It will be Valentine’s Day this Tuesday, a big day for florists and chocolatiers and an expensive day for husbands and boyfriends. A couple of years ago, I heard a story about what men would like for Valentine’s Day. Some serious study went into this, really. The answer is… a bacon bouquet. It probably doesn’t matter if it’s a bouquet or not, as long as it’s bacon. A nice rectangular gift wrapped pound of bacon would probably do fine.
But what if you… guys, not ladies… got a nice gift wrapped pound of mealworms or crickets? I suppose if you were a big fisherman that might at least be a “useful” gift, but otherwise it might be off-putting. And if the love of your life took you to dinner at a fine restaurant that served dishes like zesty mealworm chimichangas and cricket burgers, as well as other insect delicacies like grasshopper kabobs and rootworm beetle dip, you’d have to convince yourself it was the thought that counted. If your Valentine’s Day celebration should fall during the appearance of the 13-year or 17-year cicadas, your special treat could be cicadas fried, roasted, sautéed or dipped in chocolate… or cicada nachos. (Their next appearance here is in 2024, plenty of time to anticipate the taste.) There used to be a famous restaurant in Washington called the Insect Club that served all these dishes.
I’d be willing to bet that this is not your style. Eating insects is common in most of the world, but here in North America and Europe it’s considered, well, gross.
The closest I’ve come is walking by a vendor in Beijing who was selling “Scorpion on a Stick.” I was not tempted. For some reason, we Westerners seem to have a primal abhorrence of insects. Of course, the Western viewpoint isn’t the only one. In China and Japan, crickets and grasshoppers are kept as pets. And then there are all those people in Asia and Africa that eat insects with relish.
God has a viewpoint too. During some weekday Masses last week we heard the story of creation in the first readings. Everything God created was good, very good. And that includes insects as well as people. Pope Francis points out in Laudato Si that God’s love is directed at even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant creatures, like bugs. It’s a sobering thought, but fundamentally, insects are our competition. There are something like 900,000 species of them thriving in every possible environment. All of them together weigh more than all of us. Ants, termites, and bees live in sophisticated societies and have systems of communication. If humanity were to destroy the earth as we know it by something like total thermonuclear war, it would likely be the insects who would inherit the earth.
Nevertheless, the day I moved to Florida, I checked into my ground floor room in the old building of the Fontainebleau Hotel. I wasn’t there very long before I was greeted by an enormous palmetto bug. It seemed to me like it was six inches long. I wasn’t about to share my space with that. I rolled up a newspaper and attacked it. Somehow, I missed and it escaped. I tore that room apart, moved every piece of furniture but couldn’t find it. How could anything that big hide? It took a long time for me to get to sleep that night.
Insects are the stuff of horror movies and stories. Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is the worst possible nightmare. Gregor, a respectable middle-class salesman, wakes up to find he has become a giant insect like a cockroach. As you can imagine, his family and friends don’t handle his transformation very well. “Bug” is a synonym for a disease like the flu or for a vexing technological problem. (I don’t understand where the expression “cute as a bug” came from.) Most of us find insects repulsive, and we spend a lot of money repelling them, from our bodies, homes, and communities.
My point today is not to advocate for or against insects, however. So often in life, we take on the imagined characteristics of those things we fear or hate. We become rather like Kafka’s protagonist Gregor in the Metamorphosis; we can become horrible. It’s irrational but nevertheless true. Rather than live in balanced competition, we try to exterminate. We saw it in Germany, where a cultured, educated, Christian nation turned on Jews and Slavs. We saw it in Bosnia, where Christians turned against Muslims. We saw it Rwanda, where Hutus turned against Tutsi’s. And today we see it in Myanmar, where Buddhists have turned against Muslims, and with ISIS, who exterminates anyone who disagrees with them.
Unfortunately for us, during the last year or so, some people here in America have felt empowered to act out quite publicly against individuals in different minority groups… blacks, immigrants, Hispanics, Muslims, and Jews. Swastikas and graffiti slogans advocating extermination of Jews appeared in New York City Subways overnight last week. We rightfully call these hate crimes. But they are increasing in number and frequency. In our angry political climate, fear and hate are increasing. It’s irrational, but it is real. Just as much if not more than against terrorists, we need to be on our guard against our own horrible inclinations. We can’t ignore them… our biases, fears, and animus; we must recognize them and exterminate them.
Pope Francis as well as Archbishop Carlson and the U.S. Bishops have pointed out that we must not allow our love for our country to prejudice us against people of other nations, cultures, and religions, especially when those people come to us in desperate need of safety and hope for the future, come here because they love what we stand for. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus himself were once refugees, and they are again today. God’s love, that love which we enjoy, is directed at even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant people, whose only hope is in Him. God transfers to us the responsibility for their hope. If Valentine’s Day is about genuine love, we must remember them too.
As for men and bacon, look for an exciting announcement soon from our Men for Christ.