. You get to listen to a theologian or an expert in their field of study (but they weave it with theology) lecture for 50 minutes on their topic and then questions. I have always gone away from these events a bit more enlightened on the way the world works. This time it would be on food and what better way to glean about food than from a theologian who will most likely exposit a text, then apply it hermenuetically. The lecturer was Dr. John Barclay. If you google him, you’ll find that he studied under N.T. Wright (an Anglican bishop of Durham and one of the most influential theologians today of the New Testament), which is quite impressive and made me more excited to hear him speak.
So when he got to the platform and began to speak I was ready to take notes. However, some of the first words out of his mouth were not what I expected in the slightest. He said that although his lecture was entitled, ‘Food, Culture, & Formation of Christian Identity,’ his goal was to address global warming. What! What!!! Seriously, how can you title your lecture this and then talk about something so far fetching? Well, I wasn’t about to get up and leave, since we did drive an hour with a border crossing just to get there.
What he said was he proposed to argue that due to our food consumption we could either help or make worse global warming. However, I felt like it wasn’t solely on global warming, but also about how we as Christians consume in regards to food. How do we lead the way when 20% of the world is taking 80% of resources from the world, especially considering we live in the 20%? I will break this up into two posts, as to avoid being long winded. There are lots of thoughts, so please add your input. Ultimately, I believe this topic is about hospitality, because as you read on, you will see that it raises the question, “how do I care for my brother and sister with thanksgiving to God?”
His topic of outline went as the following:
- Setting the Scene
- Food does not matter — or does it?
- Food and the Challenge of Multiculturalism
- A Call for a contemporary Christian Food Taboo
He spoke of how many of the major religions have food taboos. When you look at Judaism, you see many food taboos given to them, which made it hard for others to enter into their community. Food taboos create boundaries of sorts in any of these religions; thus, it restricts who can come in and who cannot. However, the one major religion which breaks away from these food taboos is Christianity.
In the first century church, there is an “abolition of food taboos as a symbol of social boundary-crossing.” In Acts, Peter is told in a vision from the Lord that he is to eat unforbidden food. Peter argues with the Lord, but Jesus continues on to tell him to eat of this food. It was at this moment we can see that the food taboos put upon the Israelites were being reconstructed for the new church.
However, we see in I Corinthians the dilemma of whether a brother or sister should eat (or serve) unclean meat if it makes their brother or sister stumble in their faith. The apostle Paul at first makes it sound as if it does not matter if a brother or sister eats meat used as a sacrifice to an idol, because it was created by the Lord. He cites Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it…,” as a means to back up that this food was created by God, so it cannot be bad, even if it had been sacrificed to idols.
In spite of this, Paul speaks of the danger of eating any food in context of worship of daimonia, which is food under that of idols and gods, or moreover, the issue is not the food but context in consumption. It’s the orientation of food consumption, which means if it’s oriented to daimonia (food under that of idols & gods), than it’s blasphemous, because it’s not under Psalm 24. And Psalm 24 is about thanksgiving to the Lord. Key note here is that everything for the Christian is at stake in orientation, which is, “whether it’s directed in thanksgiving to God?” This was one of the main points throughout the whole lecture, “what is the orientation?,” and “Can this action be given in (Psalm 24) thanksgiving to God?”
Hence, why Paul raises the concern for the weaker brother or sister, because he knows their loyalty to Christ could be weakened by partaking in these daimonia meals. Paul’s ultimate question is that of Christ’s found in the gospel, which is to care for their brother & sister. Are there food substances we enjoy which inhibit or place a barrier between us and them? This is why Paul says, “if food is the cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat.” He is willing to refrain from meat, in order to give thanksgiving to the Lord and care for his weaker brother or sister.
We then see the Lord’s Supper as the epitome of both of these principles: orientation to the Lord and concern for the weak (Note: Dr. Barclay would also call the weak, ‘the hungry’). Christ invites all to come to his meal. He invites all to commune with him and partake of the bread & the wine, in order to find true life. Although the Lord’s supper is an open invitation for all, the wealthy Christians in Corinth were becoming drunk while the poor were left hungry. This infuriates Paul, because they have defiled the very essence and spirit of the Lord’s Supper, which is inclusivity and made it about exclusivity. How than am I like the wealthy? Am I making it easy for all to come, or am I leaving the hungry outside left to their own devices?