December 4, 2018
Last week, I was sent looking for a passage in C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that I hadn’t read in years, even in decades. Now, it doesn’t take much to spur me to think of Lewis or to quote him. My friends know this. My family knows this. And so do the members of the congregation where I teach and preach. But on this occasion it wasn’t a church setting that triggered my search, and the topic wasn’t faith, or God, or Jesus.
The topic was food. Let me read what Lewis said, and then tell you where I was. Lewis wrote, “there is nothing wrong with enjoying your food” and then went on to add, however, “there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at picture of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.”
That passage was spoken first in a series of BBC radio talks between 1941 and 1944, which were then joined together to form the book, Mere Christianity published in 1952. Lewis was not writing about the starved, hungry half of the world, but about the well-fed half of the world, the part I live in. My, how times have changed in the last sixty or seventy years! In 2018, I can’t say that half the world is focused on food, looking at pictures of food, with dribbling and smacking lips. What I can say is that half of the commercials I saw on television one morning last week, a television on the wall at my health club, at least half of them were of food, and food presented in a way to inflame my desire for this or that, presented to make me salivate, and to phone home and say, “I have a hankering for steak tonight, so we’re going out tonight for dinner, and I know just the place.”
We live in a host culture that shapes us, sometime for good, and sometimes for ill. It’s a mark of maturity—irrespective of one’s religion—to know that powerful forces seek to create a fever in us for things that we should know are not really needs, but manufactured wants that we come to label as needs. Excessive desire, unbridled appetites for food and other things can be our undoing. It was an irony, of course, for me, last week, to be pedaling away on an exercycle, one that displays “Calories Used” while contemplating Calories to Come with my evening meal.
That’s why I remembered the gist of something else that Lewis wrote, something like this: “Without God’s controlling hand over our loves, without God tending the garden of our desires by weeding and pruning, we become a mess.” I’ll go, once again, on a search for the exact words. But in the meantime, I pray for myself and others that we can remember that we need to be vigilant over all of our appetites, not just our longing for food, but all of our desires, and make use of the wisdom and strength God supplies as a power beyond the powers that tempt us.