Taste and See


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Imagine that you memorize a book of recipes.  You quote passages from the recipes, with breathless enthusiasm, to other people – whether they care to listen or not.  You follow each recipe to the letter.  You chop and mix and bake and cook according to the instructions.  You show off the finished product, proclaiming its absolute superiority to all others.

But you never bother to eat the food.

Conservative Christianity is a bit like that.  It’s all directions, but no dinner.  Because if you actually ate the food, you might or might not like it.  There are recipes that, if faithfully followed, will produce bland, boring, unpleasant, and even nasty dishes.  Because rigidly orthodox religion worships the recipes, actually eating the results might lead to questioning them.

That’s why conservative Christian preachers warn against trusting your emotions when interpreting the faith.  Your subjective experiences are like taste-buds.  A bitter orthodox teaching should be obeyed on authority, and not be subject to evaluation by your God-given sensorium.  Oh no no no, don’t follow your gut.  Don’t follow your nose or your tongue before you even get to your gut.  Follow those megachurch pastors and big-pulpit clerics who declaim with stentorian gravitas, ordering you to consume the recipe, but not the food.

But I say, try out the recipes in the Bible.  Play with the ingredients in our tradition.  It’s not about believing the recipes. It’s about tasting and seeing.  Don’t memorize the faith and gush about how perfect it is.  Practice it.  Don’t just talk about God.  Experience God in mystical contemplation.  If the results are great, consider repeating the exercise.  If you follow a religious recipe and get perfectly prepared lutefisk, which tastes like the residue left in a sink trap after a Drano treatment, consider shelving that one and trying another.  If you get okay results with a Christian recipe, but get a bright idea for improving on it, or even radically altering it, go for it.  Be playful and free-spirited.  A dash of this, a dash of that.  Don’t be a slave to the details.  Experiment with the recipes of the great mystics and contemplatives of the Church over the past 2,000 years.  Poke your finger in the batter and lick it.  If it works for you, make it part of your repertoire.  Come up with your own recipes!  There’s always room for innovation in the Christian kitchen.

My wife, Roberta, is a gifted baker.  Her signature product is Roberta’s Cheesecake (pictured).  The best in the world.  Yes, there’s a recipe.  But not just anybody can follow it the way she does. What brands of cream cheese and sour cream do you use?  Are they even available in your part of the country?  How does your oven heat up and cool down?  Electric?  Gas? Convection?  What pan do you use?  What size?  How thick or thin is it?  How hard do you tamp down the graham cracker crumble crust?  Exactly how much should the crust be caramelized, and just how can you tell when you have it right?  Roberta follows a recipe, but it is subject to interpretation.  Just like the Bible and the whole Christian tradition is subject to infinite variations of interpretation, each resulting in potentially significant different consequences.

The recipes in Leviticus are colon-cleansers.  If you like sweet and sour, go with the ones in the Psalms.  For savory, there is the Song of Solomon.  The recipes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are gourmet: devilishly hard to follow, but the results are divine.  With notable exceptions, Saint Paul’s aren’t good for much besides weight loss. How will you know for yourself unless you get busy cooking – and eating?  The whole Christian tradition – scriptures, songs, art, liturgies, prayer practices, social witness – is a big pantry full of amazing ingredients to employ in creative cookery.  Let’s get busy!

“O taste and see that the Lord is good…” Psalm 34: 8.  Don’t take the word of some talking head for the answer.  (Not even mine.)  Cook, taste, and then see.  The proof of Christianity is in the pudding (and the cheesecake)!

Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, USC
Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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