Vanilla Ketchup And Understanding the Bible

In 1999 a little study was conducted in Germany using ketchup. The Germans who were formula fed as an infant, preferred ketchup that was scented with vanilla than the Germans who were breast fed as infants. Those who preferred the vanilla scented ketchup did not make the connection that how they were fed as infants influenced their later in life ketchup preference later in life. (Citation). It is a silly little example of something that we all know - what foods you like and dislike are influenced by your experiences. 

We accept this about our tastes in food as well as of other things that are even more silly. For instance, expecting parents will not give their baby the same name of someone they know and think is a jerk. There was no way our boys were going to be named Ryan or Eric for this exact reason. We all know that there is nothing wrong with those names but our experiences, even irrationally, affect our decisions. 

The same is true for understanding the Bible. We want to think that we can objectively read and understand the Bible. We want to think that we "just looking at the scriptures" when we try to understand them. We want to think that we can read the Bible in isolation of our experiences. Additionally, we tend to think that others are more prone to allow experiences/culture to influence their interpretation of the Bible than we are. 

I think vanilla scented ketchup sounds disgusting, I am not sure that I want to call it real ketchup.  However, many others believe ketchup without vanilla scent is incomplete ketchup. Both sides are unaware of how their infant diet affects their understanding of orthodox ketchup.

Maybe our understanding of what is orthodox is less influenced by a rational and objective set of decisions, and more about experiences we never would imagine would matter.

“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

Clearly Cranmer was among the happiest of the reformers...

Clearly Cranmer was among the happiest of the reformers...

Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Henry the VIII's reign. He saw a lot of craziness from the king of his time but he also saw a lot of craziness from the schism in the Church that has come to be called the "Reformation." 

Ever a student of his surroundings, Cranmer noted something about the human condition that recent Psychology and Behavioral Economics has come to ratify: “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

As products of the "enlightenment" we like to think that we make rational decisions and that our decisions are guided by reason and understanding the facts of the matter. We hang our hat on the idea that if we could just get the other side to see the facts and use their reason, they too would see as we see. If only liberals could see the silliness of their desire for a greater national government! If only conservatives could see the irrationality of their position!

Cranmer understood that our mind is not doing the choosing. It is our heart and our gut. We use our mind to only justify our already desired choice. Much of our desire to "learn the issues" is the work to discover the "flaw" in the others position and to reinforce our previously held position. Open your heart and you will see where your decisions will take you. Perhaps more importantly, look at the heart of another and see that they too are just like you, just trying to choose and justify the longing of their heart.

Go easy on one another. 


Easter Echos Genesis? Sure. But, Don't Overlook Exodus Echos.

It is a common (and frankly very good) on Easter Sunday to explore the echos of a new creation being born with the raising of Jesus Christ (here is a great sermon by my co-pastor on this very idea. Here is another sermon by a friend on this idea). The Gospel of John has many callbacks to the book of Genesis found in the Resurrection story. Here are a few of the more obvious: 

  • It was the first day of the week (in the beginning)
  • It was still dark (the light had not come yet)
  • Jesus and Mary (man and woman) are in a garden
  • Jesus is seen as a gardener (God as creator)

All of this, and much more in the story, points to the resurrection of Jesus marking the beginning of a new creation. If we are in a place where we long for a fresh start, a new beginning and a rebirth or renewal, then Easter as a new creation is Good News. 

I would take a moment to point out that Genesis is not the only book that the Resurrection story in the Gospel of John echos. Looking at the same story, but through the eyes of Exodus, we can see Easter as a new liberation. Here are some (possible) overt connections:

  • The whole story begins with the Passover feast (perhaps the most obvious connection)
  • At the tomb, there are two angels, one at the head and one at the foot, of where Jesus was laid (similar to the arc of the covenant with two angels forming the seat of God)
  • People bow down to enter the tomb (the High Priest would bow prior to entering the Holy of Holies)
  • There was a thick curtain that marked off the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary space (not unlike a tome with a rock placed in front of it)

Of course there are the other connections of Jesus to Moses in other parts of the Gospel, but none more world changing than the connection that, like Moses, Jesus liberates us. While the story of Moses highlights the liberation from slavery, the story of Jesus highlights the liberation from slavery to sin and death.

Yes, the echos of Genesis are present and strong in the Easter story, but don't overlook the Exodus echos. Don't overlook the Good News that God is not only doing a "new thing" but is also working to liberate us from the "old thing". It is very difficult to live in the new when we hold onto the old (thus Jesus tells Mary not to hold onto him in the Easter story). 

What Great Preachers Do

Great preachers not only tie together the head and the heart, but they also do two additional things that vault them to greatness. Most preachers have glimpses of Great, but very few can sustain Greatness for longer than a sermon or two. Great preaching is not elusive but Great preachers take the time to develop skills in two areas.

First, Great preachers do not give sermons -- they deliver them. The preacher who is giving a sermon is one who is prepared and well-spoken. The preacher who gives a sermon is one who even thinks about what the congregation needs to hear while prayerfully attuning to the work of the Holy Spirit. The difference in giving a sermon and delivering a sermon is all in how the preacher understands the sermon. Ask anyone who has ever delivered a baby into the world -- the baby is a living thing that has its own movements and actions that are outside the control of anyone else. Anyone who gives a sermon does not understand the sermon is alive and has breath. Delivering a sermon is being keenly aware and flexible enough to move with the sermon as it develops in the moment.

One of the most commonly known Great preachers was Martin Luther King. King knew that he was not giving a sermon but delivering one, which explains why he changed course in the sermon after hearing the voice of Mahalia Jackson shout out, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" At that point, King's famous sermon began to live in the hearts of all who have heard it. It may be semantics, but there is a very real difference in delivering and giving a sermon, Great preachers know that.

The second thing that Great preachers do (that most of us do not take the time to develop) is something that every stand up comic or author has to have in order to "make it": a well-developed point-of-view (POV). Legendary comic Lenny Bruce had the "how far can we push the First Amendment" POV. The not-as-legendary-but still-okay comic Jeff Foxworthy has the "redneck" point of view. While the greatness of Maria Bamford has the "neurotic eccentric" POV down pat. 

Great preachers have a POV: Barbara Brown Taylor has the "sacred in the ordinary" POV. Adam Hamilton has the "speaking to new and nominal Christian group" POV. Fred Craddock has the "story-telling" POV, while MLK Jr. had the POV of "racial and economic justice." 

Being able to unite the head and the heart, and deliver sermons from a clear and consistent POV, is what moves good preachers into becoming great preachers.