I learned a new word last week: “gangrel.” It sounds like it ought to be a cookie. But it’s not. In fact, I must begin by apologizing for cheating with this post. This post is not about a cookie at all–it’s about cookie dough. I am fully aware of the fact that “cookie dough” is not its own type of cookie. I can offer no excuses for writing about cookie dough this time. But I can humbly beg your patience with me as I write about this rather sticky subject (pun intended).

When did cookie dough become off limits? I think I remember eating cookie dough as a child. I am sure my mother “scolded” me every now and then for eating too much; however, she would let me lick the beaters for just about every sweet dessert she made, so I know she did not mind my sampling the wares before they were cooked. So when did cookie dough and any raw batter with eggs in it become off limits? Now it is a threat for salmonella because it contains raw eggs. I used to get after my brother and sister for eating cookie dough, and I stopped eating it myself. That is, I managed to hold to my principles of not eating it until I moved in with my cousins. At their house, everyone eats cookie dough, it seems. And eventually I, too, fell victim to the batter for Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies. I realize that it is still as dangerous as it was before, but I go ahead and eat it anyway, figuring that the odds are against me getting salmonella every time I take a bite of that dangerous, uncooked concoction.

What is it about cookie dough that attracts us? It’s sticky. It’s goopy. It sometimes has a little bite to it from the vanilla flavoring that has not been cooked into submission yet (at least, I am speculating that it’s the vanilla which creates that slight tingling sensation on my tongue when I eat cookie dough). What is it about cookie dough that has made it one of the leading flavors of ice cream? Maybe it’s all of the above. I honestly do not know.

But I do know what a gangrel is now. And it is the opposite of cookie dough: cookie dough is popular–gangrels are not; cookie dough is tasty–gangrels are usually rather unsavory; cookie dough has immediate potential for happiness–gangrels often seem to have passed their expiration date. In fact, about the only visible connection between the two (besides the word itself sounding like some sort of Scandinavian sweet) is that both of them look like a mess. What’s a gangrel? Maybe you should ask “WHO is a gangrel?” A gangrel is a vagabond, a homeless person, a vagrant. When I read the words “homeless person,” I picture the people on the streets and in the parks of San Francisco, some of them sleeping in boxes, some of them pushing shopping carts of tattered junk down the street. They’re unsightly and generally considered a problem. And the most annoying thing about them is that many of them do not truly have to live that way; they want to. Only God knows what it is in them that makes them want to live lives of homelessness. But they are hard to help and hard to love (as another author has pointed out). They’re a mess!

But we all are sometimes. I certainly feel like one sometimes. Sometimes it’s when I am sick, nursing a cold like I am as I type this tonight: everything seems out-of-sorts, and as much as I want people to help me, I also want them to leave me alone. That happens sometimes when I am heart-sick, too. I feel tattered and worn and dumpy–sticky and gooey, too.  And there is an instinct within me that makes me want to hide away from the world and those that love me, especially when I seem to have forgotten how to be lovable.

But I think that God must look at us like we look at cookie dough: irresitible. Even when we are a mess, He comes after us (not to eat us, of course). If we look at His dealings with the nation of Israel, we see that He has a special place in his heart for gangrels–the nation of Israel certainly acted like that at various times throughout their long history–they needed help, but they made themselves helplessly un-helpable and unlovable. They wanted God and they didn’t want Him all at the same time. By the time Christ came on the scene, the nation was longing for their Messiah–their deliverer. An old Latin hymn captures their longing. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”: its words and music sounds like the mourning of someone who is inconsolable.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
O drive away the shades of night
And pierce the clouds and bring us light.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

~ Latin hymn trans. by John M. Neale 

After a while, we lose patience with those who are inconsolable–we can’t help them, so we fade away. But God does not. He even came to live the life of a gangrel Himself–homeless and poor–for a little while in order to Help His people. And when He came, they rejectied Him–crucified Him, in fact, and rejected Him and the fact of His resurrection later. But He still has not rejected them. He will still fulfil the promises He made to them.

And God did not just do this for the nation of Israel; He came for the whole world, too. He ignores the mess and the goop and the danger that He knows we human beings contain. And the Bible promises that He will continue to do that for us our whole lives through, following us with the most love we will allow Him to pour on us–even if we will only let Him get close enough to bless us in those unseen ways He blesses everyone. But if we let Him, He will be to us as He has been to His people through all the years: “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” He might get His hands sticky (but c’mon! isn’t getting a little sticky part of the fun of cookie dough?); I think He must kinda like being sticky like that. Even when we are gangrels.

Next time you sneak a bite of cookie dough–or next time you don’t because of possible salmonella problems–think about gangrels (even though they’re not cookies).

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