Old recipe or new?By Jane Yoder-Short
The well-tested recipe for Amish pickles had been widely accepted as simply delicious. Actually, its superior outcome relied more on tasting than the exact measuring of ingredients. Then along came glossy packets with pleasing seasonings that produced amazing pickles. The old recipe began to seem tedious and out of date. After all, it was an Amish recipe, and we know Amish oppress women, making them wear long, uncomfortable dresses.
Does using the old recipe mean you support patriarchy? Does favoring the old recipe indicate you are out of step with the real world of modern pickle making?
I started rambling about pickles to avoid talking directly about my swirling misgivings on a different topic. I was part of a discussion that centered on the 1945 discoveries in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, of the Gospel of Thomas and other ancient texts. Some scholars have used these discoveries to throw the old canon recipe away. Well, maybe they haven’t gone that far, but they’ve modified the old recipe to make room for fresh ingredients.
In this new recipe, Jesus is pleasingly packaged as a wise peasant sage who fits nicely into our world of free-thinking spirituality. Mary is an apostle who inspires feminists. The institutional church, with its troublesome history, is out of vogue.
Jesus warned us not to put new wine in old wineskins. How do we recognize old wineskins that need to be discarded? Is the canon an old wineskin? Do the new texts offer new wine?
What flavor of wine do we have when Jesus says, according to the Gospel of Thomas, that, “Every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven”? It’s easy to reject that, because the Gospel of Thomas isn’t Scripture. But we can also find things in the canon and other church writings that sound offensive and more like vinegar than new wine. Throwing verses back and forth may not be that helpful.
The Bible is not a tidy rendition of history but a narrative of God acting in history. It grew out of an oral culture where information was passed along by word of mouth, not recorded verbatim as an exact recipe. Understanding involves tasting.
At times the church has been too authoritarian, patriarchal and narrow. At times decisions were based on power and politics. Anabaptists reacted to the orthodoxy of their day. They discarded infant baptism, the linking of church and state, and clerical rule. How do we discern what elements of the church establishment need renovation?
Paul warns the Colossians to let no one take them captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (Col. 2:8). How do we tell whether we are being held captive by old wineskins or deceptive philosophy?
It is easy to think we have a corner on the truth. We can become smug, seeking to put others in their place. We like information that aids our side in the cultural battles. We need eyes wide open to see clearly amid the swirl of ideas in today’s culture.
We don’t always get it right, but together we keep on loving and seeking. We even talk about pickles and predicaments. There will always be new philosophies, or old ones repackaged. Finding the historical Jesus is harder than finding the best pickle recipe. Sometimes we throw out old wineskins. Sometimes we hold onto the ones that have nourished God’s people through the ages. In the end, we keep Jesus as the central ingredient.
Jane Yoder-Short lives in Kalona, Iowa, and attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.
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