Recently Peggy and I visited with the pastor and people of the Mount Nebo Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Lure, NC. My friend, Rev. Jimmy Hamilton, is pastor of this African American congregation, and I genuinely enjoyed his message that morning. In the course of his sermon, Rev. Hamilton made significant remarks regarding contemporary culture’s desire for instantaneous gratification of every impulse, every whim, every desire. He caught my attention with his use of “microwave” imagery to illustrate his point. My mind combined this image with the earlier announcement that, while we were worshipping, some of the church’s women and men were busy preparing a meal to be shared as, later that afternoon, Mt. Nebo celebrated its annual homecoming event. I have attended enough of these occasions to know that fine cooking, such as that produced by the ladies of most churches, and microwave ovens are anathema to one another. So, reaching for the church bulletin, I scrawled across the top of the order of worship, “You can’t do gourmet cooking in a microwave.”

Now, I know you are wagging your head in wonder, or exasperation, at one more expression of the quixotic way my mind works. The truth is, I can’t help myself; but even if I could I wouldn’t want too. It’s just too much fun looking at the world and human life, particularly religious life, from a somewhat cockeyed perspective. Thus, if you will be patient with me, I will explore some of the social, cultural, and religious implications of the fact that you can’t do gourmet cooking in a microwave.

This “microwave” approach manifests itself in almost every aspect of our daily lives. Charismatic (in the gleaming white teeth and carefully coifed hair, not the biblical sense) preachers announce from pulpits the acquisition of instantaneous Christian maturity if one will only identify with their megachurch. Politicians promise, if elected, that they can accomplish quick fixes to every social, economic, and diplomatic challenge that faces the nation. Advertising spokespersons tout near miraculous relief from a myriad of ailments if only we will immediately purchase and use whatever product the pharmaceutical companies are paying them to hawk. And educational institutions increasingly promise Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral expertise in degree programs that can be acquired in leisurely weeks and months rather than the years of focused, disciplined study that real educational competency actually requires.

Among the consequences of choosing such quick, prepackaged, microwavable fare includes: Shallow, feel good religion that tastes good in the moment but cannot satisfy the deepest longings of one’s mind and soul. Political leaders who compete to declaim the most egregious exaggerations of the truth and voters, like screaming fans at WWE spectacles, vie to identify themselves with the most outlandish vocally insensitive and unfair contenders in the ring. Millions lose their lives, or have their health impaired, when addictive medicines are inappropriately marketed and prescribed, while CEO’s and manufacturing companies receive only minor raps on the wrist for their part in the increasing unhealthiness, escalating costs, and impending collapse of the nation’s health care system. And our educational systems, both public and private, seem to be producing soaring numbers of diplomas and degrees awarded to people, who when tested against students educated in other developed nations, demonstrate that they paid more and got less for the diplomas/degrees hanging on their home and/or office walls.

Well, that’s probably enough ranting about the problems occasioned by insisting upon living in a “microwave” culture. The time has come to explore the characteristics evident in genuine gourmet cooking. First, a quick acknowledgment of the truth. I probably know as much about nuclear physics or molecular biology as I do about gourmet cooking. I learned Southern soul food (you don’t have to be African American to cook soul food) from my mother, and Barbecue from the men of my childhood and youth because BBQ was the only thing Southern men cooked in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But the closest I have come to producing gourmet cooking is that of wearing the chef’s hat my grandchildren bought for their “Gee Daddy” when they were young. However, I think the knowledge I acquired while learning to cook the common foods of ordinary people in the American South is sufficient for reflection upon what is necessary to produce gourmet fare.

My first thought on the matter is that gourmet cooking must begin with good ingredients. Now, I know a really competent chef can make old shoe leather, or to quote Guy Fieri, “I’d eat that on a flipflop,” palatable. But these are exceptions. Ordinarily, when I go shopping for pork shoulders, spare ribs, or brisket I’m going to look for the best I can afford. The same is true for fresh fruits and vegetables. I may use left over meat scraps for seasoning and vegetables for soup mix, but I like, whenever possible, to start out with good cuts of meat and bright, healthy vegetables. I bring the same attitude to making choices about ministers and churches, politicians, medical professionals, and educators. And I keep myself reminded that there is no place for superficiality in these matters. Have you noticed, particularly when buying packaged pork chops, that the butcher often puts two or three very good looking chops on top, but those underneath are not as thick and well cut, and they usually have more fat on them. So, I maintain that, under ordinary circumstances, gourmet cooking should always start out with quality ingredients. And I maintain that good religion, politics, business and professional enterprises, and education should too.

I also maintain that gourmet cooking is such because it has been properly seasoned. The discerning chef must understand the various herbs and spices available, which work best in the dish being prepared, and the results to expect when mixed with one another. Any lack of attention here can result in the culinary disaster of a ruined meal and the waste of the resources and time used to prepare it.

It is a common practice of mine to have a glass of V-8 Spicy Vegetable Juice about mid-morning of every day. While working on this essay, I took a break to prepare my glass of V-8. My practice is to pour a few drops of Worchester Sauce into the glass and then add the vegetable juice. In this instance, while chatting with Peggy about something, I didn’t pay enough attention to the bottle I was retrieving from the refrigerator. I was back at my desk about to resume writing when I discovered that what I had added to the Spicy V-8 was not Worchester Sauce, it was Liquid Smoke. Take my word for it, while Worchester Sauce and Liquid Smoke may look alike, I’m here to tell you the end result just ain’t the same.

