advent journal: getting ready


    I spend a lot of my day at the restaurant getting ready. In kitchen jargon, we call it “prepping.” Much of what we have to prepare are the things we use everyday: sliced tomatoes and red onions for the burgers, thin sliced sweet onions for the onion rings, chopped romaine lettuce for the salads, the salad dressings, the clam chowder, the French onion soup, the chicken soup, the sauces, and the dessert tray, to name a few. Then there are the specials.

    Our owner has decided to create $12.95 weeknight specials to get folks in the place, It’s working; here’s why:

    Monday and Thursday: Twin Lobsters (that’s right — $12.95)
    Tuesday: All-You-Can-Eat Turkey Dinner
    Wednesday: Prime Rib

    Here’s the catch, as far as getting ready goes: as far as the regular stuff, what we don’t use today we can use tomorrow for the most part, but the specials are a one night deal. We have to try and guess how many folks are coming. Monday night we sold three dozen lobsters in a little less than an hour. Tonight, we had two full prime ribs we didn’t even cut. (We will use them; we don’t throw them out!) So part of what we get ready for everyday is what we cannot predict, so we just try to get ready the best we can. I drove home tonight thinking about getting ready and pretty soon I had a soundtrack to my thoughts: Curtis Mayfield’s classic, “People Get Ready.”

    People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield

    When I searched for more about the song online, I found this NPR report from 2003 and the fortieth anniversary of the March on Washington. Here is part of the text from the report:

    After hearing the Rev. Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech that August day in 1963, the crowd of 250,000 sang “We Shall Overcome.” In 1965, another gospel song emerged — “People Get Ready” by Mayfield and the Impressions.

    People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’
    You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board

    All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’

    Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

    In addition to the march, the song followed several jarring events in American history: the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham — which killed four little girls — and the assassination of President Kennedy.

    Music critic Stanley Crouch explains Mayfield’s response to those events: “…by saying ‘There’s a train a-coming, get ready’ that was like saying, okay, so regardless of what happens, get yourself together for this because you are going to get a chance. Your chance is coming.”

    “The train that is coming in the song speaks to a chance for redemption — the long-sought chance to rise above racism, to stand apart from despair and any desire for retaliation — an end to the cycle of pain,” Williams adds.

    Think on these things: the long sought chance to stand apart from despair and any desire for retaliation.

    We are getting ready during Advent as much as we are waiting, if not more. Though there is both time and need for sitting out under the stars waiting for the angels to sing, there is also time and need to prepare, to do both the daily work of our faith and the special effort required in this season. And I’m not just talking about getting ready for Jesus’ birth. Tonight I’m thinking about those who will show up for their once a year visit to church. How are we getting ready for them in a way that might engage them beyond whatever brings them in once or twice a year?

    One of the things I love about working at the Red Lion is if you want to alter the way a dish is described in the menu we are capable of going all Burger King on your butt so you can have it your way. What that means for us in the kitchen is another kind of preparation that makes us capable of improvising. I mentioned to Chef that I had never worked in a place so willing to accommodate people. He answered, “I’ve been in this business a lot of years and I’ve learned that the point is not to make them eat my way, but to do whatever I can to make them love the meal so much that they want to come back.”

    A number of years ago, I spent some time learning about improvisation with my friend Billy as a way of improving our songwriting. We read Keith Johnstone’s Impro: Improvisation for the Theater and did a number of the exercises in the book. As I looked for information about him online tonight, I found the blog for The Applied Improvisation Network and the five common principles of improvisational theater “without which an improvised scene could not move forward.” They are:

    1. Yes And
    2. Make everyone else look good
    3. Be changed by what is said and what happens
    4. Shared agenda and shared focus
    5. Serve the good of the whole

    That’s what Curtis was singing about (read it again):

    People get ready, there’s a train comin’
    You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board

    All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’

    You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

    I think Jesus meant for the church to be a lot more improvisational theater and a lot less paint by numbers. As far as his birth went, no one cued the shepherds, angels, and magi to end up posed in a Nativity scene around the manger. They stumbled in, wondered out, and even had to go home by another way. No one was feeding them their lines or scheduling rehearsal. Everyone, including Jesus, was making it up as they went along; that’s the way Jesus approached everyday he lived: he prepared, he lived, and he gave instructions with lots of room for interpretation:

    “Follow me.” (Sort of like Igor saying in Young Frankenstein, “Here – walk this way.”)

    I feel like printing the five common principles on the back of Sunday’s bulletin (or maybe the front) in this Revised Standard Version:

    1. Say yes to what is offered and then add your ideas
    2. Make others look good before you do the same for yourself
    3. Be changed by what is said and what happens in worship
    4. Look for what shared ideas and focus we have before pointing out differences
    5. Speak and act to serve the good of the whole community

    All aboard.



    1. “I think Jesus meant for the church to be a lot more improvisational theater and a lot less paint by numbers.” Boy, is this true. There’s got to be room for the Spirit!

    2. When I first read “People Get Ready” the words “people get ready, Jesus is coming…” that’s all I know of it; which could be a good thing.

      If I am ever elected President you are going to have to be my speech writer. Great stuff. Your analogy between work and advent is dead on.

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