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BBQ Sauce & World Peace

Updated: Jan 29


a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

August 6, 2023

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 

18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 

20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.  21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

BBQ sauce is serious business. Any of you from places like Texas, Kansas City, or even North Carolina? World peace is almost as serious a topic in those places, but Rev. Susan Sparks has a plan to reach the latter by way of the former. Yes, world peace through barbecue sauce.

Sounds revolutionary or at least strange, but being that Rev. Sparks is a woman AND an ordained Baptist preacher we can imagine she is pretty revolutionary. Side note on that: although she pastors in New York, she is apparently from North Carolina. I don’t know if she was ordained in North Carolina, but I have to wonder, especially given the churches the Southern Baptists are throwing out for being too radical! What was their sin? They have been ordaining women!

Anyway, in a recent sermon [ “World Peace Through Pulled Pork,”, July 10, 2023 ] she offered a plan for world peace. It is based on her experience with BBQ sauce and the fact that she is from North Carolina. She shares her experience of the BBQ sauce wars from there:

She says, “I hail from a state that offers a no-fail plan for world peace. It’s not from politicians or pundits, peaceniks or pedagogues. No, my friends, the secret lies in how the people of North Carolina have learned to live with a difference of opinion so deeply ingrained that’s it almost genetically encoded. The bone of contention? Barbecue sauce.

“If you didn’t have the privilege of being raised in a BBQ-centric state, this may seem a bit far-fetched. But those of us who have lived with the tension, endured the heated debates, and been dismissed or demeaned because of our sauce preference know better.

“The sauce saga began over 300 years ago with the introduction of a tangy, vinegar-based sauce-a vestige of Caribbean and West Indian influences that included vinegar, salt, and black and red pepper. The turning point came in 1876 when Heinz introduced a new-fangled concoction called ketchup. Soon after, the western part of the state led by German immigrants in Lexington, North Carolina, began experimenting with a different, sweeter tomato-based sauce. Like a Baptist church that stopped lovin’ Jesus, this was the ultimate blasphemy.

“Brother began to turn against brother, family against family. Everyone jumped into the fray, and the name calling continues to this day. For example, Dennis Rogers, a columnist, western sauce advocate and the self-appointed ‘Oracle of the Holy Grub,’ once publicly referred to the eastern recipe as ‘imitation BBQ.’ At the other end of the spectrum, author Jerry Bledsoe, a rabid eastern sauce advocate, and the self-professed ‘world’s leading, foremost barbecue authority,’ once wrote in the Raleigh News and Observer, ‘‘People who would put ketchup in the sauce they feed to innocent children are capable of most anything.’ This is war, and it’s a war not unlike many of our modern headlines. In fact, most of our global problems break down into the same formula as the NC barbecue ruckus: someone is trying to mess with something that is ‘holy’ to someone else.”

She suggests that, “perhaps our global leaders might consider studying how North Carolinians have engaged in a generations-old fight without annihilating each other. Our solution is quite simple. Step one: we remember what we have in common. North Carolinians may fight over the sauce, but in the end, we are all lovers of what it enhances: pulled pork. What if Democrats and Republicans tried this approach? Our two parties fight over, well, everything. But in the end - Democrats or Republicans - we’re are all Americans.

“Step two: North Carolinians realize that while we disagree on the means, the end goal is the same: we are all just trying to make a better barbecue sauce. What if we gave the same consideration to those who walk a different path? What if we assumed the good intentions of those who are different and gave them the benefit of the doubt?

“Step three: We put all the sauces on the table and share a meal together. Oscar Wilde once said, ‘After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.’ I found out the truth of this statement growing up in Charlotte, the war-torn border of the barbecue wars, which meant we knew a thing or two about compromise. For example, during holiday dinners family members gathered around our table would include people from eastern and western North Carolina, South Carolinians (who worship a completely different, mustard-based sauce), and even, gasp, Texans, who prefer brisket to pulled pork. My mother, always the diplomat, would place all the different meats and sauces on the table, give one of her ‘looks’ to the gathered barbecue enemies, then announce like a general on a battlefield, ‘Now sit down and eat. And let’s agree to disagree.’

“And that, my friends, is how you accomplish world peace. Like mixing a beloved barbecue sauce, it just takes a dash of diplomacy, a pinch of patience, and equal portions of empathy and respect. So, the next time you feel your blood pressure spiking over the daily news, imagine pulling up a chair, putting all the sauces on the table, and enjoying a meal with those with whom you disagree.”

Don’t you wish it were that simple? Do you remember the Coca-Cola advertisement from a few years back: “I’d like to teach the world to sing…” and everyone passed around a bottle of Coke and smiled and sang and there was world peace. Ah, the imagination of these people.

But why can’t we imagine that? We can get all caught up in how they fed 5000 men with a few loaves and fish. We can get all determined to prove or disprove a miracle. The bottom line is this is a story that tells us God’s vision for our world. This is God’s vision for the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” or as I like to call it the coming of the perfect Reign of God. The Reign of God will be when everyone is fed and satisfied and there are enough leftovers for anyone who was late to the party, didn’t get an invite to the party, or decided to stay outside by the fence because that brother of theirs is in there and they can’t forgive him or abide by his actions. You know, the Prodigal one. The question is, will someone reach out to change a heart?

Well, I have news. God will. We may not know how to do this. We may not be willing to sit down over pulled pork or bread and wine, but God will. I may not like my sister because she eats that vinegary pork. But God will. And God will keep working until God finds enough people who will. And that’s when we will all sit down and eat, and drink, and be satisfied, and there will be plenty more satisfaction where that comes from. When will we start willing what God wills? I suspect that’s when there will be world peace.

When we gather at this table, let us imagine this happening everywhere, across the whole world.People, together, all eating and drinking.Together.AMEN.

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