The Spirituality of Ribs

Have you ever eaten really good ribs? I’m not talking about the Applebee’s all you can eat riblet basket (not that there is anything wrong with that). I mean REALLY GOOD ribs. The kind that would make a vegetarian second guess their life choices.

Ribs prepared by a true BBQ pit master have more in common with a work of art than a meal. They don’t just leave you with a full stomach. Somehow, they find a way to fill your soul.

A few years ago, I dedicated myself to honing my skills as a ribs artist. It’s a quest I’m still engaged in to this day. After some initial experimentation, something became very clear… great ribs don’t “just happen”. Preparing a great rack of BBQ baby backs takes intentionality.

The process involves selecting the right seasonings, preparing the ribs to be seasoned, letting them marinate in the spices for at least 24 hours, cooking them “low and slow” and choosing (or making) the perfect BBQ sauce.  Yes, it takes practical know how but it also takes time… A LOT of time! The kind of time that seems ridiculous in our fast paced society.

If there is a grilled item that is antithetical to ribs it would be the hot dog. Because hot dogs are easy to cook, taste OK and can be easily crammed down our gullets in rapid succession, they have become the quintessential American cookout food (never mind that no one really knows what is in them). The Nathan’s hot dog eating competition on July 4th, started out as a novelty but now seems like a celebration of our culinary values.

As I’ve embraced the difference between grilling ribs and hot dogs, I’ve learned that anything worth savoring takes time. Some of this time seems passive, like the process of marinating, but you can’t rush it. Picking the right seasoning and then letting it do the work is essential.  Similarly, we need to seek the right environment for our souls and refuse to rush.

I’m glad God has the attitude of the ultimate pit master. He refuses to hurry. He knows the best conditions for me to thrive. Best of all, he loves me much more than anyone could ever love a rack of ribs. He feels the same about you too.

When I embrace these facts about God, it gives me a lot more patience with myself and with the people around me. I realize that most change in life doesn’t happen in the time it takes to cook a hot dog. Most deep transformation takes place over the course of weeks, months, years and decades.

In a world that shouts, NOW! and is increasingly impatient with waiting, the beautiful truth that “anything worth savoring takes time” is an important lesson to internalize in my soul.

Choose wisely

Millions of Americans rushed to their local gym this past week with excitement and resolve. I should know. I’m one of them.

Over the years, I’ve tried to make exercise a regular part of my routine but a couple of months ago that “routine” became a little…well, let’s just say “sporadic”.

Maybe it started when I broke two of my toes. Perhaps my desire to spend more quality time with baked goods added to my lack of motivation. Whatever the reason, I realized I needed to start fresh.

Upon my return to the gym, I discovered something crazy. I had become weaker! The weights I once threw around with ease, were now were accompanied by involuntary grunts and groans.

It didn’t stop there. When I ran, I was considerably slower than before. I’ve never set any land speed records but even the thought of running at my previous speed made me want to hyperventilate. It was enough for me to ask myself, “What the Hans and Franz is going on?!!”

As I sat on the edge of my bench, looking like a face swap between a dejected Charlie Brown and a forlorn Mr. Clean, I had a realization. Yes, getting back into shape is a pain (in more ways than one) but there is also a valuable lesson to be learned.

Our bodies are gift to us. They teach us that the decisions we make turn us into the people we will become.

Even though we might not like it, we can understand the ramifications of our decisions on our bodies. For example, if I eat more than my fair share of Italian cookies and choose to skip the gym for a while, my physical well-being is going to suffer.

What is often tougher to see are the ways that we are affected emotionally, spiritually and intellectually by the decisions that we make.

Each of us has thousands of choices to make within the course of a day. In the end, our lives become the sum total of those decisions.

Does that mean we need to obsess over every little decision? No, but it may mean we take our daily choices more seriously.

Sometimes it’s helpful for me to look at extreme examples in order to grasp a concept. For instance, one of the biggest news stories of this past year was the rampant nature of sexual harassment across our country. I am thankful that this has become a national topic of discussion. Sexual harassment is an epidemic and it has to stop!

Interestingly enough, these stories have shown that sexual harassment isn’t a “conservative” or “liberal” problem. It doesn’t have its roots in what ethnicity or economic background you come from. At the core, sexual harassment is a heart issue.

My guess is none of the men who are accused of sexual harassment woke up suddenly one morning and said, “I’m going to start terrorizing women today”. Most likely, they came to that point after years of little decisions. One gray area turned into another and then another until finally they had become a person who could act so heinously without ever giving it a second thought.

So what’s the point? Are we all doomed to become pathological liars or abusers? I don’t think so. Still, our decisions may lead us to another tragic place. We may fail to be who we were designed to be.

Who do you want to become? Are the choices you are making today bringing you closer to becoming that person or taking you further away?

My prayer is that the decisions I make in 2018 will lead me closer living out my created purpose. I hope you’ll experience that joy too.