Friday, March 30, 2012

Food, Culture, and the Direction of Civilization

Food is usually not the most grand thing to our view. Except for the wreckage of Pop culture, food is domestic and personal. Even in Pop culture it is a firm part of life, outflowing from who people are. A great deal made be said of us by the food we decide to eat. A keen observation was made by theologian Robert L. Dabney in his essay, The Uses and Results of Church History (1854), concerning this very thing. Writing of history in general, he makes the following comment:
"Those things which are the most operative elements of social, national and religious welfare are just the things which historians have been least careful to record. The knowledge of them has, in many cases, perished away for ever from our search. In secular history, battles, sieges, coronations, conquests, treaties; and in ecclesiastical history, councils and their canons, controversies and anathemas, have been the favorite themes of the story. But the food which nations ate, the clothing they wore, their domestic life, the state of domestic discipline, their arts, agriculture and amusements, the method of their devotions, their superstitions, the hymns they sang, the preaching to which they listened, the books they most read, the color of the national and social passions, the pecularities of the national spirit; all these every-day and homely influences are the causes which potentially form the character and compose that mighty current of the age on which kings, battles, conquests and conquerors are but the floating bubbles which indicate its motion. But all this historians have usually left to die with the passing time, as if it was unworthy of the dignity of their drama."

While we ought not to make food our obsession--we must be changed by God's grace before our food can change meaningfully--we ought to realize that the day-to-day influence of our familial culture is a powerful tool directing our civilization.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Cultural Puzzle

When dealing with food it it important to deal with it in its context of life. Here is a quote that describes this very well by Ken Myers in his book, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes (p. 34):

"We can't simplify things too quickly by isolating one of these cultural expressions and asking how Scripture applies to it in isolation from everything else, for then it's not part of that social experience that's called culture. We cannot, for example, evaluate the virtues and vices of fast food in our culture merely by looking at Biblical teaching about meals. We have to take into consideration the place of the automobile and highways in our culture, our view of time and convenience, the pressures on modern families (both theses relieved and those exacerbated by fast food), the opportunity for employment created by this new service industry, and the many other pieces of the cultural puzzle. We then have to ask, given all the of the other forces that shape modern culture, whether eliminating McDonald's from the equation would mean that the people would automatically eat more nutritious home-cooked meals with the family gathered around the table, or whether they would eat more frozen TV dinners on their own unsynchronized schedules."

While I don't agree with everything in Myers' book, he really hit it on the head at this point. The title of my book, The Christian Philosophy of Food, may seem an ambitious title, but we really need a more comprehensive view of the many cultural aspects of food before we can deal with the details of each aspect. May we use the wisdom of God in trying to adjust our whole life in accordance with His Word, recognizing the difficulties of the web of "the culture puzzle".

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Family Economics Conference 2012

Last weekend I was at the Family Economics Conference, hosted by Generations with Vision. I have been an intern with Generations with Vision for over a year, and I was there primarily to put on the conference. But the work I did allowed me to still listen to many of the talks and panel discussions, and I thought I would share a few things that I took away from the conference.

(And before you wonder what this conference has to do with the Christian philosophy of food, we should remember that our food is a product of work, and how we work with our food will influence what we eat. In addition, what and how we eat influences our daily life and work (and vice versa). So when thinking about food it is very important to step back and examine our work and life from a biblical perspective.)

1. The trains are coming Kevin Swanson opened up the conference with a picture of our current society, and it didn't look pretty. There are several 'trains' coming to collide, such as the declining American GDP, the retiring baby boomers with their increasingly immature children taking the reins of society, the increasing disfunctionality of the family and the growth of the state, the de-relativizing of the Bible and Christian Ethics and the growth and acceptance of immorality, the pride in humanistic science building bigger and more centralized systems prone to fail and fail big time, and the list goes on. Basically, our current system does not look like it can survive the way it is for another 20, 50, or 100 years. People are loosing hope and faith and are largely unmotivated to work with purpose.

2. We must trust God's Word for society While the world around us may be failing and falling, we have reason to build and thrive in the ashes. Christ is "head over all things to the church" (Eph. 1:22), and "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good" (Rom 8:28). For those who love God our current situation is for our good. And those who love God do so by keeping His commandments in faith (1 John 5:1-5). The solution to our current problems, whether they involve economics, politics, culture (e.g. food), etc… is to return to "the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Is. 8:20 KJV).

