Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Love is a tomato sandwich
The tomato is one of God’s masterpieces.
I don’t mean those pallid, pulpy imposters piled on grocery store shelves. I’m talking about tomatoes right off the vine — the kind you have to visit farms, well-tended home gardens or rural roadside stands to find. Lots of city folks have never even seen a real tomato, much less tasted one. The authentic item is blood red, firm but not hard, bursting with tart sweetness. Bite into it and the juice will gloriously assault your taste buds in a way those store-bought phonies never could.
“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,” observed writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard, a fellow Georgian, after extensive experimentation. (Georgia, by the way, grew the best tomatoes — and peaches — while I was growing up there, despite the dubious claims of other states.)
The true poet of the tomato, however, was Guy Friddell of Virginia. Friddell, who died in July at age 92, was a great political reporter for many years. But he reserved his higher literary gifts for meditations about more important things: watermelon, corn on the cob, butterbeans, black-eyed peas. And above all, tomatoes.
“Improve the tomato?” he once asked. “How can one perfect perfection?”
Friddell loved tomatoes best the way I love them: in tomato sandwiches. “Has it crossed your mind that to eat a tomato sandwich, as well as build it, is a work of art?” he inquired of his readers. Indeed it has, since my elders approached tomato sandwich construction with great seriousness and taught me to do the same. Slather some bread or biscuits with plenty of mayonnaise. Carefully apply thick tomato slices and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Add potato chips and an ice-cold soda or sweet tea.
Friend, I’d take that feast over filet mignon most any day.
I passed many a happy hour long ago consuming tomato sandwiches with my grandparents, with my father while watching ballgames on TV, with other dearly departed folks I loved and who loved me. One summer at Grandma’s house, we ate them every day — and had plenty of tomatoes left over to give bulging sacks full to neighbors. In the country, it’s a luxury even poor folks can enjoy together when the harvest is good. If you can’t make a friend over tomato sandwiches, something is wrong with you.
Love is what I’m talking about, of course, not tomato sandwiches per se. But the two go together in my mind and heart. Pick your own food if you’re not a tomato fan. There is something about eating together, cooking for others and sharing food with friends and strangers that goes beyond human affection. It is holy.
The Book of Acts records the joyful times that followed the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and 3,000 new believers were baptized after Peter preached the Gospel:
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
That sounds almost strange to many of us, accustomed as we are to individualistic faith and “personal space.” The first Christians prayed together. They worshipped together. They shared their belongings with one another. And they ate together, daily. They also fulfilled the command of Christ, who said, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13,14).
They not only enjoyed food and being with one another around the table, they used the act of breaking bread as a natural way to bless others — especially the hungry and needy — with the love of Christ. We can do that, too, in our daily lives and our own Jerusalem. We, too, can feed the hungry around us. We, too, can hold banquets and invite lost people the world over who long to be invited to the Master’s feast.
For some ideas on how you can do that, browse through the “Flavors of the World” feature series. Take a global tour of ways Southern Baptists are on mission with God through food — whether it’s drinking tea with new friends, sharing meals with other believers or fighting hunger and malnutrition among the poor and the unreached. The multi-week “Flavors of the World” series launched in October, coinciding with the inauguration of Global Hunger Relief, an initiative of Southern Baptists that succeeds the highly effective World Hunger Fund campaign.
In the meantime, invite a friend — or a stranger who needs a friend — over for a meal. If it includes tomato sandwiches, call me.