Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself. Anthony Bourdain
As usual, I have come very late to the party. I heard the news that Anthony Bourdain had died in a tragic suicide, and I saw everyone online praising him and mourning him. Then I saw that his show is on Netflix, so I started watching a few episodes. Then I started to binge watch. He was like the Steely Dan of food show hosts – smart, sophisticated, urbane, yet earthy, jaded while still interested and compassionate. Rock and roll AND jazz all at once. I love him and I mourn his passing as well.
I think one of the things he did that resonated with me was that he saw the power of meals to bring people together, and he ate with them without judgment. In fact he used meals with people as a weapon against judgment. When he shared a meal with right-wing gun nuts in Arizona and Iranians and the wealthy real estate developer buying up Jamaican beaches AND the poor Jamaicans left without a beach to visit, we could feel the scandal of his blessing. This is the same scandal Jesus enjoyed with his meals:
10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining [at the table] in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw [this,] they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard [this,] He said, “[It is] not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mat 9:10-13 NASB
So it is wonderful to see these wonderful and often humble meals in all these places with all of these beautiful people around the world being shared with a sophisticated east coast chef. Many times we are surprised and scandalized because he really shouldn’t eat that and he shouldn’t be eating with those people!
I think that perhaps the real tragedy for Mr. Bourdain is that as he travelled, he was always searching for the truly authentic experience in every place. And you begin to see that in every place, there is such a long history of hurt and war and injustice and pain. But worse, there is nothing that is truly authentic. We are all fakers and we put forward these personas to prove we are authentic, but we are not. He was certainly smart enough to see this, and gracious enough to count this posing as good enough. The delicious meal had to serve as the touchpoint of authenticity because people are not authentic. And I think he was able to see that he himself was not authentic. He would come through with his cameramen as the authenticity policeman and I think that he probably became overwhelmed with the fact that there is nowhere you can go in the world where people at their root are not just full of s***.
And this was the triumph of Jesus. He travelled around and ate with people. It is a powerful paradigm indeed. But He knew what was in people. He already knew what they were full of. He knew they were not authentic in the least. He knew that there is only One who is authentic, and that what people needed wasn’t an affirmation of their authenticity, but rather audacious mercy for their lack of authenticity. If we are Jesus’ hands and feet, then we are the ones who go around eating with sinners because there is no one else to eat with. And we share this intimacy, not because people are basically good or because they have repented or because they are getting better and better. All of that is a lot of inauthentic posturing. We eat together because we forgive each other, just as Christ forgave us. Meals are a direct visceral expression of forgiveness. And these meals have great pleasure and meaning because of the fellowship they forge. This is the way grace works its way into our lives.
So my takeaway is this: eat with people more. Enjoy meals with scalawags, because I am a scalawag. Jesus sups with me, the scalawag. The ultimate vision of heaven is that it is a marriage feast. The greatest sacrament is, after all, a meal that we share.
Bless you Anthony Bourdain, and may God have mercy on your soul.