Thursday, September 1, 2011

How I Stopped Being a Food Snob and Learned to Embrace The Message

Have you ever just craved nourishment?  How do you get it physically, emotionally, spiritually?  Because I have these questions and I want answers, I've asked a series of people to come in and share how they find nourishment.  Will you come along for the journey?  We will meet here every Thursday until the posts  run out.  Have something to share about nourishment?  Contact me and we will set a date!
Meet Nancy.  Can I tell you that somehow in the same post, she can crack me up and send me to my knees?  Her writing, while adding a humorous punch, always makes me stop and think awhile.  I love to digest her words.  And, I know you will, too...

'Steak with ovenroasted potatoes' photo (c) 2010, Robin - license: “Why would you settle for hamburger when you could have steak?”

I had asked a good friend his opinion of Eugene Peterson’s The Message, and received the above response. My time in Scripture seemed to have grown dry and stale. Others had recommended trying a new paraphrase or translation to keep God’s word fresh. I had grown up in a church, however, which considered any other version than The King James to be a per-version, so I was wary of trying something which seemed so conversational, casual, and hip. Sadly, some versions of Holy Scripture do seem to have an agenda; they twist God’s words to satisfy what itching ears long to hear, becoming the spiritual equivalent of junk food.

I grew up in the seventies, a decade I associate with the introduction of all sorts of unfortunate foods. Perhaps because of increasing industrialization and rapid advances in food packaging techniques, or maybe because of discoveries made during the space era, all sorts of foods were canned, packaged, and frozen which never should have been.

I grew up thinking fish sticks were seafood. I thought Dream Whip was real whipped cream, and Tater Tots and instant mashed potatoes were real potatoes. Somebody decided it would be a good idea to invent a gelatin dessert that separated into three layers, and sell peanut butter containing bacon bits. And don’t even get me started on Hamburger Helper. I grew up thinking I hated lasagna because the only kind I’d ever eaten came out of a Hamburger Helper box. And that four-fingered gloved icon on the packaging still kind of creeps me out. Maybe because I grew up as the daughter of a meat-cutter, and because I grew up eating such awful food, I like my theology the way I like my meat—rich, red, hearty, and rare. I prefer steak to hamburger.

Scripture, being the very word of God, is given to us as nourishment for our souls. Christ tells us that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4, ESV. If I want to live, and live well, I want to nourish my soul with food that comes from as close to the source as possible, having no artificial colors, sweeteners, additives or fillers. Give me the rich, red meat of God’s word as organic as possible.

Because I don’t read Greek, Hebrew, ancient Sanskrit or Aramaic, however, I need to use an English translation. I prefer the English Standard Version (ESV) because it claims to be an essentially literal translation. As an English-speaking Bible reader, The ESV seems as close as I can get to the Source. It’s my red meat.

And I can be kind of a theological food snob.

As much as I prefer good, hearty, red meat in my diet, there are times I’ve been so hungry I’ve settled for a drive-thru hamburger. At other times, I’ve been sick, weary, or weak, and have needed to limit my diet to bland foods and broth. In the final months of his life, my father received life-giving nourishment from a can. None of these foods is ideal, but they feed and sustain in crisis.

Several years ago, I was in crisis. I felt distant from God; broken, weak, and sick. Despite my friend’s cautionary words, I began reading from The Message. Eugene Peterson, a pastor, doesn’t presume to offer a literal translation of Holy Scripture. Instead he offers in print what he has offered to his congregations from the pulpit. In my soul sickness and weariness, I was grateful for pieces of living bread, broken off and handed to me in order to nourish my soul. I felt myself learning to chew again, being nourished by the old, old story I had learned to love so well.

The apostle Paul rebuked the church of Corinth, claiming they had lingered too long with milk when they should have moved on to solid food. It’s important for followers of Jesus to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s word, to move on from elementary teaching to rich, hearty, red meat.

But I am so thankful that when I am weary and sick, God continues to provide nourishment for my soul.

Taste and see that He is good: What you say goes, God, and stays, as permanent as the heavens. Your truth never goes out of fashion; it's as up-to-date as the earth when the sun comes up. Your Word and truth are dependable as ever; that's what you ordered—you set the earth going. If your revelation hadn't delighted me so, I would have given up when the hard times came. But I'll never forget the advice you gave me; you saved my life with those wise words. 
Psalm 119:89-92, The Message

Want to get to know Nancy even better?  Click here to bounce over to her blog, Out of My Alleged Mind, and subscribe to and/or follow her posts.


