Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Portable Soup

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 27, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The grey January day turned into a wet rainy day. Even though our condo was just a few hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean, the beach was barely visible. The rain came in waves, a blustery rain, driven by the wind. We were spending a long weekend at a family reunion in Long Beach, Washington. What would we do on such a stormy day?

My brothers-in-law and I decided to visit the Lewis and Clark interpretive center at Cape Disappointment State Park a few miles south of Long Beach. The interpretive center features a series of mural-sized timeline panels that take visitors through the westward journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition using sketches, paintings, photographs, and the words of the expedition members.

As I was taking in the exhibits, I came across one mural panel that caught my attention. On Saturday, September 14, 1805, Sergeant Patrick Gass wrote in his journal: “none of the hunters killed anything except 2 or 3 pheasants; on which, without a miracle it was impossible to feed 30 hungry men and upwards, besides some Indians. So, Capt. Lewis gave out some portable soup, which he had along, to be used in cases of necessity. Some of the men did not relish this soup and agreed to kill a colt; which they immediately did and set about roasting it; and which appeared to me to be good eating.”

What was portable soup, I wondered. Lewis and Clark didn’t take much in the way of food. The expedition was planning to hunt, fish, forage, and trade along the way. Under Provisions and Means of Subsistence, Lewis lists assorted spices, three bushels of salt, and 193 pounds of portable soup. If I wanted to know what portable soup was, I would have to do some research.

I found that portable soup was the 19th century’s version of space food. It was intended for periods of dire dietary emergency. Portable soup, also known as pocket soup or veal glue, had been around since the 1600s. An early recipe from 1694, calls for a leg of veal, boiled, then the broth reduced and cooled until it forms a slab of jelly about the size of a hand. Wrap this in paper to dry, and it will keep many years.

It seems that no one liked to eat portable soup. When Captain James Cook was heading for Australia in 1772, he took 1,000 pounds of portable soup on board the Endeavour. Some sailors, the records show, were flogged for refusing to eat it. It is reasonable to conclude that the soup was unsatisfying and had a disagreeable taste. The portable soup was intended to be combined with hot water, meat, vegetables, and spices to make a passable meal. Captain Cook and Lewis and Clark had none of these things except water.

During this time, portable soup was well known. In Johann David Wyss's 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson, portable soup is mentioned several times. The youngest son, Franz, first mistakes it for glue, and then later suggests it be used as a substitute. William Wilberforce, the British politician who worked tirelessly to stop the slave trade, wrote, “Do not curtail too much, portable soup must be diluted before it can be used.”

There is a trend in modern Christianity that seems to equate the gospel with portable soup. It will keep you alive, but it must be diluted and made palatable before people will accept it. But the gospel isn’t portable soup. It isn’t a concentrate. Some people present the gospel as their personal concentrate. They focus on certain aspects of Christianity and neglect the rest, ending up with a bitter tasting “gospel.” Often people distort the Bible for their own purposes, but if you truly reflect on the life of Jesus, you will realize that Christianity is not about hate at all, but rather about love.

In Psalms 34:8 (NRSV) David tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” And He is speaking from experience. In Psalms 119:103 (NKJV) he wrote, “how sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!” David loved God’s word and wanted others to try it and see how good it was. Instead of presenting a bitter concentrated “portable soup” version of the gospel, we as Christians need to tell others how much we enjoy what the gospel has done for us.

“Try it; you’ll like it.” That’s what David is urging us to do. He is encouraging us to experience what he has already discovered, God’s salvation. Like a momma who encourages her child to try at least one bite of a new food, he asks us to try it out, to do a quick taste-test. Because when we do, He knows that we will see God’s goodness in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

In 1 Peter 2:1-3 (NLV) Peter wrote, “Put out of your life hate and lying. Do not pretend to be someone you are not. Do not always want something someone else has. Do not say bad things about other people. As new babies want milk, you should want to drink the pure milk which is God’s Word so you will grow up and be saved from the punishment of sin. If you have tasted of the Lord, you know how good He is.”

Gentle Reader, have you tasted of the Lord? Do you know how good he is? If you have, tell others about your experience with God. Tell them what he has done for you. Before he left this earth, Jesus told his disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (NIV) Today he asks us to be his witnesses in Mena, and in all of Arkansas and the United States, and to the ends of the earth. Ask someone today to taste and see that the Lord is good.

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