By Tony Ends
This article was originally published in the Independent Register. Tony Ends is a member of OLC and a correspondent for the paper. You can subscribe to the Independent Register here.
A powerful, entertaining little book is mightily challenging my thinking about food and faith this winter.
“Eating Your Way through Luke’s Gospel” is the book. Rev. Dr. Lee Bohnhoff, a master of translation and interpretation, is my partner in reading, exploring and conversing over this text.
Orfordville Lutheran Church is letting the two of us meet each Sunday at 10 a.m. following morning services to facilitate this reading. The church has even helped make copies of the book available for the series, Jan. 22 through Feb. 26, 210 N. Main in Orfordville.
What’s an old newspaper man turned farmer got to contribute to this reading and discussion?
I confess a strange and checkered spiritual walk. Born protestant, I studied in a Catholic university. Baptized Lutheran as an adult, I was confirmed Episcopalian in marriage.
Along the way I sang psalms in a synagogue, prayed with Moslems and at times lost faith from what I experienced or saw of hunger, extreme poverty, death and divorce.
Numbering among only two people in 100 who still farm has helped me understand something about my culture, though. Biblical stories and lessons written largely to farming, herding, fishing people centuries ago have become for too many of us irrelevant, or at least hard to understand, today.
Enter Franciscan theologian and scriptural teacher Robert J. Karris, author of “Eating Your Way through Luke’s Gospel.” Karris is head of research at Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, in New York. He’s also a very frequent speaker on the importance of acting on faith to address the needs of the poor.
What better way for a people who love to eat, snack and dine, to clearly understand relationships relevant to life and the world today!
As I read again Luke’s Gospel, with the help of Karris’ book, my eyes are opened to this relevancy and importance. Karris first helps me understand what food, drink, meat, wine, fish, bread, hospitality and “symposiums over food” were like in Roman Palestine.
He then challenged me to read the book of Luke, deliberately looking for, even counting my way to more than 70 references to food.
“In Luke’s Gospel,” Karris writes, ‘Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. References to food abound on almost every single page of Luke’s Gospel.”
Why? What themes were intended? What was the relationship of food to power? What is food’s relationship to power today? Who is exercising that power and why?
Short, probing questions following each chapter in this slender, yet very full book, help readers reflect on how each story in Luke from long ago can nurture us today.
One of several reasons I look forward to working through the book in a group is that Lee Bohnhoff is taking up the task, too.
I’ve recounted in this newspaper my history of work in Africa back to the Peace Corps in 1975, up through volunteer trips to Senegal and work in the Congo the past 4 years. I share a deep appreciation for Africa with Lee.
A 1958 graduate of Luther College and 1962 graduate of Luther Theological Seminary, Lee recently retired from 39 years of Lutheran mission work in Cameroon.
The year he graduated from seminary in St. Paul, he married Eloise Hanson and they went to Paris, France for a year to study French before arriving in Cameroon in September 1963.
He worked in the Dii language (pronounced Dee), where over the years he trained 11 people for work in the Dii Literature Center. Each person learned to read, write, type, edit, create or translate, and mimeograph books and booklets for church use in Dii.
Lee had to teach the center employees how to manipulate a computer, diskettes and printer – when (and if) there was enough electricity to run the machines. There is none in Mbé where the Dii Literature Team works, so they sometimes had to work in Ngaoundéré.
The literature team produced a whole series of Dii books and booklets, some going through several editions over the years: primers and readers to teach reading and writing in Dii; hymnal, catechism, liturgy book, Bible stories booklets, evangelism tracts for ELCC work; development booklets on pregnancy, how to care for children, the danger of pesticides, how to improve cooking; and general literature and technical items like calendars, a Dii-French dictionary, a Dii Phonology and Grammar, booklets of folktales, and a Dii language course for expatriates, including audio tapes.
Lee’s last year in Cameroon saw published the latest edition of the hymnal, 91 selected Old Testament Psalms and the whole New Testament in the Dii language.
Eloise died in 1969 and is buried in Ngaoundéré. Lee remarried in 1979, to Torbjørg Johanne Heimstad who was working with the Norwegian Mission Society at the time.
They retired to the United States in 2001. Torbjørg passed away in 2012 and is buried in Orfordville Lutheran Cemetery. Lee continues to live in Orfordville.
I’ve already started learning from Lee what he’s learned and taught of Luke, a physician whose writing shows the best command of Greek in the Gospels.
Luke was also sort of an early reporter, interviewing people about the life of Jesus and writing about it. He is believed to have left his work as a physician in Antioch to follow the Apostle Paul.
Modern medicine is attributed to a Greek, Hippocrates, who lived some 400 years before Luke. Such lasting and pervasive influence as Hippocrates has had on medicine, it seems obvious his teachings are reflected in Luke’s writing.
For Hippocrates, health is food. It is intimately connected to what makes us strong or weak, healthful or sick, nourished or malnourished, fit or fat.
This brings us round to the beginning, the joy of eating and the quest for ethical living in Luke’s gospel. The invitation is open to everyone.