Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cheese, Music, Marriage, and God and the Church

Long-standing love affairs.

As the blame-passing scab-picking garden-variety of psychotherapy will have you know, the seeds of dysfunction were sowed in childhood, with the thin foil and red tabs of The Laughing Cow. By 13, cheese was so much part of my life, so spinach to Popeye, that "Je mange du fromage avec du pain" was de rigueur in any self-description. The hardcore hard-rind stuff came mostly in England, home to the Wensleydale-chomping Wallace and with him, a whole nation of nibblers who must have, through centuries of communal nibbling (and thousands of cups of tea), created the Cheddar Gorge. Countryside-living was inevitably dairy-related: a shortcut to a particular pub for weekly smoky chats on philosophy meant sneaking through a muddy paddock, running if chased by the resident bull. Sunny summer days meant cows, expressing their great satisfaction with the sweet grass, interrupting lectures. And there was always a crumb of curdled and fermented milk to be had about town. Cheese, like good farmhouse artisanal mould, was unhindered in its blue-green veining through the creamy curds of my life: one summer, lost in a storm on Ben Nevis, it was a little package of Scottish mature cheddar and highland oatcakes that (as they often say in British stories about adventures of sorts) kept my spirits up. And back in Singapore, Monsieur GĂ©rard Poulard's early incursions suggested that a long-term stay here might just have the right kind of stink about it after all.

Jones the Grocer, Singapore
Two fromageries opened in Singapore in the last few months: a little walk-in cupboard at Jones the Grocer's and another simply called La Fromagerie along Mohamed Sultan. ("Chi-chi cheese-shopping" someone sniffed. But unlike some overpriced frivolities (I'm talkin' about you, S$20 Persian candy floss), much cheese is honest-to-goodness stuff, like hot crusty bread and cold beer. Plus, since Ramadan's just over, dried figs and dates, with which Muslims usually break their fast, still abound. The possibilities (BVM surprise guest-appearance on grilled cheese sandwich excepted)!) But they are only a small whiff of the great heaven that is Neal's Yard Dairy, stockist of 200 cheeses piled high to the sky, exuding promises of casomorphine opiates.

Cheese for supper
Perhaps, I said to someone, cheese is my raisin cake. Or perhaps strawberries are my raisin cake. But I came to strawberries later in life than cheese. You are going all postmodern on me, he said. I am going to leave you now, very quietly, and shut the door behind me. And I will make no sudden movements. I might even throw you some Babybel once I am safely outside.

Wang Jian playing in the cello section of the SSO
Or perhaps, music is my raisin cake, came the realisation, as Wang Jian sawed through the third movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor. An indiscriminate love that knows no bounds: Gregorian plainchant, polyphonic counterpointy Baroque, coquettish Classical, OTT opera, hep-hoppin' jazz, moshpit metal, eccentric 80s, SNAG soft-rock, blingbling hiphop, college indie, bouncy Bollywood, cheesy Chinese...I love them all from the bottom of my pencilcase. I can live without cheese and strawberries, but if I never hear even soppy songs with my ears again, I promise you that I shall never breathe again, breathe again, that I shall never breathe again.

Soppy songs. It is the season for weddings again.

Floating on the top of the breaking curl that was the series on Hosea, boosted by the talks imported by kind friends from this year's London's Men's Convention (fetchingly titled "liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons"?), weddings have never looked more beautiful.

Weddings: the smile of sunshine, the white satin train of the bride's gown, the fragrance of bouquets, the smell of cologne and new suits, the back-patting, the teary farewells, the walk-in, the giving-away of the bride, the cameras, the sermon on love, the solemnisation, what God has brought together let no man put asunder, the unveiling, the kiss, the signing of the marriage register, the hand-in-hand walk-out as husband and wife, the thrown rice and popped confetti, the photos for the family album, the hearty hugs and grinned best wishes, the happy whispers of how great the new couple look together.

But. Far more than the entertainment value afforded by the perfect execution of meticulous plans and aesthetically-pleasing couples set in dreamily-romantic mis-en-scenes, the tear-inducing heart-bursting beauty of weddings lies in that of which they are but mere shadows: God and his people, Christ and the church.

