Because I Want Original Cream of Wheat, Not Quick or Instant

My great-grandfather was one of the founders of the Cream of Wheat Company, which began in the midst of an economic depression in 1892. George Bull was a wheat farmer in Grand Forks, ND, who used some old milling equipment to create a form of porridge from refined middlings, the best part of the wheat. He sent a case of the stuff stamped “Cream of Wheat” to his broker in New York along with a carload of wheat, and the agent wired back:

“Forget wheat. Can’t sell. Send carload Cream of Wheat.” An American brand was born.

When I was a child outside Minneapolis–St. Paul, my dad was vice-president, then president of Cream of Wheat, following in the footsteps of his own father and grandfather. (The company had long since moved to this milling center on the Mississippi.) As son of an officer of the company, I had to eat a lot of Cream of Wheat, lumps and all. I also served as an unofficial beta tester of Quick and Instant and even some weirdly flavored experimental varieties of Cream of Wheat, as the firm struggled to expand its product line and escape its fate as a one-trick pony. It never did so. In 1961, CW was sold to Nabisco and we followed Dad’s career to the New York area.

Sticking to my ribs today is not only the residue of a carload of Cream of Wheat swallowed in childhood but also a conviction that there are things that are more real than others, more original, closer to the source: “original Cream of Wheat,” from the heart of the grain.

This helps explain why I am a Catholic today.

This weekend, on vacation up country, I had a chance to attend two church services in succession: Catholic mass celebrated by a priest followed by an ecumenical Protestant-ish service led by a barefoot minister.

Let me be fair: The pastor in question is the soul of kindness, compassion, and ecumenism. She talked at length of the accidental burning of a religious building in a nearby town, and urged our prayers. She gathered six children into her lap and shared her love and kindness, with a bit of old time religion. She chose her own reading, from Revelation, which did not mention Jesus, and developed the theme beautifully in a fifteen-minute sermon that had everyone nodding their heads and mmm-mmming along. It was a moving community experience and occasionally powerful theater.

It was also a pale shadow of something else, something original, something we know as the liturgy. There was a cross without corpus on the table, a table that filled in for an altar, where the bread, wine, and grape juice were laid out for a symbolic “communion.” Behind the table stood the choir and behind the choir was a mural of a mountain scene. On the surrounding walls was not one image or symbol of Christian worship. At one point (can’t say exactly when) we said the Lord’s Prayer, the common denominator of all Christian worship, but everything else was improvised, everything to me was like Quick or Instant, even if it took longer than Father Tom’s full-length Sunday Mass at the bottom of the mountain. 

I am no final judge of such things, as our Protestant readers are sure to remind me, but I do know my cereal. This may have been cereal, but I can promise you it was not Original Cream of Wheat.

As Flannery O’Connor said famously of the Eucharist, “If it’s a symbol, then to hell with it.”

  • Sandy C.

    A couple of weeks ago, we attended a wedding at a Protestant church we used to attend. The service was much as you described, a mere shadow of liturgy. When we said the Lord's Prayer, the pastor addressed us as "congregation" and instructed us to say the prayer. I longed for the Catholic liturgy where everyone knows what to do next without prompting. I also longed for the Eucharist and the authority of the priest. I wanted to kneel, sit, stand, and have all my senses involved. The experience confirmed for us our decision to enroll in RCIA this fall is the right one.

  • Mary P.

    Well, Webster, Cream of Wheat has kept a couple of my finicky eaters alive through a few years of their temperamental childhoods. Many thanks to you (as guinea pig) and your family. But in regards to your experience, I went to a funeral for a friend a few months ago. Since I rarely venture into churches of other denominations, I was not prepared for what I found in his church. It was an auditorium with a stage. On the stage was a band. Behind the band, in the background, was a cross. While I appreciate the cross in the background — I think it should always be present, even if in the background — it seemed obvious to me that the band was front and central. While they were good, I noticed that the pastor didn't even use the stage. So what was it all about? Worshiping Christ or entertainment? For me, the Mass is not about the priest. He leads us in our relationship with Christ, but the celebration isn't about the priest, or the music, or the other parishioners. It's about God. And that's why I can walk into other Catholic churches (and actually, I enjoy doing so!) And feeling "at home."

