"we want more meat…"

So far, we’ve covered “But God says…” and “I’m not like those people” over the past few weeks (I’m moving slow; it’s been nutty around here this fall). Today is the last one in this series, at least for now, and is a phrase that I have heard for at least 20 years now (and have said many times myself way back when)–I really want more meat.” I wrote about it a long time ago in a posted called Meat Lovers Beware! Our Taste Buds Have Been Contaminated (that title just makes me laugh).

And no, I’m not talking about the meat you eat with salad and potatoes.

I’m talking about “spiritual meat”, based on the passages from Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:3 and 1 Corinthians 3:2. This post is not at all about picking apart any passages.

It’s about what we’ve done with them in a broad, cultural sense and what we think counts as “meaty.” 

I remember over 20 years ago I said these exact words to my women’s group: “I really want more meat.” In fact, I considered leaving the group because it wasn’t “grounded in the Bible enough.” (I do realize I am using a lot of quotations marks and parenthesis in this post so far). In that group we were touching on something far deeper than “studying the Bible” that was deeply transforming me and I was scared to death of the vulnerability. In order to feel like it was valuable and “spiritual enough” and, honestly, easier and less uncomfortable, I needed more “Bible”–aka “meat.”

Oh goodness gracious, how much has changed in me over the years!

I think one of the reasons this phrase bugs me so much is it is built upon a false pretense of what “meat” is.

In the ways I’ve heard it used, people seem to mainly mean:

  1. “Bible knowledge” – As in scripture verses and telling us exactly what they are supposed to mean. The more the better. A little bit of Hebrew or Greek translation adds the perfect spice.
  1. “Teaching” – Teachers telling in a very specific clear way so that we feel like we got a “lesson”, something motivating and from some kind of authority figure.
  1. “Certainty” – “This is the truth and we are 100% certain that’s what this means and on top of that we are certain this is what you are supposed to do or believe or think with this knowledge, too.” (Can you tell how much I love certainty?)
  1. and the last one, “just a touch of shame” – Some kind of moment that gets created when you think “now I’ll try harder….I need to be more godly…I am convicted and now this week I will get rid of that sin for good.”

So many people love these things, and I really do think they keep a lot of systems spinning around–grinding out insulated, inspiration-king-addicted Christians who are separated from so many real needs in the world.

When I look at these four things, I don’t see them as Jesus’ top priority. In fact, in all of his ramblings to the religious elite, he told them that their spiritual “knowledge” was a hindrance. I think a lot of these things are actually “milk.”

Jesus’ call to us was to be transformed through relationship and to practice the way of self-sacrifice, generosity of spirit, humility, and love. And this always seems to come by breaking down all kinds of walls that divide the healthy & the sick, the weak & the strong, the poor & the rich, the religious & the nonreligious.  He knew this would change us, change the world.

But here’s the rub.

It will be much harder than stuffing our bellies with spiritual food.

It will cost us much more.

It will require our hearts and hands and feet, not just our heads.

In all my weird and disorienting faith shifting, I do still deeply value the Bible. Scripture can be incredibly challenging and transforming. But I also believe we have missed that true spiritual maturity is not knowledge but a life of serving others in tangible ways, humbling ourselves to the lowest place, giving up our comfort, money, time, pride for the sake of others. It makes me think how the word of God became flesh and “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1, The Message), and that’s supposed to be us.

My premise–and why I am so grumpy about the use of this phrase–is that there are freezers-full-of-meat in every community and church and group and neighborhood and school and family around us.

Places to practice the ways of Jesus.

Places to get in touch with our pride, our protective-nature-that-wants-to-stay-comfortable, and our fears.

Places to live out our faith, not just talk about our faith.

Places to be transformed in deep ways that often supersedes language.

