my latest column for Youthwork Magazine was published recently (Youthwork, for those who don’t know, is a fantastic magazine in the UK. content-wise, if Group Magazine and Youthworker Journal had a british baby, it would be Youthwork).
this particular column has a bit more of a british edge to it (especially because one can’t just say “chips” in england without meaning what we call french fries). so there’s a bit of british slang. but you’re smart readers, and you can handle it. by the way, a hat tip is due to ed noble, the pastor of my church, since i got the idea for this column in the middle of one of his sermons, where he made a passing reference to filling up on chips and salsa. in fact, i sent myself an email in that moment (during the sermon!) that just said, “youthwork column: chip and salsa.” three weeks later, when i went to write the column, i couldn’t remember what that meant. and ed was kind enough, via a series of text messages, to remind me what his point was.
anyhow, i thought the point of this was particularly timely this week as so many youth workers are extra busy with spring break activiities.
I live 20 minutes from the Mexican border. So, as you might imagine, we have Mexican restaurants all over the place here in San Diego, California. Fancy, high-end restaurants, family places, and corner dives. In fact, the local taco shop is very much the San Diego equivalent of the British chippy take-away [editor: did I say that correctly?], or, more currently, the take-away curry shop. Our Mexican food here in San Diego is very different than the Mexican food in other parts of the States (for example, Texas has its distinctive Tex-Mex, with menu items we just don’t have). Our menus – in restaurants nice and not-so-nice – is drawn from Baja, the Mexican peninsula just across the border from us.
There’s a particularly normative experience that occurs any time one goes to a sit-down Mexican restaurant here in the States. Shortly after being seated, with the first visit of the server, a large basket of tortilla chips and a bowl of salsa are placed on the table. These are universally considered “bottomless,” in that they will be refilled, usually without asking, as long as you’re sitting at the table.
Here’s the problem, assuming you’re at a decent restaurant with good “chips”: almost everyone I know (especially men, it seems) eats handful upon handful of tortilla chips before the real food arrives. As a result, it’s extremely commonplace to hear someone say, just as the enchiladas or carne asada or carnitas approaches the table, “I’m not even hungry anymore.” I’ve personally had this experience and expressed this sentiment hundreds of times.
Stick with me now.
Isaiah writes (in 55:1-2), “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”
And good ol’ Jeremiah writes something fairly similar (in 2:13): “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
This is a regular thread throughout scripture, right? Jesus talks to the woman at the well about providing the nourishment that will never leave her wanting again. We’re invited, in all of this wonderful imaginative language, to partake in the richness of the Kingdom, the sort of food and drink that surpasses all our other experiences of consumption.
Problem is: we often don’t—I often don’t—choose to dig in and eat (or drink). We youth workers, we know about the meal. We point teenagers to the lavish spread. We talk about the sustenance, and encourage others toward getting grease and oil up to their elbows in a no-holding-back pig-out of the best meal ever.
But we forget to eat our fill. And, worse yet, we fill up on tortilla chips and salsa. They provide a temporary yumminess, a hint of salty goodness that’s difficult to resist, but tops us off before we get to the foodstuff that’s actually sustaining. We eat the filler and pass on the fuel.
I’m in an especially busy season at the moment. I’m engaged with my church youth ministry, and I’m speaking to others about the love of God, and I’m training youth workers about our amazing calling. So I can quickly find myself running low on all variations of energy; I can quickly find myself running low on my essential tethering to Christ, suppressing or ignoring the Holy Spirit while I nosh on busyness or positive feedback or all sorts of other things that feel spiritual but aren’t the main course.
I need to feed. So do you.
Go ahead: have a tortilla chip or two. They’re not evil. But save room for the richest and most filling meal of your life.