Stewardship Versus Faithfulness

grapes-690230_1280In their wonderful, challenging book, Slow Church (reviewed on this blog), Chris Smith and John Pattison argue against the “fast-food-ization” of the American culture, including and especially the church. As a gross over generalization, we as a culture want everything quick, nicely packaged, and to be the same wherever we may be. Sadly this has seeped into the church at times, where we can be more enamored with results than with being faithful. They write:

Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. (page 14)

Against this “fast-food-ization,” pockets of Slow resistance have arisen to call us back to a different way of being. The Slow protest began with the Slow Food movement, started by Carlo Petrini, in Italy in response to a McDonalds near the Spanish steps. Instead of the homogeneity of fast food culture, Carlo Petrini wanted to reclaim Italy’s native foods and food culture—pasta, cheese, and wine—food that expressed what it meant to be Italian to its fullest extent.

Drawing on the principles of the Slow Food Movement, Chris and John write:

Slow Church can help us unmask and repent of our industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church. It can also spur our imaginations with a rich vision of the holistic, interconnected and abundant life together to which God has called us in Christ Jesus. The Slow Food Movement is fundamentally about the richness of a common life with the neighbors who grow our food, prepare our food and share our food. Slow Church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is going in our very own neighborhoods. (pages 15-16)

In seeking to correct the over industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church, we will be tempted to over compensate. If fast food culture and church are defined by control and efficiency, where we seek homogeneity and easy, quick results, then Slow Church adopters might be tempted take a laissez-faire approach to church, letting come what may.

I would argue that both are false approaches, both hiding behind the appearance of being spiritual. The McDonaldized approach to church claiming they are seeking to effectively steward the resources of the church; whereas the laissez-faire approach will hide behind the claim of simply being faithful, letting God do the work that only he can do. (I recognize that these are gross over-simplifications. I see the danger lying more in the subtle ways leaders cave to one of these two temptations without ever outright saying it.)

In using the ideas of Slow Food, Slow Church finds a middle way by demonstrating that stewardship and faithfulness go hand in hand.

Slow Food seeks to elevate native food culture and traditions instead of simply importing the latest fad. This means stewarding the natural resources and traditions of the place, while simultaneously being faithful to the place. As I understand them, stewardship is making the best out of the resources one has, whether as an individual or a community. To bring out the best with what one has. Faithfulness is being observant, listening, and aware of what is present in one’s surroundings, and willing to use them for good purposes. According to this, then, I cannot be faithful without being a good steward, and I cannot be a good steward without being faithful.

I wonder if this is a far analogy: stewardship is the science and faithfulness is the art. In dealing with any living organism, from farming, to viniculture, to cooking, to church, there is always a science and an art to what we do. And the top people in the craft realize and strive to see the two harmoniously interwoven.

While this is easy to recognize, the hard part comes in putting this into practice for it is easier to live in one of the two extremes.

How do we seek to harmoniously interweave stewardship and faithfulness into the church? Stay tuned for thoughts. But in the meantime, I would love to hear from you: How have you sought to do this?

In my next blog I want to examine how the Benedictine vows of stability, obedience, and conversion might provide a framework for moving forward.

Book Review: Slow Church

Slow Church Book CoverIf the 20th century taught us anything, it taught us that efficiency, calculability, predictability and control are to be most prized, seen most readily in large, corporate chains, most notably McDonalds. Machine-like speed and efficiency are now virtues, celebrated even in our churches. How many people can we get in the door on any given Sunday? How many people have prayed the prayer? How many people have we baptized? How many people have become members? What is the latest fad in church and how can we copy it?

But like any large social movement, there have been little pockets of resistance by people who are willing to ask the tough questions of where this path of destruction might be leading us. One of those pockets of resistance was The Slow Food Movement which began in 1986 in protest to the building of a McDonalds near the Spanish Steps in Rome. “The Slow Food Movement is fundamentally about the richness of common life with the neighbors who grow our food, prepare our food and share our food” (16). The Slow Food Movement has spread worldwide, and its greatest contribution might not be in the area of food, but might be in giving us pause to think through how other areas of our life might have succumbed to the pressures of this cult of speed.

Most recently, Chris Smith and John Pattison have been thinking through how the themes of the Slow Food Movement might shape a view of Slow Church, first through their blog and now in the publication of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. They survey the landscape of American Christianity and conclude:

“Many churches, particularly those driven by church growth models, come dangerously close to reducing Christian to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold. Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ,’ which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community” (14).

