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Stewardship of Money and Living in London on a Student Budget

September 30, 2014 1 comment

It’s that time of the year when sunny days get colder and the student hordes throng the streets of London. I’ve had a good time meeting the first arrivals, urging them to make the most of their few years abroad.

rocket, fig, proscuitto, mozzarella salad with linseed vinaigretteIt’ll be a sad thing if all they had to show at the end of their degree was, erm, a degree, selfies in front of tourist attractions, signed menus from Michelin restaurants, and a life partner to eat in said restaurants with. There’s much more to life, boys and girls! Away from the usual societal crutches of home, this is the perfect opportunity to think carefully and independently about life – to investigate properly what truth is and so set valid life goals according to that truth. After thorough investigation, Christian claims, as set out in the Bible, seemed overwhelmingly true:

  1. the deadly problem we all face is that we are all under the wrath of God for failing to acknowledge him;
  2. nothing we can ever do or say will be able to turn away God’s wrath on the Last Day;
  3. but God sent his Son Jesus to save us from this – if we trust that what God promised is true – ie. that Jesus’ death is sufficient to save us from the consequences of our sin.

Because this is such an important thing for this life and the next, I would highly recommend everyone to research this for themselves. A Christianity Explored course is a great place to start! And London universities are well served by good churches like St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and Euston Church.

While the important stuff gets sorted, there are also daily necessities to consider. (Ah but, really, who ultimately provides us with money to buy food with, enables food to grow as they should, regulates the seasons, gives us breath?) As a student at a Bible course, living off my own savings, I had to be careful about spending, but also not let frugality be an idol; to be so able to work the budget as still to be generously hospitable about housing and feeding people. We usually think that “good stewardship” of God-given money consists merely of avoiding conspicuous consumption, but miserliness too fails to properly invest God’s money for his work.

Food
Because the United Kingdom produces its own food and local food is more likely to be less expensive, it is best to eat the season.

Street markets are your best bet for fresh food. I don’t mean the organic hipster places but the “ethnic” sort in East London – for example, along Whitechapel or in Shadwell. Vegetables are usually sold by the bowl – £1 for whatever is in the bowl. And I have managed to bargain for more to be stuffed in the same bowl…

Check London Farmers Markets for more English/continental produce. Although basics are on the whole more expensive, this is for you if you care about provenance. And there are some bargains at closing time or on things that don’t usually figure in the modern London kitchen – like duck hearts, other offal, pork bones for ramen bases. Even the more posh farmers’ markets are worth checking out: I’ve gotten good bags of pesticide-free fruit and vegetables for £1 each at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market and chicken carcasses for stock (but with enough flesh left on it for a meal for one or two) for 25p each at Borough Market.

It’s also worth being a regular at your local butcher and fishmonger who may throw in stuff for free once they get to know you.

wild blackberries wild blackberry tart

Foraging has saved me a bundle on fruit and herbs. But obviously you need to be sure not to poison yourself, especially with the mushrooms. Check out recipes and advice at Forage London.

Marked Down GroceriesIf you really need to use a supermarket, you can compare prices at mysupermarket.co.uk. There isn’t a particularly generally cheap(er) mainstream supermarket: Tesco and Sainsbury’s might sell different goods more cheaply. Lidl, Aldi, and ASDA, although not known to be upmarket, have own-brand products that stand up to more expensive own-brands: like olive oil and charcuterie. Check for Great Taste Awards as well. There are also treasures in Lidl’s wine bins (eg. Bordeaux second growths).

Waitrose does really deep discounts on well-kept but expiring food. I usually snap these up for the freezer – good for lazy evenings and unexpected guests. It’s also worth signing up to be a Waitrose member for free coffee (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and tea daily, additional discounts, and a free well-written magazine every month.
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down GroceriesThe other great thing about Waitrose is that it applies original bulk-buy discounts to stickered items. In this instance, Waitrose technically paid me £0.11 to buy 18 sausages off them!

Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries

Marks & Spencer stores tend to clear out their bakery sections at a good yellow-stickered discount about 6.00 p.m. (store-dependent) every day so you can get proper bread/pastry your dinner/breakfast there. The city center stores are also good for discounts on dairy items like milk and cheese.

Approved Food has a bit of a niche selling food near or past its best before date at good reductions.

Coffee
Brewing your own probably gives you a better cup and saves you loads off Costa lattes. Worth checking out online coffee companies for promotional discounts – eg. Pact Coffee delivers your first order for only £1.

Clothes
By the fact that everyone can tell me a mile away by my clothes, it is clear that I don’t really have much experience in this area. But for fig leaves that don’t look too cheap, TK Maxx has good stuff. There are loads of charity shops around. Also look out for clothes swaps.

For camping/hiking/walking clothes, footwear, and accessories, try the Army Surplus Store

Hair Cuts
Get them free by being a real live model for hairdressing students or juniors. Have a look at this Time Out article for details.

Cookware, homeware and home electricals
Check first if anyone has anything to give away on London Freecycle or Gumtree or a whole list of alternatives on the Guardian Green Living Blog or on the London Re-use Network. Otherwise, compare prices at:
Robert Dyas
Argos
Lakeland
Poundland, 99p shop, 98p shop…

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse
Reuse jars as cups and for storage. Reuse can and coffee cups as pen and pencil holders. Reuse fruit crates for shelves. Reuse wine cases for bookshelves.

Transportation
Cycling around London is free, though you’ll need to acquire a bicycle and an all-important bicycle lock.

Bicycles
Freecycle, Gumtree, . Or ReCycling and other sites listed on Bike Hub. Cycle training, if you live in Tower Hamlets, is free.

bicycle maintenance club bicycle repair and maintenance tools

You’ll want to keep your ride in good shape, so pop down to the free bicycle maintenance workshops.

Trains
The Man on Seat 61 has good advice about this.

Leisure Activities
It helps to live in areas that the government thinks need a leg up. In Tower Hamlets, for example, there is free tennis and relatively cheap admission to swimming pools.

For theatre, opera, concerts, check out the TKTS website for discounts, or (if appropriate) hunt for student standby tickets or platform seats.

Lots more tips at moneysavingexpert.com.

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Summer Camp, More Goodbyes

August 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Mid-goodbye-hug, I was bundled into a moving car and whisked to the rail station by the coast, where a train was about to depart for London. I yearned to linger and prolong 11 days of magnificent gospel partnership…but there was a Glaswegian-Norwegian wedding to witness and celebrate.
defrosting a fridge in the sunIf the same team would have me, I would fly any where in the world to work with them. They were a fantastic mix of commitment to God and his word, godliness, Protestant work ethic, absolute craziness, humility, creative problem-solving, ruthlessness in dealing with sin, patience, sportsmanship, prayerfulness, servant-(arm-down-a-blocked-loo)-leadership. And all this in the extraordinary context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (authentic gospel ministry looks weak and so brings glory to God alone), which we were studying for the week.

Burgers and duck fat roast potatoes

Breaded and deep-fried pork loin

Meringue and lemon tart
After the wedding, a week of last meals with good friends and neighbours. I never thought I’d be the one at the door, sending off people going to do work amongst the Chinese in some other bit of London, amongst the posh people in the West Country, amongst the prosperity-gospel-deluded in Africa, amongst the youth in Australia…

Hainanese chicken rice dinner - very good with John Crabbie's Traditional Cloudy Ginger Beer

This dinner was sponsored by the Duck: duck confit with duck eggHow do you say goodbye? Would that we could squeeze all that love and respect, and all those memories of fierce arguments and of sitting around in companionable silence, all the serious conversations and nonsensical banter, all the snuggling comfortingly in similar weaknesses and navigating our differences, into a small locket and carry that, warming our hearts, for the rest of our lives.

But we can’t. So we eat, and drink, and chat, and take selfies, and wash-up, then someone says,”Sorry, but I need to go. Otherwise, no one gets a sermon on Sunday”. And we part, and life goes on, because there is so much more to be done, and God will give us other partners for the work and companions for the journey. Until we meet again in the new creation.