  • cjneng1

    During my student years, I joined my protestant friends at their church's gatherings. They celebrated the paschal mystery with loaves of bread to pass around and each participant would pinch for a piece as a sign of communion and fellowship. The simplicity of such gatherings attracted me… though not quite meaningful to Catholic-rated view. Being alone and out of place….. they invited me. They have deep sincerity in actions and words. The liturgical celebration of the Catholic Church are grandiose concept and experience of heavenly worship…. we take God and worship to the highest level. If there is one (non-Catholic) higher than ours, we construct the next level to stay above… I'm not being bias but its obvious about us Catholics. Who else can do that, if not Catholics? In most major cities around the world, the Catholic Churches are among the dominant structures. Our priests are not only religious but theatrical… we have ambitious Fr Law who had political back-up (a Muslim Statesman with Catholic education)to pump-in finances. We sure have expensive taste of sculptures (ours over $100grans), paintings, lighting and marbles in and around the church building (over 5 millions). Soon, we will have Sunday School (24 classrooms with multi-purpose gallery estimated over 11 millions if we build it by end of the year…. rated 6-star. We are less than 2,000 parishioners. We should let the poor walk in and light our candles for their.I will not complain much about other denomination's liturgical worship and their simple environment, after all we Catholics have our own – nice, cozy and elaborate in our own "home"; I must admit sometimes abusing and mistreating the Liturgy. When we invited non-Catholics to our liturgy, we inform them politely… of course to protect our understanding of worship and meaning of the Mass extravagantly…. we don't want to insult God, scandalize other Catholics and lower our spiritual fences….Btw, cereal is part of my regular diet. I take the "Quaker's" … with Catholic prayers, of course. I didn't know there's a Catholic brand around.

  • Athos

    You've nailed it, Webster. It's like your inimitable post, Because Popeye is Catholic. Not carrying my family of origin's animus against the Catholic Church, by God's grace, I cd never understand the way folk settled for shoddy thinking, incomplete arguments, and half-baked notions.Now I realize that is what passes for thinking de rigueur today across the spectrum – including most politics and politicians. Cheers and best

  • Tim H.

    Many pop-Theology Christians mistake strong emotion for the Holy Spirit. When a Church service is exciting, the sermon is moving, or somone's testimony brings everyone to the brink of tears, that is mistaken as the presence of the Holy Spirit. This mistake has in many cases, contributed to the reduction of worship to entertainment and ripped the heart out of the sacrificial nature of Christianity in general, and corporate worship in particular. It's not about what we bring to God but what we get out of it – in the case of worship, how we feel when we walk out of the Church. Webster makes an oblique reference to exactly this he recalls that everyone was nodding their head and mmmm-ing along to the pastor's sermon. Liturgy is the anchor which ensures that worship does not drift into the shallow water of selfishness where the presence of Jesus is proportional to the entertainment value provided by the pastor… and the lighting director… and the sound technicians…-Tim-

  • Frank

    The "real" or the "simulacra"…hmmm, let me think.

  • EPG

    Sandy (above) wrote in part: "When we said the Lord's Prayer, the pastor addressed us as "congregation" and instructed us to say the prayer. I longed for the Catholic liturgy where everyone knows what to do next without prompting." . . . and then there is the formal "prompting," from the BCP, which I still love . . ."And now, as our Saviour Christ has taught us, we are bold to say . . . Our Father . . . " etc.To Webster — I'm with you. Or, if not exactly with you (since I am not a Catholic), I share your reservations about free-form Protestantism. Some years ago, I was in a Congregtional church. It was the one Sunday in the month when they have a communion service. The presiding pastor (a lovely woman, who had been my late grandmother's next door neighbor) invited all present to participate as a gesture of community and unity. I refrained. Not that I objected to community and unity, but, even as a poor benighted Episcopalian, I knew that, if the bread and wine were anything, they were more than that. Someday, I may look back on that as the start of this protracted journey I am on.BTW, I love the story of your family's connection to Cream of Wheat. There are probably a lot of old brands that started as stand alone products, and were gradually absorbed by larger companies. And these old products were often family businesses, with a lot of great stories behind them.