Over and against this mode of church, Chris and John hope to begin a broad and possibly slow conversation, issuing “a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods” (16). They long to savor a conversation around the dinner table on how the church can be a “way of being authentically connected as coproducers to a Story that is as big as the planet (bigger) and as intimate as our own backyards” (20).

As they begin this important conversation, they frame it around three courses: The first course is ethics, giving preference to quality, how we embody Christ in our terrior. The second course is ecology, framed by the fact that God is in the process of reconciling all of creation, which means how we do things as a church is just as important as what we do. The final course is economy, understanding that God’s economy is based on superabundance and never scarcity.

Lest you think that their idea of Slow Church is simply a means to make church sound cool and hip to our culture, especially the middle and upper White Suburbia, enamored with all things local and slow, their vision of church is rooted in deep theological reflection. They reflect on such key themes as the drama of redemption, looking at how improve shapes our participation. Our God being a “remarkably patient yet radically immanent God” (24) is also foundational to Slow Church. They reflect deeply on humanity, not in some utopian way, but recognizing how deeply rebellious and sinful we all are, yet that we were created to move beyond this through the working of the Holy Spirit into deep rich fellowship and community. And finally, in everything they develop throughout the book, the authors continually remind us that the Christian life is first and foremost a deep joy in the resurrection life – “The primary work of Slow Church is not attracting people to our church buildings, but rather cultivating together the resurrection life of Christ, by deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and even our enemies” (33).

Much of their reflection is centered around ridding the church of its McDonaldization (drawing on the work of George Ritzer and John Drane). McDonalds is driven by efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. While none of these four are evil or sinful in and of themselves, they are, for the most part, antithetical to the ethics, ecology and economy of God’s Kingdom.

The reason we have succumbed to the idol of McDonalds is the fragmentation that we are all plagued with as a result of sin. We know in our heads: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19), but is this how we truly live? Do we, do I, truly believe that God is in the process of making not just us, but all of creation whole again? If I truly believe this and truly desire to live from this fact, then I am compelled to slow down, sit and stay for a while with messy, sinful people, which includes me. It means not fleeing from myself, not fleeing from others, and not fleeing from the place God has placed me for greener pastures elsewhere.

How do we start moving away from the McDonaldization that pervades so much of our culture and church? Unfortunately there are no “five easy steps.” What Smith and Pattison advocate is not just a completely different mindset, but a completely different soulset. A striving not after what the world values, but a striving to “receive one another, our neighbors and our place as gifts of God intended not for our private good as individuals or as a church but for God’s work of reconciliation in helping out place to heal and flourish” (189).

In other words, hospitality, breaking bread together, taking the time to savor what God is already doing in our midst and joining with Him as He seeks to inaugurate His Kingdom in our church and in our neighborhood.

Chris Smith and John Pattison “challenge you [me] to imagine what our common life would look like it were centered around (a) eating together at the table and (b) the slow, eucharistic conversation that convivial feasting encourages” (209).

That is the conversation I have tried to start here on this blog. But more importantly, that is the person I want to be and that is the church and community I want to be part of.

Taking versus Receiving

Do we take Communion? Or do we receive Communion? Does it even matter?

Recently I have been reading Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us by Ragan Sutterfield. In the book, he writes, “I have a priest friend who says that there are many in his congregation who simply can’t hold out their hand and receive the bread—they must take it” (p. 31, location 568). This sentence started me thinking about my posture in coming to the Table as well as the Evangelical’s language in inviting people to the Table.

In short, even though it is only one word difference in the question, I think it is of vital significance that when we approach the Table, we receive the Elements, never taking.

Sadly, in the Evangelical churches I have been part of, the way in which the Eucharist is celebrated, as I approach the Table, I am required to take the Elements as there is no way for me to receive the body and blood of my Savior.

What then are the implications of taking the Elements versus receiving the Elements?

First and foremost, taking the Elements has the potential to teach a false view of salvation and sanctification. The Evangelical tradition rightly teaches that salvation is a free gift received based on what Christ has accomplished once and for all through his death and resurrection – justified by faith through grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is not something there for our taking. Therefore, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in which we once again remember and proclaim the awesome gift, should we not have the same posture as when we first received our salvation? Do we implicitly teach people that once you receive salvation, Jesus is there for your taking whenever and however you want?

Second, and related to the first point, taking gives credence to our culture of consumerism. We are taught from the moment we enter the world that everything is there for our taking. New cars, new looks, new technology, new medicine is all within your reach, and unless you have the newest and greatest, you will never be satisfied, so go out and grab it. But this consumerism is antithetical to the Gospel. The world is not there for the taking. God did not give us the gift of Creation in order to take, take, take, but rather in humility to receive the joys of the gift. Sutterfield writes, “To be humbled is to be returned and reminded that we are but soil” (p. 30, location 541). Humility implies the deep recognition that I am part of the same earth I so often neglect or exploit.

Finally, taking places ME above all else and implies a radical false independence from other people and creation itself. Taking denies my creature-ness – the fact that I am part of a rich system of mutual interdependence upon millions and millions of other creatures. I am tempted to think that as I mature, both physically and spiritually, I am more and more independent of others. But in actuality the opposite should be true – as I mature I should recognize more and more just how dependent I am upon everyone else in order to live the life Christ is calling me into.

I don’t think any Evangelical would say that this is his goal in how he invites people to celebrate the Eucharist. But I think we do need to examine the subconscious implications of our practices.

Contrary to taking, when we receive the elements from one another, we receive back our humanity. We move; we are active, not passive. While it might seem that taking is more active than receiving, receiving actually requires more activity and retraining as it is so contrary to our society.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Michael Pollan

While love and hate may be too strong of words to describe my reaction to Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, I figured it might grab your attention. But in reading his latest contribution to the ever changing dialogue of the place of food in American culture, at times he was speaking directly to my heart about the importance of a shared meal, but at other times, I could barely continue reading as I was frustrated and jealous of how he went about the business of learning to cook.

I have enjoyed reading Michael Pollan’s books over the past few years, starting with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, then In Defense of Food, and now Cooked. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to state that Michael Pollan may be the most influential food writer in America. Through his three books, he has done more to change the food culture in America from exposing the awfulness of modern agriculture practices to the dangers of our over reliance on corn and to the weird science of nutritionism.

I was excited as I began reading Cooked as right off the bat he states that lately he came to the realization that while he had written a lot about food, he knew very little about how to cook. Not only did he not know much about cooking, but he “made the unexpected but happy discovery that the answer to several of the questions that most occupied me was in fact one and the same. Cook” (1). He laments the lack of cooking being done in America today, which is odd as Americans are watching and talking about food more than ever.

His premise in the book is that cooking “is one of the most interesting and worthwhile things we humans do” (11). And after his education in the kitchen he writes, “the most important thing I learned by doing this work is how cooking implicates us in a whole web of social ecological relationships: with plants and animals, with the soil, with farmers, with the microbes both inside and outside our bodies, and, of course, with the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Above all else, what I found in the kitchen is that cooking connects” (18, emphasis mine).

He also praises the importance of the shared meal. He writes, “It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending” (8).

Everything he has said, I reply with a heartily “Amen!” If you know me, these ideas are what makes my heart come alive. I first borrowed the book from our local public library, but after reading the introduction, I told Claire that I wanted to buy the book, to which her response was, “You want to underline and write in the book.” And she was absolutely correct. I wanted the ability to have this book on my shelf so I could quote from it without having to look too far.

Michael Pollan divides his book into four sections based on the primordial elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth, with each section evidencing a greater degree of civilization. In Fire, he learns the techniques of authentic barbeque from pitmasters in South Carolina. In Water, he learns all about the technique of braising from a local cook who had worked at Chez Panisse and spent two years in Tuscany learning how to cook. In Air he discusses the wonder of the wild yeast found all around us that has made bread baking possible, spending time talking and learning with Chad Robertson, the fame baker at Tartine Bakery. And finally in Earth, he learns the science about fermentation, from pickles to cheese to beer, again learning from experts along the way.

And this is where my frustration (and if I am honest, my jealousy) with the book started to mount. Here was a great writer and thinker discovering what I and many others have known for a while, namely the pleasures of cooking and sharing a meal with others, but he was learning from some of the best in the business, a privilege few people are able to enjoy. He travels not only the states, but the world, to talk to people who have been practicing their specific craft for years. He is able to spend a devoted length of time to learning how to bake a loaf of bread based on Chad Robertson’s recipe from Tartine Bakery, a recipe that requires at least 6 hours of time, turning the loaf every 45 minutes or so. I would wager that anyone could find the same success in cooking as Michael Pollan did if given the opportunities he had.

But the problem is, not many of us will ever be able to simply call up Chad Robertson with a question about our bread starter and be able to hang out with him learning. Chances are if you want to learn to cook, we will have to teach ourselves. And this is exactly how I have learned. Yes I have been to culinary school, but I am still paying off that debt. Yes I work in a restaurant, where I have also learned quite a bit. But by and large, my culinary education has been self-taught. I have taught myself a lot about sous-vide cooking. I have taken the time to bake bread and cultivate a sourdough starter. And I know many others who have taken a similar approach.

And herein lays the small danger of Michael Pollan’s book: unknowingly or unwittingly he espouses the belief that in order to cook successfully, one has to learn from professionals. He laments the outsourcing of a lot of our cooking in modern life, but when he seeks to learn how to cook himself, he relies on the professionals. He might argue that this is no different than reading and copying recipes from cookbooks, but I don’t think it is the same.

When I was starting to explore cooking more and more, I learned from recipes and books, but when and if something fails, I do not have the luxury of having the author right there to answer my question. Instead I am left to figure it out myself and try again. My worry is that others will read this book and instead of feeling inspired to cook might feel discouraged and deflated.

But just as I was ready to give up on the book, I skipped ahead to the conclusion where Michael Pollan returns to the beauty and heart of cooking and sharing meals, where “the world becomes literally more wonderful (and wonderfully more literal) as soon as we are reminded of these relationships” (408). As we cook we are reminded of the beautiful relationships that exist. Our relationship to this earth, that we depend on the earth to feed us. Our relationship to farmers who grow the food we eat. And most importantly our relationship with one another, the community we experience around food that is unlikely to be experienced in any other avenue of human activity.

At the table we experience love, community and interdependency like no other place. Through cooking we remember that we are all humans on the same journey. And I love that Michael Pollan has written about this, but please know that you do not need the best cooks to teach you how to cook. You can start by choosing a recipe that you feel comfortable with and trying it and inviting a few friends over to share it with you.

If it fails, order pizza and laugh with your friends, as the point is not the food, but rather the people we share the food with.

The Family Meal & Vespers

Growing up, dinnertime was a non-negotiable, sacred time. Everyone was expected to be there, period. No excuses. No phone calls. And definitely no television. Except on the super-rare occasion when my parents would wheel the TV in front of the dinner table and we would watch a movie together, thereby making the table the central focus and not the TV. Even when Dad would have to work late, which was somewhat common in the early days of the business he and Grandpa started, he would still come home for dinner and then return to work. (Thankfully, the office was and still is only a mile and a half away from my parents’ home.)

As a family, we were not much of talkers, at least I don’t remember having many deep conversations at the table. But the table was still a secure place and a sacred space. If I had to characterize our family, we were the family that always had breakfast and dinner together. So, even though I cannot recall conversations around the table, the dinners engrained within me a deep sense of belonging, security and most of all love.

I have recently been reading For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox scholar and priest. After his discussion on the sacrament of the Eucharist, he discusses the sacrament of time: our fundamental reality by which we experience the wonder of both life and death. Within his discussion of time, he writes about the daily offices, the seven set periods of time throughout the day in which Christians, most often monks and priests, have traditionally prayed.

Schmemann begins by discussing Vespers, which are evening prayers, which may at first seem odd since Vespers occur at what we consider the end of the day. But for Schmemann, Vespers signal the beginning, “and this means in the ‘rediscovery,’ in adoration and thanksgiving, of the world as God’s creation” (pp. 73-74). His understanding of Vespers is grounded in the Creation account of Genesis 1 in which each day is marked off, “And there was evening, and there was morning” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). He writes:

“The Church takes us, as it were, to that first evening on which man, called by God to life, opened his eyes and saw what God in his love was giving to him, saw all the beauty, all the glory of the temple in which he was standing and rendered thanks to God. And in this thanksgiving he became himself” (p. 74, emphasis original).

Therefore, one of the purposes of Vesper prayers is to reorient ourselves to the inherent goodness and beauty of creation. To simply stand in awe of the gift of creation.

As I read Schmemann’s discussion of Vespers, I began to wonder if a connection could be made between Vespers and the Family Meal.

The connection begins and is most easily seen when we open the meal with prayer, commonly known as giving thanks. In one of his other books, The Eucharist, Schmemann writes, “Thanksgiving is the power that transforms desire and satisfaction, love and possession, into life, that fulfils everything in the world, given to us by God, into knowledge of God and communion with him” (The Eucharist, pp. 188-189). Beginning each family dinner with prayer orients us to a posture of thanksgiving and gratitude towards God for all that he has given us. Or as Norman Wirzba writes,

“When eating is enfolded within the language and grammar of grace, and when food itself is experienced as the delectable manifestation of God’s abounding and incomprehensible love, then the opportunity exists for people to dine with God as ‘the fountain of true delight’” (Food & Faith, p. 180).

Giving thanks for the food reminds us that we are dependent on God for what is before us. While much human skill and ingenuity went in to putting the food before us, God was and is ultimately responsible. I am sometimes in awe of the variety of delectable food God has given purely for our enjoyment. Why do we need so many varieties of apples, tomatoes, potatoes? Did God give us red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers simply so that our food could be more colorful and to remind us of his extravagant love towards us?

Infusing the Family Meal with a Vesper like atmosphere would not stop with the giving of thanks. If the first great theme of Vespers is the reorienting of ourselves to the beauty and grandeur of creation, then the second theme, according to Schmemann, is the darkness and sin of this world. The family meal accordingly should be a place where the hurts, pains, and ugliness of creation are acknowledged. Even though the Family Meal should be a time of celebration and goodness, we cannot also hide from the fact that we are still in exile from Paradise, that all is not right with the world. Starting with the husband and wife, and extending to the children, there must be the freedom to acknowledge the hurts and sins of the day in openness and without shame. It is not easy to cultivate this kind of culture within the Family Meal, but I believe that eating together has the power to create a space where members of a family can feel open to share. As we eat the same food, we realize the level of the playing field – that at the core, we are all the same, humans created in the incredible image of God but who constantly sin and are in need of redemption.

Redemption is the third great theme of Vespers according to Schmemann. He writes, “The world is at its evening because the One bringing the final meaning to the world has come; in the darkness of this world, the light of Christ reveals again the true nature of things” (p. 75). As the darkness of sin is acknowledged, we move to remind ourselves that sin is not the final answer, but that through Christ’s death, death and darkness have been robbed of their power over us.

I don’t think these themes have to be acknowledged in a formal way every dinner, for part of the beauty of the Table is the spontaneity that occurs when people gather. Especially with children, I want to allow space for them to be kids and not impose a rigid structure when what they might want is to be slightly goofy.

I am not familiar with the history and liturgy of Vespers, which is why I plan on doing some more reading about its historical and theological development. Some friends have already suggested some books that I have requested from the library.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts. Have you been able to incorporate an attitude of prayer and worship within your Family Meal? What practices have worked? What ideas have not worked so well?

Grandma on Cooking in 1958

With Grandpa having passed away a little over a month ago, and Grandma close to nine years, my dad has been sorting through a lifetime’s worth of papers. Most of it ends up in the trash, but every so often he comes across a piece containing rich family history or a piece that sheds further light into who my grandparents were.

Recently my dad found two pieces of the latter sort. Two speeches my grandma delivered—one in 1958 on cooking and one on gardening, which unfortunately has no date. He had them both scanned and emailed me them, knowing that I would especially love the speech on cooking.

I just finished reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan, and some of what Grandma talks about in 1958 sounds like it could have come straight from the book, but Grandma had Michael Pollan beat by a half century. Both speeches are too good not to share, so here is the speech on food. It is a little long, but is quick easy reading.

Bon appétit!

__________________________________________________________

One of the most interesting things Bill [her husband, my Grandpa] and I have learned the last few years that makes cooking those three meals a day that we are all required to do much more intriguing and fun is that cooking is culture. In reading noted cooks from the past, present and from all over the world—they all agree that cooking is definitely one of the arts and is therefore culture. Sounds rather strange when you first hear it, but stop and think, if one is to live so every minute counts, to be alert and alive instead of numb, then cooking and eating rank high as cultural matters. Nothing affects the very quality of life itself so much as our diet, our pleasure in it and what it does for us nutritionally.

The person who cooks and eats to just assuage his hunger is living no more fully than an animal. The person who is interested in food on many levels is actually living more. For the more you know about food, the more you can appreciate it—sensually and intellectually. The cooking you accomplish from day to day, whether cooked by yourself or others, is as indicative of the quality of your life as your architectural surroundings, the books you read, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to or the objects you rest your eyes upon. In some ways, it is more important than all these other things, for there are so many times in a day, and therefore in a lifetime, when food must have your attention as a necessity.  Once you become aware of how fascinating the world of food really is you bemoan the years you have wasted.

Some people associate gastronomy with “excess” but Andre Simon has expressed it best saying, “Excess is the hallmark of fast living, as sure a road to damnation as good living is to salvation. Gastronomy is, on the contrary, intimately bound to moderation, the very reverse of excess. Without moderation, appreciation becomes impossible. Others confuse gastronomy with high living. It is entirely opposed to it. High living is inseparable from extravagance, from rare and rich costly foods and wines, and from fatty hearts and enlarged livers.”

There are many levels on which you can pursue food as culture. First, there is the gourmet point of view—that is the training of one’s tongue, one’s eye, and one’s nose to recognize small differences. Without this ability to distinguish small characteristics, it is impossible to develop as a critic, as an expert or as a cook. This sensitive awareness is the cornerstone on which a cultural attitude toward food must be built.

Once you start paying attention to food in this critical way you open new areas of interest. You make observations about how food expresses national and racial differences, and how it reflects economic conditions. For instance, has it occurred to you the reason France is such a cheese producing country may be that they have so little refrigeration? Whereas, we consume our milk as milk thanks to our superb transportation system and universal refrigeration.

Thus the intellect comes into play, and you see food and cooking as living history. The folk wisdom and practices of any nation are in their cooking traditions. If you know how to analyze them you learn more about their values—from the status of women in society to the nutritional protection afforded by native diet.

The Germans have a proverb “You are what you eat.” Scientists have proved that many so called racial and national characteristics—laziness, energy, persistence or instability often bear a direct relation to habits of eating. From whatever point of view, it would appear that the proper study of mankind is FOOD, as food is linked with every branch in the tree of cultural history.

A knowledge of cooking adds a new dimension to travel. It is, in the truest sense of the word, your passport into new areas and your introduction to people, things and places, which the ordinary tourist never sees. You cannot understand any country or people unless you know something about their food. When you travel you should taste your way around the world. The tourist that insists on an American steak or an American cup of coffee is missing much a country has to offer. I feel we miss much here in our own country when we are not willing to experiment with regional dishes. I have greatly enjoyed the Southern dishes Izetta [the wife of Grandpa’s brother, Don] has brought West—like the country ham and egg pie she once made for our PEO. Too many people refuse to try anything they are not familiar with and consequently deprive their families and themselves of a great deal of pleasure.

One of the pleasures of cooking is being able to increase your skill. We all know the act of doing something successfully is a pleasure. It is fun to perfect a technique, to become better and better at something. We can analyze why a thing contributes to flavor, texture or efficiency or speed. It is fun to think of the alternatives open to us—whether to soak lamb in wine or soy sauce or whether to use ginger or garlic. Cooking this way is not work or drudgery for you are always testing a theory, pursuing a point of view. You are creating as you cook.

You may be asking, what is the down-to-earth pay-off of making cooking a culture area? Here are a few ways.

  1. Once cooking becomes more than reading and blindly following somebody else’s recipe, you begin to cook superbly well. For, let’s fact it, many, many recipes are not superb because they are created by people who may not have their own cooking practices sharpened by years of tasting the best. You, though, begin to view a recipe as something you can improve. You look for faults in methods or the lacks in seasoning and you correct as you go along.
  2. This way of cooking lets you create new methods, new combinations and new short cuts. A huge mass of recipes are obsolete in the light of the revolutionary meaning of new appliances and new foodstuffs.
  3. You can order a meal well in a restaurant, for you know how to run your eye down the menu and judge the capabilities of the chef and order the best he has to offer.
  4. You can buy the best foodstuffs available for your own kitchen, screening from a huge variety of sources the choicest. You tap the local and national sources in a way you would not have known before.
  5. You get a better focus on price, for you know when to pay extra to get something better, and when not to pay more because there is a false value buried in the price. For instance, peak-of-season plenitude is also the time of peak flavor and lowest prices. Out-of-season means lowest flavor and highest prices. The gourmet eats in season.
  6. The cultured cook knows when to cook quick and when to cook long and adapts the menu and the recipes to time available. Just as there are certain types of music written to played as encores, there are certain types of dishes for fast concocting.
  7. The cultured cooks commits no clichés such as the ever present buffet menu of baked ham, potatoes au gratin and green salad.

More and more people are learning the fun of creative cooking as is seen in many of our new kitchens. The kitchen is becoming one of the most interesting, as well as expensive, rooms of our homes, as it is a place where families can have an adventure together.

The devotees of food as culture are a merry company. You find them everywhere—some are rich, some are poor, some are in cities, some in little town or in the country. A few are young—many are older, for the gourmet attitude seems to increase with the mellowing effect of years—which is another way of saying, experience. The type of culture seems to thrive among warm-hearted kindly folk. This makes it all the more fun to be one of them.

