Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, when our kids were small, one of the most challenging aspects of family vacations was figuring out where to eat. Every place we might choose was a compromise. There was no single restaurant or even fast-food outlet where all of us really wanted to eat; at best, there were places where everyone was willing to eat. Specifically, that meant we ate a lot of Subway sandwiches.
I mean, a lot.
Fortunately, that was also the golden age of that ubiquitous fixture of the suburban shopping mall: the food court. Time to eat? Don’t look for a restaurant. Look for a mall. Not only were we confident that we would find a food court there, we were confident that there would be a Sbarro’s there. Pepperoni pizza would keep the kids happy (especially once my wife had used a pile of napkins to sop up the grease), and Mom and Dad could find other fare.
The kids have long since grown up, and so have their palates. Food courts have grown up, too. Not too far from my house is an excellent Asian-inspired food court — excuse me, food hall, or even village — called Cravings. What kind of Asian or Asian fusion food are you looking for? Takoyaki? Check. Pork belly? Got it. Black garlic ramen? You bet.
Orange Julius? Not a chance.
The name itself, though, is telling: Cravings. It says something about the age in which we live, and the consumer-oriented culture we take for granted. I recently read a memoir by a man who had grown up on his family’s farm in England. Life was hard, but good; he lamented how modernization had all but eliminated that rural way of life. Their food, for example, was always home-grown and their meals freshly cooked; they frowned on anything “store-bought.”
But Grandma never asked you what you wanted to eat. You ate what you had, or you didn’t eat. Simple as that.
Cravings come in all shapes and sizes, and in a consumerist society, we internalize the expectation that if we have the money for it, we should be able to get what we want (perhaps even with next-day delivery). Imagine my kids thirty years ago, in the back seat of the car, knowing we’re heading for a food court: they can almost smell the pepperoni (especially if the car needs a tune-up). But what if we get there, and find Sbarro’s is closed for some reason?
It could just about ruin the rest of the day.
This is not, of course, only about kids, or for that matter, only about food. We want things. We are driven by our needs and desires, even when we’re not consciously aware of it, and it affects the way we relate to others. Therapists and researchers list the desires that motivate us: we want to be accepted for who we are, to have a sense of belonging. We want to be seen and heard. We want to accomplish something meaningful. We want love. We want to be in control. We want to be admired. We want to feel physically safe and financially secure. On and on the list can go; surely, you can add to the list yourself.
There are many things we want, and our desires can even compete with each other. And please note: the desires themselves are not necessarily bad.
But when our desires are frustrated, when we can’t get what we want, things can quickly go sideways. As we’ll see in subsequent posts, this is what the apostle James wants us to understand: our cravings, when frustrated, can lead to conflict, even in the church.