- Willow Feller
Mom's Kitchen vs. Hell's Kitchen
Updated: 6 days ago
For me, the earthy aroma of bread baking is one of the most alluring smells on the planet. Its yeasty, grainy, roasty bouquet always begs to be deeply inhaled, and often, when I pull that scent in, it brings me instantly back into our 1970s kitchen.
I see the fake Z-brick backsplash behind the sink and the hexagonal-patterned, olive green and brown linoleum flooring.
I see the white rotary phone with its extra-long spiral cord mounted on the wall, and next to it, the bulky, portable dishwasher with a retractable hose attachment sticking out the top.
I can practically touch the colonial lamp-style light hanging low from its chain over the table, and the hefty green glass canisters on the countertop.
But most vividly, I picture Mom, standing by the sink, drying the loaf pans from which she just turned out several perfect loaves of bread.
I see her putting down her dishtowel to enfold me in her arms as my gawky adolescent self enters, crying, through the back door. Mom doesn’t even ask me what is wrong at first. She just hugs me.
The smell of the freshly-baked bread and the soft comfort of her arms around me meld together, to be forever linked in whatever part of my brain that memories of junior high angst, and its remedy, are stored.
Only minutes before, the school bus driver had glared at me in his oversize rearview mirror as I got up from my seat at the back of the bus. I knew it was against the rules to stand before stop, but the back end of my flimsy cotton lavender dress pants had ripped wide open, and I was desperate to get out and get home.
It had been an awful day for me, in spite of the glorious May weather. Earlier, the sunny morning had inspired my ninth grade English teacher to hold class outside. While we sat cross-legged on the ground to read our novels, the teacher sat on a chair and corrected our writing assignments. At one point, she held my paper out and asked me to come get it from her. I was sitting at the back of the group and jumped up.
As I walked forward, a boy burst into loud, rude laughter. Others started laughing and giggling, and I was completely oblivious to the cause until someone piped up with, “She has flowers on her underwear! Ha, ha!”
What? The sensation of cool air wafting around my backside told me all I needed to know.
Mortified, I grabbed the back of my pants and whirled around to face my classmates. Seeing their gleeful, leering looks only deepened my horror. It was a moment of social shame that every geeky fourteen-year-old girl in 1979 would hope would never happen to her.
But, of course, to me, it did.
I remember my friend, Irene, jumping up to stay behind me as a visual shield in my flight to the restroom inside. Everyone needs a friend like that.
Together, we hatched a bold plan in which she would accompany me to the Home Ec sewing room where I could quickly hand-sew the rear seam of the pants while Irene guarded the door.
And that’s what we did. I remember my heart beating wildly while I stood pantless in the little room and sewed that seam up tight in spite of my shaking hands. Loyal Irene risked being tardy for her next class just to protect what little dignity I had left that day, and I have never forgotten her sacrifice.
As rural Montana girls, we may have been geeky, but we were resourceful. That puckery seam held fast all day and it wasn’t until the end of the day when I stupidly plopped down hard on a seat at the back of the bus that my sewing job fell apart at the seams, so to speak.
I heard the fabric rip and instantly felt the coolness of the seat against bare cheek flesh. No, not again!
My shirt was too short to cover the inches-long tear, and I hadn’t brought a jacket that day. I sat, riveted in renewed terror at the thought of having to take yet another walk of shame in front of all the teenage passengers when the bus stopped at the end of my driveway.
Thank goodness, however, another friend loaned me her jacket to tie around my waist. As a bona fide klutz, I couldn’t have survived my adolescence without a few sensible friends.
My insensibility had driven me to splurge a week's worth of babysitting money on those stupid, trendy purple pants. My mom had warned me that the cotton chino cloth seemed rather thin, but what do moms know about junior high fashion, anyway? I had felt quite glamorous when I left home that morning.
Now, seven hours later, I was arriving home in a most unglamorous state of mind. Stung and bruised by that day’s embarrassment, I walked through our back door and into the beautiful smell of fresh-baked bread.
It was the smell of a place where a person who loved me stood at the ready to nourish both my body and soul.
All I had to do was go to her…
…with my ripped pants, tattered heart, pummeled ego, and everything else that had been run over by the truck of real life that day.
The Jews of Jesus’ day certainly knew a lot about being run over by a figurative truck.
When Jesus began his ministry near the start of the first century AD, the nation of Israel was a defeated, conquered people group. The invincible Roman forces, comparable to a fleet of modern earth-shaking Terex Titan mining monster trucks, had rumbled into Jewish territory around the end of the BC era, crushing Israel’s attempts at autonomy.
Israel had become what America, millennia later, would fight to avoid ever being. The Romans reduced Israel to mere province status and renamed it Judea—a tiny plot on the vast real estate map of the Roman empire.
Yet, in spite of the Romans’ stranglehold over their land, the Jews continued to cling to the belief that their nationhood would one day be restored through the actions of a long-awaited messiah.
This belief was carefully preserved and expanded upon by the Jewish Pharisees. These religious and political leaders taught that the Messiah would arrive as a godly king and/or military general. He would lead God’s chosen ones in a mighty campaign to break free from Roman oppression and reestablish his kingdom in the land God had given to them through a covenant with Abraham.
