I’m kind of slow, so I’m just learning about my favorite kind of book. There’s no section for it, and I’m afraid I don’t know it until I’ve read it: I love books that have the guts to offer a Theory of Everything. So Dallas Willard in his magisterial Divine Conspiracy, or Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace, or the bits of NT Wright which I’ve read.
But what’s even better is when the book offers not a frontal assault, but a flanking maneuver. The very best books are the ones that are ostensibly about something common but which have deep, deep roots into something even larger and more real. Books that let you dig deep into the earth until you find and follow a vein of pure gold. So books about writing (Lamott’s Bird by Bird), or music (Scharen’s One Step Closer), or exercise (Long Distance, Bill McKibben). Books that do a great job about talking about something quite plain, until you realize with a start that they are talking about something much larger.
Which is what I found in Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb, a book which is a cookbook, but not really. Capon is a widely published author, and is in fact an Episcopal priest. Somewhere, sometime, I read him offering a compelling, contemporizing version of one of Jesus’ parables, and so when the wife mentioned this title, I threw it into my Amazon cart.
Wow. In this book that is in fact older than me, Capon speaks and swaggers like a Tony Bourdain with slightly more theology and a little less heroin. He is benevolently and unalterably opinionated– a man who has progressed past insecurity to arrogance, then to surety, and then finally to complete confidence: absolutely sure of what he thinks, yet perfectly willing to have you disagree. Nothing to lose. So his book might best be read aloud at a high volume, pacing back and forth in a murky room. At the very least, to read it is to constantly chuckle and read a paragraph to your neighbor.
From its abrupt beginning to its truncated end, the book follows a single recipe: a solitary leg of lamb for eight, times four. Four meals lovingly and passionately and deliciously extracted from a single piece of meat. Capon celebrates each step, each cut, each ingredient, and each edition of this grand unfolding of simple and extravagant enjoyment. He takes time for a proper celebration of an onion and a knife, of stocks and woks, of breads and soups: every element is lovingly and laboriously considered. Along the way, we enjoy slight diversions on the merits of cheese, lettuce, butter, bones, beer, and short naps after a spare lunch, along with stern, extended denouncements of the heresy of serving Welch’s at Eucharist. Through all of it, he argues for a way of life that is both spartan and sumptuous, in proper turn.
All of this blustery call toward a life fully lived and an embrace of earthy over ethereal leading toward the grand denouement of the Great Supper of The Lamb.
“Raise her not for what she is not;
But lift her up herself
To grace the Supper of the Lamb,
the unimaginable session
In which the Lion lifts Himself Lamb Slain
And, Priest and Victim,