lenten journal: questions and answers


    Since this is spring break at Duke, the campus restaurant has been closed and I’ve been working back at the restaurant where I started so I could earn my paycheck and also let Chef take her kids to Disney. I’ve loved being back over there. I like the menu (it’s fun to cook), but mostly I enjoy the sense of community. The kitchen is small and filled with cooks, whereas my kitchen at Duke is large and relatively unpopulated. There are a few new faces since I last worked there, one of which is Drew who is an awesome cook and a great guy. He and I got to know each other a little better tonight. He’s originally from North Carolina (from the county where Mayberry is, he said), went to culinary school in New York City and worked there for four or five years, and then came back to Carolina because, he said, “I felt like I was missing something.” He stirkes me as a pretty even-keeled person who doesn’t let much get to him.

    Tonight, as the dinner service began to slow down, one of the servers asked him if he had ever been in the military.

    “Why do you ask?” he replied in a somewhat suspicious tone, which surprised me.

    “I don’t know. You just look like someone who might have been in the military, so I thought I’d ask,” the server answered.

    “No,” said Drew, and the server went on about his business.

    About ten minutes later, the server came back to pick up another order and Drew said, “Hey. I was in the military. I didn’t tell you before because I wasn’t sure what you were getting at with your question.”

    “Nothing,” said the other guy. “I just wondered.” The conversation ended there, so Drew never shared what caused his hesitancy.

    I know I’m a week ahead, but one of the most poignant scenes for me in the gospel story is Peter standing in the courtyard as Jesus was being tried by Caiaphas and the others. Of all the disciples, Peter is the most captivating for me because of his impulsiveness – sort of faith run amok. My friend Burt has always talked about Peter being the Barney Fife of the New Testament, Jesus, of course, being Andy.

    When we tell the story about Peter’s denials, I think we move too quickly past the fact that he followed Jesus after they arrested him and was dangerously close to the room where he was being questioned and humiliated. I’m not sure Peter realized the danger of where he was until the questions started: “You were with him, weren’t you?”

    “No,” he answered, perhaps, like Drew, unsure of what was behind the question.

    They asked again, and he denied his connection with Jesus a second time.

    When they said, “We can tell by your accent that you come from Mayberry,” he exploded, claiming to not even know Jesus. And then he ran out and wept. Jesus was dead before Peter got to straighten the whole thing out. I can’t imagine anyone more grateful for the Resurrection than he.

    In a nation so deeply divided over the war, perhaps Drew had reason to be question-shy about his military past, afraid he might step on a landmine in our little kitchen by thinking it was OK to come clean. In our public lives, we have the option of telling or not telling about our past. I don’t know that everyone at the restaurant knows I’m ordained, or that I was a high school English teacher for a decade; I know most of them don’t know I play guitar or love to sing, or that I write this blog. I’m not trying to be secretive; that stuff just hasn’t come up yet with these new acquaintances and colleagues.

    Peter wept, not because he had been less than forthright with a bunch of strangers, but because he had betrayed his friend and the one he trusted with his life – his Messiah. He had stumbled when it was time to stand and be counted.

    One of my other favorite gospel stories is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. After their transforming conversation, she runs back into town – a town that wanted little or nothing to do with her – saying, “Come see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done.” Though the gospel writers don’t generally get high marks for effectively conveying tone, I’ve always heard a sense a comfort in what she said, which has always been a bit puzzling. For most of us, the prospect of someone – a stranger – telling us everything we’ve ever done would not necessarily be good news, but her words are good news, to me, because of words I hear her say when I read the story that were never written down: “Come see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done and still loves me.”

    In a little bit, I’ll turn off this computer and the rest of the house lights and lay down beside someone who has incarnated that kind of love for me. The suspicion sown by strangers may cause us to hedge our bets and measure our steps and our answers, but love casts out fear and suspicion. I know someone who pretty much knows everything I’ve ever done and still loves me with abandon.

    For each of the times Peter denied his Lord, Jesus asked, “Simon, do you love me?” and gave him the chance to repaint the picture, ultimately telling him to turn his pain into compassion: “Feed my sheep.” The Samaritan woman went to the very people who treated her like crap to give them a chance at finding grace and forgiveness. As many times as Barney was the laughing stock of Mayberry, Andy kept believing in him.

    And then they headed over to Thelma Lou’s to watch a little TV.



    1. Hi Milton,
      Have been following you for well over a year, since last year’s Lenten writings. I enjoy your blog and it’s a first thing read for me each morning. I’d be proud to have a pastor like you… I find your theological insights intertwined wtih your music, prose and cooking to be unbelievably inspiring. Thanks so much. (Not sure how I found your blog. you know how the blog world is.i do not have a blog)
      Love any of your recipes I’ve tried. Good luck as you adjust to NC from Boston. We just moved to central rural VA after living overseas for 5 years.. big adjustment..moving.. selling..buying houses..changing jobs…all put one too high on the stress scale!

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