The Pharisees also believed that the Messiah would not arrive until all his Jewish subjects were properly prepared for him by obeying all the commands of the Law of Moses. They used this belief to guilt the ordinary Jews into compliance with their interpretations of the Law’s regulations. This guilt became the yoke that coupled the Jewish religion with their political situation and placed blinders on the eyes of the religious leaders.
The Zealots were a group of Jewish revolutionaries who also believed in a coming Messiah, but decided his arrival would only happen if they initiated an armed rebellion against Rome. They despised pagan Rome's rule over them and would never pledge national allegiance to any ruler but God Himself. According to the ancient historian, Josephus, they "agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord." (18.1.6)
Both the Pharisees and the Zealots lost sight of the spiritual force that would power the rising of the Messiah and fixed their gazes solely on the physical and political forces they presumed would usher him in.
Thus, the Jewish religion that was intended to keep its followers connected to God and ready for the Messiah’s liberation of their hearts, had, in a sense, become more a more oppressive force in their everyday lives than that of the Roman occupiers.
Among the myriad of rituals and symbolic elements that comprised Jewish temple worship was the showbread, also called Bread of the Presence. These twelve loaves of bread represented the twelve tribes of Israel and were arranged on a special table in the Jewish temple. This bread, baked weekly and changed every sabbath, stood as a constant symbolic reminder that God alone was the source of Israel’s life, nourishment and livelihood.
Most of the Jewish priests and religious leaders, then, at the time of Jesus, had concluded that their life, nourishment and livelihoods, as symbolized by the showbread, would be delivered to them through the arrival of the Messiah. It was like they thought the Messiah would be the driver of a magnificent delivery chariot, the ancient equivalent of a modern bread truck. He would show up with the power and resources necessary to secure their nation's freedom and thus fulfill the terms of the ancient Abrahamic covenant.
But they had waited for so long they had lost sight of what they were looking for. They didn't realize that their Messiah wouldn't bring the bread. He was the Bread.
Their glorious Bread of The Presence.
And this Bread, this vital sustenance, wasn't conjured up or bolstered by any physical means.
Yet, the people to whom he came to feed had fostered a mistaken presumption about their role in ushering this Savior in. In their belief that God had tasked them with preparing the Jews for deliverance, the religious leaders had created, in a sense, an elaborate "kitchen"--the religious system in which they and their trainees kept their ingredients fresh, their utensils readied, and their oven fire constantly blazing.
The Zealots were prepared for war in their kitchen. It was a Hell's Kitchen, an uncomfortable kitchen with an oven hot enough to be a weapon forge, and a staff of workers pushed to their limits by demanding overseers.
It was nothing like my mom's kitchen.
The Jewish leaders had it all wrong. They were completely unaware that their magnificent, powerful and righteous deliverer was slow-baking in a cooler oven.
Ninety-eight point six degrees, give or take.
Jesus, our Bread of Life, was the Bun in Mary's oven.
A plain, ordinary human mother's womb was the incubator in which very Presence of God developed his flesh-and-blood body.
Prophesied to be Immanuel, "God with us," Jesus is the spiritual solution to humanity's spiritual enslavement. He didn't come to deliver his fellow Jews from their political situation, he arrived to do exactly what the angel said he would do as explained to Joseph in Matthew 1:21: "...he will save his people from their sins."
Jesus came to deliver the Jews, and all people, from the sin nature that has resided inside every single human being born since the fall of creation. Sin--the source of all human pain, suffering, injustice and corruption--was the true problem the Jews faced in their day...and is the true enemy behind America's toxic political situation twenty centuries later.
Modern Politicism creates a hot, uncomfortable kitchen on social media in which we sin-diseased Christians present a bread tainted with the bitterness of human logic and bold assertions.
My case of Politicism dulled my empathy toward those who didn't share my perspective. Instead of understanding that everyone's viewpoint is borne from their individual histories, childhoods, experiences and even their personalities, I expected they should hear my logic and switch their worldview to match mine.
I kept my kitchen hot and uncomfortable as I baked loaf after loaf of my tainted bread to feed to anyone who dropped by for some conversation and companionship. My bible told me to share the good news, the Bread of Life, but in my feverish state, I shared only raucous, crumbly, bitter-tasting news.
I baked so much of this bread that I had to acquire a social media truck in which it could be stored and delivered from. And then, instead of lending a listening ear and an open heart to my visitors, I tried to shut them up by shoving my bread down their gullets.
If they persisted in disagreeing with me, I simply ran over them with my truck and wrote them off.
I was nothing like my mom, and my kitchen was worlds apart from hers.
Of course, Jesus saw this all coming 2000 years ago when he warned his disciples to "Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the yeast of the Pharisees [the religious leaders] and Sadducees [the political leaders]."
Now, for me, and all American believers, that warning still stands. And with that warning comes a couple questions for us all to ask ourselves:
-To what degree have we substituted a political cause for God’s presence in our daily thoughts and communication with others?
-Are we serving bread tainted with Politicism to our neighbors? And if so, when they reject it, do we tantrum and run to serve it to each other in our own little closed kitchens?
Hmm. Just a little bread for thought.