Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Food and Feasts of Jesus

By The Rev. Douglas E. Neel

“Cuisine is the very symbol of civilization and culture.” 
—Massimo Montanari, Food is Culture

If Montanari is right—and my friend and co-author Joel A. Pugh and I believe that he is—then we must comprehend first century food, food production, and Jewish feasting to truly understand Jesus and his teachings. 

Many types of first-century meals were a combination of worship and dinner party. Cooks used the best and freshest ingredients they could grow or afford. Even the weekly Sabbath Feast was a unique culinary offering eaten with family and friends. These meals defined their culture.

The parables of Jesus frequently make reference to food production. He attended banquets and religious feasts. He even gave advice on where to sit and how to act at a special dinner. The Palestine of Jesus’ day had an agrarian economy with a simple food-based social safety net. We believe that Jesus realized it was failing under the policies of taxation by Herod, his sons, and the Romans.  This was also reflected in his teachings. 

Doing the research for writing The Food and Feasts of Jesus was fascinating. Not only did we survey a number of primary and secondary sources, we also used foods, ingredients, and cooking techniques that were available in ancient Palestine to prepare our own meals. We made wine, bread, cheese, beer, and yogurt. We brined raw olives and grew our own herbs. We wrapped fish in fig leaves and buried in coals to cook.  We pickled radishes and onions and dipped hard-boiled eggs in fish sauce. We sat on the floor, reclined on cushions and ate lentils with our hands. Readers tell us that they enjoy the combination of theology, history, and culture with menus and recipes. For example, the chapter on first-century weddings ends with the recipes needed to create your own experience of the ancient feast. Our hummus recipe is probably worth the price of the book.

Studying ancient Jewish feasts helps us understand our own food culture. What foods and meals define our culture?  Take out hamburgers and fries from a drive-in window?  Fruits and vegetables with carbon footprints that can be traced halfway around the world? Dinners hurriedly eaten at the desk or in front of the television?

I am including a sample recipe that readers tell us they especially enjoy. 

Braised Chicken with Figs and Apricots

  • 8 large bone-in chicken thighs (skins can be removed)
  • salt and pepper
  •  flour for dredging
  •  2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup dried figs
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Ground pepper to taste
Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and dredge them in the flour.  Brown them, three or four at a time in a 14 inch skillet or 5 quart Dutch oven. Remove the chicken and sauté the onion in the same pan until it begins to caramelize.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Return the chicken to the pan and add the rest of the ingredients. 
Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 40 to 45 minutes until the meat easily pulls away from the bone, turning the thighs from time to time.  Uncover and remove the chicken.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes to thicken the sauce.  Adjust the seasoning if necessary by adding additional salt or pepper. Place the chicken on a serving dish and cover with the sauce.  Or return the chicken to the Dutch oven and use it for the serving dish. Serves 8

Instead of finishing the cooking time on top of the oven, cover and place in a 350° oven.  If you cannot find dried figs, simply use dried apricots.

Recipe reprinted from The Food and Feasts of Jesus, Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012), 90. 

Douglas E. Neel is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Colorado, serving St. Patrick Episcopal Church in the mountain resort community of Pagosa Springs. He owned a catering company in Dallas specializing in first-century culinary experiences and continues to lecture and teach classes on ancient food and feasts. In his free time, he makes his own bread, cheese, beer, and wine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Faith on Aisle Five

By Christi Humphrey ‘08

Someone said to me recently that it takes as many years as you were in seminary to reestablish yourself once you have graduated. I don’t know if this is always true, but I do know that it has taken me several years to adjust to life outside seminary. My husband, son, and I sold our home and moved to the Episcopal Divinity School campus for the three years I was a student. After graduating, we rented a home in Watertown, Mass., while I attended a program at the Center for Religious Development, where I earned a Certificate in Spiritual Direction.
For those four years, living my faith seemed fairly straightforward. I was surrounded by other Christians. I studied prayer, scripture, and ministry. Community worship was offered daily a few steps away from my home. After graduating, my first ministry position was as a part-time minister of spiritual care for two Episcopal parishes an hour away from home. Living my faith continued to be an extension of the work I did.
There was time in my day for prayerful silence, sacred reading, and contemplation.
In October 2011, three years after graduating from EDS and needing the financial support of full-time employment, I left ministry in the Church to become an assistant store manager for an off-price retail chain. Living my faith suddenly took on a whole new meaning. No longer was I cocooned with people who practiced the same religion I did. Even harder to adjust to was the fact that religion, God, and spirituality were not politically correct topics for discussion in the lunchroom. I was used to speaking about faith and God’s presence in the world openly, but working in a secular environment, I found I had to find new ways to express myself. I seemed to move at a totally different pace than was the custom in the retail world. My fellow managers rarely took breaks or stopped for lunch. They regularly worked overtime. They spoke infrequently about their lives outside of work, and did not engage hourly store associates in conversation about topics other than work. With the increase in my work hours, 40-55 hours a week instead of 20-30, it became harder and harder to find time, to make time, for prayer, spiritual reading, and meditation. Instead of slowing down to appreciate the season of Advent, being in retail meant working six days a week, including most Sundays.
Working in the secular world, I struggled to maintain spiritual practices. I thought that living my faith meant creating a space to be in relationship with God apart from my work. It was hard to find God in the ever changing store environment, where the atmosphere was one of competition and not contemplation. My struggle led to a reexamination of what it meant to live my faith daily. I decided I needed to find ways to see God in the work I was doing and the people that I came in contact with. Three simple practices helped me do that.
The first thing I did was buy a plant for my desk. Luckily, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the back office. It was a sealed-off box of a room with no windows, white walls, and no decorations, but the living plant connected me to the natural world and helped me remember God’s created world outside that room.
The next thing I began to do was to say a prayer each time I was called to the front of the store to help an associate, to greet a customer, to meet the armored car driver, to help move a piece of furniture. I prayed that I would find Christ in the one I met and also bring Christ to them. I adopted this practice after reading about a Jesuit who greeted people daily at a monastery for 60 years. When asked how he was able to do this for so many years, he responded, “I sought Christ in each person I met.”
Finally, I began to pray regularly for the work I was doing and the people I worked with. Even though it wasn’t as easy for me to find God in the hustle and bustle of merchandising, I tried to pray each day as I drove to work and prepared myself for what the day would bring. This was something I did when I worked with congregations, but for some reason it took me a while to begin this practice in the secular world. My spiritual reading at the time included Joan Chittister’s The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages. A portion of The Rule discusses daily manual labor. Chittister states, “The function of the spiritual life is not to escape into the next world; it is to live well in this one … Work and prayer are opposite sides of the great coin of a life that is both holy and useful, immersed in God and dedicated to the transcendent in the human. It is labor’s transfiguration of the commonplace, the transformation of the ordinary that makes co-creators of us all.”
My experience working in retailing for a year helped strengthen my faith. It helped me see that there is no need to separate living my faith from my work. In fact, what God calls us to do is to live every part of each day in God’s presence. God waits patiently to be invited in, to be recognized in the ordinary routines of each day.
What has been your experience of living your faith day-to-day? What ways have you found to “transform the ordinary” to experience the presence of the divine? This article is posted on the EDS blog so you can share your own experiences.
May our hearts and minds be open to God’s invitation to find the divine in the everyday, and may God guide us to express the hope we know through faith in our work.

Christi Humphrey ’08 is the Director of Alumni/ae and Constituent Engagement at Episcopal Divinity School.