Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Matter of Taste: Part Two

Psalm 34 contains an oft quoted verse that goes like this, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (verse 8).  A lot of people do "taste" the Lord.  They commit their lives to Him.  They pray.  They go to church.  Many of these people do, in fact, discover that the Lord is good.  However, I know that many people taste God and find Him unpalatable.  I'm not going to try and figure out why some people taste God for the first time and discover that it is good, while others taste him and find the opposite.  I also don't think I could explain why some people are born loving scrambled eggs and others aren't.  It's just a matter of, well, taste.  What I AM going to attempt to discuss is whether, if we don't have a "taste" for God, we can develop one.

But first, excuse me while I digress into this story.  I promise that it ties in....eventually. 

A couple of months ago, we took Caroline (who was 4 months old) into the doctor for a regular check up.  At this appointment, doctors usually go over how to introduce your baby to solid food because this is about the time in which babies start to try solids.  This doctor explained which foods to try and he told us the preferred order and all the reasons behind it.  But the most important thing he said was something that I kept going back to for days because it was something that I've never heard before.  He kept insisting that the reason why babies are introduced to solids at 4-6 months of age is not because they need the calories.  Solids don't actually contain as many calories as breast milk or formula, but we tend to think that because the babies are getting bigger, they need solids to feel more full, keep growing, etc.  Apparently, this is not the case. 

So, you ask, why even bother giving babies this age solids?  Good question.  According to our doctor, it is to help the baby develop a sense of fondness for different flavors and textures.  He actually told us to introduce solids in this way:  Pick a food to begin with (say, squash).  Give the baby the squash on day one.  Continue giving the baby squash for 3 or 4 days.  If, after 4 days or so, the baby loves squash (as evidenced by panting, drooling all over the spoon, and shoving every last bit into her mouth like our well-mannered child does) then move on to the next food.  HOWEVER, if the baby does not like squash by day 4 (as evidenced by gagging, turning away, pursing lips, etc.), CONTINUE GIVING THE BABY SQUASH, AND ONLY SQUASH,  UNTIL SHE LEARNS TO LIKE IT.  I think that the doctor even said something about only giving the baby squash until her wedding day if it takes her that long to develop a taste for it.  Hopefully we won't have that problem.

His point?  Our tastes are highly impressionable.  Sure, they begin one way, but that is not how they have to remain.  Our tastes for foods, like our tastes for other things, can be developed.  They can be changed.  Improved.  Refined.

This story tells us something more.  Something that we are already well aware of in terms of our human nature.  Nowhere on this list of "foods to introduce" does it mention candy, chocolate, or sugar of any kind.  Why?  Well, a few reasons.   First of all, these foods are obviously not healthy, so why give them to a baby?  But, I would contend that people do not generally need to develop a taste for the sugary things.  Whereas children may not grow to love carrots, they will most likely love cocoa puffs right off the bat.  It's kind of like how we have a natural taste for a lot of other things that aren't so good for us.  No need to develop those tastes!  Our sinful nature has that taken care of.

Okay, back to the point.  I think that, if when we "taste" God, as the Psalmist says, but do not discover that He is good, there are ways to change our tastes.  It is not that God is not good.  No matter what we think, God is always the same, and He is always good.  It is US.  It is that we just don't have the taste buds that like God's "flavor".

What are some of these ways to improve our tastes, or our affection, for God?  Whether we once had it and then lost it, or whether we never feel like we had it to begin with, there is nothing more crucial to our faith than having this affection for God.  That will be fodder for post #3 on this subject.  If you have thoughts you'd like to share, by golly, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Matter of Taste: Part One

I admit the following things about my television viewing habits at my own peril, but I do so for the good of the blog and for you, my lovely reader.

