There is a phenomenon sweeping restaurants, barbeques, and office cubicles around the world where folks snap photos of the picturesque food they’ve ordered and then post on Instagram or Facebook.
While we can’t seem to get enough of documenting and communicating our experiences with food in its “finest light,” I would suggest that our favorite favorite stories about “dining out”, especially when on the road, involve mealtimes that didn’t go so well. Nothing we’d probably want to instantly post!
But they’re food stories we do love to regale long after the trip is done. At least that’s the case in our family. For example, there's the time my little sister, because she was feeling particularly antsy and ornery after traveling in the car for an endless number of hours, wrote “crummy food” (even though the food was just fine) in the “comments” section of the guest book at a diner in Kentucky. There's the time when, after endless hours in the car, the service was really bad at a coffee shop in Wyoming and my dad, especially irritated, went up to a waitress and snarkily asked, “Is this place self-serve?”
Then there’s the time when we were camping in Maine. We’d bought several live lobsters and were planning to boil them. I wanted to pick one up like my dad and brother were doing, but my dad said no, I’d just drop it. This made me angry and whiney, and finally my dad broke down and said okay. As soon as I tried to lift one up it fell out of my hand and scurried in the forest never to be seen again. Of course this made my dad particularly mad. But good for that lobster! Especially because my mom then inadvertently didn’t get the “boiling water” quite hot enough. When the rest of the live lobsters were dropped into the pot, they were subjected to a long, painful demise. I believe I even heard some crustacean screams (although this may be my imagination choosing to add retaliative ornamentation).
Yes, our family regularly remembers the “bad” times – how shameful we could become – when eating and drinking on the road. But we don't recount we can now endlessly wallow in guilt. Rather, these memories are a source of great amusement as we laugh at our foolishness, naïvety, impatience and boorish behavior that at least didn’t land us in jail. From this “post-event” vantage point we get to joyfully celebrate the fact that somehow we made it, and together.
I would suggest that this is the way the “provision” stories of the Exodus are/were meant to be remembered…and enjoyed.
Just about everything scripture says about the Israelites' experience of being fed and watered while making the liberation journey across the wilderness into the Promised Land is presented in the negative. Everyone – maybe even God – was screwing up left and right: foolish, naïve, impatient and even boorish.
For example, we’re told at the start of Exodus 16 that God’s people are journeying and hungry, moaning that at least they had had plenty to eat in back in the “good old days” of slavery in Egypt (even if they'd had to spend backbreaking day after backbreaking day making bricks of but mud and water – a nightmarish task that, as described here, is horrible to the point of being ridiculous). God decides He will respond with a "test": showering from heaven each day enough manna and quail - perfectly enough - for each Chosen Person. Perhaps God thought this was a most-nifty way to get the people to turn their trust from Pharaoh to the great “I Am.” But He is sadly (and maybe even naïvly?) mistaken. We're told the people are always gathering either more or less than they need; creating rot and stink in the encampment as the extra, improperly-divided manna withers in the sun; seeking provision on the Sabbath (even though twice as much is always provided the day before), and, in Numbers 11:6, complaining that manna is unbearably boring. (Manna, I guess, is the original meatloaf.) And, we're then told, this makes God endlessly mad and ever madder....
God could have provided for the people in a different, less challenging way, showering upon them every fleshpot they could possibly desire and right off the bat so they'd be easily free from worry while on the road; God in this way would have never have had to endure their button-pushing complaints. Sure, in the end, such an approach would have proved less helpful in training trust. Plus it would not have taught the true nature of provision.
In the biblical Exodus, lessons around food are learned the hard way on the part of the people and God. There’s really nothing here that anyone (even God) would put on their Top 10 list of noble moments. Just a lot of arguing, bitterness and exasperation. Oh, if only things had gone the way they should, i.e. picture perfectly!
But, from the comic lens, it's the mess that actually makes the Exodus surprisingly helpful - and fun - to retell now, post-event. Somehow, despite everything, everyone (God included) got through it, and together!
The Voigtses still joyfully giggle when we go to a restaurant, wondering aloud if we’ll be served “crummy food” or if this place will prove to be “self-serve.” We bypass the lobster if it’s on the menu (or at least pause for a moment in memoriam), with an embarrassed, sheepish smile. In these loopy moments we once again become strangely and suddenly grateful to be family, and always.
I wonder if this is also the spirit in which Jesus invited his followers to pray God give them their daily bread. With a twinkle, a sigh, and, ultimately a life-giving titter.…