I was talking to a friend recently who was advocating the benefits of those meal boxes you can now have delivered to your house with all the ingredients for a particular meal inside and with the recipe and cooking instructions for that said meal. It sounds so convenient doesn’t it. Rather than have to think about what to cook for the evening meal you pull a box out of the fridge or the freezer and simply follow the instructions to provide a healthy and nutritious meal. All the good stuff and none of the hassle!
What a great idea was my initial reaction … no more hassle over what to eat, no more food that doesn’t taste great because you don’t know how to cook it .. you simply follow the recipe in the box … no more wasted hours wandering around the supermarket scratching our heads about food for a balanced meal and no left overs at the back of the fridge with things that never got used … the idea works on so many levels … but then digging a little deeper in my brain in the following days, I began to wonder why this phenomenon had come about and it led me to question the brilliance of the idea.
Convenience … this is at the heart of this trend .. and perhaps at the heart of much of modern life .. we want the best bits … the nutrition and the great taste .. without the hassle!!
But ask yourself what is this hassle we are trying to avoid?? No more supermarket shopping or visiting the butchers or green grocers .. but in turn no relationship with the shopkeepers and conversation about the weather (or more importantly about how our family is and how our health is) .. no bumping into our neighbours or friends in the freezer aisle for a quick catch up (and finding out about the problems they have been having since being made redundant).. no more human contact in the queue as we peer into one another’s trolleys to see what they are having for tea (perhaps the only conversation that person might have that day who knows ).. and as a result a society which is suffering with the great pains of loneliness and isolation .. not so convenient!
We have conveniently taken away the time needed to think about and plan our meals and to choose and prepare food… but for what have we saved that time?? To work more hours?? To sit in traffic as the delivery vans clog up our towns and villages taking our convenience food to our doors. And we complain about a society where children come home to empty houses and couples have little energy left for a conversation over dinner because of the hours spent on the train or in the office. Where the elderly don’t see their young neighbours because they get home from work after dark. Not much of a saving after all if our box of food simply means we save time to do things we don’t really want to do and to be places we really don’t want to be as a result of convenience.
In this Harvest season perhaps we need to think a bit more, to work a little harder to see the importance of hassle in our lives .. to understand that convenience always comes at a cost. In reality to receive a box of prepared and packaged food isolates that food from the whole process of food production and in doing so disconnects us from feeling integrated and interdependent in our world.
I read recently the following statement.. a degraded environment leads to degraded humans .. and a fragmentation of time leads to the fragmentation of the soul ..
You see it seems it is possible to no longer think about the miracle of growing a cabbage or a carrot .. the efforts that go into producing the perfectly formed vegetables we now insist on …we take the end product out of the whole process and diminish it by doing so … how many of the people who open their meal box in the warmth of their fitted kitchen are connected with the hours of planting and harvesting in the sun, wind and rain that have gone into their meal that night??
In our Gospel reading Jesus said to the crowds your focus is all wrong … you are following me in the hope that you will be fed with loaves as you were by the miracle on the mountainside .. you want the convenience of having your hungers and needs met without the work this involves. But he tells them you will never be truly satisfied with this food that spoils. True satisfaction comes from an eternal food which is found within the hassle of human life and not apart from it. The true and living bread of eternal life is found not as an end product but in the process of following Christ.
You see we cannot bypass the hassle of life … whether the life of faith or day to day life .. without missing something. I would put it this way as an illustration. You cannot simply turn up to church at Christmas and Easter and expect to be connected with the message and the people in the same way as if you have attended every Sunday throughout the year. It is like wanting the convenience of the food box and missing out when we remove the hassle. In the hassle of getting up and going to church each week we find the same connections as in the trip to the shops or the creativity of planning a meal from what is in the cupboard.
It is in the hassle of life that we meet Christ and are satisfied with the eternal bread of life which is found in love for one another, in the learning to share and be generous, in the process of becoming more patient and kind. You cannot take away the process without losing something.
Let us not seek a religion of convenience. Let us not follow Christ in the hope it will take away the hassle of life. Let us not come on our own terms and with or own agenda into which God must fit in. Let us as God’s people challenge modern life and choose to be connected, to take time, and to embrace inconvenience if it leads to lives which are ultimately satisfied with eternal and life giving work .. the work of trusting and believing in Jesus and His message.