Lately, because of the serious demise of network television, I have been perusing for shows to keep me entertained.  I have ended up primarily watching 2 shows: Project Runway and Chopped.  For those of you with more "refined" taste, let me explain a little bit about these shows.  Project Runway challenges a group of contestants to design and make garments in a series of crazy challenges. Each episode eliminates the contestant whose design was a flop. Chopped is a cooking show that has contestants make an appetizer, main entree, and dessert, and after each course the contestant whose dish is lackluster is "chopped."  Both PR and Chopped have a panel of distinguished judges who give critical feedback and, ultimately, decide who failed to measure up.

So, I know next to nothing about either fashion or cooking.  I wear clothes and eat food, but after that, I'm pretty clueless.  Occasionally, while watching one of these shows (or others like them), I'll see a fantastic dress come down the runway.  Or I'll see someone cook an interesting-looking dish.  Before any of the judges have a chance to speak, I'll make a judgement of my own like, "Wow, the dress that the designer made out of fish net and coffee filters sure is gorgeous.   I bet the judges will love it."  Or, "I can't believe they found a way to make that amazing looking flambe out of asparagus, gelatin, and strawberries.  It must taste really great!"  I'll compare it to other contestants, sure that the judges will diss the ones I've picked as "lacking" and praise the ones I like.

 However, more often than not, the judges go in the complete opposite direction.  At first, I'm baffled.  I think to myself, "Heidi Klum, how could you possibly like that outfit made of purple goose feathers?"  But Heidi will go on and explain how it is "fashion forward" and say that it is innovative and creative and exactly what they're looking for, whereas the coffee filter dress is so 2008.

I have to say, the judges usually know what they're talking about.  By the time they explain why they did or didn't like the entry-at-hand, I am usually nodding along with them, all of a sudden able to see why the goose feathers were a better choice than the fish net and coffee filters.  The contestants themselves often experience this as well, as they develop the ability to see themselves clearly when given honest feedback in comparison to their competition.

Often on one of these shows, you get to hear a few minutes of the judges' deliberations in which they discuss the merits of various contestants.  I have heard, many times, the judges talk about certain contestants like this: "So and so has excellent technique.  He has superb knife skills and knows everything possible about the technical aspect of cooking.  But he just has no taste!  Who cares if he can cook an asparagus/gelatin/strawberry flambe to perfection if it tastes rotten?"  They have an excellent point.  One that, if it is sent off to metaphor-land, has a lot of really huge implications.

So, yes, I'm about to make a leap from reality television to my faith.  Hold on to your hats.

I am a person of faith.  Christian faith.  It is something that I think about every day.  It is something that has an impact on the way I live my life and the way I see the world.  I know a lot about what I believe.  I read about it, talk about it, wrestle with it.  I have excellent "technical knowledge".

But what good is this technical knowledge, really, if I don't have a taste for God, or the things that God has a taste for?  If I know a lot about the Bible or Christ's life or the early church, but do not, like God, have a taste for goodness, truth, and humility, what do I know?  If I know a lot about God, but have no taste for getting to know Him, should I even bother?

I know what you're going to ask me next.  Go ahead, I dare you.

"But what if I have no taste for God?  What if the reason that I spend so much time on the "technical" part of my faith is because that's the part I have the control over and can do something about?  How in the world do you become a person who has a taste for God?  Isn't that something that--like those judges--only the elite, the refined have?  Is it something that a few are born with?"

No, I don't think so at all.  Unfortunately, I'm going to leave you hanging, but come back tomorrow because my next post will address these burning questions.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Two Stone Parenting

I had this professor in my college Speech class--I think he was actually a grad student.  He was in his mid twenties, 28 or 29 at the most.  I remember very little of the class, except that I almost threw up every time I gave a speech.  However, I remember one thing that this professor said very vividly.  I don't remember what the context was, but the guy said, "How can anyone believe in original sin?  Haven't those people ever seen how innocent a newborn baby is?  I just don't know how anyone thinks humans are innately sinful after thinking about a baby."

