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Reading a sign of the times

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HT-unconsecrated-communion-burger-nt-131004-16x9-608-jpg_205135For starters, it’s a $17 hamburger. That alone merits at least a raised eyebrow.

But this one, available until the end of the month on the menu of Kuma’s Korner in Chicago, is special. Here’s the restaurant owner’s own description on Facebook: “Red Wine Reduction (the blood of christ) with Communion Wafer garnish (the body of christ)” [sic]. It’s evident from the picture that the item being referred to is in fact a priest’s host — unconsecrated, of course, but nonetheless bearing the stamped image of a crucifix.

Breathe in … breathe out. All manner of things shall be well.

There are, of course, those who think this is great fun. The owner professes surprise that anyone has been offended; the restaurant has a heavy metal band theme, and the controversial burger is homage to a group called Ghost, whose lead singer dresses in the attire of a Roman Catholic cardinal.

Others are more exercised, and testily point out that it seems to be cultural open season on Roman Catholicism, and Christianity more generally, and that if the same restaurant decided to exploit the sacred symbols of Islam, for example, they would be subject to widespread public disapprobation. Point well made.

Personally, while I find the Ghost Burger … well … unappetizing, both literally and conceptually, I don’t think it’s worth whatever of my energy it would take to be either offended or angry. But I do find it immensely interesting as a sign of the particularly liminal moment we are in as developed-world western society proceeds at exponentially increasing speed down the path of dechristianization and secularization.

During my youth and most of my adult lifetime (I’m 62), the Ghost Burger would have been unthinkable. So many people would have found it so offensive that it would simply not have been a good business decision on the part of the restaurant owners. A burlesque on one of the central symbols of Christian religious practice would have incurred a firestorm of public wrath.

A decade or two from now — it’s hard to be precise about this — the Ghost Burger will be equally unthinkable, an equally bad business decision, but for a much different reason. Nobody will get the joke. At this moment, enough people have enough awareness that Catholic Christianity is “a thing,” and that part of this “thing” involves the ritual use of (stylized) bread and wine, that they understand that something is being mocked. Many find that entertaining, and some find is disturbing, but a critical mass of those who hear about it can figure out why it’s either amusing or offensive. A generation from now, I seriously wonder whether there will be a high enough percentage of mainstream society who would, without an explanation, understand what’s going on to have an opinion about it one way or there other.

If my cultural prediction is true, just as with the Ghost Burger itself, there are some within the increasingly marginal Christian community who will sound the alarms, and issue calls to “take back” our [fill-in-the-blank] for God/Christianity/morality … whatever. Others will prefer to see it as an opportunity. I find that there are so many misconceptions and misperceptions of Christianity floating about in our society that what people think they know about Christianity is perhaps the biggest obstacle to effective gospel proclamation and evangelization. Perhaps we will be received with more openness when the gospel is experienced as something fresh and new rather than an artifact of a decadent dominant culture.

The Ghost Burger is a bellwether of where we’ve been and where we are, but not of where we’re going. I say, hasten the day.

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