February 22, 2015
Those of us eligible for my birthday club often hear the old cliché that wine and cheese improve with age. The cliché is generally offered as hopeful comfort, a reassurance that the diminishment process that accompanies aging can result in improvement.
While cleaning out my refrigerator this week I found some evidence that sharply qualified that old cliché. Improvement?—well, maybe. It depends.
What I found while cleaning (embarrassed full disclosure) was a small container of cottage cheese that had been lost back behind the milk cartons for a significant period of time. When I opened it I discovered instantly that in this case the cliché must be revised to read: aging improves some—not all—cheese. Cottage cheese is NOT on the list of cheeses that improve.
The incident demonstrated that it is timely attention to cleaning the refrigerator rather than age that benefits cottage cheese. But beyond this house-keeping reality, I was reminded of the complex relationship that exists between any process and the substance with which the process interacts. It’s the Which cheese? principle of life management.
Some recipes direct the chef to “reduce the remaining stock.” This direction requires that the liquid be placed on a low flame, heated to simmer (not boil), then left uncovered to process until evaporation has reduced the volume of the liquid to the desired amount.
If the liquid being reduced is the wine-based sauce for coq au vin the smell during the process is wonderful, and the chicken dish that results is truly a culinary treasure.
Now imagine with me that we try this same reduction process on a pan containing coffee left-over from breakfast. After only a short while, the acrid smell of over-brewed coffee makes the idea of drinking the stuff in the pan a taste nightmare for anyone, including the addicted coffee lover.
Reduction is, obviously, a form of diminishment that decreases volume. However, the consequence of this process varies with the substance itself—very different results for reduction of wine sauce than reduction of left-over coffee.
I find this fact both comforting and instructive.
While I have little control over the diminishment process, I have a great deal to say about the substance of who I am. Perhaps this truth lies at the core of hallowing diminishments.
I cannot evade the process of diminishment by denial, avoidance or manipulation of the appearance of reality.
In profound contrast, I can influence the consequence of diminishment by determining who I am. I shape the results of process through the becoming that I choose.
The issue isn’t simply a matter of process as such. The results of the time process, for example, depend on whether it’s cheddar or cottage cheese in the box.
Analogies are always limited, and inevitably break down in careful analysis. Because you readers are a thinking crowd, already you are protesting that cottage cheese cannot choose to become cheddar any more than a left-over pot of coffee can choose to change into wine sauce. You are correct, of course, but, considered closely, the limits of the analogy support the point I wish to make.
Who we are, unlike cheese, wine or coffee, is not composed of a fixed essence but of a becoming self. As a consequence, while in life we have little control of much of “the stuff” that happens to us, we can profoundly influence who it is that “the stuff” happens to.
For me, this is good news largely because I am confident I am not required to manage this becoming process alone.
Paul reassured the Philippian Christians that the good work that God had initiated in them remained God’s continuing concern, and that God himself would bring this work to successful completion. [Phil. 1:6]
I trust that you will not read the following “Hubbard Translation” as irreverent.
I have been thinking joyfully this week [2 Cor. 5:17] “Because I am in Christ I have become wine sauce; the left-over coffee has been taken away. Therefore, the diminishment process by definition can function as an enrichment because of who by God’s grace He has enabled me to become.”
See you next week, my wine-sauce friends,