Jesus Likes Butter, not Margarine
So rumor had it, when I was young and svelte, that when a person ages, their metabolism slows down, and they gain weight more easily, and it takes a lot longer to work it off.
“Hahahahahahaha!” I said.
“Pass the butter!” I said.
I’m no longer laughing.
Instead, I’m pouting.
I still want the butter.
Bear with me on this one, because the post does have an eventual seasonal theological point.
Anyone who knows me most probably does not think of me as struggling with weight issues.
But I do.
Not struggling by way of having an eating disorder of any sort.
But I struggle because now, at this age and in these days, food has been reduced to caloric intake totals, and I hate that, because I am always running the risk, nowadays, of getting significantly larger, because a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie, when you compare, say, 23 and 43.
That rumor? Turns out it’s a true one, and the days have come and gone when I can eat a whole bucket of KFC and a Dairy Queen pie by a Minneapolis lake with my best friend, or a whole pan of brownies when I’ve broken up with a love.
A while back, just this past summer, my mother was newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It happened right when the kids were let out of school, and right after we had more or less moved into a new home that needed a lot of new paint and refurbishing to make it ours.
So there was this vortex of moving foods (e.g., pizzas, chips, cheese, cracker, and maybe a beer or G and T on one or more occasions), dash foods (fast food-like-substances), comfort foods (ice cream) and to that, not a single moment to exercise.
I inflated. Not a crazy crazy amount, but a noticeable amount so that there was not a single pair of pants, shorts, or any skirt anywhere that I could zip on up.
So I purchased a diet program.
That’s a confession.
I purchased a diet program from a woman whom I trust implicitly. Homeopathic, tested, and absolutely, entirely unforgiving.
The diet program, not the woman.
And so while I could eat, I had no shot at any dairy or any sugar, and even mints and hand cremes were forbidden.
I was allowed to glance at starches.
While I could whip up chicken and steak, there was to be absolutely no oil, and no salt.
I put my protein in one pan, usually filled with water, and my family’s deliciously sautéed-in-butter-with-salt-and-perhaps-a-bit-of-cream-and-cognac protein in another.
I placed my slab on my plate.
Their plates, however, were adorned, positively adorned with these choice cuts, placed perfectly alongside al dente pasta cloaked in spinach, garlic, and olive oil sauce.
I had a side of melba toast.
They had a french baguette.
Now, to be fair, I lost about 15 pounds, and quickly.
I felt better, and fit into my pants, which made me just plain old happy.
Except at mealtimes.
And snack times.
And family times, when we took the kids out for ice cream and I ordered water.
Why is this worthy of blog?
Because Thanksgiving through Christmas is the season when butter, and cream, and sugar, and mixed drinks, and cakes, and breads, and potatoes, and cookies, and candies, and hot chocolate seem to be taking over the entire universe with their self-evident and self-proclaimed goodness.
This article is typical of ones I’ve read/heard/seen since right before Thanksgiving, with the obligatory “Limit yourself to a small slice of pie. Choose pumpkin over pecan pie and save a few hundred calories.”
This one completely makes one want to pass on Christmas Eve dinner altogether.
I always thought that free radicals were good things.
I say, eat the damn pecan pie.
See, here’s the theological part.
In Matthew 11, we’ve got a clearly annoyed, clearly cross Jesus. I love the prickly miffedness in this line of his. Listen for his exasperation and huffiness. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”
No matter what somebody does, somebody is going to chew them out for it, and he, in turn, calls the strategy out.
(As an aside, it’s really freeing to come to terms with that.)
But another reason I like this text is that the complaint lodged against Jesus, namely that he was a “glutton and a drunkard,” slipped into then-contemporary public attacks, even so much that Jesus heard it, and even so much that it was remembered well enough to get into Scripture.
I doubt that Jesus actually was a glutton and a drunkard–like most public attacks, it works because it overstates the truth.
But let us not forget that it is recorded in Scripture that Jesus showed up at parties, seemed to eat and liked to share eating with others, and as I have often said, he did not turn the water into Kool-Aid.
He turned into wine.
Really, really good wine.
The text here continues, after several lines, with these words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Brian Stoffregen does a nice job attending to the words “weary” and “burdens.”
He makes the case that the word “weary” references not only physical labor, but also emotional fatigue and discouragement.
The Greek word for “burden” here is the same as the one used for cargo on a ship. He’s addressing the legalistic expectations placed by certain religious leaders on followers of God. Their faith had become dominated by the voices of “No! You can’t do that!”
And Jesus says, instead, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This blog is not about giving a rationalization to be gluttonous and drunk all season long, nor is it about abandoning sage words and traditions.
But it is about Advent being the season in which we prepare for the incarnate one.
It means embodied.
And so Advent is when we pull out, whip up, and offer forth the cream and the butter and the sugar and the goose and the potatoes and the breads and the cookies and the bars and the beverages.
They are a symbol of hospitality and of joy.
For Christians, the feast is not about us, but about the one who was called a glutton and a drunkard, the one who offered food when he could, and exhaled relief to those who were found bound up in worries and fear.
I can’t imagine Jesus choosing margarine over butter, or diet soda over really good wine.
To be incarnate is to be fleshy.
And if you have to eat, then it seems to me to be a matter of respect to put real food, and really good food, in that mouth of yours.
Lest people think I’m encouraging utter lack of care for the body, I do exercise, because I think that caring for the body is also a matter of respect for your incarnate-ness.
But here’s another part of my thinking through this, captured in an exchange I had with a woman at a fitness center I belonged to.
I had just joined, and had to undergo a fitness test that included a blood draw. I needed to have fasted.
I hate fasting.
And so as soon as it was done, I dashed to their cafe, and bought up all sorts of yummy things.
Right by the register was my last grab: a blueberry scone.
And then I felt a poke on my arm.
“Excuse me,” the woman said. “I do not mean to be rude. But do you know how many calories those are? Not for you, but for me!” she said.
I looked at her.
And then I said, slowly, “Isn’t part of the reason that we come to a place like this so that we don’t have to ask questions like that?”
She looked at me.
And then she looked at the cashier.
“One for me.”