lenten journal: I want to be a christian


    I don’t know where Duke students go on Sunday night, but it’s not to our restaurant. Kyle tells me they realize at some point on Sunday afternoon that they have been partying all weekend and they have class in the morning. Whatever the reason, Ramon and I had a lot of time on our hands. We cleaned and sorted the walk in refrigerator that was left in a bit of a shambles, I’m guessing, because the produce order came in late on Friday. Then we started working on some of our sauces and staples for the week ahead.

    I would be more accurate to say I started working on the sauces. When Ramon finished washing the dishes left for him by the brunch crew, he asked what I was doing. I told him I was making marinara sauce, something we go through quickly with our new menu. Somehow I managed to be aware enough to realize he was really asking me to teach him what I was doing. The recipe is one I learned when I worked at the RooBar in Plymouth and I love it for both its simplicity and its taste. I was more than happy to pass along to Ramon what was passed along to me. I’m happy to tell you, too. The problem is, due to the quantities we work with, you will have marinara for the neighborhood.

    I started by showing him the four food service-sized cans of whole Roma tomatoes I had brought from dry storage. I opened them into a large container, put on gloves, and began crushing them by hand. “Wait,” he said, and went to get a pen and paper. After the tomatoes were hand pureed, I put two cups of garlic in the food processor and pulsed it just enough to leave the cloves in small pieces. I put the pot on the stove, heated it, and added enough olive oil to cover the bottom. When it was hot, I dumped the garlic in and stirred it for a few minutes – just to give it some color. Then I added the tomatoes. (Ramon was taking notes in Spanish the whole time.) “Now what happens is we put it on low heat, stir it from time to time, and will finish it in about three hours when we add the basil.”

    That really is it. The slow simmering of the sauce breaks down the tomatoes and pulls out their natural sweetness so you don’t have to add any sugar. I do add some salt and pepper, but it’s nothing but tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil.

    “You got it?” I asked him. He nodded. “Good. Next time you make it and I’ll go drink coffee.” He smiled. We both did.

    When I saw him start taking notes, I knew I needed to pay attention to the moment for reasons of my own because the moment meant something different to him than it did to me. I love to teach, particularly in the kitchen, and, because of the way recipes get handed down, I consider most any of them to be public domain: I’m happy to share. Teaching him how to make the sauce also gave me a chance to break down the walls and get to know each other a little better. But what Ramon was after was something more than cooking or camaraderie. He’s learning to change his life, to move up the ladder (or at least the kitchen line) and be something other than a dishwasher.

    More encounters than not in life carry such double meanings. The six students who came to eat tonight were looking for dinner in one of the university’s dining rooms. I was in the kitchen doing my life’s work, following my calling. I don’t expect they had any idea anymore than I know where they were headed next. That we miss out on some things is not all bad; perhaps it’s even necessary. I think back to the “Earshot” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where she ended up being able to hear what everyone was thinking and the weight of it all was overwhelming. I’m thinking more of the moments when we aren’t two ships passing, or pool balls glancing off one another; I’m thinking about the encounters when we stand facing one another, each from our side of the looking glass. How do I look past my reflection to see what you’re looking for?

    When the Tempter came to Jesus, the overarching question was, “Don’t you see this can all be about you?” With that option never out of reach his entire ministry, Jesus spent most of his time noticing the people nobody else seemed to see as they went about their business. That he came out of the wilderness and began to surround himself with a group of disciples – people to teach – none of whom come across as honors level material, even in the best light. The Word became Flesh to teach classes in remedial humanity and talk an awful lot about forgiveness.

    This morning we sang, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.”

    I love the song for its irony. Any time I’ve sung it, I’ve been in a group who already identifies themselves as Christian. And so we sing, Lord, I’ve got the look and the talk and the ‘tude; now, I want to be a Christian in my heart: I want to be more holy, more loving, more like Jesus.

    I want to be a Christian at work so I can remember I’m there to help Ramon rather than him being there to help me. I want to be a Christian at home and lift my head from my stuff to notice what Ginger needs. I want to be a Christian in my friendships, working to the friend rather than waiting or expecting to be befriended.

    In my heart.
    In my heart.
    Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.



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