I’d like to tell you about some of the books and periodicals we have read that started and has increased our interest in experimenting with food. I’ll admit that Bill is the one that purchased our books and read them first and then whetted my interest enough to read some of them. Some of the periodicals that we feel are well worth subscribing to are:

  1. Gourmet, which is a monthly publication and always has several articles on the history of different foods, some points on making cooking easier as well as tastier and always has reliable recipes.
  2. House Beautiful, its editor, Elizabeth Gordon, is a true gourmet and there are always some food articles and generally good recipes. It gives you much food for thought.
  3. The Wine and Food Quarterly, put out by the Wine and food Society in London, which is an organization for man only and does much to stimulate their interest in food. This makes cooking a lot more fun for women if their menfolk are appreciative of their efforts. It features experiences in gastronomy and has a section on Memorable meals which comments in detail on certain meals and menus. It also gives the menus at the different meetings of the Wine and Food Society Chapters around the world. It reviews the old and new cookbooks as well as other articles on food.
  4. House and Garden, also has a section relating to food. It will take one subject, like meat, and spend the entire chapter on it.
  5. Sunset is another magazine to take as the recipes are dependable but perhaps not as classic or fine as some of the others.

Have you notices how many magazines are adding food articles that have never had them before these last few years, like Vogue, Glamour, and some of those?

Books that really can tell you why cooking is a real art and should be treated as such, and yet, are most interesting reading are:

  1. The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. It is a book of observations with a few recipes. What I especially enjoyed was the history of food from 3000 BC to now, as well as her clever stories on places and people she’s known in various restaurants or who were cooks.
  2. The Art of Good Living by Andre Simon. The flyleaf says that this is a book to shape the mind and not one of action. Simon tells why he feels gastronomy is so vital to our well-being as an enjoyable art. He is the founder of the Wine and Food Society.
  3. The Physiology of Taste by jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Brillat-Savarin was a French lawyer, politician and writer of the 18th and 19th centures. He is still a noted reference as an outstanding gourmet. A couple of his quotations are: “Tell me what you what and I will tell you what you are.” “The man who gives a dinner for a group of his friend and takes no trouble over what they are to eat is not fit to have any friends.” “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a new star.”
  4. Trader Vic’s Kitchen Kibitzer by Vic Bergeron. This is a humorous book on food with recipes by a man with whom we are all familiar.
  5. The Unprejudiced Palate by Angelo Pellegrini. Mr. Pellegrini is a teacher of English and Literature at the University of Washington. He says his book is a philosophy of cooking and that the discriminating eater is seldom a sour puss. This is a cleverly written guide to good living.

Outstanding well-rounded cookbooks that are good to use regularly. Whenever I wish to find a different way of preparing a dish that I haven’t tried before, I go to these first.

  1. Gourmet Cookbooks, Vol. I and II. These books have the simplest to the most complicated recipes and cover every range of food. They are expensive but worth it.
  2. Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery by Helen Evans Brown and James Beard. This is much more than just a barbecue book and is especially good for our western type of living. My pet!
  3. Cooking a la Ritz by Louis Diat. This is a good basic cookbook as is Diat’s French Cooking for Americans.
  4. West Coast Cookbook by Helen Evans Brown. This is one that has good recipes and also is fun to read the little quips she writes about some of the recipes and how we westerners got them.
  5. Fireside Cookbook by James Beard

There are many, many more books that I use regularly but more as references.

  1. Escoffier Cookbook by Escoffier. Most often quoted author today as this book is regarded as the Bible of Culinary Art, the one indispensible book on fine cooking. Escoffier says it is not a book for beginners but I disagree as it has helped me answer many questions pertaining to food.
  2. Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy by Andre Simon. A dictionary type of reference on everything.
  3. Game Cookery in America and Europe by Raymond Camp, for the hunter’s wives whose husbands were lucky on their last pack trip.
  4. Madame Prunier’s Fish Cookery Book – Translated from French. This is still the most noted fish cooking book.
  5. Sauces by Louis Diat. The most complete and authoritative book on this subject.
  6. The Epicurean by Charles Ranhofer (formerly chef at Delmonicos). This gives detailed instructions of cutting meat, vegetables, cooking and serving. It has pictures and drawings to illustrate techniques.
  7. Modern Culinary Art by Henri Paul Pellaprat, who was formerly head instructor at the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery in France. It is also a complete book for decorative foods.

Then we have books that are just fun to read that are as interesting and as entertaining as a novel.

  1. Scot’s Kitchen, It’s Tradition and Lore by F. Marian Mc’Neill
  2. Scot’s Cellar, It’s Tradition and Lore by F. Marian Mc’Neill.
  3. Food in England by Dorothy Hartley
  4. By Request by Andre Simon that is an autobiography. Simon has many books that are most interesting and informative.
  5. Paris Cuisine by James Beard and Alexander Watt
  6. Fine Bouche by Pierre Andrion. A history of the restaurant in France.
  7. The Gentleman’s Companion. Two sets of two volumes. First is Exotic Cookery and Exotic Drink of the World. The other set is South American food and drink.
  8. Last of the ones I’ll mention, but not the least, is the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise which is a weekly paper from Virginia City, Nevada that always has a good food article, has advertisements of every known restaurant in the United States and is most entertaining reading about the town of Virginia City.