Smashed meringue and lemon tartOur not-very-smashed version of Massimo Bottura’s Oops I Dropped The Lemon Tart.

Saying Goodbye

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Saying goodbye.

dinner with neighboursWe said goodbye to the first of our neighbours in the same way our neighbourly relationship has always been conducted – over a shared meal, laughter, much banter. He will carry a suitcase of meagre possessions to a wet, windswept land and there speak the good news.

He is thin man not given to grand schemes. His hugs are strong and his handshakes, firm.

globe artichoke with lemon butter dipglobe artichoke with lemon butter dip

grilled corn with paprika, fromage frais and parmigiano reggianogrilled corn with paprika, fromage frais and parmigiano reggiano

parsnip chips with parmigiano reggianoparsnip chips with parmigiano reggiano

homemade cherry ripple ice-creamhomemade cherry ripple ice-cream

We lingered over the table till it was late.

See you later, we said. See you in the new creation.

Kitchen Experiments and Hermeneutics

June 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Now that School is finally over, have been using rainy days to consolidate and masticate on things. Naturally, this has required the presence of Activities of Minor Distraction – like cooking and baking, the products of which have been greatly appreciated in the innumerable socials that have mushroomed now that summer is really here.

Just like a sustained period of playing around with food gives even an amateur like me some sense of the flavours and textures of ingredients and an idea of how they might fit together, so the last two years of having to handle and teach the Bible daily have been very useful for getting a tiny feel of how God’s word in Scripture works.

So a re-look at my hermeneutics, with loads of chatting with great people in both the Local Church and wider family – not a major revamp but a tidying-up and ordering of material. Hermeneutics isn’t just the preserve of biblical scholars and pastors and teachers – it is essential to understand what God is saying in his word because God’s word is essential to the life of his people; every debate in Christian history would, at least in part, be concerned with hermeneutical issues.

smoked tuna
smoked tuna on Poilâne sourdough bread

Untitled
tenderstem asparagus, rocket leaves, broad beans, Pomo Dei Moro tomatoes, mozarella cheese on Poilâne sourdough bread

rump steak, candied radishes, rocket leaves, baby carrots
rump steak, candied radishes, rocket leaves, baby carrots

ox cheek with red wine and port sauce, on wasabi mash potato
ox cheek with red wine and port sauce, on wasabi mash potato

Parking some transitional thoughts here for the moment (to be demonstrated at a later time: how each of these points should be backed up by Scripture):

