B: We are what we eat.- Easter 6 (Revised)

            WE ARE WHAT WE EAT.
                 Psalm 98 (VU 818),Acts 10:1-16
                       401, 375, 371, 684
                   May 17, 2009 by Tad Mitsui
                               
When I was living in Africa, one day I found in the
fridge a bowl full of termites.  My daughter and her
best friend brought them home, roasted them alive in
the oven, buttered and salted them.  It’s a favourite
snack for our African neighbours. So my daughter and
her friend loved them too.   This father knew nothing
about good food, told them to throw them out.  The
native people who live in the Arctic do not like to be
called Eskimos, because it means in their language
“people who eat raw meat.”  Europeans called them by
that name to insult them, because they thought eating
raw meat was disgusting. 

It is interesting.  Isn’t it?  We often consider foods
other people eat disgusting, and forget that our food
could also be disgusting to some people.  In Japan,
eating red meat use to be a disgusting behaviour
according to the Buddhist belief.  Europeans introduced
beef into Japanese diet.  A story has it that the early
ones brave enough, or crazy enough, to taste red meat
were bad boys in high school.  They had no respect for
traditions.  They cooked it outdoors, because parents
did not allow them to bring it inside the house.   This
is why the famous Japanese beef dish is called
“Sukiyaki”, meaning cooking on a spade.  They must have
sauteed the steak outdoor on something like a spade as
a frying pan.  It was the early Japanese BBQ. 

We are very particular about food, because food is
intimately personal.  We keep personal things like
personal habits and favourite food private.  They can
be the source of misunderstanding unless we know each
other well.  This is why being in a position to share
the intimate moments is an important mark of a close
personal relationship.  Only family members and very
close friends share what is private.  Food is one of
those things.  We are very particular about what we eat
and with whom.  We can now see the meaning of the story
of Peter and strange animals as food in the book of
Acts.  In this story, God gave Peter a lesson about his
relationship with a non-Jewish person – called
Cornelius.  The Bible is telling us in this story that
by eating other people’s food, you are accepting other
people as your own family.  You understand why people
were scandalized to see Jesus having dinner with
prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.

Throughout the Acts of Apostles, you find one central
and important message from the early church.  The
Church that began on the day of Pentecost was open to
absolutely everybody.  It was firmly grounded on the
belief in One God, the Jewish God of Abraham and Sarah
for sure, but through Jesus Christ, it has become the
religion for all peoples of all nationalities.  On the
Pentecost, the Apostles began to speak in many
languages, so that all nationalities could hear the
stories of Jesus in their own languages.  When Paul
began to baptize non-Jewish people, he did not require
them to be circumcised.  In other words, he did not ask
them to become Jewish before they became Christians.
Peter’s vision about food was another sign making Jesus
Christ for everybody.  Christianity is an inclusive
religion.  It is a religion that accepts everybody;
saints and sinners alike.  Accepting others through
love is the central belief of our religion.

Unfortunately, some people feel that they have to
protect themselves against any strange thing.  They
say, “My way or no way.”  All of us are like that
sometimes.  It is easier for us to demand others to
change their way, rather than trying to understand
different views and adapt.  The Church which began with
the missionary work of Apostles like Peter and Paul
thrived in Europe because of their open-mindedness, and
became the foundation of today’s church.

I watched on PBS an interesting program about the
Vikings in Greenland.  The program probed the reason
why the once thriving Viking settlements in Greenland
completely disappeared.  Scientists discovered that
when the last ice age came, the Vikings could not
sustain their cattle and sheep based agriculture in the
ice covered Greenland.  Most of the people gradually
died out of malnutrition and diseases, leaving
magnificent stone houses and churches in ruins.  In the
meantime, in Iceland the Vikings switched to fishing,
changed their diet to sea food, and survived.
Greenland Vikings did not learn anything from their
Innuit neighbours.  Historians speculate that because
Innuit were pagans, the church prohibited any contact
with them.  The result was that the Vikings had no
chance to learn the Innuit’s survival skills in the
extreme cold climate.  They didn’t learn to fish and
hunt.  Least of all, they never learned to eat fish,
seal and whale meat raw.  They would have provided
plenty of fat and vitamins to protect them in the cold
and long winters.  They never thought of wearing seal
furs and skins like their Innuit neighbours.  So when
their sheep died, they had no more wool to make
clothes.  Their fear of pagan practices didn’t allow
them to survive in the extreme cold.  So they died out.

I am not saying to know other people and their ways of
life is just a survival skill.  Even if loving and
accepting others is costly, Jesus’ most fundamental
commandment to love God and to love neighbours still is
our most precious Christian tradition.  But the history
often proves that an exclusive and rigid attitude
causes disasters, and an inclusive and flexible life-
style leads to survival.  Remember what Peter heard in
a vision?  “Don’t call anything God created unclean.”
We must accept and understand other people’s views and
life-styles.  It is an act of loving our neighbours,
and perhaps the only way for our species to survive.

 

 

 

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