I served as a pastor in Charleston for eight years, and I love that city. South Carolina is my home state, and the heinous violence that claimed nine lives last week has filled with me with sadness.
As strange as it might sound, it has also left me wondering about the relationship between respect and food.
Did you know that Elvis Presley's favorite meal was a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich? It is actually quite delicious. Peanut butter and bananas go together really well.
So, too, do French fries and ketchup, bacon and eggs, mashed potatoes and gravy as well as peaches and cream.
But what about milk and honey? They each taste good, but together they make a surprisingly volatile combination. Consider this video.
Just Ask Mary
Mary was a wonderful woman in her late 70s. She was born and raised in a rural community, and she loved her strawberry plants. Repeatedly, she had asked her neighbor to keep his pigs in his own yard. They also loved her strawberries!
One afternoon, she looked out her back window and saw a pig once again rooting around in her strawberry patch. "What did you do?" I innocently asked.
"I grabbed my shotgun."
"I blew his hind leg clean off," she laughed. "It went squealing all the way back home!"
I don't know if I was more stunned or amused. But Mary never had any more trouble with her neighbor's pigs.
A Strange Promise
God promises God's people a land flowing with milk and honey, but it's not a recipe for peace and harmony. It's problematically combustible. This promise brings together diverse people with radically different worldviews. It's akin to putting fans of Fox News and devotees of MSNBC into a tiny apartment and asking them to discuss presidential politics with decorum and restraint!
Did Jesus Enjoy Peanut Butter?
As unlikely as it might be, I sometimes wonder if this image influenced Jesus when he chose his disciples. On the one hand, he called Mathew, a tax collector who colluded with the armed forces of Rome. On the other hand, he called Judas, a Zealot, a freedom fighter committed to casting off the ruthless yoke of the empire.
Can you imagine their fireside chats?
How did they, as well as the other disciples, manage to listen to one another and begin to develop mutual respect? How were they able to engage in civil conversation much less sit at table and enjoy dinner together?
Or, was it the other way around?
Maybe they discovered how to appreciate one another precisely through the sharing of meals.
I can hear Jesus say, "Matthew, would you ask Judas to pass the wine down to this end of the table?"
Judas slowly hands it to Matthew. In their early days together, they grunt and growl, but after spending night after night breaking bread together they open up, tell stories, share bits and pieces of their lives, and, even, laugh.
I find it incredibly striking that one of the key metaphors of God's promise of love and faithfulness centers on food. In an era marked by racial, religious and political polarization, we would all do well to lay down our verbal weapons, sit beside one another, and ask, "Would you please pass the peanut butter?"
It's surprising. It's unlikely, and it's not going to solve all of our challenges. But sharing milk and honey might be a first step towards nurturing desperately needed respect for others.