3. Biblically, the family is basic to work and dominion This may be considered the main point of the conference. This was brought out in many ways. For example, in the Ten Commandments we can see that the 2nd (against graven idols) is muti-generational in scope, the 4th (concerning the Sabbath) implies that your son and daughter are working with you and should stop on the Sabbath, the 5th obviously establishes that foundational to blessing is the honor of father and mother in the family, and it is this that is extended in principle to honoring other authorities. In the 7th (against adultery) it protects the stability and unity of the family, and the 8th and 10th (against stealing and coveting) protects the strength of your neighbor's family economy. Other examples of this biblical connection between the family and work were the households of the patriarchs, Aquila and Pricilla, Adam and Eve, etc… When a family is unified in its work, then it can function much better as the covenantal and relational unit that God made it as. (And included in this point is that, in fact, the family is also basic to education, to culture, to church, to commonwealth, and to society in general.)

4. A host of practical suggestions This probably took up most of the conference, and is the hardest to summarize. The best way is to get the recording of the conference. Teaching family members to work with their different skills in unity is very important, but also takes much wisdom. Some things covered were marketing strategies (e.g. importance of personal communication skills), choosing the right business, how to handle money (and what money is), how to integrate the family into the household economy (whatever business it is, and whoever the children are; be creative), how to get started, etc… One thing I thought was a great point was to teach children to be producers, even before they are really are being profitable.

5. Sweet fellowship One of the best parts of the conference was the fellowship of other people and families on the same journey with a similar vision for rebuilding our society on a Christian foundation. I saw many dear friends that I had known for a while, some that I hadn't seen for two years, and I met new friends as well. It was one things to hear the vision for a biblical family economy, but to see real families that were doing it, and others that are going to attempt it in one way or another was very inspiring. The food at the conference (held at the Wheaton College facilities) was very good and added to the beautiful atmosphere of brothers dwelling in unity (Ps. 133).

To sum it up, here are the words of Doug Phillips on what we were there for:

"What we mean by family economy: 'The God-designed, culturally transcendent, generationally oriented, household-based social structure designed to honor the Genesis 1:28 command of fruitfulness and dominion, by which families maximize their cultural and economic influence and seek to prosper with the blessing of God and under his law.'"

With God as our help and defender,

-Peter Bringe

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Roast Beef of Old England

Food is part of culture and will be connected to its surroundings. While some things have a constant meaning in all cultures (drinking blood and disregard of life, Gen. 9:3-6), other things receive meaning by local culture and common usage. A good representative of this would be the food offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. The food there wasn't inherently sinful, even the idols were nothing, but because some "eat food as really offered to an idol" (1 Cor. 8:7) it has a meaning that Christians ought to beware of.

I think of this symbolic nature of food when I come across songs like the following, this time in a good way. This song, The Roast Beef of Old England, uses food, namely roast beef, ragout, coffee, and tea, to symbolize the changes in England in the early 1700s. The song became popular and was used in the British army, and later the American army, to call the men for the midday meal (dinner) by being played on fife and drum. It is also said that it was also used by bugler P.W. Fletcher, to call first class passengers to meals on the RMS Titanic. Here are the lyrics:

The Roast Beef of Old England
By Richard Leveridge

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
   Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

But since we have learned from all-vapouring France
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance,
We're fed up with nothing but vain complaisance
   Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

Our fathers of old were robust, stout, and strong,
And kept open house, with good cheer all day long,
Which made their plump tenants rejoice in this song
   Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

But now we are dwindled to, what shall I name?
A sneaking poor race, half-begotten and tame,
Who sully the honours that once shone in fame.
   Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

When good Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne,
Ere coffee, or tea, or such slip-slops were known,
The world was in terror if e'er she did frown.
   Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

In those days, if Fleets did presume on the Main,
They seldom, or never, return'd back again,
As witness, the Vaunting Armada of Spain.
   Oh! The Roast Beef of Old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cultivating a Biblical Vision for Agriculture

Here is a recent interview on Generations radio with Noah Sanders: Noah has recently written a book, Born Again Dirt: Faming to the Glory of God. I haven't read the book yet (I hope to soon), but I enjoyed the interview. It is similar to my book, in that it applies biblical principles to culture, myself focusing on food, Noah focusing on agriculture (subjects which overlap, I do address agriculture in my book as well).

You can also read his blog at: