Ginger and I have spent the day around the house getting it ready for our new housemate and dear friend, Cherry, who has packed up the plans in her car and is leaving Boston to come and live with us here in the Bull City. In the process of our cleaning, I came across Congregational Chow, a cookbook I helped put together with the youth group at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas when I was youth minister there – in 1986.
My favorite section of the book came about at the suggestion of someone else in the church, and that was to ask the children in our preschool Sunday School classes to give us their favorite recipes and then to add them to the cookbook verbatim, which we did. Here are a couple of them:
Take one Irish potato and put it in the microwave. Cook for 50 minutes. It’s done because the bell rings. Put butter and cheese on it. Eat it. (Alison, age 5)
Green corn with butter. add pepper and salt, stir. Put it in the oven at 68 degrees. Cook for 20 minutes, then put lettuce on it. It’s ready to eat. (Wesley, age 4)
TURKEY AND DRESSING
Put turkey sauce on the turkey and put salt on top. Cook it on top of the stove for 25 mintues or so. It’s done when it gets real dark. Mix up some popcorn and a drink to go with it. (Margie, age 5)
Take oatmeal and put it in a big bowl. Then put it in another bowl. Add pepper and milk. Stir and stir. Bake it in a hot oven at one degree for just forty weeks. (Ethel Mae, age 3)
Take out a pan, scrub it out if it’s dirty. Now that you have a clean pan, take some dough and roll it out and then cook it. After you cook it, you put different color dots on it. Put about four glasses of cooked pumpkin in it. Then you put orange icing and black for the eyes and mouth. Then it’s done. (Margie, age 5)
What I love about the recipes is the perspective. The kids were telling how they saw those things being made, remembering details that made the most impression, or perhaps repeating things they heard in the kitchen (“Now that you have a clean pan . . .). An pastor friend of mine asked his four year old son what he thought his dad did for a job and the boy thought for a minute and said, “You talk on the phone a lot.” That’s what it looked like from where he stood. Though our perspective may widen as we age, we still make up our own recipes.
The events of the past few days (sorry, can’t go into more detail) have reminded me that, though we are all trying to make a life, we can come up with very different recipes for what that life looks like. In a series of interactions this week I saw how one person’s primary ingredient was power. It’s how she evaluates relationships and responds to them. She wants the power and doesn’t want to share it. For the most part, that ingredient doesn’t much show up in my recipe, so I had to work hard to figure out what was happening between us because what I was saying was not what was being heard.
When we start to talk about faith we have the same issues. Growing up Southern Baptist, I was brought up with a lot of battle imagery. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war. We talked about fighting Satan and being prayer warriors. The overarching images of Christianity were ones of conflict and conquest, and we were in it to win it. The difficulty with that recipe, for me, is wars require enemies. Once one is defeated, another must take its place or the recipe falls apart. The circle gets smaller and smaller until we are left shooting at each other.
The recipe of faith I have been working on for most of my adult life is less about conflict than it is about community. It’s less about measuring up than making room, less about who is right than who is here, less about wars than welcomes. I’m pointing out the differences to point to the difficulty of understanding just how the other recipe works. Some who see themselves fighting for truth might look at my recipe and think it ranks right up there with Margie’s pumpkin pie – well-intentioned, but lacking a complete understanding. When I have written about responding to violence with violence being neither a successful nor Christian response, I’ve gotten comments trying to help me out of my naiveté. I’m not naïve, I just don’t think violence is a solution. I think it’s safe to say most of history will bear me out.
At the risk of stretching my metaphor farther than it is prepared to go, and going back to my experiences this week, the challenge for me is how do I learn to share the table with those whose recipes for living are so different than mine. The situations this week were more than passing glances. I have to deal with this person on pretty much a daily basis, both of us trying to make something of the situation, and both coming at it from very different perspectives and seeking very different outcomes. The best way for me is to start with an ingredient Ginger added to my recipe years ago with a quote she passed along: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I can follow that by remembering I’m responsible for the life I’m making – for my recipe – and not for the other person’s. I need to stick to what I trust is true regardless of how she chooses to respond.
This is advanced cooking – and hard to do.
Then again, I knew it couldn’t be as easy as Margie made it sound.