  • Webster Bull

    EPG, As for Cream of Wheat, it's the one story I tell of my origins that gets universal attention! Everything else, the Catholic part, etc., is ho-hum compared with CoW!!And about communion–at the second communion service I attended, I participated because not to do so, next to my mother and other family members, seemed somehow churlish. But I had the same reservations you had: if the bread and wine were anything . . .

  • EPG

    Webster — My failure to participate may have seemed churlish — my wife and daughters were there, the presiding cleric had been a close neighbor to my grandparents, the church was the one at which my grandparents had been members for over sixty years (over seventy for my grandmother) and it was the morning before a family memorial service by my grandmother's grave (and at which the presiding clergywoman would also be present). And yet, given how she described what the communion rite was to the Congregationalists, I could not help but say, in effect, "I may not know what it is, but it is not this . . . "

  • Anonymous

    You might like your watered down liturgy in the Roman Church, I will stick with the fullness of the true Catholic Liturgy in the Orthodox Church.

  • Anonymous

    OMGosh, I also only eat real "Cream of Wheat" and I am Roman Catholic. Now, I know why. lolAndrea

  • Frank

    @Anon 5:21,Get your best of both worlds right here. You can have it all, and all in communion with the See of St. Peter.

  • cjneng1

    In our Liturgical celebration, the Scripture is celebrated & enthroned, precisely when the words r spoken – readings & prayers extracted from Scripture, reprocessed into modern words & nourish the Community. There is an inference to the Law (Scriptural in meaning) that it would be written in our heart through the indwelling of the Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33-37). It is also understood that the Law is the “word” which went through the digestive system of the New Testament & come out as the “Word” (John’s gospel). The “word” refers to the law; the “Word” refers to Christ – with more complex meaning. With interest & appreciation of the Mass inclusive of every kind of prayer said, the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-ff) is referred to here. St Mark positioned it as the first of the series in his collection. Mark described the various environmental conditions in which the words are scattered though carelessly (no farmer would do exactly as the Sower did in this parable; even parables contain exaggeration). It's wastefulness both of the word & the effort – we readers already know that some of the words failed to take root & grow & produce. The types of conditions connote interior barriers & weakness /opportunities & strength. Despite the varying conditions – vagueness, shallowness, barrenness, puffiness, clutter-ness, faithfulness & fruitfulness, the words will be scattered. It is compulsory that the words take root; some will struggle to grow (given in all these conditions). The final condition becomes a term of value by which it derives from the outcome / produce – many folds than the first 3. Readers notice that there are 3 conditions against 1. My point is, the simple or elaborate expression of mass does not guarantee real presence; experience or encounter with Christ personally although Church’s teaching has endorsed it for about than 2000 years in making historical records. I am not arguing against the endorsement. Revisiting Christ and his apostles at their last supper table should help us do some justice to describe our Catholic communion and not based on non-Catholic practices. Within that few hours of dinner/supper, there were so many things Christ spoke to his apostles, which one would be most significant of all? Probably, this question with excite biasness. On the other hand and quite ironically, the apostles were scattered and scandalized after their intimate meal with Christ and later found him on the Cross. Two strangers were on his sides with opposite view, expectation and response. Catholics and non-Catholics, what do we seek in the Liturgy? Oops! How about the “who”? As of the “why”, Christ has answered it laboriously at the last supper. However, this is not a comprehensive lecture which would be lengthy otherwise… it’s already thus far. With the historical sores which left scars, I still appreciate that we are the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

  • Volpeculus

    @Anon1:You might like your watered down liturgy in the Roman Church, I will stick with the fullness of the true Catholic Liturgy in the Orthodox Church. Fullness of the Catholic Faith is important, too. That's why I'm Catholic, for instance. :)