Sunday, March 22, 2009

Craving Good

Taste and see that the LORD is good.

                        Psalm 34.8

Acquired Tastes

My partner and I are avid Francophiles. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time in France, to the point we think of Paris as our second home. Having ceased being tourists long ago, we spend our time at favorite restaurants and cafés whose staffs know us well enough to recommend locally favored dishes and drinks most visitors might shy away from. So, for example, when the cheese course arrives, we’re given the “stinkier” varieties Parisians prefer instead of the mellower ones typically offered to American diners. If we’re there during the cooler off-season, we’re as apt as any Frenchman to dig into a plate of choucroute, a pile of sauerkraut and sausages, paired with an Alsatian wine that undercuts its sweetness with a hint of pepper. 

These are acquired tastes not familiar, in some cases not even pleasing, at first to our Yankee palates. Yet we’ve learned to appreciate them—and grown to crave them—less for their flavors than their exemplification of Parisians’ uniquely pragmatic way of making the most of what they have. A plate of bitter cheeses, for instance, dramatically intensifies the sweetness of desserts that immediately follow. The acrid taste of pickled cabbage in winter is more desirable than the reduced flavor of hothouse summer vegetables. In other words, Parisians have disciplined their taste buds to encompass the entire dining experience, not merely within each meal but across the seasons. A smelly cheese is good because of what comes next. Sauerkraut is good because it avoids compromise. Along very similar lines, I believe God’s goodness is also an acquired taste, and I think it mirrors many of the same principles employed by French cuisine.

A Veritable Feast

When David sings, “Taste and see that the LORD is good,” he’s staring at a veritable feast of God’s goodness. Psalm 34.4 says God answered David’s prayers and freed him from fear. Verses 5-7 remark how God beautifies Hs people, saves them from trouble, and discharges angels to protect them. Verses 9 and 10 rejoice that those who worship God want for nothing. The fifteenth verse proclaims God’s attentiveness to us, and after repeating a number of these blessings, the song ends with verse 22: “The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.”

David is a magnificent songwriter, but his skills as a food critic could stand some improvement. He’s not thorough in his description of all that dining on God’s goodness entails. Take verse 19: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” He breezes by the stinky cheese course (“many troubles”) to rave about the dessert. In passing, he mentions bitter seasons of heartbreak and despondence in verse 18, saying God stays close to us and saves us. Yet he never explains why making the most of lean times is preferable to mediocre varieties of richer, tastier things ripened in season. David lacks connoisseurship. He misses why appreciation for less savory tastes and times heightens the contrasts and joys of sweeter, more delectable ones.

Constant Craving

A pastor I truly admire as a shepherd and one of the finest preachers I know regularly greets her people with, “God is good all the time,” to which they respond, “All the time He’s good.” That’s a bold statement, particularly from the leader and members of an urban, extraordinarily diverse congregation—often after of a Prayer for the People that includes victims of domestic and gang violence, homelessness, substance abuse, and other harrowing realities. Believers fed on freeze-dried platitudes and sugarcoated optimism might choke on such a sweeping declaration. They’re desensitized to the purpose and promise concealed in life’s sorrows and stress. They’ve lost sight that unsavory experiences are meant to generate constant craving for God’s goodness and sharpen our senses to relish it fully in season. Those of us sacrificing favorite foods for Lent surely understand this principle in a very real and powerful way.

Learning to appreciate God’s goodness teaches us to make the most of what we have now in anticipation of what we’ll feast on later. In Matthew 5.6, Jesus promises, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” Craving good is a habit all believers should practice. But we can’t allow our hunger and thirst for what’s right and best to encourage us to settle for blander diets or unseasonable substitutes. Taste and see that the Lord is good all the time. Yes, all the time He’s good.

Choucroute in winter is preferable to bland hothouse substitutes for summer vegetables, just as bitter tastes in chilly seasons prepare us for sweeter flavors in warmer times.

(Tomorrow: Together)


Davis said...

Golly, I was there last week - eating lovely choucroute and divine stinky cheeses - did I somehow miss you both?! My second home as well.

I did miss reading your always good thoughts, Tim.

Tim said...

Davis, actually I was in New Jersey and Walt was in Detroit--neither one Paris, but neither place bad... And now (as I'm about to post) I'm in San Diego and running behind...

I want to be jealous of you being "chez nous," but I'm too happy to know you were there to begrudge your pleasure! Votre joie est ma joie!

Blessings always,

Prudence said...

I've seen you and Walt in Paris. One of those meals that went on forever - divine!

Tim said...

Ah, yes, I remember it well--and have the pictures to prove it!

Dear, sweet Prudence, I can't tell you how delighted I am to have reconnected with you after so long and finally see you here. I hope you'll get to know the other bloggers and readers who comment--they're kindred spirits and great friends I'm sure you'll treasure as much as I.

Blessings always,

Prudence said...

Timing is his and always perfect. As an archtypal student I am excited to learn lessons and with moving from and urban setting to a remote area I am blessed with an opportunity to get to know friends from all walks. Love you.