  1. Assumptions: (i) that the original text of the Bible is God’s word to humankind; (ii) that God has a message that he wanted communicated to its original hearers/readers (as the case may be) and also to his people thereafter; and (iii) that there is therefore a primary meaning to the text (that must be adhered to, precluding postmodern subjective personal “I like to think that this is saying” interpretation) and it is comprehensible to humans.
  2. Original languages and translation issues. The first step in biblical hermeneutics would be to understand God’s word in its original languages – mainly Hebrew and Ancient Greek. This isn’t something that most of us can do, given that we do not have working knowledge of those languages. But if we are reading the Bible in another language, then we need to keep all the issues of translation (see Robert Stein on The History of the English Bible.) in mind as we exegete (one version of) the English Bible: for example, many words in one language may not have an equivalent in another language, so translators would have to make a decision how to render the meaning of the word without inserting it too awkwardly in the sentence. As a poor alternative, D.A. Carson suggests reading several good (query: good) versions in the destination language.
  3. Comprehension skillz. The basic toolkit laid out in books like Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach’s Dig Deeper (and its very imaginatively-named siblings) is useful, but the tools themselves need to be wielded with discernment and finesse in different passages and books of the Bible, without accidentally taking anyone’s eye out. Experience is needed to know which tools to use together and which ones might take precedent over another in each context. Then there are other more specialised instruments generally useful in comprehending any text, eg. understanding the use of rhetorical devices.
  4. Logic and textual context. Beware errors of reasoning and inference (see Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and Must I Learn to Interpret the Bible). Remember also that meaning is linked to context. Consider the concentric circles of context: immediate context (eg. in an epistle, its place in the argument), book context (how that particular human author uses language, themes), biblical theological context (eg. covenantal – words might be used differently in the two covenants), canonical context (“analogy of the faith” – Scripture is its own interpreter, because behind the whole of Scripture is one Author – see Michael S. Horton’s (am i the only one who feels compelled to scream “Horton hears a Who” everytime i see his surname?) Interpreting Scripture By Scripture). Beware “canon within a canon” (see Carson’s Biblical Interpretation and the Church).
  5. Historical and cultural context. God has not given us a culturally or historically-neutral textbook. Beware erroneous generalisations. In relation to injunctions: (i) beware absolutising one-off commands; (ii) understand God’s rationale behind command – what God wants and so how to apply in different cultural context.
  6. Beware presuppositions. Be aware of how your own historical, cultural, theological presuppositions are affecting your reading of the Bible.
  7. Getting to Christ. In respect of point (4) on biblical theology and canonical context and point (6), consider (i) the Biblical evidence for Jesus Christ being the controlling factor in all exegesis; and (ii) what this actually means! Consider law and gospel, redemptive-historical, covenantal, typological, anti-type, kingdom of God (God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule), promise-fulfilment etc perspectives. See Graeme Goldsworthy’s Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics.
  8. Remember that it is God’s word: therefore, any exegesis is done reverently, with a view to sitting under his word.
  9. Reality check. Remember that we are fallen creatures – therefore our intellect is imperfect. Yet, remember also that we who are God’s children have God’s Spirit within us.

homemade scones scones with homemade strawberry jam
afternoon tea from scratch – homemade scones with homemade strawberry jam

raspberry bakewell cakes
raspberry bakewell cake

deconstructed apple pie
deconstructed apple pie – apple confit, crushed Digestives, homemade caramel, whipped double cream, cinnamon dust

strawberry watermelon gluten-free cake
strawberry rosewater watermelon gluten-free cake

strawberry cheesecake
stacked strawberry cheesecake

John Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God

 

Easter Lunch and Spirit-filled Worship

April 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Easter lunch

We get a long weekend over Easter here in the UK – Good Friday, then Easter Monday. Loads of locals legged it home for the break so it was nice to have the “left-over” people round for lunch after Easter service. A mish-mash of people who hadn’t met before – some had been at the Local Church for almost a decade and some had only visited three times, but all chatting happily and discussing life and doctrine by the end of the meal.

The English lamb shoulders were superb. Bunged 4.5kg in the oven at 120°C just before leaving for the Easter service and they were just about done by the time I’d managed to extricate myself from various happy chats to run home and turn off the oven. Seasoned only with salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary, the meat was tender and sweet and flavourful without the stench of sheep.

at the butcher's

shoulder of English spring lamb shoulder of English spring lamb
shoulder of lamb

To accompany the baby sheep, we had “truffled” potato dauphinoise and roast carrots and parsnips, and a simple salad of spinach leaves and strawberries with poppyseed dressing:

potato gratin

Before pudding (blood orange almond cake and lemon cream tart), we’d gotten to what it looked like to live as Christians. Happily, because i live in a house full of church associates, Bibles were quickly produced and Romans 12 was pointed to.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

It’s far too insipid and trivial to think of worshipping God as merely a matter of singing and dancing; it is about giving our whole selves over to God, to be living sacrifices. It would be frankly ridiculous to think that God would be interested in just the things produced by our vocal chords or flailing limbs over the period of a few hours – our man-made idols might accept that, but not the real and living God of the whole creation.

