Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Abomination Unto the Lord

I've been thinking tonight about childhood prohibitions, how they are formed, and how we as adults find ourselves uncritically perpetuating them long after they have served their protective functions.  This reflection was prompted by a bottle of aspirin, and the memory of how we ate pork in my childhood. *Please note that the following reflections are memory-myths, and I have provided links to the actual facts about both aspirin and pork.*

My mother often cooked pork chops for dinner, often with sauerkraut (which I refused to eat and still do). She broiled the pork in the bottom of the oven, and when it was white all the way through, and the juices ran clear, she would serve it. While we ate our beef medium rare, pork was cooked well done, and all dishes that came into contact with the raw pork were washed immediately and thoroughly.

I'm not entirely sure what my mother said about undercooked pork, but my impression was that the parasite trichinosis was some kind of worm that ate out your brain from the inside, and that if you ate pork that was even a little bit pink, a live trichinosis parasitic worm creature would take up residence and eventually come out your eyeball. Trichinosis could cause you to die within a matter of days.

Once when I was an adult and married, the whole family went to eat at a fancy restaurant by the sea. The waiter came to tell us the specials, and one of them was a pork dish cooked medium rare. My entire family gasped in horror and whispered of trichinosis while my husband looked on with some amusement. The waiter, I am sure, thought we were very strange.

When I was a child my mother had aspirin in the house, but we were prohibited from taking it. We could have ibuprofen (Advil & what have you) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), but not aspirin. When my mother was a child she knew a girl who took aspirin while she had a high fever, and she developed Reye's Syndrome. According to my mother, the girl was a smart child before she got sick, and when she returned to school she was unable to perform simple classwork. My mother was assigned to be her tutor.

This is an old family story that has mythic characteristics. I no longer remember the girl's name, although I bet my mother could still tell me. The truth of the story is difficult to verify since it was information gathered by an eight year old girl nearly 60 years ago and then passed on to another eight year old girl about 30 years ago. And the story was told, not as a memory, but to inscribe upon my memory that aspirin can cause brain damage or death.

I have never, not once, given my own children aspirin.

But tonight my body is very sore from swinging an axe on Sunday for an hour, and in the place I stay for school the only thing in the medicine cabinet is a bottle of aspirin. Truthfully I don't even know the proper dosage for aspirin since I almost never take it. And logically I know that I will not develop Reye's Syndrome from taking aspirin for some sore muscles. But I hesitated a while before opening that bottle, because inscribed into my body and soul is the memory that aspirin can cause brain damage or death.

As an adult I do not serve pork chops in my house. I don't even keep aspirin in the house, and I hide the Pepto Bismol (which has aspirin in it). If you tried to give my children undercooked pork or aspirin, I would snatch them up and stare at you in horror. I would lecture you ad nauseum about the dangers of what you had done. This is not a logical response, but it is a visceral response to the cultic-mythic understanding of food and medicine instilled in me from childhood.

This is the lens through which I consider most of the prohibitions found in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. I present to you some verses from Deuteronomy 22-25.
You shall not sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, or the whole yield will have to be forfeited, both the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard itself.

You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together.

You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together. 
You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself.

Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

If one of you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp; he must not come within the camp. When evening comes, he shall wash himself with water, and when the sun has set, he may come back into the camp.
If you go into your neighbour’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in a container.

If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.
Leviticus and Deuteronomy are full of prohibitions (including shrimp), and threats of horrible death for those who violate those prohibitions. These prohibitions serve a protective function much like my fear of men does--rooted in truth and experience. But there is a need to re-examine the old myths. Not to invalidate them or dishonor their roots, but to determine whether the prohibition and fear needs to remain in place. We are not, after all, static.


  1. No, but we are also resistant to change. Some more than others. And in large numbers even more so. It is so much easier to follow a proscribed path, than to create your own and stand against the scorn of those who wish to see no change.

    The laws were created to protect and control. For the most part even today they still are. Laws designed to maintain a status quo.

    As individuals we sometimes step beyond those confines. Either through necessity or simple curiosity. But the larger society's interests, especially those in power's interests are best served by keeping things static. And they can tell us at length why we should listen to them. Selling the ideology of stagnation. Because it is comfortable. It is easy. It takes no risk.

    Laws are not always right. Jim Crow laws were/are a perfect example. We can effect change as individuals, in our lives, and if enough of us do the status quo shifts. And then we changed individuals now become the society that is trying to preserve its control.

  2. I cook pork, always well done, but I don't take aspirin...I think the tale was that if you took aspirin before you had chicken pox you could get Rye's syndrome or something like that.

  3. ummm, too much Tylenol can seriously damage your liver... just saying.

  4. We do thanksgiving with my husband's family. I noticed that every year, there were not sweet potatoes. I decided to learn how to make sweet potatoes and take them to dinner. I did and no one from my husband's family would eat them. Only those of us who had married into the family ate them. It was so strange--I made enough sweet potatoes for 15 people and took more than half of them home, so I was a little disappointed, too.

    I asked my husband and they have a similar family story--they didn't eat sweet potatoes because his mom tried to buy them and they were rotten and tasted gross (or something--he doesn't really remember) and that was it.

    I think back to my own childhood and there are beliefs I have simply because my parents had them and they aren't entirely logical. Every so often I stumble across one and have to think it through, logically.

    I read the OT laws similarly--so many of them existed for the protection of the ancient people and we can't really observe/apply them the same way now.

  5. Ibuprofen can cause kidney failure, see I usually go with naproxyn or aspirin, though I tend to be careful with aspirin because it does reduce clotting ability temporarily (which is why, in low doses, it is often taken daily by people at risk for heart attack, stroke, or other excessive clotting problems.)

    As for pork chops... 137° F is where trichinella start dying. An internal temperature of 145° F is plenty of heat, and will probably carry over a few degrees once it comes off the heat. Added advantage: your pork chops are moist, tender and NOT undercooked.


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