Apropos of nothing, I want to point you to an interesting web site I found through Africa Kid and the World: Free Rice. As a former English teacher, a lover of language, and someone who wants to do something about hunger in our world, I love this site. Every time you match the given word with the correct definition, you “earn” twenty grains of rice to be given to hungry people around the world. (The site is for real; the food actually gets to people.) Please make it a part of what you do.
My new Chef is an excellent entrepreneur. She began here in Durham with a catering company, which has continued to grow, has the new restaurant where I have been working, and also runs a restaurant on the Duke campus for faculty during the day and students at night. That’s where she sent me to work this evening and said, “I want to know everything you think about the place when I see you tomorrow.”
The kitchen is huge, the staff is small, and they do pretty good stuff. I liked the people I worked with, I had a good evening working there, and something wasn’t quite right. I thought about it driving home, thought about it some more in the shower, talked with Ginger a bit when I got here, and decided before I tell Chef my observations and evaluations, I need to ask a question: “What are we trying to achieve there?”
The things I noticed had to do with making things better: better organization, better kitchen setup, better menu planning – all of which would help increase business. They do a good job; I think it could be a great place. But what I may not know is the university may just be paying for a good place. If so, everyone may be helping to create exactly what they had in mind. If so, talking about how things could change is not necessarily helpful; if not, I’ve got some ideas.
When I taught high school English, I intentionally chose texts I hoped would be incendiary in class. I wanted the students to be changed by the texts, to ask uncomfortable questions, to drive their parents crazy, and to grow up to be wonderfully outlandish adults. What I learned in high school the second time around was mine was the minority opinion. Our schools are designed, for the most part, to raise good workers and good citizens, people who will mow their lawns and pay their taxes. Not too many folks are saying they want a revolution (even though most of the parents have Beatles albums).
Michael Foucault looked at prisons and schools as case studies to analyze the point or goal of society. Smith paraphrases him: “The disciplinary society forms individuals into what it wants them to be: docile, productive consumers who are obedient to the state” (92). Without going on another quoting rampage, Smith’s analysis of Foucault’s theory as it relates to the church led me to the same question I want to ask about the campus restaurant: what are we trying to achieve here?
In most every church I have been a part of, regardless of denomination, I’ve met people with young children who have joined the church – usually come back to the church after some period of absence – because “they want their children to go to be in Sunday School.” I’ve always thought it would be rude on my part to respond by asking, “Why?” so I haven’t, but I do wonder. Do they mean they want them to learn basic values so they will know how to be “good” people? How would they have felt if I had said, “Great!” and handed them this quote from Brian MacLaren:
One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative . . . If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo. (Smith 21)
Status quo is Latin for you and me.
When I was a youth minister back in the day, as you kids say, I planned a mission trip to Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago. One of the most active kids in the group came and told me, in tears, that her parents would not let her go. Both of them were deacons and very active in the church. I told her I would talk to them. When I approached the father, he said he wasn’t sure it would be safe. I gave him my stock answer in those situations: every year we took a ski trip and I took forty young people, tied long pieces of fiber glass to their feet and threw them up on the side of a mountain. Never once did I have a parent question if they were safe. How could a mission trip we were going to spend in a church, when his daughter would literally almost never be alone or out of sight of an adult be more dangerous. His shoulders dropped and he said,
“I’m afraid if she goes up there and sees what is going on she won’t want to come back.” She didn’t get to go. She became a missionary.
Her parents were good people, just like the folks in the kitchen tonight are good people, and the school teachers, and the young parents returning to church. Hell, we’re all good people. I’m just not sure God’s point in breathing us into existence was for us to be good. We were created in God’s image to incarnate God’s liberating love and grace to the world around us, which means we are left with a bunch of questions, as I wrote about in a short column for our church newsletter:
The backdrop to Jesus’ birth was an occupied land in turmoil. The world was troubled and uneasy, and yet the angels came and sang about peace on earth. But how do we find peace?
How do we make sense and meaning out of our lives when most of the world is poorer, sicker, hungrier, and more frightened than we are? How do we focus on our families and the relationships that sustain us and find time and love to share with people in Iran and Indonesia? How do we invest ourselves in our local churches to do what it takes for us to become who God is calling us to be and find time and energy to generate hope and change in places like Darfur? How do we fight the good fights that need to be fought on our local levels to make sure our towns and cities are caring for our citizens and find energy and determination to bang our heads against the brick wall that is our national government to hold them accountable for their lack of coherent leadership? How do we save the whales, save the rainforest, stop human trafficking, feed the hungry, house the homeless, wage peace, demand equality, struggle with our own biases, cook dinner, get the kids to soccer practice, pay the bills, love our significant others, meet new people, care for our friends, take care of our bodies, get enough sleep, stay informed, have some fun, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?
I’m not going to answer those questions, by the way, I’m just throwing them out there.
We are waiting expectantly for the Birth, the Incarnation, the Sacred Scandal, the God’s release of Unadulterated, Undiluted, Unfiltered Love into the world. God call to us in this season is to be prepared: if we go to Bethlehem open-hearted, we won’t want to come back, or at least we won’t want to come back the same.
P. S. — I have a short book review published here.