unchecked appetite

When I tell people I went to Cuba they assume that I went to a resort town on the coast, rather than an impoverished cattle town that is hours away from the nearest thing resembling a resort. I just spent seven days in Camajuani, Cuba. I can’t get the food out of my head. While we were there we had plenty to eat. Our Missionary to Cuba constantly reminded us, “remember, when you’re not here, they don’t eat like this.”

We heard a story of a Cuban Pastor who visited the US to speak at a church that was supporting him. The Cuban pastor went to a restaurant and a Wal-Mart and then spent two Woman Cubadays locked in his room. The family who was hosting him asked why he didn’t want to come out of his room. The answer was really simple. He was grief stricken. How could he go out and enjoy food when he wasn’t sure if his family had eaten that day? He spent two days fasting and praying for his family because he was so overwhelmed by our availability of food and goods. For anyone who lives in an economy of scarcity, coming to a place of plenty can be shocking.

On the flight home, I had the option to watch free TV. I found myself watching the Food Network for the first time. It was the week before Thanksgiving so I watched a food competition where the contestants prepared fancy renditions of the classic Thanksgiving meal.   It is so strange to come back home where food isn’t just fuel, it’s also entertainment. As each contestant revealed their final product for the judges, they lifted their lids; the judges either lit up or squirmed in disgust. I kept wondering how a Cuban who had never seen this kind of food entertainment would respond. How offensive it might be to their consciousness that we play with food on TV for the entertainment of the country while they starve. While watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the way that C.S Lewis used food to shine a light on society’s warped sense of sexual appetite. He said:

“Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country, something had gone wrong with their appetite for food?”

My trip to Cuba made me view our society a bit differently. Our addition to everything and our lust for plenty has had a tainting effect on our sense of appetite. Its no secret that our culture loves sex and has pushing the envelope sexually for years, and now most new TV shows on Netflix have some sort of nudity or graphic sex. I was watching a historical documentary and for seemingly no purpose there was a nude scene; this is simply the new normal. We have so sexualized our entertainment that it seems like any normal show cannot make it without a nude scene. It seems that our communal sexual appetite has grown to ravenous proportions.

Our appetites grow vastly with the availability of cheap goods. I admit that I am an avid Amazon Prime user. I love a good deal and free two day shipping is just amazing. But have we stopped to ask the question of how does this ability to get anything we want whenever we want shape us? Have we become a people who are dependent on instant gratification? Do our appetites grow to proportions that are impossible to feed? Are we a people who are slaves to this newfound hunger for cheap goods?

Being in Cuba revealed that our American culture has a ravenous appetite for anything and everything. Its not just food and cheap goods, but it is every little thing that we do. Its not enough to take a picture, we have to Instagram it and receive the heart shaped affirmation of people we may not even really know. Kids are being shaped and molded by their hunger for virtual affirmation. Vaping has revealed that the air we breathe is no longer good enough it must be flavored. TMZ is so successful because they understand that our cultural appetite for making fun of people can be packaged and sold to us in a way of which we feel like our hands are clean in the process.

All of these examples and many more make me wonder what is the cost of an unchecked appetite to a free society? First, when our appetites grow in all areas, we have to feed them; they will become monsters that demand to be fed. We run the risk of surrendering our free will so that we can fulfill whatever desire is most pressing. We run the risk of our desires dictating our budget and our time, rather that what is good or useful. Some desires are natural and healthy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my need for a 3pm caffeine boost is neither natural nor healthy. (Cuba ruined me on coffee…but that’s another story)

When our appetites become unchecked, we become adverse to anything that requires a commitment. Commitment requires the endurance of suffering. This is why in one of the most fundamental of commitments we vow to stick with each other in rich and poor, sickness and health, the good times and the bad. I think our regular commitments like church attendance form us in powerful ways, but sometimes you will wake up and not want to attend, the question is are you a slave to your desires and appetites or will you do something even if it is hard?   There is a glaring conclusion to a world where we either wittingly or unwittingly allow our appetites to go unchecked. That is, we will stop doing anything that costs us anything. Our propensity to keep a commitment will dwindle; we will keep the commitment so long as it is beneficial to us. It costs something to love your neighbor; there is an inherent sacrifice in it. Yet in our desire to fulfill all of our appetites for goods and technology, I wonder if we have engineered our way out of need for genuine and authentic community. Lastly, when we are so concerned with fulfilling our own appetites, then the side effect of self-centeredness is hard to ignore.

It seems like in our push away from modernity and into post-modernity we have communicated that our feelings and our desires are the truth. I am a novice in philosophy, but this seems to be the point of many post-modern authors. If this were the case, then I would reject that thought entirely. I would argue, the Apostle Paul’s point, many feelings, desires, and appetites are natural but they are not always beneficial, and they are certainty not the truth. For example, people have natural sexual appetites that are good for a marriage and for procreation in general, but I have seen the unchecked sexual appetite of a person ruin a marriage. I have seen where pornography has absolutely wrecked relationships. I would argue that the viewing of pornography falls into a sexual appetite that has gone amiss. I would suggest a search for truth. Where can it be found? What is it? Are my wants and desires good, are they true?

Just as a fish may not notice the water it’s in, you may have never seen our nation through the lens of crazed appetites. I want to invite you to examine your own appetites. Has your lust for food changed the way you live? Has your hunger for electronics made you a slave to credit card payments? Have your sexual cravings benefited you? Maybe you have seen yourself in the midst of reading this. Maybe its time for an appetite re-set. It isn’t hard. I suggest just eating what you need, nothing fancy, just good healthy food. Maybe you don’t buy anything that you don’t absolutely need? Perhaps you’d willingly sacrificed yourself for the sake of others. Maybe there is an elderly neighbor in need of your during the holidays. Perhaps you think of how you can serve your spouse. Get imaginative with your kids to get them off the electronics and out of the real world.

There is much that could be done about our unchecked appetites. But the biggest thing that you can do is to realize that your appetites are shaping you more than you are shaping them.

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