In our careless hurry to get what we want as quickly as possible, it is easy to season our interactions with others with poorly chosen ingredients: Invective, Hate Speech, False Accusation, Innuendo, Racism, Avarice, Pride, etc. I think the Apostle Paul’s suggestions regarding how to flavor out interpersonal interactions is infinitely more palatable and satisfying. He suggested that we season our lives with “Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, and Temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23 KJV). And such human relational seasonings cannot release their full potential when tossed into a social-cultural-spiritual microwave.

This leads to yet another matter related to the preparation of gourmet cooking. The production of any delightfully tasteful fare requires time. In most instances the phrases, “gourmet cooking” and “fast food” should never be used in the same sentence. And here “time” is used in two senses. First, “time” is used to refer to the amount of clock time necessary for whatever is being prepared to be properly cooked. Second, “time” refers to the skill of knowing when enough clock time has passed and the “time has come” to stop cooking and start eating. The discerning chef understands and knows how to make use of both senses of “time.”

Interestingly, the New Testament has two words that may be properly translated into English as “time.” The first is chronos. This is chronological time, time that passes, time that is measured by clocks and calendars. The other is kairos. Kairos denotes significant moments in which decisions are made, words are said, consequential events happen. It is often distinguished in the scripture from chronos with phrases like “the fullness of time,” “the time is at hand,” and “in due time/season.”

One of the problems with a “microwave” approach to living and relating is that it doesn’t take seriously the chronos time required for the development of spiritual maturity, political and social awareness, the maintenance of good health, or the acquisition of knowledge and discernment, as opposed to information and academic credits. And the failure to devote adequate chronos-time to such matters leaves us unprepared to respond appropriately when those kairos-moments come and we are confronted with the need to make decisions regarding the spiritual crises of life, our ballot box choices, health care and end of life issues, or how we sift through the plethora of information surrounding us and extract the knowledge needed to live meaningful, useful lives.

And there is, in my opinion, one additional characteristic of truly gourmet cooking; it is that of attractive presentation. Now, I have consumed food that, to the eye, did not appear very palatable but turned out to be delicious. But, once again, we come up against the exception that illustrates the rule. An occasional truth just does not carry the same weight as an almost universal truth.

William Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marcus Tullius Cicero, and the Bible (Mt. 6:22-24) concur, in one way or another, that “the eye is the window to the soul.” While smell and taste make significant contributions to our culinary gratification, it is our eyes, because they are usually the first of our senses to become aware of external stimulation, that take priority over the other senses.

Think about it for a moment. When considering consuming some edible, isn’t your first observation, “That looks good to me,” or “That doesn’t look very good to me.” Ordinarily, it is only after our eyes have approved, that we become willing to sniff and then taste. It is not incidental that most often, when we list our five senses, we begin with sight.

Asifa Majid, Professor of Language, Communication, and Cultural Cognition at England’s University of York, has concluded, after extensive research and in agreement with many others, that sight is the most important sense, followed, in order, by hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Even when another engages in explaining a certain saying or concept to us, when we “get it” we usually say, “I see.” Any artist will tell you that aesthetic beauty and elegance is more appealing to the eye than garish excess or visually offensive crudeness. Instinctively, beauty draws us in while ugliness, confusion, and vulgar obscenity prompt us to look away. We must condition ourselves to focus our gaze upon the repulsive, while beauty, order, and aesthetic simplicity we find visually delightful.

Do the above observations have implications for healthy living and meaningful, harmonious relationships with others? I most certainly think they do. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.” The African American writer and social activist, James Baldwin, expressed the same sentiment: “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” In common parlance we have reduced this to, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Religious leaders and their flocks, politicians and their constituents, social influencers and their followers, business leaders and their clients/customers, educators and their students should all take these insights seriously. Religion can be made attractive and appealing without resorting to soupy sentimentalism or surrealistic apocalyptic frenzy. Politicians can set forth their social philosophies and policy priorities without demeaning those who think differently or shouting down anyone who publicly disagrees. Business executives can lead their organizations to economic success without succumbing to greed, duplicity, criminal neglect, and misrepresentation of facts related to products or services. And educational institutions can achieve Juvenal’s ideal of “a healthy mind in a healthy body” without sacrificing intellectual development upon the altar of athletic success. But I maintain that if the first impression of a religious institution is that of the entertainment quality of its worship, of a political figure and his/her party is that of intolerant and dictatorial suppression of voices and policies of dissent, of a large corporation or a family business is that of the drive to reap profits regardless of the quality of product and service, of an educational institution’s preoccupation with conference titles and national championships at the expense of opening minds and inspiring visions, then each has failed miserably at the goal of attractive presentation. They have sought to prepare gourmet fare in religious, political, economic, and educational microwaves and the end result is social, cultural, and spiritual indigestion.

You can’t do gourmet cooking in a microwave, and we can’t, individually or collectively, make meaningful contributions to the world if we neglect the social, cultural, and spiritual equivalents of quality ingredients, proper seasoning, adequate time, and attractive presentation. Many decried, for partisan political reasons, the then presidential candidate, Barack Obama’s quip, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” Many others, particularly on today’s political/religious right, would applaud and shout “Amen!” if the pastor of their primarily white church quoted Charles Haddon Spurgeon, described by some as the “Prince of Preachers,” who said, “A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog.” In this place I can’t resist just one more culinary allusion. It was the Irish writer, Richard Head (1674), who wrote, “sawce (sic) which is good for the Goose, I hope will be good for the Gander.” Sadly, too many today are serving up microwaved social, cultural, political, and religious swill and are trying to pass it off as “the best thing you will ever consume.”

Copyright:  D. Larry Gregg, Sr. 2023, All Rights Reserved

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