The Food and Wine of the Empire


I started reading the Book of Daniel today and found that there’s actually a great Commentary on it in the New Interpreter’s Bible series by a Quaker named Daniel Smith-Christopher. He says that Daniel is one of the most unusual, and one of the most dangerous, books in the Hebrew Bible!

Unusual because part of it is written in Hebrew and part of it in Greek and because the first half is collection of court stories, con-text stories and con-flict stories while the second half comprises the most important example of apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament. But the book is dangerous because it can contribute to social unrest, and even perhaps to revolution!

The book begins with what Smith-Christopher calls “the cuisine of resistance” (what a great phrase!) as Daniel refuses to eat “the king’s food and wine” and instead chooses to remain faithful to the dietary laws of his people. It’s an example of the kind of non-violent resistance many oppressed people have chosen to keep their dignity even in the midst of their captivity.

But it’s also a reminder that our faith often calls us to active non-conformity with the world. And perhaps we all need to ask ourselves what aspects of “the king’s food and wine” we Christians ought to resist for the sake of the Gospel. For the writer of Daniel, food was just a symbol of the resistance he thought we were called to show toward total domination and assimilation by the culture of the day!

Are we not also called to a life of resistance to the enticements of financial power and control over the destiny of other people? Are we not called to question the control powerful nations like our own exert over the developing world? What is the food and wine that the modern-day Empire is offering us?

So much of the advertising and marketing we have been seeing over these last days of “black Friday’ and the beginning the Christmas shopping season is geared toward changing our habits and convincing us that luxuries are really necessities that “we can’t live without!” And the tragic thing is that, so many times, those luxuries are disguised as necessities – things we need, rather than just things we want!

I wonder if this season is not the appropriate time for North American Christians like us to begin asking serious questions about our habits of consumption. Not only whether what we are buying is too much, but also whether it’s consumption that supports a living wage or a consumption that fosters a safe environment for workers.

John Woolman, that great itinerant preacher of the 18th century, refused to wear clothing that was either dyed or made by means of the slave trade. Perhaps we 21st century Christians need to think about no longer defiling ourselves with “the king’s food and wine.” And instead, like Daniel, begin standing with those exiled people the Empire continues to control!  




7 Responses to “The Food and Wine of the Empire”

  1. rwk Says:

    Reformed theologian BB Warfield used to make it a point of smoking and drinking alcohol when the revivalist preachers came to town. He did not particularly enjoy either. He felt it was necessary to demonstrate that their moralism was not required for salvation. It’s a tangential but relevant point.

    If we are to be counter-cultural, how is that to manifest itself? I’m a little skittish about picking a topic since our current problems make practically every topic a minefield. Balance that with Paul’s charge “to be all things to all men” for the sake of the Gospel. I think we should always step back and see whether we are changing the culture or the culture is changing us. Salt and light..

  2. Celinda Scott Says:

    One of our sons rented _Sicko_ for us all to watch
    Thanksgiving weekend. As we sat around our
    comfortable fire watching it Saturday night,
    there was lots to criticize in the way Michael
    Moore got his points across. But two of his three
    recommendations at the end of the film–that
    the US should follow the examples of
    other democracies in the matters of universal health
    care, and day care for working parents–did seem
    like something we as a nation ought to be able to
    do. Moore’s footage of government objections
    to many health programs starting in the early 1970s–
    largely based on fear of national capitulation
    to communism or socialism, and influenced
    by pressure by lobbyists with vested interests —
    was persuasive in the implication that the objections were
    crippling, false, and unjust.

    I don’t think religious organizations should take
    formal political stands on this type of issue–it’s
    not the same as John Woolman’s witness to his
    fellow Quakers on the evils of slavery, which he
    did as an individual. Eventually, he persuaded
    enough Quaker groups of the rightness of his
    position for them to say–as a whole denomination–
    that no one who owned a slave could be a Quaker
    in good standing.

    However, my personal take on fear of socialism
    as an argument against what seems to me to
    be a proper role of democratic government–
    universal health care and day care–is a form
    of the “wine and food of the Empire” that we
    should refuse. Fear keeps people from thinking
    and acting when it becomes the “wine and food of the Empire.”
    The last screen of the film has a quotation from
    Alexis de Tocqueville on America–that one of our
    strengths was that it could learn from
    its mistakes. He saw us doing that as a young country
    in the 1830s, and it’s important for us to do that now.

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