I have announced that I intend to buy nothing new during Lent. Buying nothing new is difficult. In fact, I have failed at least once. On Presidents’ Day, I bought a kitchen garbage can at Costco, the type that opens automatically with a simple swipe of the hand. My wife was not up for the trip; we had looked at it before Lent and intended to buy it once we had done our research so the responsibility fell on my shoulders. The problem is not so much that I bought it but rather I did it without thinking that it is Lent. I am starting to realize that buying new things is a somewhat automatic reflex.
Proverbs chapter 17, verse 1, reads, “Better is a dry morsel with quiet, than a house full of feasting with strife.” A contemporary version is this, “Better is a dry crust of bread eaten in peace and quiet than a feast eaten where the family argues.” Are we not supposed to give children food they want to eat and surround them with the latest technology to make them happy? Are we not as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, supposed to give good things to our children? So says our consumer culture but Scriptures say no. It is better to have a dry morsel of food to eat with a family that is peaceful and quiet than to give children whatever they want and have arguments.
We had many shared meals in Russia but the families did not provide a feast. And, at the center of each table was dry, dark rye Russian bread. I don’t remember much about the food but I do remember the peace and quiet of sharing it knowing God was present with us. Rye bread brings me back to those tables even today.
A parishioner told me about a dinner encounter this past week at a local nice, sit-down restaurant. A family of four (mom, dad, two kids) came in and once they were settled, out came two iPads for the kids and two phones for the parents. As far as my parishioner could tell, they talked to the waitress but not to each other. It was a feast (in fact, it may have been advertised as “A family feast for 4”), and it was quiet, but I wonder if it was peaceful.
As I write this, I am trying not to compare myself to them. When I was in 6th grade, I was taught, and expected on occasion, to order for my entire family at a restaurant – starting with Mom first, then Dad, my brother and then myself. The look of surprise on the server’s face was always fun. The look of surprise on my face when she handed me the bill was another. We didn’t eat out very often, mainly for special occasions or once when the power went out. My parents brought things for my brother and me to entertain ourselves and I am certain that if iPads existed back then, we would have had them. But, we also were expected to communicate, to commune, with each other.
Our advertising culture singles us out and makes us want things to satisfy ourselves; it makes us believe we can have a feast and peace at the same time. But we can’t. It’s a lie. You know, I don’t remember much about the food we shared as a family but I do remember the communing. It could have been a dry morsel of bread for all I remember. The important thing was the fellowship and peace.