god’s restaurant


    When I got to work yesterday, Chef said he wanted me to work garde manger, which is the salad and dessert station, since I knew the fish station well. Over the next week or two, I will learn the remaining stations – grill, appetizer, and pizza – so I can move and cook wherever he needs me. Garde manger is an assembling, rather than a cooking, station. The first key is good preparation. There are lots of bins that need to be stocked with dressings, condiments, fruit, vegetables, and lettuces so each salad or dessert can be put together elegantly and expeditiously. Our salads are:

    • Caesar (chopped romaine, Caesar dressing, homemade garlic-Romano-herb croutons, shaved parmesan cheese);
    • Spinach (baby spinach leaves, julienned red pears, crumbled Great Hill bleu cheese, candied walnuts, warm bacon vinaigrette);
    • Mixed Greens (mesclun mix, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sherry mustard vinaigrette, and beet curls);
    • Wonton salad (mesclun mix, pine nuts, feta cheese, julienned granny smith apples, and artichoke vinaigrette in a fried wonton bowl).

    Our homemade desserts are crème brulee, peach cobbler, flourless chocolate torte, warm chocolate peanut butter bombe, and mango cheesecake. Each of them is garnished with fresh fruit and berries.

    The way the kitchen is set up, the salad and pizza stations are enclosed by a bar in the middle of the restaurant, so I got to see people as they came in to the dining room. Some were dressed nicely, others looked as though they had been out running errands or knocking over liquor stores and got hungry all of a sudden. There were couples, some small groups, and one woman who was eating by herself. When it comes right down to it, we’ll serve anyone who walks in to eat. We’re a restaurant; that’s what we do.

    One of my favorite songs is Paul Simon’s “America,” which tells the story of two people traveling together. At one point, the lyric talks about a game they are playing:

    Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces.
    She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy.
    I said “Be careful his bowtie is really a camera.”

    As I looked out over the dining room last night, I couldn’t help but play the game myself, imagining the conversation between the older couple that sat on the same side of the table together, or the younger couple who sat next to them, facing each other so that all I could see was the man’s face. The first couple looked much happier. There was a table of four women who were animated in their conversation and the six-top that came in around seven and clinked their glasses through two rounds of drinks before they even opened their menus. All of them, I’m sure, drove past other restaurants to come to our place. All of them, I’m assuming, have stuff in their refrigerators at home.

    What brought them to our place to eat on a Tuesday night?

    Before I went to work yesterday, I had a chance to read this post by Simon in which he talks about a sermon he preached entitled “A Maitre d’ in the House of God,” which may be one of the best sermon titles ever. He also includes this quote from his new book, God Next Door:

    [I]f the only language of place and locality that we use in reference to the church is that of world, nation or society, we’re in danger of missing the most primary implication of the Incarnation …It is the localness of the Incarnation that makes this profound act of God so confronting and so comprehensively saving. So, too, the church. Should the church fail to grasp its most immediate relationship to place, it may well fail to be the presence of God in a much broader context.

    This morning, Ginger handed me a package from Barbara in Brooklyn (thank you, Barbara!) that contained a copy of Take This Bread by Sara Miles. She begins her story this way:

    One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans – except that up to that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.

    Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and work I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all but actual food – indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized that what I’d been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.

    Both Simon and Sara are talking about church as a place where people feed and are fed: God’s Restaurant, to use Simon’s metaphor.

    The [parable of the Great Banquet] in Luke’s gospel paints a radical and challenging picture of God’s kingdom. It’s a confronting picture for the church. It is certainly not comfortable, predictable, or safe. To be engaged in God’s restaurant is a potentially life changing and life challenging call.

    It is God who makes up the guest list. We have no say in who is invited and who isn’t. The seating arrangements and dress requirements have nothing to do with us. Should the master wish to change from sit-down silver service to cafeteria-style buffet, that’s his call. We should be conscious of the ease with which we can become like those who made their excuses, those who had pre-determined what the host could do and could not do, who the host could invite, and what the seating arrangements would be.

    Simon’s words reminded me of the way Ginger recounted a conversation in her sermon last Sunday:

    Our friends, parents of three of our godchildren, live in an affluent white suburb of Nashville. I’ve spoken of them before and the measures they take to keep their children connected with a broader world outside of their very comfortable white life.

    Yesterday we go to see them for a last minute surprise visit and a narrow window for conversation. During our hour together, we struggled with their church dilemma. They are caught because they want to be in their neighborhood church and appreciate the way their soon-to-be teenage daughter is accepted there, and yet what they hear in worship are subtle, fear-based messages about terrorists, homosexuals, abortion clinics, race, and economics. Questions about living out an intentional faith-filled life are not asked.

    In the midst of their struggle, their twelve year old inquired, “Are we expecting too much of a church for it to be multiethnic and inclusive?”

    On the dust jacket of Sara Miles’ book it says, “A lesbian left-wing journalist who covered revolutions around the world, Miles was not the kind of woman expected to see suddenly praising Jesus.” That sentence says at least as much about the church as it does about Miles and her friends. The painful reality in my goddaughter’s question is many local churches answer that question in the affirmative. We think it is too much to ask because we can’t be comfortable and challenged at the same time. We don’t trust that love casts out fear, even though God tells us that over and over and over again. In the face of that reality, Simon and Sara give me hope that fear will not triumph over faith when it comes to feeding Jesus to the world, one neighborhood at a time.

    It’s God’s restaurant. Dinner is served.



    1. I really enjoyed this post and connection to God’s restaurant. It echoes the question I have wondered when you see new people in your church-what brought these people here today? What is it they seek? How can we be for them the thing that says- here you will be fed?

    2. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Milton (and for the links!). Beautifully said. I must read Sara’s book.

      Speaking of good titles, I came across a paper by fellow Australian theoligian Gordon Preece with the title “The Republic of God is a Great Outdoor Restaurant.” I like it!

      By the way, my two areas of speciality back in my kitchen days were gard manger and patisserie. Surely closer to heaven than the others!

    3. Milton, I too loved the book, and was greatly challenged. I think we will probably start clearing for our community garden today. One question, seriously, how do you make radish curls?
      Later bro-Tom
      ps-awesome post

    4. I am glad you are liking it, it seemed right in sync with you.

      “Perfect love casts out fear” is kind of circular, I think.

      When fear leaves, love can grow.. I am thinking of Miles’s ability to find beauty in the middle of urban poverty — to be honest, the sights and smells of poverty kinda scare me to death sometimes. I find myself thinking : What if I end up like that? How come the homeless are suffering and not me, and if think that for one minute maybe I am inviting disaster? What if there isn’t enough strength and love and will in the world to combat poverty?

      So I really admire Miles’s faith and I see how her lack of fear and her love are transformative. Lacking fear, she sees more beauty and she and her brothers and sisters actually create more beauty.

      You really captured it with — “we don’t trust that love casts out fear.”

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