I also clearly remember what I thought as he spoke those words.  I was confused.  I remember thinking, "Well of course there is original sin.  Haven't you ever met a human being, or tried to have a relationship with one?  We can be fairly unpleasant, and I think that's from sin."  Yet at the same time I was arguing with myself, "Well, I mean, babies really ARE cute and clueless.  How could they possibly be born with some sinful glitch in them?  Aren't we created in the image of God?"

First of all, the humor of two people, each childless, unmarried, and under the age of 30 postulating about the innate sinlessness of babies is funny to think about.  I mean, we had no idea what we were talking about.  I can say this now with confidence because I have given birth to two human beings of my own and, well, the sugarcoated image of a "baby" does not fool me one bit.

Babies are adorable.  They have chubby cheeks and roly poly legs.  They gurgle and coo and sleep like little angels.  But, boy, are babies selfish.  They take and they take and they cry and they fuss and they always want their way.  Now, I fully realize that babies must do this to survive, and it would be awful if a baby couldn't communicate in this way.  I don't actually think that these actions are "sinful".  They're instinctive.  However, there comes a point--and it's sooner than we probably think--when that baby figures out that it can manipulate people around it for the sheer pleasure of the act.  Of course, I don't think babies are plotting in their cribs about how they can send their parents through the roof, but I think that a tendency toward selfishness, manipulation, etc. exist when the person is born--it is not just learned.  Anyone with a toddler will surely back me up.  This tendency toward doing what is wrong is the whole reason that we have to discipline children.  We have to train them to do right because what is natural is the opposite.  As my dad always says, "You never hear a parent telling their kid to stop being so good."  It's true.  I wish I had that problem.

But here's the thing.  My professor was dead wrong, but he was also kind of right.  Babies are born sinless.  They are a blank slate of innocence and possibility.  They have the potential to do good in life, just like they can do bad.  They are, after all, created by God, made in His holy image.  I guess what you can say is that babies are born sinless (as in, having committed no sin), but born with a sin nature (tendency toward sin).  

I have come to realize that that this dichotomy is very important to keep in mind while parenting my children.  At times, we are overtaken with either their sheer wonderfulness (I created a word, I know).  Other times, they are simply disappointing because of choices they've made.  It's a strangle line to walk as a parent because you have to find a way to nurture and prune at the same time.  Sometimes, when disciplining, you get so angry that you forget that you are a steward of a person who was MADE IN GOD'S IMAGE.  Believe me, if I could remember this better, I'd be more careful of what I say in anger.  On the other hand, if I get too caught up in my child's loveliness, I get slack with boundaries and discipline, and then I have a problem child who does not at all resemble her heavenly roots. 

As a parent, I think that the best thing that I can do for my children is to teach them about the full picture of their "heritage".  I need to teach them about how they are made by a righteous heavenly Father who loves them and made them to be like Him.  They are children of the King of Kings.  But I also need to teach them about that other, less storied part of their heritage--their sinful human nature.   

As a rabbi put it, "A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, 'I am but dust and ashes.' On the other, 'For my sake was the world created.' And he should use each stone as he needs it."  My desire is to teach my children about these two stones, and to teach them to pull the right ones out of their pockets at the right time.  Two stone parenting will help me to raise children who understand their value as a function of God, and who understand their neediness as something that only God can fulfill.  

Friday, February 04, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Cicero!

This quote by the famous Roman orator, Cicero, always gets me:

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.

It makes me do that thing where I shake my head in agreement and giggle at how, as much as we like to think things change, they really don't. Not really. I mean, can't you just imagine seeing this quote in the newspaper, with a curmudgeonly old man shaking his finger as he talks about today's generation:

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a blog.

Ha! I guess I just added myself to the list of the depraved by beginning this blog.

There is an odd comfort in Mr. Cicero's observation from around 2000 years ago. It sort of makes you feel that no matter how things change, no matter what new technology we find ourselves up to our eyeballs in, that really, we remain the same people. People who don't exactly have it all figured out, but sure do like to think that we do. And we like to blog about it so that everyone will know just how much we know. I know I do.

Thank you, Mr. Cicero.