And we begin to be able to worship God rightly in our living by first being transformed by our already renewed minds (see previously in Romans). We start by having a right view of ourselves, especially in relation to the church:

For by the grace given to me I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Worship doesn’t start with wanting the opportunity to use our talents to the full within the body or some other form of self-fulfilment; it starts with understanding that we all contribute to life in the body of Christ, and also that we are innately inter-dependent (“individually members one of another”!). And so we serve with the right attitude.

blood orange cake

lemon tart, with blood orange cake looking on

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

How diametrically opposed to the hell-ish reality described in Romans 1:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them. (Romans 1:18-32)

The changed life of the Christian detailed in Romans 12:9-16 sounds great, we might say, but it seems more like one of those things to nod about and aspire to, with the knowledge that, like so many New Year resolutions and diet fads, we will never really stick with it. Yet, it is absolutely vital that Christians not conform to this world as described in Romans 1:18-32.

This is not a matter of following the rules of the new club we’ve joined, but a fundamental change in us – we once did not and could not rightfully honour God and now we have both the desire and ability to do so. We were once dead in our sins but are now alive in Christ; we were once slaves of unrighteousness but are now slaves to righteousness etc…why would we want to go back to eat our own vomit?

We can now worship God rightly because Jesus has paid the price for our sins so God’s wrath no longer remains on us and his judgement is no longer against us. And we do so with the third member of the Godhead himself – the Spirit. Again, how frankly ridiculous to think that we somehow control the Spirit by inviting him to our “Sunday Worship Sessions”, and even more frivolous, asking him to perform magic tricks like making people faint or giggle or have gold fillings in their teeth.

The Spirit does a far more important job of enabling us to worship God rightly with miraculously changed lives! And not only that, as we pray constantly for God’s help in living in a way that pleases him, the Spirit gloriously helps us – magnificent assurance that God will help us persevere to the end:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8)

pink Spring girliness Easter lunch - pudding

South East Gospel Partnership 2014 and Coffee Pork Ribs

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Great time at the South East Gospel Partnership at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate today. Pity David Cook was laid up back in Australia and missed all the fishing banter.

It’s funny how churches and conferences tend to converge around certain books of the Bible within the same timeframe, whether by conscious design or not. In 2012/2013, it was 1 Peter. This year, it is Isaiah – a massive book, full of treasure.

William Taylor spoke on Luke 4:31 – 5:11, with reference to Isaiah 61:1-2 which he saw as the very center of the book:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Jesus insisted on (1) the priority of his word, and so should we; (2) the power of his word, and so should we; and (3) the purpose of his word in summoning sinners to salvation and service, and so should we.

This means that:

  • we do not rely on Christian experience but on the word to create Christian experience;
  • we do not believe that the power lies in relational communities but that the word creates such communities.

Kevin DeYoung spoke about the Last Day, and how the assurance that Christ will come again should shape our ministry. He looked at three issues:

  • Why has the Last Day not come yet? 2 Peter 3:8-13 (1) Because God does not look at time the same way as we do. (2) Because God is waiting for unbelievers to repent.
  • What will happen when it does? Annihilation and also regeneration. Both discontinuity and continuity. We are not to be avatars of Christ but his ambassadors.
  • What do we have to do now? (1) Be ready and be prepared. (2) Wait with patience. (3) Hasten its day and speed it along by faith and repentance.

At lunch, there were strong views about KDY’s eschatology, his view on continuity/discontinuity, with people arguing from Calvinist and Modified Lutheran perspectives.

After lunch, Marcus Nodder exhorted us, from Isaiah 2 and Isaiah 4, not to lose track of the time on God’s calendar. This would be a day of terror for the proud and lofty who disdained to rightly honour God:

19 And people shall enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendour of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
20 In that day mankind will cast away
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to the moles and to the bats,
21 to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts of the cliffs,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendour of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth. (Isaiah 2:19-21)

Pride is the root of all sin, said C.S. Lewis. And we Christians need to continue to be aware of our ongoing need for forgiveness and be humble. How badly do we react when other people are praised and we are criticised? Why do we take it so badly when we think we are snubbed or ignored? Why do we put what we put on Facebook? Christian ministry can too easily be about glorifying ourselves, building our own empires. We should love things that bring humility – like failure.

