The World is No Disposable Ladder To Heaven: RIP, RFC

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Until 2003, Father Robert Farrar Capon served as an assisting priest at the Episcopal church fewer than 300 yards up the street where I grew up. I can remember learning to ride my bicycle in shaky circles in the parking lot of the historic (circa 1830) Baptist church that my father pastored, next to the parsonage where we lived. When I was ready to brave the sidewalk, I pedaled confidently until, passing Holy Trinity Episcopal, I’d invariably begin to totter. “Why do you always go wobbly when you pass the Episcopalians?” my father teased. “Do you find their theology wobbly?”

In truth, I was drawn to Episcopal worship before I had words to explain why. In my own church we sang songs that promised that if we turned our eyes upon Jesus, “the things of earth/will go strangely dim/in the light of his glory and grace.” I was weak in the knees for a way of worshiping that did not pit the “things of earth” against the “glory and grace” of Christ, but was capable of seeing them—the humblest of elements—charged with such glory. This is what makes The Supper of the Lamb remarkable both as a work of theology and as a cookbook: “The world is no disposable ladder to heaven. Earth is not convenient; it is good; it is, by God’s design, our lawful love,” Capon wrote. For Capon, discussing the physics involved in the preparation of a perfectly smooth gravy—down to the details of what sort of whisk does the job best—was of a piece with celebrating the goodness of God who created it all for delight, who means to lift all the good things of this world to grace, to that

unimaginable Session
In which the Lion lifts
Himself Lamb Slain
And, Priest and Victim
Brings
The City
Home.

Robert Farrar Capon’s writing is charged with an intense love for God and for all that God has made; it is deeply opinionated, utterly unique, and saturated with grace, reflecting the quirky appeal of the man himself, who, though now lifted to glory, leaves behind a warm invitation to taste and see that the Lord is indeed good.

{Read more of this piece, which originally appeared at Christianity Today here. Spoiler: RFC once asserted that all mothers should be plump, and he once burned a $20 bill in the pulpit!}

Weekend Eating Reading: Robert Farrar Capon

…the Saturday post!

Weekend Eating Reading briefly discusses at least one good book that’s somehow related to ‘joyful eating.’

This week I’m delighted to introduce the books of Robert Farrar Capon, the Episcopalian priest, cook, and writer best known for his modern culinary classic, The Supper of the Lamb, published in 1969.

Father Capon’s writing is witty, wise, and very funny. He aims to get you cooking well, but also to get you thinking well about cooking, food, and God. He’s opinionated and quirky, but few writers can match his theologically deep reflections on food. While many reviewers are quick to extol his famous “encounter with an onion” chapter, my favorite bit from The Supper of the Lamb is the part where Capon writes of calories as “invisible little spooks” and “nothing but idols to be destroyed”:

“Every time [a person] diagrams something instead of looking at it, every time he regards not what a thing is but what it can be made to mean to him, reality slips away from him and he is left with nothing but the oldest monstrosity in the world—an idol.”

Here Father Capon is making a case for celebrating the creation in all its wonderful particularity–letting the onions be onions, the heavy cream be heavy cream, and so forth. And the foundation for this celebration, for Father Capon, is God’s own delight in God’s creation–which includes the mysterious and interesting alchemy that happens in the kitchen.

You can read a 2004 interview with Father Capon here (it actually says very little about cooking and food, but is nonetheless interesting).

I’d start with The Supper of the Lamb. It’s one of the few books I decided I needed to own (rather than simply borrow from the library, as I usually do) because I return to it again and again. If you enjoy that, you’ll enjoy Capon on Cooking and Food for Thoughtif you can find them (they’re out of print.) Always, always, his passion is to celebrate the grace of God–a wonderful thing, indeed!

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite Capon quotes:

“Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and tongue to taste it.”

“The bread and the pastry, the cheeses and wine, and the sugar go into the Supper of the Lamb because we do. It is our love that brings the city home. It is I grant you, an incautious and extravagant hope. But only outlandish hopes can make themselves at home.”

“Man invented cooking before he thought of nutrition. To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste.”

Peace, readers! Enjoy the weekend!