If you’ve ever tried to buy a hotdog in Chicago, you know that the fastest way to get kicked out of a hotdog joint in the city of wind and hotdogs is to ask for ketchup on it.
Putting ketchup on a hotdog in Chicago is about the most blasphemous thing you could do. I lived in Chicago. More than one hotdog place actually had a sign warning customers of the consequences of asking for ketchup.
Because, if you live in Chicago, the only correct way to order a hotdog is to order an authentic Chicago style hotdog. Mustard, relish, pickle, tomato, onions, sports peppers, and celery salt. That’s it. Done. Some places advocated for a modification that includes sauerkraut. But if it’s a modification, is it really the authentic version?
I’m sure the debate will never end. One might ask, “How did this come about?” Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t looked it up.
Because I don’t care. It’s food. Eat what tastes good. And maybe, preferably, is healthy. But whatever.
I love a good Chicago dog. But I grew up eating ketchup on hotdogs before I learned that doing so made me some sort of barbarian.
Does that mean ketchup on a hotdog tastes bad and is wrong? I’ll let you decide.
I also love Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s a curry based Indian dish. It’s fantastic. It’s this creamy spiced curry sauce with chicken mixed in that you put over rice. I will eat it any day, every day till I’m sick if I let myself.
However, it is not the authentic version of that dish even though I think it’s the “best” version. The original wasn’t so creamy. This version has been Westernized. Some say it originated in Britain, others say a Bengali chef in Scotland came up with it when he ran out of the proper ingredients.
And, I don’t care. Because I love what it is.
Does that make the original bad? No.
Does that mean it couldn’t ever be made better? No.
At what point does “authentic” stop being important and simply become a type of snobbery?
The word authentic has a number of overlapping definitions. It can mean “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.” Or “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.” Or “made or done the same way as an original.” Or “not false.” Or “true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.”
The importance of accuracy and truth can’t be downplayed. Having said that, does authenticity really matter to most of the things in our life? We need things to work or taste good or be healthy more than we need them to be “authentic.”
And, considering how bad humans are as unbiased historians, I feel a couple questions should be asked, especially if we are relating the concept of authenticity to things like religion, theology, and spirituality.
We should ask questions like: “So, you want authentic Adventism? Cool. But which version is authentic? The version that existed before the organization of the church? The version that believed organizing would be evil? The version that believed they knew when the world was ending and promoted it, not because of accurate theology, but because of the pressure of a magazine publisher named Snow who wanted William Miller to make it more flashy?
Or the version where it was just people who decided they agreed on a seventh day sabbath and wanted to hang out together but still believed they should be a part of and attend their old Sunday churches? Or the version just after organizing, who embodied everything the pre-organizers believed was wrong? Or the ones who affirmed legalism and shunned grace and love and pushed away one of their own founders because she believed love and grace mattered most? Or maybe the authentic version of Adventism is the one that didn’t always stand against racism and sexism? Or is it the one before Desmond Ford? Or the one after? Or is it the one that exists now? Which one of those or any other version is the most authentic version of Adventism?”
Now, let’s say we answer all those questions and more. We still have an even more important question to ask?
Does “authentic” equate with “good” or “better”?
So, we all somehow miraculously agreed on the most authentic version (by whichever definition we landed on), does that mean it’s automatically the healthiest version? The one that most closely conforms to the absolute truths that only God knows and that we are floundering to figure out?
At least one definition of authentic suggests that what is authentic is individual to the person as opposed to a universal truth. But all of them speak of being true to itself, either as a concept or an origin.
And none of those things rely on any sort of absolute accuracy, only a comparative accuracy as it relates to itself.
So, I will ask again. Does finding authentic Adventism actually matter at all? The authentic way of travel is by walking. So, no horses or cars or boats or planes. Authentic would mean we can’t have new and better things. Only the original things. Or the ones that self-validate by comparison.
Or the ones that harmonize with the original thought …
… even if that thought was wrong.
Instead of arguing over authentic Adventism, as some Adventists are wanting to do, what if we discussed spiritual health and paths to greater connection with our Creator?
Arguing over authentic Adventism suggests that Adventism is the point and goal. It, of course, is not. That’s like arguing over which tool is the most authentic. The hammer? A rock? Fire? A stick? That means no nail guns or pliers or screwdrivers or air wrenches. No saws, welders, or glue.
It turns out there are a lot of useful tools because every situation is a different context that requires a different solution and a different tool to make it happen. Having the correct tool for any given task makes all the difference in the world.
Why can’t religious organizations understand this simple basic concept? In fact, almost every other area of thought and vocation understands this concept. Just not religious ones. That chef in Scotland adapted and changed and created something every bit as awesome as the original. Maybe even better.
And put ketchup on your hotdog. It’s not bad.
And feel free to change up your spiritual journey as you need to. It was ok with Jesus, it was ok with the apostles (see Peter, John, and Paul), and stop worrying whether it’s authentic.
Here is an idea. What if you ignored everyone else, and just asked God, the great Chef of the Universe, to guide you to the spiritual recipe that works best for you, to get you to where you need to be, and just let the religion snobs practice their dark arts on someone else?
If they don’t like that you might need a little ketchup with Jesus, that’s their problem. Be at peace and dust off your sandals and go somewhere else. There are plenty of restaurants out there.
Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Gateway Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony, his wife Nirma, and daughter Amryn live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]