Good stuff. Caught up with some mates briefly during the breaks, managed not to mess up my role in the event, then went home to continue my coffee pork rib experiments. Ended up with this fairly satisfactory concoction. homemade coffee pork ribs Coffee Pork Ribs

1. take one rack of ribs

2. marinate overnight with:
4 tbsp pure coffee powder (i used espresso-ground Caravan Market Blend Espresso)
8 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground coriander
generous covering of freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes

3. deep fry in lard

4. deep fry again in lard

5. cover with:
3 packs of G7 instant coffee powder
some water
5 tbsp of sugar
5 tbsp of oyster sauce
a glug of honey
all reduced to honey-like consistency in a pot/wok

6. sprinkle with powdered cinnamon

PS: I’d previously tried the recipe from the plusixfive supperclub cookbook. Decent enough but oven-grilling just didn’t give it that over-the-top crunchy sticky coffee-umami goodness: coffee pork ribs from a plussixfive supperclub cookbook recipe

The Meaning of Meals

January 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Received the kind gift of a nice guitar for Christmas. After all the rabid cooking of several Christmas meals and hosting over Christmas and the New Year, heeded everyone’s warnings to chill out before the start of term by tuning it up and lounging on the sitting room sofa, trying to get the fingers calloused enough to play the thing properly.

Between irritating the neighbours with terrible strumming, watching the first episode of BBC’s Sherlock Series 3 (no spoilers here!) and other people’s DVD collections, have also been dipping into Tim Chester’s A Meal With Jesus: discovering grace, community & mission around the table and Herman Bavinck’s stuff on the Church.

caramelised chicory (endives) with serrano hamChester certainly inspires his readers to think carefully about ordinary meals – what they could symbolise and the good they could do. At the risk of misrepresenting him, it seems that Chester sees meals as:

  • enacted grace – Jesus is handing out God’s party invitations and they read: “You’re invited to my party in the new creation. Come as you are.” Jesus’ meals picture the day when the last will be first, as he welcomes the marginal and confronts the self-righteous and self-reliant. Our meals should beautifully embody God’s love for marginalised people and speak powerfully of grace, even to those who cannot understand what is being said;
  • enacted community –  involvement with people, especially the marginalised, must begin with a sense of God’s grace. But not just God’s grace to them but God’s grace to me. When I speak with someone who’s an alcoholic or an unmarried mother etc, I must do so as a fellow sinner. Otherwise I will be patronising. Generous hospitality leads to reconciliation. It expresses forgiveness. Paul uses hospitality as a metaphor for reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 7:2. Hospitality can be a kind of sacrament of forgiveness. Shared meals offer a moment of grace, a divine moment, an opportunity for people to be seduced by grace into a better life, a truer life and a more human existence. Church itself is to come extent embodied through shared meals. Our meals express our doctrine of justification. There can be no distinctions around the meal table;
  • enacted hope – the Christian community is the beginning and sign of God’s coming world – and no more so than when we eat together. Our meals are a foretaste of the future messianic banquet. They reveal the identity of Jesus. They are a proclamation and demonstration of God’s good news. Food isn’t just fuel. It’s not just a mechanism for sustaining us for ministry. It’s gift, generosity, grace. God set a table so we could eat in his presence. This is the heart of what it means to be human. It involves physicality. God didn’t create us for mere mental contemplation, but for a shared meal. But neither is the meal everything. God has put us together in such a way that our hunger for the gift of food is designed to lead us to the Giver (Deuteronomy 8:3). The meals of Jesus are a sign of hope for a renewed creation with bodies and food. It is hope for a meal in the presence of God;
  • enacted mission – what’s new in the story of the great banquet in Luke 14 is the exhortation to invite outsiders to our meals. God welcomes us to his party, and so we’re to welcome the poor. Simply writing a cheque keeps the poor at a distance. But Jesus was the friend of sinners. The poor need a welcome to replace their marginalisation, inclusion to replace their exclusion, a place where they matter to replace their powerlessness. They need community. Meals enact mission. But they enact mission because they enact grace. Meals bring mission in the ordinary. But that’s where most people are – living in the ordinary;
  • enacted salvation – at the fall, food was the way we expressed our disobedience and mistrust of God. Sin distorts all our relationships, including our relationships with food. We use food for control instead of looking to God’s greatness. We use food for image instead of looking to God’s glory. We use food for refuge instead of looking to God’s goodness. We use food for identity instead of looking to God’s grace. We live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3). But this word is embodied in a meal. The communion meal reorients life by relocating us in the story told by the Word. The meal points to the goal: eating in the presence of God as a celebration of his generosity in creation and salvation. We anticipate this in every meal, but especially in the Lord’s Supper;
  • enacted promise – the story of Martha and Mary doesn’t promote a spirituality of disengagement or a contemplative life. It offers a word of invitation. It reorients us to the Word that promises a future banquet. This promise liberates us from the worries of this world so that we can put first God’s kingdom. The meal at Emmaus is the means by which Jesus becomes known as the suffering Messiah. Jesus is known at the breaking of bread, at the meal table, sharing food with friends and enemies. Christ is known in community.

