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Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Deadly Sin We Mennonites Seldom Talk About

"Gluttony" Hironomous Bosch c.1500
"You know the old saying, “First you eat to live, and then you live to eat”? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body! ....The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body."
from I Corinthians 6 (the Message)

It seems ironic that Mennonites, highlighted in one of the world's largest books on self denial and suffering, the Martyrs Mirror, have 400 years later become known for the popularity of their great books about mouth-watering food.

Best sellers like the Mennonite Community Cookbook (an old classic), the More With Less Cookbook (our favorite), Mennonite Country Style Recipes (so useful and practical), the Fix-It and Forget-It series (a New York Times bestseller), and more recently, Mennonite Girls Can Cook, have far outsold books on other topics by Mennonite authors. Good eating is both our delight, associated with good hospitality and great fellowship, and one of our downfalls.

I love a well prepared meal, and believe occasional feasts can be a great thing, especially the special ones Jesus told us to invite the hungry and the less invited to. But what Jesus and the prophets condemn is "faring sumptuously every day". In other words, when we make every meal about living to eat rather than eating to live. I, for one, need to learn to balance occasions of celebrative and joyful feasting with other times of reflective fasting, of doing without or doing with less, out of respect for creation and for the world's desperately poor.

Meanwhile, what overall message are we Mennos giving about temperance and self control? It's not that we never talk about overeating, we regularly joke about it, and like most other North Americans lament how it's making us overweight and unhealthy, a deadly sin indeed. While we may not overtly condone gluttony, as in the German fressa, the animal-like devouring of food (in contrast to essa, the grateful partaking of daily fare) we seldom find ourselves denouncing it.

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas writes that there are five ways to commit gluttony (from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down), e.g., "an over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste; a misplaced desire of food or its withholding from the needy", as follows:
  • Laute - eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly
  • Nimis - eating food that is excessive in quantity
  • Studiose - eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared
  • Praepropere - eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time
  • Ardenter - eating too eagerly. (Wikipedia)
Clearly we could use some more emphasis on over-eating as among the deadliest of our sins, right up there with lust, wrath, greed, sloth, pride and envy.

In the words of the nineteenth-century Russian Bishop Ignatius Brinchaninov:

"Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance."
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