Over the summer, we have seen both the Chef de Cuisine and the Sous Chef at the restaurant leave for other places. Actually, the latter followed the former, which is not unusual in restaurant circles, but that’s a story for another time. Both guys were there when I joined the staff; they have been the bosses I knew, they have set the tone for the kitchen, they have been the ones who determined the routine.
And now, they are gone and we are left to deal with the change, and to change ourselves, for that matter.
Some years ago, Ginger and I were walking through Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts when a homeless man yelled out from his seat on the sidewalk, “Change!” Ginger turned and said, “I don’t have any money.”
I blurted back, “I’m trying, I’m trying.”
The two uses of the word aren’t that far apart, I suppose. Change, on the one hand, has to do with how you break down a dollar bill – or a five, or a ten – into smaller pieces: four quarters; ten dimes; two quarters, three dimes, three nickels, and five pennies. On the other hand, in places like our kitchen these days, change also has to do with how we break down the bigger picture and figure out the new formula to make things work, as familiar faces move away and new ones appear. For my part, I’m working different shifts, taking on different responsibilities, and learning the habits and hopes of my new coworkers. And the whole enterprise feels about as stable as the value of the dollar on the international market.
Stability, if not overrated, is certainly over-expected. Life is made of change. Our lives are dynamic, not static. There is no way to stand still, to stay the same. And we are dynamic creatures created to negotiate this changing thing called life. Some years ago, a friend gave me a book called Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories by Daniel Taylor. One of the key points early in the book has to do with learning to see ourselves as being a character, rather than having a personality. The latter leaves us looking at ourselves as somehow hardwired the way we are and unable to change much, but when we see ourselves as characters in our own life story, we create the possibility for change.
My days as an English teacher come roaring back here to remind me of all of the discussions I have had with students around “character development” and how a person grows and changes as he or she encounters the events in the story. A character is both recognizable and able to change, just as I can see myself in the pictures of me over the years and yet I am not who I was then. The point of our story – of The Story, if you will – is to grow and change. We fall out of wholeness and health when we try to stay the same and ask life to follow suit. We show our character when we use the change to make life add up in a new way.
Let me be specific. When the Chef de Cuisine left, it was hard for me. I like him, I trust him, and I liked working for him. I learned a lot about being a manager from him and he was someone I could bounce ideas off of. We also had shared interests in books and music and history. I really did wonder how well the kitchen would hold up without him. And I wondered what I would do. Last week a new Sous started. He is not the other guy and he brings some wonderful new things to the kitchen. Learning to work with him has challenged me to look at how I do things, to offer information about our restaurant, to intentionally listen to see what new things he has to bring and what his fresh eyes can see about us that we have either forgotten or ignored.
The nature of our business is that neither one of us will be in that kitchen forever. Some summer down the road, one of us, or one of the other guys who make up our team will begin their own new chapter without our daily involvement and we will all make change. Driving home from the memorial service of one of our beloved church members who has been a part of our congregation for a long time, it struck me that church works a great deal like a restaurant kitchen: the mission to feed others is ongoing, even as the characters change. We have the same mission, but the cast of characters calls us to rethink how we do things, why we do things, and what we can learn from and about each other.
One of the Bible verses that has given me pause for about as far back as I can remember is Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” because one of the things I love about Jesus is he is not the same – even in the Gospels. If the verse said, “Jesus Christ is Jesus yesterday, today, and forever,” then I’m in. But life isn’t the same because God isn’t the same. We were breathed into existence by a God whose very nature is full of imagination and dynamism. How can we say, “God is Love” and then think God stays the same? Love is change at it’s best. Love builds character, creates relationships, gives meaning: “now we see through a glass darkly, but someday we will see face to face.”
The very essence of love is to make change out of life: to take all of the elements and make them add up differently. We are finding new life in the kitchen because we are letting go and letting in at the same time. Perhaps the nature of a restaurant makes that easier than in church because our sense of a sacred institution causes something to rise up in us that makes us feel as though we must protect and defend the church (either big or little C) from change. We too easily become convinced that it is our stability that has sustained us and lose sight of the subversive, ever-changing love of God that will not let us go and calls us to practice the art of letting go and letting in, of character building, or see ourselves in story rather than stained glass.
“I love to tell the story,” we sang in church on Sunday, “for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”
I love that song because I trust it is true – and that we are characters in that same, still unfolding story.