To realize just how much of a Mexican food geek I am, simply ask me to compare and contrast salsas across the many subcultures of Mexican food in the Southwest of the U.S. Then sit back, grab a beverage (Negra Modelo, if you want my advice) and prepare to spend the next hour hearing about Colorado's love of tomato sauce, the unspeakable joy of green chile in New Mexico and the sublime intensity of warm tomatillo sauce.
Growing up in Texas qualifies you for many things - the butt of many deserved (and a few undeserved) jokes, a mistaken sense of importance, a love of pork rinds even if you are not low carbs, an understanding of country music - but chief among the many things I learned about in Texas was Mexican food. None of that Pace picante sauce made in NEW JERSEY or that CHEVY'S spot that is to Mexican food as Disneyland is to bliss. Nope - what sends my soul skipping is a small table in a place across the tracks serving huevos or migas at the crack of dawn, tamales, gorditas and refried frijoles all day long, and a just right jiggly flan at the close of the day.
Some have suggested that in the emerging world of Christian communities, food is re-asserting it's role as the currency of hospitality - the method in which, as Bruce Malina so simply states, a stranger is transformed into a guest. This centrality of the table and of a shared meal is something that the go go West has long since discarded, looking for food on the go and meals eaten while driving here and there. This is not the case in the majority of the southern hemisphere, where the global center of Christianity has evolved to. A community gathering there almost always include a meal, with ample time to savor and to discuss.
My noodling on communities of faith & practice hit my love of Mexican food recently when I saw the piece (see below) in the NYT food section (probably the highlight of most Wednesdays for me). Let me fess us - about 33% of my middle-age gut can be attributed to an intense period of Chipotle intake. For a time, it sufficed for me to show up at the counter and - POOF - they knew I needed a Barbacoa, with no rice and green salsa. Tasted great - also made it a bit harder for me to maintain visual contact with my belt when standing upright.
With that confession made, the first thing that struck me most about the article was this quote:
''Most of our customers didn't care,'' Ells said. ''Not all of our customers are looking for food with integrity. It's a delicate balancing act. We have to convince our customers that it's better for them. You can't be preachy. Customers don't want to be lectured about what kind of food they should eat.''
I sensed a resonance in this with my own efforts to minister FOR groups of people, particularly those not in the mainstream of American churchianity. I want to attract them, then convince them that this free-range prok (the other white meat) is so good for them that they will leave all the hole-in-the-wal Mom & Pop joints where they have been getting their carnitas fix.
As I spend more of my time listening for a ministry that is grounded in Christ among us, in the transforming and saving power of God pitching tent in our neighborhood, I realize the simple application of this quote:
They've struggled to find enough naturally raised chicken and beef producers, so only about one-quarter of Chipotles serve naturally raised chicken and even less serve naturally raised beef.
You'd think, given the extraordinary amount of Mexican food I have eaten, that I would have somehow skipped this Spanish Inquistion - that I would have wised up long ago and understood the power of the Spirit present here and now.
Ho hum - just means that I've got more Mexican food to eat. It counts as studying now.....