What if we shifted thinking “meat” was “scriptural knowledge & teaching & certainty & motivating shame” to things more like:

  • Reaching out to someone in need no matter how messy it seems.
  • Sacrificing our time and money.
  • Restoring a broken relationship.
  • Loving our enemies & people-who-drive-us-crazy
  • Listening, listening, listening. 
  • Advocating & investing in a person, no matter how young or old.
  • Changing our own behavior instead of nagging someone else to change.
  • Opening our home to others.
  • Forcing ourselves to do something uncomfortable.
  • Humbling ourselves and letting another person into our life.
  • Staying in a friendship for the long haul instead of running away.
  • Deep conversations about life and faith that leave us wanting more. 

Personally, that’s the kind of meat I think would truly change us, change the world.

And the other best part–we don’t need someone else to feed it to us–there’s plenty of it to chew on almost anywhere we look.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

8 Comments

  • Yep–awesome as always. There are a lot of barriers (and I think this is getting even more challenging) to connecting at deeper levels–especially when one has already been damaged. Any practical thoughts on damaged people trying to connect? When “triggers” are involved this can be extremely difficult and when groups of damaged people get together it’s even more difficult–while there can be mutual support, they can also inadvertently end up doing more damage. This was one reason for instance, when I worked in suicide prevention we didn’t have support groups for depressed/suicidal people–they bring each other down.

    How do we as Christians better break the cycles of superficiality and isolation? Where do we find people really willing to invest in this process? They seem to be so few and far between. BTW, you’re great and I think you raising awareness is a good start. I’m thinking that there needs to be an information clearing house to connect like-minded people, organizations, resources, etc. Perhaps a task force could be formed or? kathy, you are only one person and can only do so much–these ideas need to spread and be practiced more. Hmm….I know I’m full of great ideas that require other people to do a lot of work as I only have so much capacity (see thoughts on damage)–but at least I think they’re good practical ideas.

    Reply
    • thanks, donna. somehow i didn’t respond to these comments in real life (in my mind i thought i did, ha ha). there’s a lot in your post that is hard to address in a comment so maybe at some point we can have a real conversation here. it would be great to catch up. so much does seem to boil down to intentional community, where we are being formed and transformed, giving and receiving, listening and speaking, learning and practicing, healing and caring. and yes, it’s hard to find!

      Reply
  • We don’t speak Christian-ese or religious-ese, but have heard these terms, which we tend to associate with certain very conservative Evangelical types. It often amounts to an “insiders’ language” that is meaningless to almost everyone else, another way of building walls instead of building community.

    We know a family who attends church two or three times a week plus Bible study four to five evenings a week, as well as many who attend church at least once a week, a Bible study once a week and at least one other church activity each week. However, none of these people have any time to help us sorting and distributing clothes and food to the homeless and poor. Most of them don’t personally know anyone who is homeless, and no one who is very poor. They don’t know any runaway teens, prostitutes, drug dealers, addicts, gay people and (a very long list of people). Why would they? They don’t have time. They’re studying the same Bible verses they’ve already studied a dozen times, or sitting in a church committee meeting discussing carpeting and sanctuary lighting.

    Yep, I’m cynical, but I don’t live in a religious bubble.

    Reply
  • Thanks for your thoughts. I know that “meat” usually refers to knowledge as Paul used it. I also think that to have without the other is not right. One cannot bear fruit without the nourishment from Scripture and knowing God through Scripture. Sadly we do get like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and get the knowledge too much.
    I’ve worked with several new Christians and they want the fruit but don’t take time for the nourishment. The result is lack of fruit and falling into sin. Immature pastors will constantly preach life change but not get people into the Word. I believe that God’s Word changes hearts. We cannot preach to people to start bearing fruit if they aren’t deeply rooted. We cannot preach that they need roots only. We need balance of knowing Christ and serving Him through ministries that He gives us. Not everyone will do each and every ministry but we will have areas of outreach the Lord has called us to.
    thanks again

    Reply
  • I love the ideas of listening, hospitality (opening our homes to others), humility, and love as a way of embodying maturity in our spirituality. This would truly bless the world.

    Reply

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