The Scandal of Vanilla Christians – the Deeper Story

The fashionable flavor changes with the times. There was a time when vanilla was exotic.

Originally cultivated by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people (think Aztecs), vanilla is derived from orchids. That’s right. Orchids.

Cortes introduced it to the Europeans along with chocolate. Montezuma drank his chocolate flavored with vanilla. Eventually, the orchids came to be grown in Madagascar and Indonesia. Nothing ordinary about this.

It’s the second most expensive spice after saffron.

Recently, vanilla’s become synonymous with terms like bland, flavorless, banal, tame, and unexciting, but its rich history tells a contrasting tale.

For centuries, the only reliable method for pollinating the orchids was a bee native to Mexico and Central America. Then, a 12-year-old slave boy of French colonists named Edmond Albius, discovered an alternate method for pollination and revolutionized the vanilla trade. Such an astounding discovery by a slave, a child, a person of color, created a horticultural scandal.

On the surface, vanilla may appear simplistic and colorless. A bit deeper, however, we find it to be a fascinating, valuable, delicious, aromatic, downright intriguing spice with a delicious story.

Too often, modern humanity just doesn’t want to invest the effort.

Word on the street, on social media (and in some Bill Nye agenda-fied animation), is that vanilla is no longer in vogue. It’s passé. Christians with little drama in their life stories feel colorless. They worry that they’ve nothing to offer of interest in furthering God’s kingdom.

Everyday, faithful, quiet-life believers, those who read God’s Word and commit to obeying it without rebellion, drama-free followers – feel second-class, lesser than, invisible, like a small scoop of vanilla beside thirty-nine wonderful flavors with twists and sprinkles at the ice-cream store.

It’s easy to lose sight of the deeper story. God created vanilla and He’s never lost His taste for it. He has never felt the need to be fashionable and He has no favorites. God felt the world would benefit from salt and pepper, vanilla and saffron, chocolate and pistachio alike.

Vanilla is a spice, a flavoring, a fragrance, an idea born in God’s great imagination and heart. When He spoke the world into being, one of those explosive, potent words was vanilla.

Spices speak to God’s nature. His passion for variety, His creativity, His wisdom, His inventiveness, and His love of hard-work, ingenuity, and great stories. We wouldn’t want a world without curry, cilantro, or cinnamon.

Or vanilla.

Do you feel ordinary? Do you despair that your testimony is uninspiring? Lacking in drama? Without purpose? You just need to scratch the surface. There’s a deeper story that takes a little more work to uncover.

Our testimony is never truly about the drama of our sin. That’s a made-for-TV-movie. A worthy testimony speaks more about God, highlights His work and His nature, testifies to the intersection of our story with Jesus (emphasis on the Jesus).

Vanilla is a versatile spice – capable of standing alone or partnering well with others. It can be an accent or a base, a backdrop or a featured player. Vanilla rocks.

Vanilla has a place on the planet, a place in the church of Christ, and a place in the heart of God. Coveting the other spices is a waste of heart and imagination.

Paul wrote these words to Timothy, who people could have accused of being vanilla himself, “1-3 The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.

4-7 He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-7 The Message).

Simple faith. Plain truth. Vanilla. Chocolate. Salt. Pepper. Curry. Cinnamon. Heart. Soul.

Be God’s idea of you. Freedom comes from fully inhabiting God’s idea of who you are in Jesus, then fearlessly and unapologetically exposing that idea to the world. A willingness to do this imperfectly will speed up the process and further the kingdom of God.

Are you vanilla? Be vanilla. Forget what’s fashionable. Fad’s fade. The kingdom of God is here to stay.

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    The Conversation

  1. Ana S says:

    Oh man. I love this. And I love all the spicy ways God created us. Vanilla included.
    Thanks again for this weekend…

  2. Pam Halter says:

    Thank you for this, Lori. I always cringe when I hear people refer something “vanilla” as ordinary or bland – like our writing. I’ve heard from editors that they don’t simply want “vanilla” writing. I’m offended by this! Because not only am I a writer, I’m also a cook and a baker. And bakers use vanilla extract to make baked goods taste richer – more complex. It’s the complete opposite of bland! Vanilla does its job quietly and without fanfare. And that’s how most of us want to live our lives. Sure, we have people who stand out like licorice or cinnamon or chocolate. But you know what I use to make these flavors richer when baking? Yep. Vanilla.

    Yay, vanilla!!

  3. Kim Wilbanks says:

    I love this! I also love vanilla and I would probably be considered a “vanilla Christian”.