31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
I am a terrible vegetarian. Have been for about 5 and a half years. And before that, I was a not-as-terrible-fake-vegetarian, for about 15 years. Citing environmental reasons, I didn’t eat beef or pork - nothing that walked on four legs - claiming that their demands on the earth are far greater than their feathered and fishy counterparts. And then I learned how the feathered and fishy counterparts are raised and processed, and decided to give up all fleshy sources of protein all together. And so I proceeded to commit my self to vegetarianism.
And after the CSA boxes ran out, and the winter doldrums entered in, year after year, I’d commit myself to my own form of vegetarianism - carbs and more carbs. Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, but always in the form of carbohydrates. A cup of coffee for breakfast, a few Pop-Tarts for lunch and cheese pizza and a side of mac and cheese for dinner -and voila! I’m a vegetarian! No animals were directly killed for the sake of my bodily nourishment! Somebody give her a plaque! Cue the Oscars Lifetime Achievement award music! Pat her on the back for being so right and so good.
Except I was tired all the time. So I ate more sugar - usually in the form of Swedish Fish and Skittles - and drank more coffee - preferably laced with caramel flavored sugar and diluted with steamed milk - YAY! Protein!
And I’d get a huge rush. GO! GO! Do all the things!
And then I’d crash.
So. Obviously, I needed to make cupcakes and drink Mountain Dew.
And the cycle continued. Yay! Vegetarian!
Aren’t I doing the right thing?! Aren’t I moral and right and good?!
My form of vegetarianism had altruistic reasons behind it, but in my flailing around to be right, to be “moral,” to be healthy, I missed the point altogether. I was being destructive to my own body. To my own psyche. I was walking around all judgy and self-righteous, while my body was calcifying, wanting to do nothing but sleep, wanting nothing but to shut down, to curl over itself in the fetal position and lay there forever. Apathy was setting in.
In my striving to get it right, to be “good,” to meet some kind of higher standard, I’d lost sight of the whole point, lost sight of what was really good for me, and lost sight of what I really needed.
And isn’t that our dear Peter in our passage today?
He got the first question brilliantly right. Lightning struck, he won the powerball, he pulled all cherries, somehow out of sheer luck, he got the BINGO. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. And Peter pulls an answer out of his ass and gets it right, “You are the Messiah.”
So, Peter thinks, “why not try again? I’m doing so well. I’m being so right”
But, “Things are going to get hard,” Jesus says. “Things aren't going to look like you planned. Things aren’t going to make sense, and they’re going to hurt, and all the striving in the world, all the doing the “right things” are not going to lead you to the conclusion you thought. Things aren’t going to work out the way you planned. Get ready.”
And Peter says, “No! This can’t be true! The paradigm that I have set up for myself, the one we’ve always been taught, leads us to sunshine and flowers and vegetarianism and capitalism and democracy and being right and good and moral.”
And Jesus tells him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Peter has gotten it so wrong.
That’s not the way. The true way through is dark and messy and painful and you might even wish you were dead, it’ll get so bad. But that’s the way.
The way is uncertain and hazy and scary. But that’s the way. No amount of being “right” or moral justification, or environmentalism, or Krispie Kreme doughnuts is going to get you there. Even if Krispie Kremes are vegetarian.
I really needed some protein.
And of course you can get plenty of protein as a vegetarian. Just not in Jenn’s form of vegetarianism.
You could just say, “buck up, Jenn. Take up your cross! Eat the beans! Eat the hummus and the lentils and the tofu and the seitan. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do this thing right?”
Allie Brosh, author of the famous blog, “Hyperbole and a Half,” says that “trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn't going to work.”
I was missing a fundamental building block. Without it, my muscles were atrophying, my eyes were heavy, and I was hungry all the time. So I’d drink more coffee and eat more skittles and get the shakes. So I’d order a latte and a doughnut. And crash in an emotional, twitching, heart murmur pile. I needed some protein. Before I could do or be or fix anything else, I needed protein, and quick. And that meant a sacrifice. A sacrifice of the grass-fed organic cow that I would eat a part of, and a sacrifice of my old paradigm, my old comfortable place where I could sit - high above everyone else - and be right.
I was doing everything I could to make my paradigm work. To make being a vegetarian work. To sacrifice what I thought I needed to sacrifice. And it wasn’t working. With two boys to care for and no time to cook, I was banging my head against a wall of vital wheat gluten, expecting different results. What I thought was going to be my big sacrifice, my “cross” I was to carry, ended up a dead end. Instead of giving me life, it was killing me. So maybe I needed something else. A shift in my thinking. A messier way of being.
I needed some protein. And for me, that required a sacrifice. From the earth. Of an animal. From me and my idealism and my expectations and my paradigm.
So I eat some meat now. Not because I’m proud of it, or because I think you should to, or because I’m tired and giving up. But because things are messier for me now. Things aren’t easy, and they don’t make sense, and they feel a little dark a lot of the time. Not just in what I eat, but in most everything I do. The road is bumpy and unpaved and unclear and dark a lot of the time.
But I hope that means that I’m somehow closer to the track that Jesus has laid out for me - the hard track where being “moral” or “right” or “vegetarian” isn’t a quick fix for the struggle that is ahead.
But here’s the thing. Here’s the turning point. Here’s the hope and the big shift: It’s a struggle that Jesus himself has endured, a struggle that God knows intimately. Jesus has gone through the darkness and the painful paradigm shift where the Messiah isn’t a king who fixes everything, but a man, weakened by the cross, killed in shame, and then is raised again.
What is your paradigm shift? What is the way through the darkness that Jesus is calling you? What will bring you transformation and resurrection?
It’s not through the easy way. It’s not through simple solutions. It’s not without sacrifice. Not without sacrificing the things you’d never thought you’d have to.
Thanks be to God?