Trinity: "You Are What You Eat"

The Revd Robin Sims-Williams

You are what you eat…

I was watching a documentary on BBC this week, ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School’. Basically, it’s an experiment, following some results tables which show that British students aren’t doing as well academically as some other countries - notably - China. So a small group of Chinese teachers have flown over to take a class of 50 kids in a secondary school for a month. At the end there’s some examination and an opportunity to compare the results of the 50 in the ‘Chinese’ school with the rest of their year in the same school. The ‘Chinese’ method is, as you might imagine, very different, though perhaps not much different from at least some schools here some years ago… one large class, teachers standing at the front talking, no discussion, lots of notes to copy, lots of learning by wrote and accepting what has been said.

The head of the main school admits he hopes the experiment fails and after sitting in comments that he feels sorry for the students having to sit through the class. The biggest challenge, as you might imagine, is maintaining an ordered enough class for people to hear, keeping the students attention and maintaining discipline, class management, is completely impossible for the Chinese teachers, because at home - they don’t need to do anything, because in China the respect for authority, and for teachers, is unquestioned. Parents wouldn’t question them, students definitely wouldn’t. This is combined with strong confucian philosophy throughout culture - putting the group before the individual, there is no question of disctracting others from their opportunity to learn.

Transporting the teachers and their method out of that culture, into the UK where independent thought, where a questioning mind are encouraged and where authority is always ready to be challenged - it is no wonder that two weeks in the ‘Chinese’ school is struggling. People are the product of their environment after all.

You are what you eat…

An absurd warning - I would clearly be a round of Cheese, maybe brie, maybe cheddar… perhaps half and half… But it is true, we are literally what we eat, the matter we eat gives us energy and builds the cells of our bodies. Our experiences also programme our expectations, whether they are foundational experiences as children, repeated experiences through our lives, or simply the environment we walk into and the way it sets up our immediate expectations.

You are what you eat…

You are the product of your environment…

I remember well, when I was first beginning to manage teams and lead people, the importance my manager put on my mood when I went in to chair a meeting. ‘If I’m having a bad day,’ he said, ‘when I walk into a team meeting, then the mood in the room drops, the energy goes out the window and productivity with it.’ It’s not to say I wasn’t allowed to have a bad day, but setting the mood, by example, was so important. Sure be realistic, but a positive attitude counted for a great deal. There wasn’t room for excessive cynicism.

In the Chinese school experiment, It is clear that at times our culture can make us too selfish. We need to remember that we are here for each other, but I think, what I’ve seen, the experiment misses the point of education, it is not just that kids are there to learn by wrote and deliver good test results - he ability to question and think independently is as important as exam results.

You are what you eat…

John’s Gospel was the last of the Gospels put to paper, certainly long after the first account of the last supper to be written down - in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. When today’s reading is being written down, the writers and the readers will likely already be celebrating some form of the Eucharist which we celebrate together today. John’s Gospel doesn’t even tell the story of the Last Supper, assuming it is known. The text even echoes the criticisms of society around them - that the early church is practicing cannibalism.

Being a part of the Church, eating together as we do each Sunday, was about eternal life, it was a preparation for the Heavenly Kingdom, but more than that - this ritual is about building that Kingdom now - it’s about how we build the society we want to live in - that God has promised us… with mutual respect and flourishing…

You are what you eat…

You are the product of your environment…

Your actions make you the person you are…

Repeated actions leave an imprint on who we are, and the Eucharist is intended to do that, a ritual meal in which all are welcome, in which everybody receives side by side. A meal where we eat the staple of life - bread, but also wine of celebration. In it we are reminded, as in today’s Gospel, that we are seeking to become one with Christ, and one with each other.

In the Chinese school, the one thing which the British head teacher thought might really work, was the practice of morning exercises. Apparently in a Chinese school the day begins with the whole school going outside together and doing a mass aerobics session - students lead students, and the whole school does it in time together - It strengthens that sense of the importance of a community, and working together.

You are what you eat…

A meal is, by definition transformative. Transforming the dead food we eat into life, but also transforming us. Think of a time when you’ve had a great meal. Not just a reasonable one, but a great one. Think of the food, the conversation, the company… There is a beautiful film of a Danish Book, ‘Babette’s Feast’, in which a small, sad, puritanical Danish community is transformed by a feast cooked by a French refugee cook. The food, it’s sensory revelations, the companionship, the conversations which take place during the meal all move the villagers from seeing life as something to be suffered, to seeing life as a glorious gift to be enjoyed and shared. They go out into the night new people ready to share their joy with others.

You are what you eat…

In today’s Gospel Jesus links being one with the Father with being sent by the Father and so, like every good meal, the evening must end, the hosts need to clear up, or at least get some sleep, and we all need to go home. But as we become closer to Christ through sharing in the Eucharist, so we go out into the world to be Christ, to love, to share, to lift the spirits of those who we meet, to be living bread for others.