Sunday, February 1, 2009

the sourdough bread proof of apostolic succession

Yesterday at California Adventure, we wanted to be sure that we were adequately fed beyond our remaining Christmas Disney gift cards. And so it was that we went to both the Mission Tortilla Factory and the Boudin Sourdough Bread Factory tours, which include silly videos and (more importantly) free samples from these {somewhat} fine establishments.

I'd gone to the tortilla one multiple times given my palate's preference, but this time we wanted a fuller experience, and so we ended up sitting through a horrible dialogue with Rosie O'Donnell and some actor that I knew I was supposed to know to gain some sort of credibility, but thank the Lord I care not a dram for such status.

At any rate, my protest to the surroundings did not lead me to pay no attention at all. Instead, at any educational moment, etc., my eyes and ears were open. The video described how sourdough was made, contrasting it from other bread that is only based on yeast for its fermentation. Instead, there is (in the case of Boudin) a patented species of Lactobacillus that gives sourdough bread its distinctive qualities, especially its sourness.

You can read more about sourdough bread here, but the main point that I have today is that one other important thing about sourdough is that a big portion of its existence is what's called mother dough or starter dough.

That is, with each new batch of bread that is baked, a portion of the mix is kept to be used to make the next generation of bread. This is to the point where for things made by Boudin bakeries one can trace the formulation back to the likely very humble beginnings of this now huge company.

As I heard about the great continuity in this recipe that is attainable through mother dough in sourdough baking, I realized that this was a great picture of what Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox Christians see in their belief in Apostolic Succession.

There is something that is passed from bishop to bishop. It is no intangible notion of doctrinal "purity", which is a notion that has such a shifting definition that if you asked 10 scholars you'd get 20 opinions. Instead, those of us who hold to apostolic succession would say that there was something to Paul's words to Timothy--something that goes beyond the paltry realm of mere human allegiance, and enters the world of an amazing call of God that would keep His people from doubt in a world of too many options. It takes one to a realm where there is a flavor/recipe/taste that has the chance to be preserved in a world that shifts like sand.

The question is, do you view baking as something where each new creation is separate from the previous recipe? Can there be retooling in each generation? Are there even generations, or do we constantly "emerge" with each new group of believers? If there is no such continuity, how do we know that our gospel today is the same as that of yesterday? I looked at the world, with its dissension and failure to converge, and realized that there had to be something beyond pundits and scholars. There needed to be a gift to God's people that didn't just go from Paul to Timothy, but to us today in this painfully confusing 21st century. And so, like the Boudin bakers who have kept not only their recipe the same but the actual substance of their bread, I would challenge you all to answer this question: where is your mother dough?

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