Every culture around the world has some particular way to ring in the New Year. Perhaps this January 1st you counted down to midnight anticipating the dropping of a ball (or peach or possum) and celebrated the day jumping in an almost freezing body of water or watching fireworks. In many Black American homes, particularly those with Southern roots, New Year’s Day was celebrated by eating a meal which included black-eyed peas and collard greens. Eating these menu items on the first of the year is traditionally associated with prosperity and fortune. The way the tradition was explained in my household, greens represented cash, and the peas represented coins, eating them on New Year’s Day insured that you’d have plenty of both for the rest of the year. This year I was sure to include some greens on my plate, but that wasn’t always the case. We’ll get back to that.
During the last week of 2017, an advertised post from an independent ministry found its way to my Facebook feed. It linked to an article about what it called “biblical” gender roles. The article was oppressively patriarchal and oozed of toxic stereotypes. I read the comments and noted that most of the people commenting had also gotten this ad as an unexpected and unsolicited surprise. The commenters not only included other Christians also but avowed atheists who were offended to receive the ad. I typed out a response to the link noting that the ideals it embodied gave Christianity a bad name. A young man replied to my post that “Christianity is all garbage anyway.” His experiences with religion had left a bitter taste in his mouth.
He reminded me of my hate affair with collard greens. Each January 1st, while I’d gladly eat black-eyed peas, my mother would try to cajole me to eat collards. I would begrudgingly take a few bites to appease her, but I wouldn’t eat any more than a forkful for the next 12 months. The problem was that collards were repulsive. It’s not that I didn’t like vegetables: I would happily gobble up spinach, carrots, and broccoli. But collards got a hard pass from me. They were too bitter. When I became an adult, even the annual forkful of collards was phased out of my life. Anytime collards were present at a dinner they would be notably absent from my plate.
Being a pastor, one tends to get multiple invitations to people’s homes for dinner. And folks take notice of what you eat. My parishioners knew my dislikes: collards were at the top of the list. It almost became a mission for the cooks in my congregations to get me to try them. One day, after years of insistence that her greens were not bitter, I finally tried the collard greens of one of my congregants. She was sure I’d love them. She was right! Not only were they not bitter, they were actually kind of sweet. After that successful venture, I tried others’ collards. I noted that the vast majority actually weren’t bitter. In fact, an internet search revealed most tutorials on preparing them included a portion about how to eliminate the bitter taste. Wait . . . they weren’t supposed to be bitter? Because of my experiences as a child, that’s what I thought they were like. I felt like I’d missed out on good greens for years.
God invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). But instead of an experience that’s sweeter than the honey of a honeycomb (Psalm 19:10), people are often served up a version of Christ that’s bitter and repulsive. The Gospel was not meant to be like that. But because this is the only experience some people have had, they believe this is what God is like.
I avoided great greens for years because of my mom’s presentation of collards, regrettable, though not tragic. But there are folks all over the world missing out on far greater joy and blessing because of bitter presentations of Christianity.
I entered into a conversation with the guy who replied to my Facebook comment. I shared my own testimony. I invited him to just try God for Himself, despite what he may have heard before and in spite of his previous bitter experience. While I may not know if he’ll actually take what I said to heart in real life, at least we had a dialogue. Maybe it may take some time – perhaps years of prompting by the Spirit’s use of various people – but maybe he’ll eventually taste and see for himself that the Gospel really is sweet.
While I can’t be sure of what he will do, if anything, I can determine to present Christianity correctly. Let’s all make a resolution to share the Gospel sweetly – the way it was meant to be.
Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons - By Clancy Ratliff from St. Paul, MN, U.S. - Soul Food, CC BY-SA 2.0
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