Feigang Fei has made a name for himself; he’s gone viral. Fei is a restaurant owner here in Montreal who has shot to fame for his honesty about the food served at his restaurant. The headline of a New York Times piece says it all: “A Rare Menu That Tells the Truth: The Pork? Greasy. The Beef? Meh.”
On the menu itself, Fei expresses bewilderment that people continue to order the braised pork belly, since it’s so greasy. And he’s nothing short of surprised that anyone would order the “mouth-watering chicken” since he isn’t 100 percent sure about the flavours.
Perhaps you are familiar with “The Age of Persuasion,” a CBC radio show. If so, you’ll likely agree that Feigang Fei is worth a whole episode. The show is an exploration of advertising across the years and various media; it explores how companies pitch their products. Rarely, if ever, is the pitch made with anything like the honesty that Fei exhibits on his menu. (The irony is that, since going viral, Fei has barely been able to keep up with the takeout orders!)
The tendency to spin things – to characterize reality in the best possible way – is not reserved only for advertisers and restaurant owners. Many of us easily get into the act. I recall the head of a North American theological school saying that “donors want to give to a successful institution.” (The sort of thing Jesus would say!?) Pastors and leaders of parachurch ministries sometimes feel a similar pressure to accent the positive, downplay vulnerabilities, and share news of their ministry in the best possible light.
It would be easy to approach this question of spin from a moral or moralizing point of view. But it seems more faithful to approach it as a spiritual and theological matter. Beneath the temptation to spin the truth – to downplay institutional challenges and vulnerabilities – is a question of trust. Do we trust that God will work for our flourishing if others know the unvarnished truth about the challenges or problems we face?
Perhaps this will strike you as an unusual introduction to an Easter column. The connection, however, lies in the extraordinary truth-telling of the Easter narrative. That truth-telling is found in two related statements, the first being: “He is dead.”
There is no spinning the death of Jesus toward a better future. There is no packaging his lifeless body as an assurance that everything is proceeding as planned. The teacher is dead. His life is over. The one in whom we placed our hope for the future no longer breathes or walks or leads. His death can only prompt a theology of radical truth-telling.
The second statement is very different from the first. Yet in its own way it exhibits an honesty that has caused consternation in the church: “He is alive!” Some have been inclined to spiritualize the resurrection; to mock God with metaphor, as Updike puts it in his Seven Stanzas at Easter. Jesus’ resurrection has been spun as relatable and possible, yet it is neither of these things. A dead man is now alive. For those who would follow this one, full honesty is embedded in the telling of his story.
Tell the whole story
I am not suggesting we shouldn’t celebrate the good things that God is doing in our lives and institutions. Yet we should be profoundly wary when vulnerabilities and challenges are glossed over; when we find ourselves hedging toward a failure to tell the whole story. This is particularly so, of course, when the positive picture we paint would burnish our own credentials.
From time to time perhaps we should take the lead from someone like Feigang Fei. Of the Dry Wok Pork Intestine, he says: “It’s kind of too dry.”