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Disheveled Theologian: The great mustard gas incident

I think I accidentally almost poisoned my family with mustard gas.

I was making brine for a pork shoulder that would eventually become a meal of red beans and rice. The recipe called for apple cider vinegar, mustard seeds and a few other less potent ingredients. I mixed everything together, set it on the burner and turned it to high.

Soon the mixture began boiling. I walked to the burner and turned it down, then, as quick as breathing, my nose and lungs filled and I began to cough. An eye-watering aroma spread throughout the kitchen and in minutes the entire house was flooded with the sinus-clearing miasma.

“What is that smell?” Lucy asked as she, holding her nose, came up the stairs.

“It’s nothing, it’s fine, it’s just … well … it’s going to be dinner in a few days,” I ended lamely.

She looked at me askance, and fled.

Soon my two other children showed up.

“We don’t have to eat that, do we?” Ian, always the suspicious eater, asked, while standing noncommittally at the edge of the kitchen.

“Not exactly,” I replied.

Katie, our adventurous eater, came closer. But even she stood at a distance. “What is it, Mom?” she asked, willing to understand, yet definitely suspicious.

“It’s a brine. Just trust me, it will be good in the long run.”

“So … you’re going to put meat or something into that?” Katie probed.

“Yes. Pork.”

She backed away slowly, coughing.

Lucy and Ian had retreated to the deck by then, where Colin, my husband, was reading.

Katie and I joined them, our eyes smarting, our lungs gulping the fresh air, our noses aching with the sting.

I was suddenly reminded of the time that I’d sniffed my grandmother’s smelling salts despite my mother’s warnings not to. But I couldn’t resist. The tiny bottle was so pretty! What harm could it do? I carefully unscrewed the lid … and lifted it cautiously to my nose.

Oy, vey, the pain! If I had been a Victorian fainter, I would have wakened at that scent in an instant.

Ultimately, my children and I had to vacate the premises in The Great Mustard Gas Incident, leaving my husband to deal with the aftermath. I was glad he was still alive when we returned.

The ultimate meal, by the way, was delicious.

This took place about three years ago, but every time I make red beans and rice, I am reminded of it. This past Wednesday morning — for the first time in our new house — I added the last mustard seed to my brine and got a sinus-clearing whiff of the mixture. “It’s worth it,” I kept repeating to myself.

Suddenly, in what can only have been a stroke of brilliance sent by God, I reached up and turned on the overhead fan — a thing which our previous house lacked. I watched as the offending fumes were sucked out of the kitchen and into the great outdoors. Voila! All future mustard gas incidents have been thwarted.

I admit that this story doesn’t have much to do with theology, disheveled or otherwise, but I did have one certain Old Testament biblical concept come to mind. That of presenting to the Lord a “pleasing aroma” as from a sacrifice. I don’t know if God is pleased by the smell of pseudo mustard gas, but I do know he is pleased — in a New Testament kind of way — by the sacrifice of our own ideals for his; our own desires for God’s.

And so I give you Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. NIV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is