One of my passions is learning the fine art of smoking various meats and learning the nuances of regional forms of barbecuing. I have now become known as the guy in my congregation that wants to throw parties centered on everyone eating brisket and well-rubbed and smoked ribs. From the double-dry rubbed ribs of Memphis to the pulled pork and coleslaw topped with pepper-vinegar sauce in North Carolina, I love all things barbecue. In the spirit of perhaps the single greatest contribution of America to the world: ribs, I offer this theology of ribs.
Firstly, to eat ribs is to live in the mode of receptive doxology before God as we receive from God a gift of new life and promise. It should be noted that in the story of the Bible, meat is not given to humankind to eat as a result of the Fall, rather it is given after God’s covenant with Noah that he will never again destroy the earth (Gen. 9:2). Thus, the eating of meat is an act of celebration and confidence in God’s gratuitous promise to preserve, sustain and nurture our lives.
Secondly, to cook and eat ribs is to resist the consumerist zeitgeist of this present age. Smoking meats is an inherently timeful activity, requiring patience and the discipline of submitting oneself to learning the skills and virtues necessary to produce properly tender and delicious meats. As such it is an embodiment of discipleship which requires Christians to timefully commit to learning the hard art of the craft of discipleship. In a world of instantly prepared Big Mac’s, Christians must be found amongst those timefully smoking racks of baby back ribs if they are to be counted as true disciples.
Thirdly, to cook and eat ribs is an act of subversive solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. It is not often known, but the most delicious and treasured forms of barbecue, particularly ribs are, historically speaking, the product of slaves and peasants. It was those members of society who were at the bottom which were given these cuts of meat because the larger cuts of boneless meat were treasured by the rich. Thus, the enslaved, the poor, and the oppressed developed methods of slow-cooking over smoke that tenderized and rendered mouth-wateringly delicious these “less desirable” cuts of meat. Thus, to eat ribs is to participate in an ancient tradition of solidarity with the oppressed.
Fourthly, to cook and eat ribs is to participate in the hospitality of the Triune God. To engage in the timeful process of preparing ribs is to be turned outside of oneself toward welcoming others into the joys of mutual feasting. No one cooks a rack of ribs for themselves. To prepare ribs is to live ek-statically and in the inherently ecclesial mode of koinonia.
Finally, to cook and eat ribs is to anticipate, through the Spirit the final eschatological consummation of all things in the great messianic banquet. Some vegetarian Christians may insist that in the eschaton there will be no more eating of meat. However, the prophetic visions insist that this is not the case:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. (Isa. 25:6-8)
Thus, I believe we can confidently say that we will all feast on ribs eternally. And thus we shall find ourselves, rapt in Triune goodness enjoying forever the luminescent symphony of savor: smoked ribs and barbecue sauces from all tribes, tongues, and nations in the fullness of perichoretic delectability.