Change Taste

When I was a kid, I was a very fussy eater. I did not like many vegetables. I only liked some kinds of fruit. Foods that were mealy in texture I rejected outright. And, to top it all off, I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of four. That left very little I was willing to eat. As a child, I cannot tell you how many times meals at our dinner table included a conversation about the need to ship the contents on my plate to some more appreciative child in some other country. To my parents’ credit, they were right. I did not understand the luxury of having food on my plate to be rejected in the first place.

I am certain that my parents assumed both my pickiness and my choice of vegetarianism would pass. Unfortunately, I am both determined and stubborn. Some three decades later, I am still holding fast to my vegetarianism. Eventually, however, I became far less fussy about my choice of foods. To my mother’s recollection, one day, when I was hitting the first of those teenage growth spurts, I just got hungry. It seems that puberty was the cure to my general pickiness when it comes to eating. (That being said, I still do not like foods that have a mealy texture!) Another alteration to my eating habits occurred when I moved overseas for the first time about ten years ago. This change, unlike the first expansion of my eating habits as a teenager, was a conscious decision more than a simple succumbing to hunger pains. I decided that if I was to experience more fully that other culture and to share in that foreign life in newly-found friends’ homes, I needed to be willing to try new things.

Such a conscious choice to try more foods involved moving “my diet” from one box in my head to another. Rather than occupying the “need” box, I placed my diet in my “want” box. I differentiated between how I fashioned my diet. I no longer considered my pickiness to be natural to my eating. I understood my “discriminating” diet to be a luxurious choice, a choice that could be as much un-chosen as chosen. Do not get me wrong; I did not change my eating habits overnight. What did change overnight was my perception as to why I was or wasn’t eating certain foods. I realized that I did not need to be so discriminating in my eating as much as I had simply wanted to be discriminating in my food choices. Therefore, I ate more and tried more.

My conscious willingness to try different foods is but one example of how we might convert some portion of our understanding from “need” to “want.” We make such changes all the time and should. For instance, I caught myself the other day inappropriately slipping a “want” into the “need” box, only to correct myself mid-sentence after realizing the error being made. The power of such a conscious effort appropriately to categorize “wants” and “needs” includes the often subtle yet still radical movement from a more selfish to a more self-conscious existence, from a notion of individual satisfaction to a notion of communal concern. Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer would refer to this radical movement as a partial undoing of original sin.

Summarizing the creation accounts in Genesis, we read that God created humankind in God’s image, that image and all that was created was declared/determined to be good by God, God was the arbiter of good and evil, and humanity sought to usurp that role:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. . . . Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

In his account of original sin, Bonhoeffer concludes that we wanted to be the center of life, the image-maker. In our attempt to replace God with ourselves, we shattered the relational communion in which we were created. We forfeited communion for individuality. We traded a life in relationship for a life in solidarity. This is the essence of sin. The mark has been missed. Our created purpose has deviated away from God and turned toward ourselves. As Gregory Jones concludes, sin is that breach in relationship experienced person to person and between persons and God.

This is that breach and disordering that we long to reconcile. One small way forward is by our regularly being reminded the difference between “want” and “need.” Expanding on my literal change in taste, we must have our tastes, i.e., our perceptions as to what is a luxury verses what is a necessity, changed. The current economic downturn—catapulted by financial malfeasance and unwarranted risk of others’ assets—is but a reminder that when we confuse “wants” with “needs” we regularly overstretch and unreasonably out-risk who we must be, turning toward personal gain rather than shared advancement. Further, we substitute our determination of what is “good,” i.e., what is good for me. Such an act is the replication of original sin.

This week, we will turn to consider how our desire appropriately to categorize “need” and “want” is fundamentally a theological exercise, an exercise that helps to remedy both divine and personal dysfunctional relationships.

Have a great week and see you in chapel.

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