Tastes differ

“Can flavorless food be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg? My soul refuses to touch them; they are as loathsome food to me” (Job 6:6-7 NKJB).

I have always been familiar with the truism that everyone’s tastes differ, but until I started traveling widely I had not appreciated just how universal that is, or how widely it applies. Yes, some like pie better than cake, some have a sweet tooth whereas others don’t, but aren’t some tastes universal? After all, Job has a point – the white of an egg just has no flavor, right?

I know one individual who will not touch the white of an egg – never has, even from childhood. But it was much later that I learned that there are others who will not eat the yolk, and not just for health reasons. They prefer the tasteless (to me, but not to them) white.

In South Asia tastes get really weird, at least from an American point of view. I have tried for decades to bring treats over and to introduce favorite things to friends in Nepal and Bangladesh. Most such efforts are conspicuously unsuccessful. I have taken preachers out for fine steak dinners only to have them pick at their food while waiting to go home to eat rice and curry.

The motto of many in this part of the world is simple: “No chili, no taste.” If it does not burn the tongue and lips it is “sweet” and might as well be flavorless. I have learned to accept that and not to fight it. If they don’t want to eat what I do, there is no law that says they have to. On the other hand, if I can’t learn to eat what they do I may be hungry a lot. American food is in short supply elsewhere.

Taste, that is preference, is not limited to food. We have tastes in clothing styles, music, reading material, sports and entertainment, and virtually all other areas of activity. In most of those we recognize our preferences for just that. Our tastes are personal and optional. I may not wear pink shirts or listen to rap music; that gives me no right to look down on someone who does.

Sometimes, however, we are not willing to acknowledge that an opinion is simply a matter of taste, rather than something more essential. This is especially true in religion. How often have we observed the introduction of a new idea or technology to see it rejected by some simply because it is different? From song books to Power Point presentations, every new thing has its opponents and detractors. Soon it is made apparent that it is only a matter of what they are used to and like; not an issue of doctrine or right and wrong.

Tragically this matter of taste often becomes an insistence on what one person or group likes in opposition to the preferences of others. Talk to members of nearly any congregation and you will find someone who just doesn’t like those new songs “they” are singing. Others prefer a certain style of preaching, or a particular order of worship.

There is a saying that few churches can survive a new building program without trouble. The problem is the multitude of options and choices. From the cost of the project to the size and number of rooms, to the color of walls and carpet, there can be endless discussion and argument. Tempers flare and feelings get hurt. Congregations have divided as a result.

One aspect of Christian maturity is the willingness to examine oneself and genuinely seek to separate personal taste from biblical doctrine. It is not necessary for me to “like” everything that is done in the congregation. Everyone else does not have to share my opinions and prejudices.

Yes, matters of doctrine and biblical teaching are established for all time and we must not change them. But there is room for different tastes. In fact, there is even much benefit to variety in taste. Different preferences lead to different abilities which helps to accomplish much more to the benefit of all.

Maybe we could all learn from the children’s nursery rhyme. “Jack Sprat would eat no fat, his wife would eat no lean. And so between the two of them they licked the platter clean.”

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