Wednesday, March 26, 2014

It's Okay to Eat the Alligator

Dear Friends,

The headline said: U.S. CATHOLICS FREE TO EAT ALLIGATOR THIS LENT and I immediately thought of Sandi. My brother had been dating her for a little while and we invited them both to dinner. We wanted to get to know her, but perhaps more importantly, we wanted Sandi to see what an awesome family her new boyfriend had.

And I was excited. I had gone to a butcher’s shop to buy some steaks to barbeque and was pleased to find they had some fresh alligator meat. I'd never seen that in a store before, and wanting to make a good impression on our dinner guests, I bought four pounds. We thought how much fun it would be if we didn’t tell them what it was until after dinner!

It was delicious grilled. It had the firmness of grilled swordfish and a delicate taste. I made a light cream sauce with a Cognac reduction and a hint of capers that added nicely to the gourmet ‘gator. Sandi loved it and so I proudly told her what it was.

She said nothing. Actually, I don't seem to remember her speaking at all the rest of the evening. In fact, for many years after that gourmet dinner at our house, she avoided my brother’s awesome family and refused to speak with us. We later found out that soon after the dinner with us, she decided to become a vegan. Thankfully, twenty-five years later, she and my brother are still good friends.

The article on Lent posted a few weeks ago in the CATHOLIC HERALD said that a debate had raged on about the appropriateness of eating alligator for Lent when Catholic doctrine requires a fast from meat on the Lent Fridays. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the statement that "Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from birds, chickens, cows, goats, sheep or pigs.” But, “salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.” So it's okay for Catholics to consume alligators, frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards and tortoises during Lent. 

Our good news is that, as Protestants, we are not bound by Catholic Abstinence Laws and we can eat meat and alligators and lizards all year long! I'm excited about this because in December when you come to my house for our annual Christmas dinner, I can't wait to try out the new Jambalaya recipe I'm developing. Of course most of you will probably say that it tastes just like chicken...

I share this appetizing story to show how we can all so easily confuse our faith with our religious practices. We can so easily make it about the right way to perform a ritual when our righteousness is found in Christ Jesus alone. That’s why during this Lenten season, our sole focus needs to be on our Heavenly Father. Nitpicking details of what and how to appropriately participate in Lent are no more helpful to our spirituality than the rabbinic laws of the orthodox Jews would be. In fact, you’ll remember there was a guy born 2000 years ago who, among other accomplishments with His birth, life and resurrection, has freed us from religious and dietary laws.

If we give up something for Lent and that fast doesn’t bring us closer to God, then we’ve simply engaged in a legalistic exercise of spiritual futility. We take great pride in giving up chocolate and cookies while we continue in our consistent and unrepentant sins of gossip, negativity, judgmental condemnation of others, anger, unforgiveness and (INSERT YOUR SIN HERE: __________________) that creates distance between us and God.

Giving up meat for Lent may help your cholesterol by reducing saturated fats in your diet but merely fasting on foods won’t help an impoverished soul. If you long for more God in your life, take some prayer time and ask Him to show you the sin that most interferes with your spiritual life. Then test it. Temporarily give it up for the next four weeks to see if doing so brings you closer to God. Then when Lent is over, on Easter Sunday, you can make the choice to take back the sin and please the devil. Or permanently delete it from your life and please your Heavenly Father. Amen?

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