Tuesday, June 8, 2010

a theology of milk and other ordinary things

Last year I read this statement, tucked away in a footnote in a certain august magazine:

… Paul isn't talking [in 1 Corinthians 10:31] about just any old eating and drinking (as if there is such a thing as a godly and an ungodly way to drink a glass of milk!), but about the specific issue of sharing in fellowship meals with unbelievers.*

The bit in brackets bothered me (although, as I read on, I was reassured**) because I'm convinced that the Bible has a huge amount to say about seemingly inconsequential things like how to drink a glass of milk.

The Bible gives us a theology of insects, oceans, single cellular organisms, quarks, galaxies, the small spot on a nearby tree trunk, the unwanted hairs in my right eyebrow, and yes, the drinking of milk.

I'm not being flippant. Without this knowledge, I don't know where I'd be. So much of our lives—so much of my life!—is mundane. Mothers wipe noses. Factory workers sort parts. Children play under sprinklers (well, they used to, before rain became scarce in Australia). We're fathers, workers, teenagers, bosses, sisters, babies. We scratch mosquito bites. We walk the dog. We drink milk.

So here it is: a theology of milk.

  • God created milk good, and if we receive it with thanksgiving, it's holy, set apart for God's glory (1 Tim 4:4-5).
  • We're free to drink milk in any flavour or quantity we like, but we should use this freedom to drink in a way that honours God and is loving to others (Gal 5:13-14).
  • We should drink milk with self-control, for we should not be enslaved by anything (1 Cor 6:12).
  • Wisdom dictates that we should be careful not to drink too much milk, for physical health is of some value and may help us to serve God with greater energy and without the slothfulness of gluttony (1 Tim 4:8; Prov 23:20-21).
  • We shouldn't be obsessed with the drinking of milk, lest it become an idol. Nor should we be obsessed with the non-drinking of milk, for dieting can as easily become an idol as its opposite. Inner beauty matters more than outer beauty (1 Pet 3:3-4).
  • We shouldn't spend too much money on fancy varieties of milk; instead, we should use our money to support ourselves and those dependent on us, help those in need, and further the cause of the gospel (1 Tim 5:8; Eph 4:28).

I could keep going, but I think that's enough for now.

I'm not recommending an OCD approach to Christian living, where I mentally review a theology of creation with every gulp of milk, offer a hymn of praise every time I wipe my child's nose, or utter a prayer for wisdom before I pluck each individual hair from my right eyebrow. What I'm talking about is an almost unconscious theology—a way of seeing everything, big and small, through the lens of God's truth.

As I soak myself in God's word, it will start to transform me so that I will begin to gulp, wipe and pluck with love, wisdom and thanksgiving. As my mind is increasingly filled with the gospel, it will shape my attitudes and actions in subtle and unexpected ways, so that I make wise choices about everyday things to God's glory (Rom 12:1-2).

If I can do it with milk, I can do it with anything. And if I can do it with anything, I must do it with everything. Tucked away in my head, I need a theology small enough for anything and big enough for everything, so that I can glorify God in the mundane and not-so-mundane happenings of every day.

* David Shead, ‘Making trainees of all people’ The Briefing, #365, February 2009, p. 25, footnote 3.
** The footnote goes on to say “our call to serve Christ and the church governs the way we should conduct ourselves in everything we do, even in everyday activities like sharing a meal with friends”.

This post is reproduced from yesterday's post at Sola Panel.

images are from aboemonster, nwwildman and ibeamee at flickr


Deb L said...

I am late commenting on this post. That's because I've spent several days mulling over it. And reading the comments posted over at Sola Panel. The thing is, something about it bothered me but I couldn't put my finger on what. I do agree there's no separation between the secular and the sacred. But I think to reflect a lot on the theology of the small things of life would eventually drive me mad. If I really stop and focus on the fact that EVERY choice I make and EVERY action I do can be done in a sinful or holy way I will pass out with mental exhaustion before I even begin. And should I then finally make a "holy" choice, I can then reflect on the fact that all my good works are as filthy rags and that there is no doubt still some element of sin in what I've done even if I've tried my best not to sin. Which is....exhausting! And yet, I don't disagree with anything you said about milk. I just want to know how we can practically live with that level of theological scrutiny. It's a bit like being aware of the starving millions around the world. Yes, we ought to know about it and be moved to action on behalf of the poor. However, if this is what I reflect upon with every single bite I take at the dinner table, I'll drive myself insane with guilt and sorrow. In a wider context, I'm also finding this the case when we build up a theology of motherhood and child discipline. After you read a few Christian parenting books, you start to feel like your ability to correctly disciple and train your child the next time they deliberately push their brother is a matter of spiritual life and death. It might be true, but if I live as if every parenting decision is spiritually critical, my head will probably explode. I do long for some of my life to simply be mundane - I don't want every single action I perform to be full of meaning. Sometimes, I'd just like to hang out the washing. Or change a nappy without it meaning anything more than that. The mothering rage at the moment seems to be to scrapbook, blog or memorialize every look and event in our child's life and to be constantly reminding each other how precious the time is, how important the job is, how much of a difference we can make in our child's education/spiritual walk/self esteem/relationship with others and so on. I appreciate the importance of that but it can leave some tired mothers with Importance Overload. Some days need to be just plain old days. I don't want my glass of milk to glare at me critically from across the breakfast table. How do find a balance between remembering that we need to be godly in every area of life and not becoming overwhelmed by the impossibility of that task?

Jean said...

Thanks, Deb, and I absolutely get where you're coming from. I too tend to overdo the self-examination of every tiny thought, emotion and decision, and this could be an unhelpful post for someone who does this - I see that, although I didn't think of it at the time! I love what you say "I don't want my glass of milk to glare at me critically from across the breakfast table." Amen!

The post wasn't written with this kind of person in mind (if it was, I would have written a very different one!). It was written in response to a particular statement which I disagreed with (I do think there's a godly way to do everything, even drink milk!). It was written out of a sense of joy that I can look at the "small spot on a nearby tree trunk" (I was looking at one when I wrote it) and rejoice in God's amazingly detailed creation, or buy milk with love for my children (I missed that one out of my dot points - oops!), or not obsess about outer beauty by spending hours counting the Weight Watcher's points for milk or considering which eyebrow hair to pluck! ;)

That's why I said it's an "unconscious theology" not an OCD attitude to life. But I can see how my dot points may have given a different impression. It's just that sometimes you have to look at the details (a godly view of milk means this ...) to get the big picture (How great it is that God made milk! Let's honour him with his creation!).

Enjoy the mundane and rejoice in it. Kick up some leaves. Drink your breakfast milk. Play with your kids. Enjoy God's grace, which frees us from nit-picky legalism. And thank God!

(p.s. On the big-picture suffering - I agree, we can do our head in about this too. We're told to "do good as we have opportunity" - but don't I always have opportunity? Where does my responsibility stop? Something to stop angsting about, I guess, and get on with doing what we can, starting with the people nearest us. Easier said than done!

Jean said...

p.s. sorry I'm late posting and responding to your comment - it got missed somehow!

Jean said...

pps. Here's another (better!) way of putting it:

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. " Romans 12:1-2

It's as our minds are transformed by the gospel (when we fill our minds with the big picture of God's grace rather than angsting about every tiny decision) that the little stuff falls into place. It will shape how I do the little stuff without me even having to think about it much - but it will affect it. That's what I was trying (clumsily!) to get at.