The Body of Christ: It's What's for Dinner
Christians know how to eat. After all, it's the church ladies who are responsible for the ubiquitous spiral-bound cookbooks filled with meatloaf and pecan pie recipes for their potluck revival picnics.
When I learned that Reverend Billy Graham had scheduled his final farewell crusade at Corona Park in Queens, I wanted to try out my theory that you don't have to convert to eat like a Christian. I rounded up a team of hungry friends and we set out, hoping to stuff our bellies with some holy grub and participate in this pop culture phenomenon.
Exiting the 7-train, we were quickly absorbed into the slow crawl of crusade goers. I was determined to keep an open mind, even though dolls dripping with red food coloring were being waved in my face. I squinted, hoping to spot a table displaying the food options before I lost my appetite.
The way to my heart, mind and spirit is through my stomach. The only way the Christians stood a chance at converting me was if they presented me with the sublimest of tastings. The stakes were high.
Really the mission was doomed from the start. Between the crowds, the bottlenecking and bombardment of guilt-inducing request to hand over money for starving children in Africa (children who would have to sell their souls to Jesus as the condition for getting a meal), it wasn't long before it became evident this was not the place to be for good Christian eating. While they may be feeding kids in Africa, feeding us was not the priority here.
The food offerings were limited. We could only hope that Jesus would make a guest appearance to turn the limited food supply into larger quantities. And the little food available, proved to be vastly disappointing if not outright embarrassing.
There was foil-wrapped corn on the cob. The kernels were a Dayglo yellow - the first indication that they would be starchy without the necessary sweetness. With a hearty layer of carbon coating on the foil it looked like the corn had been cooking since the days when Jesus actually walked the earth.
When I spotted the pigs-in-a-blanket vendor, relief set in, until I got closer to investigate. As if in reaction to the hot summer weather, the blankets on the pigs were seasonably thin - more like a light tempura coating than a doughy ring. And the pigs themselves were as pale as the old-timer Christians' bald heads -- the white guys who seemed shocked and confused when the Latino Christian Rock kicked in. Despite its limited appeal, the line looped and turned for blocks. We waited for a half an hour and were still not even close to the lightly blanketed pigs. We passed the time watching a white Christian hip hop youth group as they bounced and jumped in synchronicity.
Not wanting to miss Billy's sermon or the alter call, we gave up on the pig line and found a potato chip stand with no line. With hunger grumbling like the devil in our bellies, we bought 10 bags - five sour cream and onion and five barbeque. At a mere $.50 a bag, the chips were a steal. Actually, all the food was surprisingly cheap. It must have been subsidized by all the "offerings" they kept collecting.
The police barricades set up to herd us in and out of the performance areas were elaborate. But despite the heightened security and the bag search, my little bottle of whiskey went unnoticed.
Unlike some unlucky souls who were forced to watch the crusade on big screens in satellite areas, we in the midst of Billy's actual presence. He might have been able to save my soul had he been close enough to lay hands on me. But alas, he was only a figure in the distance. We were so far removed from the legend himself that we were forced to watch him on the big screen too.
Apparently, big screens can save as well as Billy. During the alter call Billy proclaimed, "if you are open to making Jesus your personal Savior, come forward towards me." Then he presented instructions for those in the satellite zones. "If you are in one of the satellite sections walk towards the television screen." The idea of these hungry Christians walking towards a TV screen for salvation seemed like great material for a zombie movie: Ravenous Christian zombies storming towards the television screen, eating any flesh in their path.
While I'm relieved to report that none of my friends were saved that night, the food was a huge disappointment. Perhaps if I had actually felt the Holy Spirit moving through my taste buds, I would have given in and declared myself saved. But as always, the devil is in the detail and where the crusaders went wrong was the important detail of serving up good food.
In any case, it was nice to break from the usual Friday night routine of gluttony and sin. And the delicious Indian feast we ate in Jackson Heights, Queens warmed our hearts and bellies in a way that Reverend Billy wasn't able to do.