My mother-in- law died. My initial memory of her was at dinner at her house in St. Cloud Minnesota. I was invited to my future wife’s parents house for the weekend sometime in the Fall of 1971. I know it was in the Fall because their house was surrounded by 5 foot tall piles of oak leaves. I have vague memories of raking some leaves and thinking of the labors of Hercules. Intense effort to what end? At some point the leaves came off the trees but the sheer amount that surrounded the house was astounding. Anyway, the highlight of the visit was a pork roast supper with a thick wonderful gravy and vegetables that I can’t remember because of that gravy and the mashed potatoes. As the food was served, and I contemplated pouring the gravy into a coffee cup and drinking it, I realized that something was terribly wrong. There was no bread on the table.
Some explanation is needed. Growing up, bread was ubiquitous. Breakfast toast was dipped in coffee and soaked up egg yolks and milk in the cereal bowl. Lunch was sandwiches and usually at my grandmas house home made buns and home made sausage. What ever supper was had bread center in the table and serving as the utensil to shovel stuff around and soak up juice. If there were an evening snack it was bread and jam. My grandma’s bread, sometimes handed to me out of the oven warm and dripping butter was dense enough to last a walk around the garden and trip to the barn. I have blogged about my grandmas bread pan and how she pounded the dough so hard and so long that the bottom was no longer flat. I believe that she baked bread twice a week and at harvest time probably everyday. So as you can see, to smell the marvelous roast and look at that gravy and to have no bread to dip in it was a cultural shock.
My mother in law being a good hostess, noticed my confusion and asked what was wrong. I asked if there were bread on the table I was missing. It was her turn for culture shock. She got some for me and explained that bread was only for toast in the morning and sandwiches at noon. She was as stunned at my need of bread as I was at it’s lack. Making this situation even stranger was a fact I would come to learn later; that my mother in law’s home made buns were almost as good as my grandma’s.
Thinking of these two world views brought me to the ubiquity of bread. Every society, with some exception has bread as a staple. That means a pillar. Bread and milk were staples and when times got tough we had bread lines. Soup kitchens served bread with soup. Bread is so universal that Jesus claimed he was ” the bread of life “. He declared himself to be a staple, a pillar, something necessary and essential; the bread of heaven; the “good thing” that God used to fill the hungry. Before food pyramids and a nanny State and our sudden fascination with celiac disease bread was everywhere. There is no record of people claiming to be allergic to bread when Jesus fed the five thousand. I like to think that gravy was a big deal too. Remember, Jesus said that the one to whom he gave a piece of bread dipped in gravy would betray him?
When Jesus claimed to be the bread of life that should be understood as universal and available to all to understand. Of course in this crazy world there are exceptions and in our craziness we pay inordinate attention to the exceptions. A case in point was the famous New Guinea translation of the Bible. One tribe in New Guinea never ate bread but their staple was sweet potatos. In the work of translating the Bible into a language that had never been written they had Jesus say that he was the sweet potato of life. It raised a fuss of course. There was all kinds of guestions about authority of Scripture, Jesus statements being twisted for culturalization reasons etc. What would be next? An Inuit translation where Jesus is the blubber of life? A basement boy New Testament where Jesus is the pizza of life? Some folks applauded it of course .. I had a different take. Think of these things – first as a missionary you have to learn one of 85 dialects that have no written language.
Now you have to create an alphabet that corresponds to what you have learned. You also have figure out if you have learned correctly. Have you taken into account the hidden nuances and word play of the culture? Do you know what they are?
Now you have to teach people the alphabet and then the written words you have learned.
Now you translate the Bible into that language.
My thought was it would have been easier to get a few grandmas to come over and bake a bunch of bread and pass it out and then explain to everyone that this is what most people in the great big world eat. But that’s me. It is wonderful to have the Bible in your own language, don’t misunderstand, but Jesus talked Preaching, teaching, and baptizing.
Anyway I realized that I buried the lead. My mother in law died. She moved from Wausau WS to Minnesota to a nursing home closer to my sister in law. My wife has been busy with me and couldn’t see here for awhile because covid struck again her new home. Finally my wife went to visit and got to see her one day and next day when went visit her mom was unresponsive and passed away that day. Sad but hard to say it was untimely since we celebrated her 100 the birthday last November.