The tender love exhibited by the wedding couple that makes the rheumy hearts of many an old aunt flutter is but a puny birthday candle to the great hot furnace that is God's love for his people and Christ's love for the church.

We think that a wedding is one of the most lovely, most romantic things in the world. But, step right up step right up! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Plato might have said had he known, you have all been obsessed with mere shadows! What's that? A heart full of love you say, sir? Filled your days with endless wonder did he eh, lady? Well! You haven't seen anything yet.
Wedding Hockneyised
The story, good folk, the real story is that of the divine husband and his adulterous wife; a wife so stupid, so greedy, so lewd, that even though married to the perfect husband, she abandoned him to strut her stuff openly before lascivious male eyes. Lacking even the remnant of decorum of whores, who allow themselves to be approached by customers, in a frenzy of desperate lust, she pursued her would-be lovers.

So Hosea indicted Israel, who'd chased after the Baals in crazed delusion that they had been responsible for her prosperity and abundance. What inexcusable stupidity. She, of all people, ought to have been familiar with her true husband. Centuries of Israelite history, written down in God's word and repeated by prophet after prophet, should have taught her that God alone was her creator and her sustainer. No one apart from him was able to give and take away life and all the trappings of existence.

Through Hosea, Yahweh contrasted her thirst for spiritual adultery, for the Baals, with her treatment of him:"But me she forgot." She had courted their favour and adorned herself for mute idols, but neglected and slighted her real benefactor and true lover.

The LORD swore that her betrayal of his love would not succeed. Israel's misuse of God's gifts to her would prompt him to withdraw them. At the time of the harvest, the crop and wine would fail. Her vines and fig-trees would be laid barren. Her people would starve and die.

But God did not intend to send Israel away as a bad job, or win custody of the children and then look for a much better mother for them. Instead, amazingly, he wished to allure rotten old Israel once more, to rekindle the romance they'd enjoyed in their honeymoon years, to draw her back into union with himself. The image was not just of renewal or renovation of the old marriage but a completely new betrothal, with Israel starting out again as a fresh-faced virgin bride. And unlike the complete mess of the old marriage, the new marriage would last forever, secured by steadfast love and mutual faithfulness. And it'd be God who would impart to Israel the qualities that will ensure a marriage for all eternity.

The institution of marriage is not a convenient metaphor co-opted to describe the relationship between God and his people. Rather, God instituted marriage for the very purpose of demonstrating to dimwitted humans some faint shadow of the mindblowing relationship Christ would have with his church (Ephesians 5:32).

So human marriage is not a useless Victorian social construct to be thrown out with yesterday's kitschy fridge magnets but an institution weaved into our human fabric to be a meaningful display of the love relationship between Christ and his body. We preserve marriages not because of shared family values nor so that the children won't grow up splashing out money on psychiatrists' couches nor so as to give Dr James Dobson a point of pontification, as if marriages were valuable in and of themselves; we preserve marriages because Creator made them so that when a man and a woman come together in matrimony, they do, by his design and in a way we cannot fully comprehend, truly become one flesh.

And if God designed marriage, then he alone knows how best they are meant to work. And they work best in imitation of Christ's loving relationship with the church (Ephesians 5).

Extremely elegant equations. Our math teacher (who ever-despaired of us brutally hacking our way to the correct answer) would have applauded.

Yet if our relationship with God is not an armslength schoolteacher-badstudent one, but one even more intimate than a marriage, then raisin cakes are no laughing matter. Sins, trivial though they seem, aren't just about cheekily breaking a window and running away or copying someone else's homework; they are about having our lives and our decisions revolve around things other than the one whom they should rightfully revolve around: God, in place of God; they are acts of adultery, they constitute the vomitous betrayal of a relationship, the cuckolding of the perfect husband, the tearing away at an entity that has since been constituted organically as one flesh.

Whoredom, Raymond C Ortlund Jr
Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, Christopher Ash

Jones the Grocer
Dempsey Hill
Block 9 Dempsey Road #01-12

La Fromagerie
5 Mohamed Sultan Road
Singapore 239014
Tel: 6732 6269

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At October 24, 2007 5:45 am , Blogger Fresh Dew said...

recommended good book : " SEX is not the problem (lust is) " (previously released as 'Not Even a Hint') by author Joshua Harris .


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