We're celebrating this week what sometimes becomes a frenzy of eating, so it's time for a meditation on food that begins, as does much of life, with a memory of bats and balls.
The first church I joined was a fine Conservative Baptist church in La Mesa, Calif., nearly three decades ago. As I became involved, church officials saw the power of softball evangelism and allowed me to play second base on the team. Astoundingly, my participation increased team speed, since other players had the traditional mark of a softball power hitter, a big gut.
Two games from that season stick in my memory. The first, early in the season, followed directly my dinner consumption of a huge mound of mashed potatoes. Alas, in softball as in life your sin will find you out: The first batter hit a hard grounder right at me. I bent down for it like a slow elevator stopping on every floor. The ball went right through the wickets.
The other memorable game was the season-ending battle against the church's traditional rival, the local beer distributor. Potato guts vanquished beer bellies in a contest that had real passion. And that leads me toward a radical proposal to end the recent civil war that has split many churches and led to numerous potluck snubs.
Yes, makers of beer commercials may view America as stuck in a "great taste" vs. "less filling" culture war, but all the while other kinds of barflies debate originalist vs. loose constructionist Supreme Court understandings. But the truly pressing issue of the day is passionately debated at some church dinners: Do you believe in a low-fat diet or the low-carb Atkins/South Beach variety?
To this point, only the Jack Sprat compromise has prevented numerous church splits. Don't you remember him-the disciplined dieter who could eat no fat, with his determined wife eating no lean? Scientific food-consumption records show that between the two of them they licked the platter clean. And yet, a better way beckons.
Let's put together three bits of data. First, during rushed breakfasts or lunches (let's leave out family dinners where conversation flows) we sometimes shovel food into our mouths as if anything not eaten in a minute will disappear. Second, vive la France, which can use some praise: The French are dumb concerning riots and foreign policy but wise when it comes to eating, and one secret of their often-slim success is eating slowly. Third, a key line in the prayer Christ taught is, "Give us this day our daily bread."
What if instead of racing through breakfast or lunch (disclosure: I'm sometimes guilty) we used them as times for adoration of God who gives us our daily bread? Instead of being distracted by ephemera, we could chew slowly and thank God for each bite. At dinner also we could improve our spiritual and physical shape by adding reverence to the rotisserie chicken and sprinkling the salad with praise. We could lose inches around the waist while making our hearts two sizes larger.
Those who have grown weary of low-carb or low-fat approaches might try a high-prayer diet. Peace could come to church dinners, and maybe pizza and peas as well. That would allow us to move on to the next debate that might roil some churches: the great bed debate, a direct result of the increasing diversity that enriches our life but also offers a confusing panoply of choices.
It used to be that husbands and wives shared double beds. (On television, for a time, twin beds were mandatory.) They weren't all that big but they were adequate, and either spouse could throughout the night reach out and make sure, regardless of bombs bursting in dreams, that a mate was still there.
Then came queen-size and king-size beds that offer greater room-but do they contribute to better marriages? Doubtful, although any chart displaying increased bed size/increased divorce shows coincidence and not causality. But how many couples today withstand the siren call of super-sized sleep areas?
Which size is best? That's a subject for a new round of ecclesiastical debate. On the other hand, if we pray throughout meals, maybe we'll start spending our time on bigger issues.