I was blessed to spend last weekend in Dallas with some wonderful free believer friends, both old and new. We had some edifying and thought-provoking discussions on both Friday and Saturday evening. Sunday, Darin gave an inspiring message on the difference between being a chef and being a cook. The spiritual parallels are endless when I start thinking about them. So I am going to write another blog as a series of contrasts.
A cook is more or less a servant. His job is to make a big pan of relatively tasteless filler and put it out for everyone to line up and plop some on their plate. He doesn't deviate from the recipe he's given; he just follows instructions. It doesn't take a whole lot of deep thought, or being closely in tune with his heart to do his job.
The Sunday school teacher couple whose class my husband and I have attended (endured?) make me think of a series of words that begin with the letter D: dutiful, diligent, dedicated... dry. If the people in the class had any original thoughts outside the approved religious voices, they kept them to themselves. Attending class was okay at first, we'd spent Sundays alone for so long. Eating warmed-over cafeteria food might be OK when you're really starving, but after a while it starts to leave a yucky taste in your mouth. It reminded me of my grandmother's cooking that I ate as a kid. I loved her dearly but still shudder at the memories of her vegetables cooked to beyond dead.
A chef, however, is an artist. Food is food? Maybe to people who have never tasted the difference. A chef prepares something unique, beautiful, perhaps unreproducible. He puts his heart into what he is doing; he knows each ingredient well and uses it wisely. The senses are on high alert all the time he's working.
I saw the bald guy with the grin and knew I was in the right place. Through the weekend, I listened one at a time to the people talk, trying to get a feel for their personality and their journey. Some were chipper and happy, some more melancholy and quiet. A couple didn't look like they were thrilled to be there, but maybe they were just unsure or feeling burned out on anything to do with God. Some were funny, some were sensitive and vulnerable and sad. Some had had real epiphanies and were not hesitant about sharing them. It was like seeing a bunch of fresh, bright, crisp vegetables, herbs, oils and spices turning into a huge salad delight.
Boxed mixes make it easy. Open these packages, add a couple of things, and bake until done. Mmm, good. The fact that the dehydrated potatoes still seem pretty flat and chewy after adding water and cooking shouldn't bother you. This is how it's done. Just do it and don't ask questions.
We sat for hours each evening, sharing our stories and our thoughts. Nothing was taboo. People could hardly wait for their chance to share, and listened to each other eagerly. The conversation kept going until we had to leave and lock the building both evenings. Darin facilitated the conversations, but he didn't have to do much. Kind of different from the Sunday school teacher's doing most of the talking and the quiet class reciting short, mostly rote religious answers when she urged us to give her feedback. My husband and I were the loose cannons, darn those people who keep trying to put foreign herbs and spices into that boxed mix meal.
The first time I drank a green smoothie, I turned my head sideways and looked at the glass with raised eyebrows every few swallows. Hmm, different. I think I put a little too much greens in. I tried again, this time with more fruit and a handful of pumpkin seeds. I had never had such a drink before, but it was like my body had been asking for this for years.
I went 'to church' at four different places over a ten year period. We were there anywhere from a few months to a few years. The conversations and the relationships rarely made it to a really meaningful level, and never lasted once we left the building. Hugs were often exchanged in a polite and rather distant manner. I often felt sadder and emptier than I had before arriving at the meeting.
At the free believer gathering, new acquaintances eagerly talked with each other openly. We hugged each other enthusiastically in greeting and in parting, genuinely glad to see each other as well as genuinely sad to leave each other. It was like we had always been connected in spirit, though many of us had just met each other face to face. Many of us didn't really even have an internet relationship prior to meeting. Good nourishment just tends to play out like that.
While teaching my kids to cook, I've had to tell them a few times that turning the heat up twice as high does not make the food cook twice as fast. The food will instead be burned on the outside and raw in the middle. Waiting for food to cook at the right temperature, for the right amount of time, can be hard when you have little patience and are really hungry besides.
While the weekend was wonderful, it also stirred up some painful and messy feelings and longings that sometimes I think I'd rather just not deal with, because it doesn't seem like they're ever going to go away or get much better. The longings I've held in my heart since I was a small child that I still carry to this day. The longing for a family, a huge family, a loving family, a whole bunch of people whose hearts are totally interconnected and who are just there multiplying each other's joy. While I know that these fellow free believers are my spiritual family, the fact remains that when the weekend was over, we still all had to get into our cars (or onto airplanes) and travel many miles, sometimes hundreds of miles, away from each other to go home.
I felt very sad late Sunday night at home, missing my free believer family. I found myself wishing that I'd had 'real' sisters and brothers just like them. That we'd been born into the same family and have that bond, along with the privileges of that relationship. That we'd have known each other all our lives, that our children would be buddies, that I know I'd see them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. That they wouldn't have to be relationships that had to wait for heaven to fully experience. Why do I always have to wait? Why can't the food cook faster and be done?
The bitter herbs must be tasted, chewed on, smelled; sometimes over and over, so that their essence is easy to recall instantly. You never know just when you'll need to take a pinch and add it, but you'll have a good idea of how much to start with. True culinary art cannot be done without real herbs. And you have to know which one goes with which food.
I'm trying to do better at understanding what my pain has purchased. Or, what is yet to come from it. I don't know how well I'm doing as a parent, but I know I'm doing better than my own parents did. Because I remember the pain caused by bad parenting and try hard to do better. My daughter is adopted; she carried some wounds from her past and I think our patience and love for her has healed most of it. We hope to adopt yet again. Perhaps there is a child God already has waiting for us, who is out there hanging onto hope in spite of hopelessness, longing for a family, a real family, like they can never remember having.
"...I have a photograph on my wall of this ancient crucifix at a church over in Corte Madera, a tall splintering wooden Christ with his arms blown off in some war, under which someone long ago wrote, "Jesus has no arms but ours to do his work and to show his love," and every time I read that, I always end up thinking these are the only operating instructions I will ever need." - from "Operating Instructions" by Anne Lamott
I realize I've permanently lost my taste for cafeteria food. I know the difference now. A chef is an artist; as Christians we are called to be chefs. Throw out the rulebook; our only law now is Love. Create a masterpiece. Live life.
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on
what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul
will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful
love promised to David. - Isaiah 55:1-3