Theology in the kitchen: Mixing up a batch

Cindy Lapp, pastor at Hyattsville Mennonite Church, leads singing at All You Need is Love, February 20 - 22 in Leesburg, Va.
Cindy Lapp, pastor at Hyattsville Mennonite Church, leads singing at All You Need is Love, February 20 – 22 in Leesburg, Va.

By Cindy Lapp
with inspiration from Malinda Berry’s workshop at All You Need is Love, February 2014

The theological chef is attentive to how she prepares a meal for those whom she cares about, for those with whom she lives and works. Many instructions recommend starting with a base of Augustine and Aquinas, adding generous amounts of Luther or Calvin. The more adventurous may even add some Pilgrim Marpeck. For contemporary or even cultural relevance throw in generous amounts of Paul Tillich or John Howard Yoder. (It must be noted that not everyone appreciates these flavors. Some find them bitter or bland.)

This traditional recipe for theology becomes a comfort food. It helps many people remember their ancestors and their roots.  It’s a meal that is theologically filling and nourishing especially for those who find their identity bolstered by the rich and marbled flesh that is a staple of these recipes.

It must be said that many twenty-first century producers and consumers of theology find these traditional recipes too heavy. A steady diet  can make one feel overly full and gassy.  In addition, some people question the close quarters in which traditional theology is produced. Is it really healthy for theology to be produced in ivory towers with no free range areas? What is it that these tower theologians feed upon in order to produce their recipes?

There is a growing group of twenty-first century theologians that increasingly prefer to cook with locally grown items, using less meat for flavor and more herbs and spices from around the world. Some even pledge to cook only alongside creatures, not consume them. These theologians find that creating their recipes from local ingredients grown in their own neighborhoods and local farms give the theological dishes an intense flavor that is not possible when using typical ingredients off the grocery store shelf.

What are we to make of these theologians who refuse to conform to the recipe books, who create their own recipes adjusting as they go, tinkering with flavors and textures depending on what is in season, dependent upon what they find on their pantry shelf? What are we to make of these theologians creating at home rather than with industrial ovens and over-sized garbage disposals? What is to be said of theologians who invite anyone into their kitchens to help stir the pot, even those not adequately trained in reading recipes or making broth?

How can we take these kitchen table theologians seriously if they do not record their knowledge in a cookbook? If they do not codify and systematize their recipes for moral action and correct interpretation? How can we be expected to respect their work if they do not perfect the flavors so they intensify with age and preservation? What good is a recipe if it is not reproducible and predictable in all climates, altitudes and eras?

The kitchen table theologian would answer that climate, altitude and context have everything to do with the recipe. One expects to pay attention to the weather when one is cooking, adding less water on a humid day, more pepper in the winter, more garlic during cold season, an extra pinch of salt in the bland times. If one does not notice the altitude, the valleys in which one lives, the mountains upon which one resides, how can one expect to have a recipe that nourishes, fills and satisfies?

The work of a theological chef is not be taken lightly, neither is it to be done alone. Theology and cooking are both enhanced by sharing the work of chopping, slicing, stirring, seasoning  and tasting. A recipe created by a  group does not mean there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Instead we learn to know the preferences and gifts of others, even as we feed and nurture them. Theology has never been so nourishing.