Mondays are long days in the restaurant at Duke because, in the parlance of the kitchen, we have to “rebuild our prep”: we have to make all things (0r most things) new. We are open Monday through Thursday nights, and, well, we don’t really want to serve stuff that has sat around while we were gone. Some stuff can go in the freezer or gets used or taken home, but some things we have to let go and make new come Monday. Today that list included cutting fresh steaks, breaking down whole chickens and roasting them, cutting pork chops, cutting the calamari rings and preparing the dredge mixture, making the “tobacco onions” (onions sautéed and then cooked in equal parts molasses and Worcestershire sauce), making the pasta sauces (rosemary and marinara), making the desserts (brownies, apple crisps, chocolate chip pan cookies, banana nut bread pudding), preparing the sweet potato pancake mixture, cooking fresh pasta, making rice, mashing potatoes, prepping the side vegetables, making the macaroni and cheese pastries, and baking cornbread.
Like I said, Monday is a long day.
At the Durham restaurant, the whole menu changes four or five times a year, in large part to maintain our commitment to seasonal and local food, but also for some of the same reasons we prep new stuff on Mondays: to keep things fresh and interesting, to help us sharpen both our skills and our imaginations, to keep us from getting complacent about our cooking. It also requires we stare down our fear to risk. After a month or two, a menu becomes comfortable and reliable, and customers become attached to particular dishes. Replacing all the entrees means knocking off the favorites and asking our diners to risk with us. For the most part, they do.
Seeing both things as metaphor has been on my mind today after finishing Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, where he spends a good bit of time talking about how the working metaphors for our lives affect how we live them out. He also talks about leadership, and the “shadows” we have to live through in order to find the lights of inner strength and outward community, one of which he describes as the “denial of death itself,” and he says:
Within our denial of death lurks fear of another sort: fear of failure. In most organizations, failure means a pink slip in your box, even if that failure, that “little death,” was suffered in the service of high purpose. It is interesting that science, so honored in our culture, seems to have transcended this particular fear. A good scientist does not fear the death of a hypothesis, because that “failure” clarifies the steps that need to be taken toward truth, sometimes more than a hypothesis that succeeds. The best leaders in every setting reward people for taking worthwhile risks even if they are likely to fail. These leaders know that the death of an initiative – if it was tested for good reasons – is always a source of new learning.
The gift we receive on the inner journey is the knowledge that death finally comes to everything – and yet death does not have the final word. By allowing something to die when its time is done, we create the conditions under which new life can emerge.
I had the morning off on Friday before going to work on a catering gig, so I went with Ginger to hear a discussion at the Duke Divinity School being moderated by one of our church members. One of the presenters asked, “How do we think about our Christian tradition in new and radical ways?” She went on to say, for instance, two of the archetypal themes of Christian history were radical generosity and iconoclasm. The Christian tradition has, at its core, a stream of a radical re-looking at our blind spots and asking, “Who is being denied their imago Dei?” We do better, she said, when we chose to see revolution as normal in our lives of faith.
On Saturday morning, I was a part of a deacons’ retreat at our church. We worked hard with an eye to how we can help our church grow to be stronger and more vital in our witness to our community. I gotta tell ya, it’s easier to latch on to revolution as normal when it is a grand idea in a seminar than when it is talking about line items in the budget of a local congregation. I thrive on change probably more than most folks and I also understand every institution, large and small, requires a certain amount of steadfastness for the sake of self-preservation. The paradox of that preservation is that it is less secure in keeping everything the same than it is when things are allowed to die and revolution is allowed its natural place in the order of things. We are evolutionary creatures; we were created to thrive when we grow and change; we were not built to stay the same.
I’m grateful to say I saw some seeds of faithful insurgency planted around our table Saturday morning. I’m looking forward in seeing what takes root in our hearts, even as I am aware of the fledgling rumblings of revolution within my own heart. What would that be: a coup de coeur?
That I’ve been reading Palmer is no accident. I’m working hard to listen to my life because there is much to hear. These are days full of invitations to follow, which also means being willing to follow and fail, and learn and grow. As much as it makes for great devotional writing, the prospect of failure gets more foreboding with age, or the attachments and entanglements that come with being on the planet for over half a century. It’s just tougher to strip the gears and head a new direction, that’s all. On the other hand, when I look ahead believing I am far from finished with my time here, why would I not want to let it all ride on the next big adventure, the next chapter in the story, the next menu, if you will?
Why not, indeed.