In one of my recent trips down the YouTube rabbit hole, I happened upon some clips from Dr. Aaron Higashi, a biblical scholar who is active on social media, seeking to present scholarly takes on scripture in a way that is digestible to those of us lay people who are not in academia. His videos take on many different topics from the composition of the Bible to the interpretations of the Bible by marginalized groups, but there seems to be a throughline to his work: the Bible is not simple and clear. In Dr. Higashi’s view, the Bible does not really speak with a unified voice on any topic, and while there are examples of consistent themes, you can almost always find a counterexample if you want to. It is our job when we read scripture to dig through the varied voices and interpret the meaning, leaning on those who have done that work before us, and being honest about the cultural biases that we are bringing to the text.
Despite all that Dr. Higashi has learned about how complex and quirky the Bible can be, he still identifies as a Christian, worships regularly, and has a practice of reading the Bible devotionally. In one of his videos, Dr. Higashi responded to a question from a viewer about how he deals with this seeming contradiction between his scholarly work and his faith. And I have to say, in all of the videos I watched of his, this was the one that captivated me the most. He didn’t answer the question directly, but instead he offered something like a pseudo-parable that I’m going to paraphrase here:
There is this beautiful clip of the late Anthony Bourdain eating an In-N-Out burger. He is just devouring this burger, and you feel like you can taste the burger through the sounds he’s making and the expressions on his face. And he says that’s his favorite restaurant in LA. This man is a career chef, an expert culinary critic who has travelled the world and eaten at some of the bougiest restaurants. But despite all of that experience, when he comes to LA, he eats at In-N-Out Burger and it’s his favorite restaurant. He just loves that burger: greasy, savory, basic, but he loves it.
(You can watch the whole video here)
Like the parables we encounter in the Gospel, at this point, you may be scratching your head, wondering how this is any kind of answer to the question at all. But this video honestly almost moved me to tears, so the best I can do is offer what it meant to me. Sometimes, a particular food is just the right kind of soul-satisfying, and we don’t have an explanation for why that is. We just know that it is. Maybe we even know that the food is not that sophisticated, but we love it anyway. It’s an experience. It’s a heart thing. And it can be like that with God too. We might not have all the answers. We might even know things that make the whole prospect of having a relationship with God too messy and intimidating. But if we open ourselves to it, whether it’s in worship, silent meditation, fellowship with others, or something else, we will find our version of that burger, the thing that taps into our soul and says “God is here, and God loves me.”
And this is what gives me that Christian hope we have been talking about so much. Despite the human failings of the institutional church, declines in attendance, and everything else, I know that no matter what happens, the burger will always be delicious. And I will want to gather my friends around a table and experience it together. When you get down to it, it’s really that simple.