This ticks all the right zeitgeist boxes: inclusiveness, community, authenticity (“It’s possible to remain at a distance from someone in public gatherings – even in a Bible study. Meals bring you close. You see people in situ, in life, as they are. You connect and communicate.”), anti-authorianism (“The future of Christianity lies not in a return to the dominance of Christendom, but in small intimate communities of light. Often they’re unseen by history. But they’re what transform neighbourhoods and cities.”), anti-institutionalism (“Prostitutes loved sharing a meal with Jesus. They avoid the church he founded like the plague. Something has gone wrong.”), finding meaning and significance in the mundane.

clementine and almond cake from an Ottolenghi recipe
And he makes good observations and points worth thinking more about like:

  • we do need to think about glorifying God in all aspects of life, even in the mundane things.
  • hospitality has become a performance art, and we’ve lost the creation of intimacy around a meal.
  • think of your favourite food. Steak perhaps. Or Thai green curry. Or ice cream. Or home-made apple pie. God could have just made fuel. He could have made us to be sustained by some kind of savoury biscuit. Instead he gave us a vast and wonderful array of foods. The world is more delicious than it needs to be. We have a superabundance of divine goodness and generosity. God went over the top.
  • not only did God give us food; he also ordained cooking. God gave this world to us to care for and cultivate. But he also gave it to us to explore and develop. It was God’s intention that we should take the raw material of his world and use it to create science, culture, agriculture, music, technology and poetry – to his glory. Every time you bake a cake, you’re fulfilling that creation mandate. (Hmmm, interesting.)
  • Chester’s observations on how sin distorts our relationship with food.

I also rather like his pithy soundbite-y style of writing (though this makes linking up his ideas a little challenging for me). However, am still pondering whether this coheres with what the Bible says. This is not so much a critique as a note-to-self as to where my little brain has got to so far:

  • not completely convinced that Chester correctly interprets Luke’s aims in writing the referenced bits of his Gospel;
  • in many of his categories, I wonder if he might have muddied the distinction between the church (even if just the visible church) and the world. It probably seems unpopularly elitist to make such a distinction, but it is clear from Scripture that the church is made up only of people who have put their trust in God. Therefore, the benefit of church community and unity is available only to Christians. But this is not to say that we should hunker down in our holy huddle. Those outside the family of God should be made to feel welcome as visitors to the household of God, but it would hypocritical and confusing to treat them as if they were part of the body of Christ when they are not;
  • not quite convinced either that meals should, in all cultures, at all times, be invested with the significance that Chester accords them. While some meanings might hold in the culture I come from, I’m just not too sure about stamping “biblical mandate” on them;
  • the offer of community is attractive and I have in the last year been a grateful beneficiary of very loving communities. But it seems to me that the Bible as a whole lays greater salvific significance on the express proclamation of God’s word.

That is all for now…

*the recipes for both the caramelised endives with serrano ham, and the clementine and ground almond syrup cake were Ottolenghi-inspired. They were easily made by someone with very sore fingertips.

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