Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Good Food is Not Enough

Celebrity chef, food writer, and CNN travel star Anthony Bourdain committed suicide Friday, June 9, 2018.  His death came as a complete shock--its suddenness as well as the manner by which it came.  Coupled with the suicide of celebrity handbag designer Kate Spade earlier the same week, Bourdain's death ignited a firestorm of discussion:  signs of depression and suicide, what to say in conversation or public speaking events, the morality of taking one's life, etc.

Then Dusty Gates posted this in Crisis magazine:  "Good Food is Not Enough."

A hard post--Gates doesn't shy away from some technical theological language, nor does he shy away from the reality that suicide is, at the bottom of it all, a failure.  So several people I know, and for anybody reading this, perhaps you and several people you know, won't like it.  I think that's fair.  Still, Gates makes some good points worth considering.  Gates:


Another reason that Mr. Bourdain didn’t appear to be a man struggling with depression or despair is that he seemed to be truly in touch with goodness, in several concrete ways. He appreciated good food, good drink, good music, good scenery, good friends. He appreciated good culture, and thought it worth preserving and celebrating. He seemed to have a friend in each location he visited, and he appeared to truly relish the opportunity to sit with them, eat together, and talk. Maybe it was all a show, and they were just actors following a script. But it sure didn’t seem that way. Though sarcastic and critical, Bourdain left the impression of a man who placed value on the good things that the world had to offer. He seemed to advocate time and money being well spent on good and enjoyable things. There is still a big step left to be taken, however, between experiencing good things and experiencing goodness itself, and a supernatural bridge is needed to span the gap.

And an instance that might prompt some to take a step back:

St. Augustine gives us insight into the delicate balance in which beauty must be held by the human mind. His own interior battle with carnality and his resulting distrustful, questioning disposition towards the senses allow Augustine to guide us through a detailed description of how experiences of natural beauty and sensible goodness work upon a person’s intellect and will. His Confessions present us with a nuanced discussion of how things like food, art, and music are interpreted, and how they can move us (either towards or away from God), or, in other cases, appear to do nothing at all. Augustine considers, for example, the different affect which beauty has on the one who merely sees, and the one who sees and inquires: “Beauty appears in the same way to both beholders,” says Augustine, “but to one it is dumb, and to the other it speaks. Or rather, it speaks to all, but only they understand who test the voice heard outwardly against the truth within.”
In a reflection on the potential for creation to participate in the sole divinity of God, Augustine relates to his reader a vision he had of himself encountering a host of created things, and inquiring of each of them whether or not they were the rightful recipients of his love: “They denied me: ‘We are not the God you seek.’ And to all things which stood around the portals of my flesh I said, ‘Tell me of my God. You are not he, but tell me something of him.’ Then they lifted up their mighty voices and cried, ‘He made us.’ My questioning was my attentive spirit, and their reply, their beauty.”

Personally, I think St. Augustine's helpful in precisely these sorts of situations.  It wasn't as if the Bishop of Hippo lived a soft, cushy life free of strains and anxieties.  St. Augustine wrote so much about sin because he had sinned quite a lot already.  He knew that of which he wrote.  Still, I know St. Augustine often turns people off.

Here's the turn in Gates' argument:

Anthony Bourdain’s death was a reminder that good food is not enough. Good atmosphere, good conversation, and good meals can take us a long way towards joy. But they are never substitutes for joy. Those things only give us true joy if they are accompanied, or, perhaps more accurately, preceded by a relationship with the Lord who gives us all these good things, and provides them with their significance. Our God ought not be our stomachs, as St. Paul reminds us, as does Dante in his description of the poor souls in his Inferno. Chaucer’s Pardoner goes so far as to claim that gluttony is the root of all other sins. Our food might help us to be joyful and can lead us towards the higher goods, but only if we recognize that it is food for the journey—a mysterious foretaste of milk and honey like that of the Israelites in the desert—and not an end in itself.



Read it all here.


Giddy

Recently my most active social media account has been Twitter.  Please follow me here.

Usually, I'll admit, it's a bunch of retweets and funny/Catholic stuff.  I tweet on the edges of "Catholic Twitter" and its subgroups "weird Catholic Twitter" and "Pierogi Twitter" (running afoul of this when I tweeted about Cornish pasties. I'll never make that mistake again!)

All of this to say:  I don't make a big splash on Twitter.

Until earlier today when I retweeted some from Princeton professor Robert George about religious freedom.  Then this happened:


WOOT WOOT!  That' right, folks.  He responded.  My heart is a-flutter.

He's also right.  Religious freedom is for everybody, and Christians should defend it for others as well as themselves.  The original tweet involved Muslims being banned from a public pool here in the United States.  This should not happen, ever, based on religion. Muslim, Sikh, Catholic, atheist, etc--everybody has the right to religious freedom.

That's one of the reasons why one of my favorite St. John Paul II quotes comes from Redemptoris Missio #39: "The Church proposes, she imposes nothing."  In my pre-convert days I scoffed at that very line, and now it's one of my most favorite Catholic things.  Funny what religious freedom can do...