Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let them eat cake!

On behalf of all cake-buyers everywhere, I would like to start out by affirming that a baker/decorator should have carte blanche to refuse a commission for any reason whatsoever.

If the requested design or message doesn't make sense to you, for the customer's sake, you probably shouldn't make the cake. If it's a challenging design that's beyond your skill, for the customer's sake, just say no. And if the person ordering the cake disgusts you so much that you don't think you can resist the temptation to spit on the frosting, you've got some serious soul work to attend to, but in the mean time, for the sake of the customer, it might be a good idea to let somebody else make the cake.

There are also all sorts of religious reasons why someone might to refuse to make a cake. Orthodox bakeries should have the prerogative to sell only vegan cakes during lent, or even to shut down altogether between Ash Wednesday and Easter. If someone asked me to make an excessively vitriolic or murderously gruesome cake, I would have to tell them very politely that my religion prohibits that sort of thing.

Cakes are art (at least, they ought to be) and I think it's a terrible idea to try to force art from anyone. Anti-discrimination laws are incredibly important when it comes to housing, retail, and basic food-service, but anything involving custom design is impossible to effectively regulate.

But silly and dangerous as it is to try to force people to make cakes against their will, it's equally absurd to shame Christians for doing business with sinners.

It's okay to make cake for remarrying divorcees.

It's okay to make cake for cohabitating couples.

It's okay to make cake for couples who are openly intending to use artificial birth control.

And it's okay to deliver pizza to frat parties. (If you happen to witness any violence, be sure to intervene appropriately. You could totally save a life, or prevent a rape.)

As St. Paul says, "You would have to leave this world to get away from everyone who is immoral or greedy or who cheats or worships idols." In our complex society, it is impossible to avoid complicity with sin. I benefit from slavery every day. I wouldn't be able to write this blog post if it weren't for the child slaves who are coerced into grueling and dangerous mine work. And if I ever manage to make enough money to actually pay taxes on it, the odds are pretty high that those tax dollars are going to help fund some pretty appalling injustices.

Thanks be to God, Jesus directly addressed this sort of dilemma, and as always, his answer is both peaceful and bracing.

When the Pharisees inquired about taxes, it was a seriously thorny question. Roman taxes paid for roads, aqueducts, and the preservation of the Pax Romana, but they also funded gladiatorial contests, pagan temples, the slaughter of every male infant in Judea, and ultimately, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Those are that taxes that Jesus is talking about when he says to give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and give unto God what is God's.

Jesus says to go ahead and pay your taxes. Don't fret about your unavoidable complicity, but always remember that you belong to God, and are made in his image. Do whatever it is that God gives you to do in furtherance of his kingdom, and trust him with the rest.

The Pharisees called for the sort of moral perfection that avoided all potentially contaminating contact with sin, even if meant leaving somebody in a ditch. Jesus calls us to reach beyond that, and aspire to the moral perfection that belongs to God himself, who sends rain on the just and the unjust.

This is serious. If your righteousness doesn't exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

If we're going to follow Jesus, then love trumps keeping our hands clean, and he calls us to imitate the presumably befuddled and synchretistic Samaritan rather than the faithful but hopelessly uncharitable priest and Levite.

None of this means that we should ignore sin. Jesus was quite outspoken in his denunciations, and when he ate with sinners, it was always to call them to repentance. But he really did eat with sinners, prioritizing love over his own purity.

Love calls sin for what it is, and that's why I'm writing this. If you're living in bondage to the idea that God demands that we avoid doing good for sinners at all costs, I would be remiss not to tell you how gravely dangerous I think that is.

But I will gladly make you the very nicest cake that I can. For your sake and mine, though, let's just stick to a simple sheet cake with buttercream frosting. And sprinkles.

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