  1. Jen,
    So glad you featured Nancy here today with your series. She is a blogworld fave. One of those people you just know you would be friends with should your paths ever cross in real-life.

    I know people who look down on the Message, but I love the new life it brings to verses I've heard again and again. I enjoy reading it, and I can read page after page and not even realize how much I've consumed.

    As for the food, you are talking to a girl who grew up on pot pies, Banquet Fried Chicken, and that glorious box of Hamburger Helper. If it was in a box, we ate it!

    Thanks, ladies.

  2. Jen and Nancy, since English is not my first language I am so thankful for Bibles that put the scripture into words that I can understand (since my church world is Anglo, I tend to read my Bible in English. Isn't that odd? But anyway...). The KJV, while beautiful in writing, makes no sense to me :) I read from the New Living Translation, but like you, Nancy, I have found Eugene Peterson refreshing when I had wrestled with a passage I could not wrap my mind around and I'm thankful for my copy as well, even though my primary reading comes from the NLT.

  3. Food for thought:)
    Love and Blessings to you both.

  4. yes, yes, yes, yes, yes nancy. and look at you all over the place... i think i may wear a feather boa in your honor today.

  5. There is milk and meat. We need both. Thank God for providing what we have need of...but I still hate hamburger helper!!

  6. Good stuff, Nancy! I appreciate the Message and the New Living Translation, and have found them both very helpful in sharing the scriptures with people who have had no exposure to the Word, or believe the Bible to be dry and hard to understand.

  7. Amen! I, too, grew up using the King James Version of the Bible, and I still love it. My bank of Scripture memory is all in KJV. I use several different versions in study, and often find the RSV to be particularly helpful. But The Message is a treasure. Eugene Peterson is a wonderful man, one who has pastored and taught for many years. He does not claim that The Message is a literal translation, but Eugene is a scholar of Biblical languages, so The Message is no haphazard paraphrase. It's the Word presented by a pastor to those who are hungry for it. I've told my skeptical friends that reading The Message is almost like hearing a good sermon on a passage of Scripture!

    By the way, if you've never read any of Eugene's other books, you're missing a treasure trove. I particularly like The Jesus Way (just a few years old) and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

    Thanks so much for this lovely post!

  8. I love this because I relate to it so much. Only my biblical "junk food" is the New Living Translation. (I've never read The Message, but I will now!) Our church uses the ESV because our pastor and many others in our church were on the translation committee. (Yep, it's true.) I tried it for years, but finally, in a time of semi-crisis myself, I grabbed the NLT and loved it. I now just take it to church and read along while they read from the ESV. It feeds my soul in a much deeper way than the ESV does. (Sorry, Pastor!)

  9. The NLT is far from junk food - it's a great translation. As are many of those available to us in this day and age - what a gift that is. The NRSV, the TNIV (despite the unfortunate kerfaffle about choices that were perfectly legitmate) and...The Message. No, not a translation. But much like the J.B. Phillips paraphrase that came out of Britain in the middle 20th century, it is a refreshing, encouraging, often deeply moving way to did into the heart of scripture in language that sounds familiar and friendly and approachable. And Richella is RIGHT ON about Peterson's books - they are are all wonderful reading and often very helpful devotionally. His 5 volume magnum opus (of which The Jesus Way is one) is just magnificent. They've all been in the last half dozen years or so and are just so thoughtful and beautifully written. Hey Jen- maybe some posts on writing we've found to be nourishing....could be cool. I've got a list about a mile long!!

  10. Make that 'dig' into the heart of scripture - not 'did' into it. Sheesh. It ALWAYS pays to proof!

  11. Nancy, I love this analogy of being a food snob! I have learned that I so enjoy having many different translations available - though I use NIV as my primary source, I have found that oftentimes, NLT and The Message really help clarify as well. There are some verses I prefer in KJV, some in ASV, and some ESV. And now I feel like I have spoken in acronyms in this entire comment.

    Loved it - thanks for sharing!

    Natalie at Mommy on Fire

  12. I love Eugene Peterson and I am sure there are some wonderful insights embedded in The Message but it's not the same to me as reading the scripture. It's like reading someone's thoughts about the scripture--very much like hearing a good sermon on it. That's not a substitute for scripture itself. Call me a snob if you want.


Don't go yet! Leave me a note with your thoughts.