Authors to look for while reading that can be depended to have something of interest to say and fine recipes.

  1. Andre Simon, a grand old man in his 80’s whose life has been spent in learning and teaching good food.
  2. Helen Evans Brown, an American of today who writes for many magazines like House Beautiful, Sunset and Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and whose books are the absolute best concerning Western living.
  3. James Beard. Also a noted present day authority. He has an excellent fish book and barbecue book out. This last weekend I read he is publishing another book right away.
  4. Louis Diat, writes regularly for Gourmet. He has an article each month for beginners.
  5. Escoffier. Any reference to him is like taking a case to the Supreme Court. Cooks use his works as law.
  6. Vic Bergeron. Always fun reading and has recipes for good eating of all kinds.
  7. Frank Schoonmaker, a noted wine expert and cook of today.

These are just a few of many good cookbooks that are fun as well as practical. However, I want to point out that the vast majority of cookbooks are a complete waste of time and many, as too many are written by unimaginative and unauthoritative cooks. When you take the time to look up something, you want to know it is the very best.

It is standard practice in our home to try a new recipe each dinner. I’ll have to admit, it has added a great deal more pleasure to the cooking and to the fun of eating for our entire family.

In closing, I’d like to read the last chapter of Andre Simon’s autobiography, By Request. It gives in his words the joy he has had in finding that food is culture.

[The chapter is not quoted. Grandma must have read it from the book.]

In Remembrance of Me

Communion Elements

The idea of memory and remembering is a key theme throughout Scripture. God calls on his people to remember their covenantal relationship. Specifically the Lord instituted the Passover as a memorial for the Israelites: “And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:9 ESV). At other times God is called to remember his covenant with people, specifically the use of the rainbow to remember that he will never again wipe out all of humanity (Gen. 9:12-16).

In the gospels, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, he instructs his disciples to partake in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19), which Paul reiterates in 1 Corinthians 11:25. Why are we called to partake of the Eucharist in remembrance of him?

The Eucharist book coverIn his book The Eucharist, Alexander Schmemann, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, writes, “Man’s memory is his responding love for God, the encounter and communion with God, with the life of life itself” (p. 125). Memory is not simply a recalling of facts, but rather an attentiveness to God and his love. We as humans, who alone possess the power to remember, only truly live as we remember God.

Therefore, sin, according to Schmemann, is that “man has forgotten God.” Forgetting God, like remembering God, is not simply to stop thinking about God, rather “to forget means above all to cut what has been forgotten off from life, to case to live by it, to fall away from it.” Sin came into the world when Adam “forgot God because he turned his love, and consequently his memory and his very life, to something else, and above all to himself.” I continue to sin in the same way – when I turn my attentive memory away from God’s love toward me to my own self love. Schmemann draws out the implication of this: “If it is God, the giver of life and life itself whom I have forgotten, if he has cased to be my memory and my life, my life itself becomes dying, and then memory, which is the knowledge and power of life, becomes knowledge of death and the constant tasting of mortality” (p. 126).

Part of the multifaceted act of salvation is the regeneration of memory – moving from remembering only death and mortality to love and life everlasting. Schmemann writes, “Salvation consists in this: that in Christ – perfect God and perfect man – memory comes to reign and is restored as a lifecreating power, and, in remembering, man partakes not of the experience of the fall, mortality and death, but of the overcoming of this fall through ‘life everlasting’” (p. 128). And life everlasting is not simply some future hope of glorious bliss, but life everlasting begins in the here and now as Christ’s kingdom has begun to break through into this present age.

If remembering is an attentiveness to God, an encounter and experience with God, then the Eucharist has the power to be a means for us as believers to re-center our attentiveness towards God through Christ’s sacrificial offering. To quote Schmemann, “The services are the entry of the Church into the new time of the new creation, gathered by the memory of Christ, transformed by him into life and the gift of life” (p. 129).

As we remember Christ through the sharing of his body and blood in the Eucharist, we remember him not as we remember a loved one who has passed, but rather as one who lives. We remember Christ as the one who invites us to partake now of his kingdom. We remember Christ by returning our attention to what he is doing to bring salvation to others. We remember Christ as we celebrate with others the broken body and blood of Christ as being formed into a worldwide, eternal community.