The domesticated goddess in me made a new recipe the other night. (These days “domesticated” means trying out the dishes on sample at my local Trader Joe’s, so long as I can be assured of four ingredients or less.) So this evening we were to eat “Baked Chili Cheese Cornbread Casserole” (a bag of shredded cheddar over TJ’s cornbread batter and two cans of TJ’s turkey chili). Simple enough, right? You would think so- especially if you follow the directions.
We sat down to dig in and quickly discovered that the corn bread was only partially finished and that in fact, underneath the yellow crust was nothing but gooey batter. I apologized, but by way of example, proceeded to eat my serving. (It was getting late, and the kids needed to be in bed soon. Baking dinner any longer didn’t seem like an option at this point.) The ensuing dialogue from that evening goes something like this:
Kid 1 (normally my big eater): Takes one bite and decides she would rather be excused; without asking permission- she is two- she lets herself down and runs away before I can protest.
Husband (grimacing dramatically, as if he has just been asked to swim across the English Channel with ten-pound weights): “I’m sorry but I just really don’t think I can eat this.”
Me: “If we were in some parts of Africa right now, we would be eating this just because it’s food.”
Husband grudgingly and painstakingly takes another bite.
Kid 2 (whiningly, having not tried it but now taking his cue from Dad): “Mommy, I can’t eat this.”
Me: “Oh alright. I guess you can give yours to Carter (Carter is our dog.)”
Husband: “I’ll make some mac n’ cheese for the kids.” (He’s secretly dying for some mac n’ cheese. I can see it written all over his face.)
Me: “Fine. Give it to Carter then.”
The three bowls make their way to the floor as part of a nightly ritual of plate cleaning in which Carter is happy to indulge. Only this time, of course, Carter has really lucked out, or so I think. Carter eats one bowl and decides he has had enough…
Sometimes, when it comes to the depth, adventure and rich texture of a relationship with Jesus Christ, I wonder if we in the church often pull out half-baked chili cheese casserole for people and expect them to eat it. Which is one reason why so many folks these days find food for their souls outside the church.
To be fair, the term, “spirituality,” is actually quite young here in America: it has only been “baking” for so long. Eric Leigh Schmidt’s Restless Souls, which chronicles the development of what he describes as a quintessentially American, spiritual restlessness, locates the first textual use of the term in the early nineteenth century.
But the reality is that these days what many people are looking for and seemingly not finding in the church is a very real experience of God’s presence in the stuff of their lives. When “church” each Sunday becomes little more than another social gathering and the “sermon” a self-help pep talk, people naturally will resort to looking for God outside Christians’ prescribed holy places. Because understandably most of us are looking for more than half-baked dishes. We want something that not only feeds us but tastes good and is nourishing.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the Psalmist says. “Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:25). What if Christian spirituality were as simple and profound as feeding on God’s goodness and taking on the yoke of Jesus (which is really a way of describing what it means to walk in step with Jesus and get to know Him)? What if we the church learned to talk about why we gather in terms of just these two things and nothing more? Would we still be feeding people half-baked chili cheese casseroles?