Church Simplified

How Indonesian Lechon Made Me a Cain

I know everyone says they love food, but I really do. My love for it can border on obsession.  I’ve been told I’m scary when hungry.  I get tunnel vision. Vestigial homo erectus instincts kick in.  My animal brain narrows to a single, specific target. I hunt and stalk food. Oh, food, if you know what’s good for you, get a restraining order against me.

When I taste an exceptionally delicious dish, I get the urge to rub it all over my face.  I can proudly proclaim that I have not given into that urge—yet.  I’ve tasted things so delectable that my nostrils flare, my eyes bulge, and my breathing gets labored. I would curse with rage.  And then I’d cry.  Rage, for I might never taste it again; and tears because, well, I might never taste it again.  I’ve tasted things that made me want to rip off my clothes, stomp my feet, and moan like Meg Ryan in the deli scene of When Harry Met Sally.

I visited Bali last October. Took in the sights, gorged on the food. During the tour, the guide hyped up this one dish every visitor to Bali must try. But due to scheduling conflicts, most of my group had to go home to Manila having been denied the satisfaction of feasting on babi guling (Indonesian lechon). I, however, stayed on for another day. I felt obliged to continue the mission. Y’know, for the team!  

October 3, 2011. I was starving. It was 2:00 PM and I was about to have a very late lunch.  Finally my long-awaited babi guling arrived. It looked glorious—a plate of rice covered with slices of roasted pork and special sauce, pork skin refried to the consistency of chicharon (fried pork rind), black sausages, refried pig meat, and vegetables.

My friend stopped me from devouring my meal in order to take pictures.  I held back for 45 seconds and it was then I noticed that our taxi driver was putting food on his napkin.  He placed a little mound of rice, meat, and vegetables on it and put it beside of his plate.  I had a sneaking suspicion what it was for but I just had to ask.  “For the gods,” he said.

After inhaling my delicious babi guling, I started to think about this gesture and what it means.  Due to my aforementioned hunger-induced tunnel vision, I struggle to remember to say grace before meals, yet this driver has the discipline to set aside a portion of his precious babi guling even when he’s on the brink of starvation.

As I reflected further, it gave me insight into the Cain and Abel story. The story that gave the world the most famous fratricide and the infamous line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” had curious beginnings. Cain and Abel each brought offerings to God, but God only accepted Abel’s and rejected Cain’s. Cain’s anger built up and he murdered his brother. It is never spelled out exactly why one was accepted over another, but God seems to tell Cain he should know why (in Gen 4:7).

I’ve always prided myself on being an Abel—it is my birthright as second born!  It’s jarring to wake up one day and realize I’m a Cain.  Whenever I read the Cain and Abel story, I kinda sorta get why God liked Abel’s offering and not Cain’s.  But not really.  Shouldn’t God be happy with whatever you give him?

He is not.  As I read more of the Bible, I get the vibe of a God who is very clear about what He wants and does not want from His people.  And I feel frustrated for Him.

I had a fleeting thought as I was scarfing down my babi guling. “If there’s any left over, maybe I can offer that to God.”  And then came an even more shameful thought, which I’m convincing myself now I was just kidding at the time. “Maybe I can leave God the parts I don’t like.”  It is that thought that made me come to the cold realization that I am Cain: Cain who offered God some of the fruits (NIV Gen 4:3), while Abel offered the fat of the firstborn of his herd.  (Besides, if you’ve had babi guling, you know there are no undesirable parts.)

Now, I know it isn’t meant to be taken literally; God is not asking me to leave a little food on a tissue before every meal.  He is asking me for my best, not just what I can spare.  While there’s nothing wrong with praying while in traffic or waiting in line, is that the only time I find to spend with God?  That’s not really spending time with Him, that’s more like fitting Him into my schedule.  God wants me to make time for Him.  Give Him the best meat of my life, not the fat that is left over.

Giving God my best means putting Him first: before work, before play, before babi guling.  Besides, He gave me His best.  He sent Jesus Christ to die for me.  This isn’t some faraway event that is isolated in time and detached from my daily life.  God is eternal.  

We experience time linearly, the way a moviegoer watches a film that has a start and an end. However, I reckon God experiences time differently, like a photo editor looking at Polaroids spread out in no particular sequence in front of him.  When I committed my first sin, Jesus was dying on the cross.  While I was devouring my babi guling, Jesus was dying on the cross.   He is eternally dying on the cross for me.  Every moment of my life He is giving me His best.  With that in mind, I should ask this of myself daily: What is the best I could offer God today?


Andy Jalandoni is an archeologist who often travels for excavations both underground and in water. When she isn’t at one her digs, she is in search of good food and the best sunsets, and finds God somewhere in them.

Our front image is a photo we picked up from a food entry on the internet, also on babi guling.

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