WE ARE WHAT WE EAT.
Acts 10:1-14, Psalm 98, John 15:9-17
May 28, 2000 by Tad Mitsui
One day when I was living in Africa, I found a bowlful of roasted and salted termites in the fridge. My daughter and her friends brought home those winged critters, roasted them alive in the oven, buttered and salted them for snack. They are the favourite snack for the locals, which my daughter and her best friend also loved. This ignorant father told them to throw out the stuff. 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. Jokes were on Europeans who didn”t know that eating raw meat was the best way to get vitamines where fresh vegitables were noexistent.
It is interesting. Isn”t it? We often consider foods eaten in other cultures disgusting, and forget that our food could also be disgusting to some people. In Japan, eating red meat use to be a taboo – a disgusting behaviour according to the Buddhist belief. Europeans introduced beef and pork into Japanese diet during the nineteenth century. A story has it that the early ones brave enough, or crazy enough, to taste red meat were vulgar bad boys. They cooked it outdoors, because most of the decent people did not allow meat inside the house. This is why the famous Japanese beef dish is called "Sukiyaki", meaning cooking on a blade of a plough. They must have prepared the meat dishes outdoor using something like a spade as a frying pan. It was the nineteenth century Japanese version of 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 brothers and sisters.
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 require 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, insecure people are rigid and self-righteous. They feel they have to protect themselves against any difference. 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, than trying to understand different views and adapt and compromise. The Church in Jerusalem in the first century was a group of such self-righteous people. They insisted that all foreigners become Jews first before baptism. They said that Jesus was a Jew and the disciples were Jews, therefore Christians had to become Jews before Baptism. The Church in Jerusalem did not want change the Jewish customs. So, because of their narrow mindedness, within two hundred years, the Jerusalem church disappeared. But 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 last Monday on PBS an interesting program about the Vikings. 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. After my episode with angina, I too have to change my eating habit. It is hard to learn. But it is a vital life skill for me.
I am not saying that accepting 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 responsibility. 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.