When Ginger wrote for her sabbatical grant, one of the things the Lilly Endowment encouraged her to include in her budget were monies for a Send Off Party and a Welcome Back Party. I volunteered to be the chef for the gatherings. We had the first party today, even though next Sunday is her last before her sabbatical, because next Sunday is Easter. Since Friday and Saturday are my long days at the kitchen, I pulled recipes together all week (check out www.gourmed.gr) and shopped on Thursday. I started most of my cooking when I got home from work last night (after I wrote) and picked up again this morning. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the service, but I did feel like I went to church.
One of the things I love about our church in Marshfield is the way people pull for each other. As different people came through, they asked if they could help in any way and I put them to work chopping or slicing or whatever else I could think of. Some had ten minutes, others fifteen; all of them offered what they could. Two guys, Mickey and Kevin, stayed and worked all morning. Mickey is a talented chef and owned his own restaurants before going into another business with his brother. He is one of the most giving people I know. He had sent word with Ginger for me to call if I needed help. I did need help and forgot to call. He showed up anyway. By the time Kevin walked in, Mickey and I had a sink full of dirty dishes. Kev went straight to the sink and went to work. In the course of our conversations, we learned Kevin had his own restaurant background, working his way through high school and college as a line cook. They stayed in the kitchen, helped me cook, helped me serve, and helped me clean up. They stayed until the last table was put away and the last chair stacked. I could not have done it without them.
Kevin chairs the Visioning Team at the church. He talks about how we help people “get on the bus.” I love the metaphor. In college and seminary days, I was a school bus driver. The pay was decent, the hours predictable, and I didn’t have to work nights or weekends. One of my routes in Fort Worth had two parts. First I took second graders from Western Hills (a predominantly white neighborhood) to Como Elementary and then I took sixth graders from Como (a predominantly African-American neighborhood) to Western Hills Middle School. In the morning the sixth graders made hardly a sound. in the afternoon, they made up for it. The noise was unbelievable. They had been cooped up all day long and had some stuff they had to get out of their system. One afternoon, I couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled the bus over to the side of the road.
“Listen,” I said, “I know you need to blow off some steam. I know you want to talk to each other. I just need it to be quieter.”
“What if we sing?” asked the little girl who sat behind me. The rest of the kids joined in approval.
“What do you want to sing?” I asked.
“White Shadow,” she said. (That lets you know how long ago I was a school bus driver – it was a show about a high school basketball team that liked to sing in the locker room, mostly Motown.) “Start us off.”
I counted down and they chimed in,
I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
when it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May
I guess you’ll say what can make me feel this way
My girl – my girl —
On the last one I couldn’t help myself. “My girl,” I sang at the top of my lungs.
“Oooh,” said the girl behind me, “the bus driver knows the song.” We sang most every afternoon for the rest of the year. Get on the bus.
One of the things I’m learning from Kevin is business and creativity are not mutually exclusive terms. One of the main reasons he is excited about our church’s vision process is he has done it in his own business. He believes in dreaming, in imagination at work. Church is not “business as usual” to him (business is not “business as usual” to him). He talks a lot about goals, encouraging us to be specific in our ideas and faithful in figuring out how to make them happen. As we cooked and cleaned together, I talked about my dream for really using our church kitchen and our parish hall to feed people. Mickey shares that dream as well, along with a growing group of others.
“Now that’s a goal,” Kevin said. His eyes lit up. “We can get that going by October.”
I believe him and I’m grateful for his enthusiasm. I’m also encouraged as I watch this seedling of an idea begin to grow. Some of us have been talking and praying about this for close to a year now, trying to live in the creative tension between patience and action. We are getting closer.
For the first three years Ginger and I lived in Boston we didn’t own a car. Every month we bought T Passes and traversed the city on trains and buses. We knew the route numbers well and came pretty close to knowing the schedules for our most used routes. The Boston buses have the number and the destination on the front of the bus. When you get on, you know where you are going; you also know you are going to make a number of stops to let fellow travelers on and off before you get there. But you will get there.
On a city bus, the point is the destination. People ride out of necessity more than choice. Some read, some stare out the window, some just try to avoid as much contact as possible. The only ones who talk are those traveling together. The kind of church Kevin dreams about is not that kind of bus. He’s chartering one where we get on because we heard the singing and couldn’t wait to join in. Watching him work in the kitchen today, helping me pull off the party, I know it’s not just talk: he means it.
I’m along for the ride.